You Call That Innovation? ...


That was the headline in a Wall Street Journal article back in 2012. The piece made the point that the word “innovation” (and its derivatives) was being used so much by companies to tout incremental improvement — or worse — that the word lost meaning. Raking through earnings calls from the previous 12 months, The Journal counted “innovation” surfacing in transcripts 33,528 call that innovation wall street journal wsjFast forwarding to today, it’s only gotten worse.

Way worse.

Every tech company wants to be perceived as innovative.

Scratch that.

Every company wants to be perceived as innovative.

As Exhibit A, take GE and its appliance division. It’s not enough to explain their advancements in a pizza oven and the benefits for trattoria aspirants. They’ve invented a word, “pizzovation.” I believe I’m on safe ground in saying the word won’t land in the 2024 edition of Webster’s Dictionary.

For those who toil in communications and are charged with telling a company’s innovation story, I offer two suggestions—

Don’t use the “I” word. Adjectives and adverbs don’t advance the cause. I can hear the mantra from Mr. Harper, my high school English teacher: “Show, don’t tell.”

And recognize that the critical path item is not the pitch to the media. That’s the easy part. The critical path item is sitting down with the engineers or scientists, asking the right questions, and extracting the “good stuff.” By “good stuff,” I mean the difference between the before and after, anecdotes, the nitty-gritty details, etc., that allow journalists to conclude on their own that this is indeed innovative and worth exploring.

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