Advertising about innovation can kill

Advertising about innovation can kill

Emperor's clothes

It’s hard to find a large company today that doesn’t see innovation as a screaming priority.

However, as has become apparent to many impatient company boards: it’s just not that easy.  Innovation requires a lot of time, a lot of failure and even when it succeeds it’ll still take a lot more time and effort to build it up into a something that will allow the company to confidently step into the next phase of its life.

So it becomes tempting for senior management to say, “well if the innovation programmes are going to take so long then, in the meantime, we must at least be presented as innovative”.

And so, as has often been seen, a long-term strategic exercise becomes a short-term communication exercise.  Very clever proposition folk work with very clever agency folk and produce a second-rate product with some first-rate innovation glitz.

This is a terrible idea for a couple of reasons.

One. You have irritated customers feeling duped into buying their new not-all-it’s-cracked-up-to-be product.

Two (Much more serious). Your employees know that it’s all bollocks.

As anyone who’s worked in an energised, passionate company knows, the only way you get to great ideas is with trust and commitment to a common purpose.  And every time anything is done that undermines that purpose, the less engaged and committed the people become and the harder it will be to succeed.

So, seeing as the employees are the ones that will ultimately determine whether a company can change from its current trajectory to one that is capable of innovating, it’s obviously critical that “bollocks” isn’t the first word that springs to mind whenever senior management talk about innovation.

To risk labouring the point: the more a company spins yarns around innovation, or an innovative spirit, that doesn’t yet exist, the greater the disconnect between the employee and the company.

If you want to foster a culture that can innovate, or for that matter, do anything purposeful, you need trust and commitment from the whole company so, whatever you do, don’t spoil your chances with something that makes them think “bollocks”.

Illustration by Adam Larkum

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