Friday, February 02, 2007


Attended the Beers and Innovation session organized by the NMK. Ian Delaney from NMK has his version reported here. The topic was "Do Agencies Innovate?"

Apart from the interesting conversation on the evening, I found it an excellent counterpoint to the work on innovation done late last year by the Government, as well as a good time to reflect on the concept of innovation.

I often think Innovation has become a 4-letter word. Everybody likes to have a bit of it, most people think others are doing it all the time and very few people know how to do it well!

Here are some of the most common myths I’ve discovered when people discuss innovation:

  • There’s always a tendency to confuse innovation with any sort of creative work. This is especially true when it comes to the digital agencies, and creative industries in general. Every marketing campaign is touted as innovative. Clients demand it, agencies trumpet it. It feels like no creative job ever gets done without innovation. Of course, the reality is a little removed from this. Plenty of good creative work exists which is not innovative. A print campaign with an eye-catching visual is simply, good.
  • There is also often a misconception that to solve any problem, innovation must be a necessary ingredient. This is also not true. In fact, innovation is often the hardest approach to a solution (short of invention) – and often has equally low success rate. When I was involved with the Intellect’s Innovation Council work recently, it seemed that the government was very keen to adopt innovative solutions. Only, many of the problems that governments grapple with don’t actually require innovative solutions – but rather more obvious and industry standard ones. For example in Government circles, getting different departments to drop their silo mentality and work across departments is seen as an innovative practice, something many large organizations have been doing for decades. Innovation – at least as most dictionary definitions suggest – involve something new. Whether we should treat it as new just because it’s not been done before by us, or by people like us is a debatable matter.
  • Innovation is good for everybody – this is partly true, but not all organizations need to be innovative – and certainly not at all points. For best results, innovation needs to be nurtured, managed, evaluated and appropriately scaled. Innovation usually suggests an improvement or a good outcome, but that would suggest that it’s only the successful ones we’re talking about. Uncontrolled innovation is the organizational equivalent of a nuclear explosion. Suppose in a large organizations, each of 10,000 employees came into work one day and decided to be “innovative” and new/ different about the way they did their work on that day. The result would only be chaos, of course. Just like in a nuclear reactor, the system needs to be engineered to release a certain amount of energy – no more and no less for it to be harnessed and effectively used.

The full paper on innovation can be obtained by writing to me at


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