Archive for the ‘lamentation’ Category

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Innovate me harder

2008-11-26

This is in response to the lament by antipodean envoy Matthew Cashmore that ‘Innovation’ no longer means anything.

(Statement of disclosure: I work for a company with ‘Innovation’ in its name, so you’d think I would know something about it.)

I’m afraid innovation as a term meaning “process of inventing” or “something invented” will soon be lost, much as the term creative has been lost. Both words have become accidental victims to the modern obsession with branding, where short, distinctive terms barge longer, supposedly more meaningful words and phrases out of the way in the name of memorability. Also, because they’re easier to say when drunk.

Indeed, it is instructive to look at the fate of the term creative in order to see what awaits innovation, now that it too has been elbowed off the roof towards the same cold, semantic pavement.

Creative used to mean “capable of creating”, where creating meant “coming up with something that hadn’t existed before.” For example, scientists, engineers, artists and writers can reasonably claim to be creative, as can people who solve problems for a living in any walk of life. (Bizarrely, people who create problems for a living only seem to be found in Hollywood, politics and large-scale IT projects; no-one knows why.)

Most of what traditionally creative people do, working at the edge of the Genuinely New, is, frankly, incomprehensible to almost everyone else. It cannot be any other way, any more than everyone can be beautiful, or smart, or the first to post a comment on a blog.

But despite a stubborn lack of talent or motivation, many people would like to be inventive or artistic anyway. So the word creative was not-at-all-misleadingly adopted as a substitute adjective for activities that are artistic-looking or inventive-seeming, activities which, as they’re not actually inventive, can be done by a broader range of people using weaker chemicals, less rigorous maths and cheaper insurance.

On the face of it, this invention of the so-called “Creative Balloon” was no bad thing: if ‘creative’ people could have bridged the Gulf of Comprehension between the Islets of Invention and the Continents of Application, then it could have been of benefit to everyone who lives in geographical metaphors.

Unfortunately, however, due to the shameless actions of those who understand people only too well, the term creative was savagely co-opted as a job description that seems to be applicable to anyone above the level of dishwipe at an ad agency. The long-term consequences of this are hard to predict, but top government zoologists believe that they will include the emergence of a new species of Creative, identifiable by their primary-coloured spectacles, a completely bald head, and a propensity to blurt out: “yeah, but what if we make it REALLY BIG?”

Sadly, this already means that some of our most creative people are now vulnerable to being mocked, because of how diluted the term creative has become. Why, some of my best friends have actual talent, I’ll have you know, despite it saying Creative Blahblah on their business cards; business cards that are often egg-shaped and printed on feathers for reasons that are, frankly, incomprehensible to me.

And so we come to Innovation.

In less novelty-stained times, innovation used to be the harbinger of that which was New! Never seen before! This is It! The First of its Kind!

Obvious examples include:

  • Breguet’s tourbillon escapement,
  • spread-spectrum radio,
  • Post-It notes, and
  • the Celebrity Cock-Fighting Channel.

But now, incessant demands for “more innovation!” have hurled us footlong into a world where high-definition toilet paper, Google Maps on gravestones, and even Lara Croft-flavoured Piccalilli seem frighteningly possible.

Consequently, creative is no longer enough to contain a notion like “artistic-ish” or “inventive-y“, and stronger measures are now required. So across the land, the odour of Innovation is being wafted into boardrooms by top government gesticulators, acting on directions from Whitehall to find new sources of Innovation and Creativity before existing supplies run dry.

I believe the hope is that, one day, Britain will lead the world in the Innovative Industries, much as it currently tells everyone it leads the world in the Creative Industries. (A term, by the way, which is nearly as sensible as ‘Maternal Industries’ or ‘Comedic Industries’.)

As part of this campaign, innovation has now officially been redefined from “the process of invention” or “something new and invented” to any of:

  • shiny, cheap and mass-producible“,
  • easy to explain, yet hard to define“,
  • last year’s ideas in this year’s colours“, or
  • …now with USB!

Furthermore, it is now clear that we must promote our most ambitious Creatives to the level of Innovatives, so that they can take what they’ve distilled from building the European Fashion Mountain and pour it directly into the European Lake of Innovation (once China has decided which peasant valley will be flooded to build it).

I expect to see more of this broadening out of inventive-like activities, built around the same core of actual invention and creativity that Britain has always failed to crush completely. The only difference will be that, since all the Creatives and Innovatives will be working hard being, well, creative and innovative, actual invention will be outsourced to some boring technical people at somewhere called D&R. This will be achieved via a Creative and Innovative new process called Outovation.

Outovation represents the first real attempt at building a whole new word from scratch, rather than creating a derivative of an existing word. This entirely avoids the need to pay licensing fees for existing words, and provides a brand new source of tax revenue from the work of British Outovators, wherever they are.

Indeed, top government over-estimators predict Outovation will be worth over £17billion by 2012. Which will be just enough to cancel out budget over-runs for the London Olympics, according to top government under-estimators.

So, although Innovation may be losing its meaning, we can all rely on good old British Outovation to carry us forward. At least until the USB version comes out next year; it’s supposed to be magenta.

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