The proliferation of innovative book titles…and little else

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.

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5 thoughts on “The proliferation of innovative book titles…and little else

  1. Nice post with some actual numbers which is cool to see.

    Cynically speaking I suspect this happens often with words as it’s easier to say a word than to know what it means or do the work the manifest that meaning.

  2. “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.”

    Two points:

    Firstly, I think we *are* living through an era of real innovation – the problem is we don’t want to talk about it because of *fear* of it’s impact or what comes next. This is a consequence of broader undercurrents related to a culture of risk-aversion and a general pessissism – whatever the future holds, it is likely to be worse than the current or previous state of affairs. Therefore people sink into a state of retrospection – hence the boom in all things nostalgia-related.

    Secondly, if the goal of innovation is positive change, then the definition of ‘positive change’ is mutable and subjective, as are the means. There is less talk of innovation’s outcomes because our reference-points for positive change no longer exist; our moral compass swings wildly between poles and we do not understand whether change is positive or negative. In many respects, ‘positive change’ is a contradiction in terms.

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