Not the Innovation I Used to Know

Despite popular opinion, vocabulary can actually be pretty volatile. Take “innovate,” for example. At one point in the not-so-distant past, “innovation” had some pretty positive connotations. We aimed to be innovative; books on innovation crowded our reading lists; we bookmarked and emailed articles mentioning the topic. But somewhere along the way, “innovation” became dirty. The word has lost its way.

Scott Berkun, who’s been writing on design, the design process, and management since 1998, helps us understand why. In his recent The Myths of Innovation book, he deconstructs a whole series of myths about how “innovation” gets done. Not only does he despise the word, “Often the word means nothing—crammed in press releases or as one of several vague adjectives used to describe a not-so-innovative product,” but he backs up his point of view with centuries of evidence.

I recently had the chance to interview Scott for AIGA’s recently re-launched Gain: AIGA Journal of Business and Design (led by newly appointed editor-in-chief Debbie Millman). The interview is packed with the kind of honesty that’s made his own blog popular for a decade:

“Casual Fridays, innovation offsites or giving people copies of Who Moved My Cheese are all nice things, but have zero direct impact on creativity in the workplace. It’s the behavior of leaders and managers that determines how innovative a group is, and most of what enables creativity is entirely free. You can spend a zillion dollars on creativity efforts, but if the basic behavior of managers doesn’t change, you’re wasting your money.”

Thanks to Scott for a great interview! You can read the rest of it on the AIGA site.