The more I investigate the state of innovation today, the more convinced I am that we are living in an era of innovation hype with little real innovation taking place. The term now appears everywhere: in newspapers, books, journals, government policies, education, the health service you name it. The term proliferates everywhere.
I have been tracking this since 2005 and will share some of my research: On Lexis-Nexis I did a simple article search of the world’s leading newspapers using the term ‘technological innovation’ over the past 3 decades:
- Between 1970 and 1980, there were exactly 55 articles that mentioned the term
- Between 1980 and 1990 this grew to 993
- Between 1990 and 2000 this grew to 3,575
- And from 2000 to 2007 the figure stood 4,583!
If you turn to the Internet and do a search on Amazon.com you will see there are now 326,266 books available with the term ‘innovation’ somewhere in their titles. On amazon.co.uk, the number is 105,503. (Does this mean the US is three times as innovative?). When I did this search in 2007, the result on Amazon.co.uk was 5,513!
How to interpret this massive hike in books?
Never mind the numbers, just examine some of the titles and the answer begins to emerge: interspersed among the usual suspects (Henry W Chesbrough, Clayton M. Christensen, Rosabeth Moss Kanter , Scott Berkun, Kelley & Litt. and Harvard Business Review to name a few prominent authors and publications who have made a significant contribution to the debate) are books that include ‘Sock Innovation’, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church’, ‘Outdoor Play in the Early Years: Management and Innovation’, ‘Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development’ and so on…
No doubt, some of these books have some interesting insights on the subjects they focus upon. But the proliferation of ‘innovation’ books does suggest that the term has now become a trivialised and vacuous concept, increasingly reflecting a debate that is taking place within its own terms and no longer linked to a broader purpose.
My fear is that ‘innovation’ as a concept has become a cultural affectation and in business, an advertising gimmick; the something everyone must now pay lip service to. My concern is that this extraordinary attempt to promote or talk up innovation is actually a sign of its absence. If we were living through an era of real innovation surely we would be having a different discussion? Surely we would be talking about the outcomes or its impact or what is next.