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Have a Purpose. Don’t Innovate.

One last blog post I read that I am way behind on.

Please, Can We All Just Stop “Innovating”? is posted at the Harvard Business Review Blog.  Bill Taylor tackles how companies are over killing innovation as a business practice.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which did not get nearly the attention it deserved, made the case that the word “innovation” has outlived its usefulness. “Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovations strategies, and even innovation days,” the hard-hitting piece noted. “But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they’re describing is quite ordinary.”

Innovation is used everywhere for everything today.  I agree with the WSJ article.  A lot of the “innovation” is a quite ordinary change.

Here are three examples in the post about truly innovative work.

Southwest Airlines never said, “We want to be the country’s most innovative airline.” Its leadership said, “We want to ‘democratize the skies’ and give rank-and-file Americans the freedom to fly.” They perfected a new way to be an airline by virtue of what they wanted to achieve as an airline. They did what made sense to them, even if their strategies made no sense to the legacy carriers.

Tony Hsieh and his colleagues at Zappos never said, “We want to introduce innovations to e-commerce and do a better job of selling shoes over the Internet.” They said, “We wanted to build the greatest customer-service brand in the world, a company whose mission is not simply to deliver products but to deliver happiness.” Thus Zappos created a special culture, a unique way of doing business, and an almost mythic status among its customers, who have given the company permission to sell all sorts of products above and beyond shoes.

Cirque du Soleil did not set out to make a few tweaks to the traditional three-ring circus, or market-test a few new acts as a way to offer innovations vis-a-vis Ringling Brothers. Rather, an immensely talented group of street performers set out to define a whole new category of live entertainment, a creative leap that made perfect sense to the artists who dreamed it up, but made no sense to circus veterans or to audiences who had never seen such shows before.

The common theme Bill points out is having a purpose.  In all three cases, having a strong purpose that was communicated and believed in led to the innovative thinking.  It was delivering to the customer that mattered.  Not being “innovative”.

Have a purpose you believe in.  Understand the customer.  Deliver to the need.  Innovation will come.

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