Calling B.S. Part 2: Innovation

Asserting Innovation Is Not the Same as Actually Innovating

< The Full Batch of Calling B.S.

Who wants to be innovative? Evidently everybody. But parroting the word "innovation" is quite different than actually innovating. Just as every parent wants to think his or her progeny is above average, not everyone can live in Lake Wobegon. Despite the consistent claim of innovation, the spectrum of innovation of course varies across companies—and that's ok! By its nature, innovation is, to use a term singularly beloved by today's technocrati, disruptive. If everyone actually innovated equally, the result would not be progress, but chaos. 

It is time to separate true innovation from the pseudo-innovation of corporate posers who just want to clamor aboard the cool kid innovation bandwagon. Real innovation does exist. It is the stuff Joseph Schumpeter referred to when he spoke of creative destruction. We are talking new businesses, new industries and new ways of life. However risible, an app that simply says, “yo,” fails to meet this standard.

In today’s world, taking any trivial, everyday activity, from laundry to walking dogs and “putting it in app form” seems to qualify as innovative and worthy of millions, if not billions of dollars worth of investment. As of this writing, there are 500+ separate apps that will simulate a coin toss for those critical times when one can't rustle up a penny. Some of them charge actual money for their virtual tumbling dollars, euros and rupees. This solution in search of a problem characterizes many such putative innovation claims. An echo boom of the fin de siècle, the current app mania recalls the late 1990s when businesses would take trivial, everyday activities and “put it on the web,” to attract billions of dollars of investment. We know. It's different this time.


Who can blame those who use the language of innovation when its mere invocation attracts both attention and revenue? The world's most valuable company shares at least some of the blame for our current religion of innovation. Apple has brought us innovations that have changed the face of the earth.  But the breathless, hyperbolic “innovation” language the company employs to announce every change from the quotidian to the profound has reached the point of self-parody. Despite what Sir Jonathan Ive may assert, not every curve on a new Apple product actually is a life-changing innovation even if Tim Cook believes they support "new, intimate ways to connect and communicate directly from your wrist." In many cases, the wider public is wise to the joke and hence Ive parody videos abound and there's even a parody Twitter account.