The Washington Post

The death of a buzzword

Is “innovation” dead? (Kevin E. Schmidt/AP)

If you’re into innovation, you’ve probably come across a piece in the Wall Street Journal headlined, “You call that innovation?”

In it, the Journal’s Leslie Kwoh explores the death of “innovation” as a buzzword, figuratively digging its burial plot alongisde “synergy” and “optimization” — words you don’t want to be caught dead saying in a meeting, assuming you want to be taken seriously.

Kwoh is not the first to explore the path to meaninglessness for “innovation.”What’s unique about Kwho’s report is her look into just how frequently the word is being used in SEC filings and book titles:

A search of annual and quarterly reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows companies mentioned some form of the word "innovation" 33,528 times last year, which was a 64% increase from five years before that.

More than 250 books with "innovation" in the title have been published in the last three months, most of them dealing with business, according to a search of 

And this doesn’t even begin to include press releases and other promotional material or, yes, even blogs.

Nearly a year ago, this is how I introduced Ideas@Innovations to the world: Ideas are powerful, and innovation is just a fancy way of describing something we all do: introduce a new idea.

Since then, I have asked nearly everyone I’ve interviewed, “What does the word innovation mean to you?” — often noting that word is over-used and, in some cases, asking if it was devoid of all meaning.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are a collection of some of the most interesting responses I have received:

Eric Ries on why ”innovation” is almost totally meaningless:

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi on the meaning of innovation:

John Legend on the meaning of “innovation”

This is just a sampling. In the coming days, weeks, months (and hopefully years) there will be more — many, many more.

But, as we like to ask around here, what’s next? If “innovation” is on its way out the door, what word will the corporate world turn to to tout their worthiness for attention and investment? Kwoh reports that the new word, at least according to Sealed Air Corp.’s Bill Hickey is “inventive.”

Good to know. But don’t expect this blog to change to Ideas@Inventiveness anytime soon. Because, it’s not about the word, it’s about how you use it.

Read more news and ideas on Innovation:

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View Photo Gallery: Brands come in all shapes, sizes and levels of success. Altimeter Group digital analyst and author Brian Solis writes that, in order to survive, brands must battle succumbing to “digital Darwinism.”



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