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Innovation Washing: Are You Really Innovating?

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

The challenge with innovation in the corporate environment is that we are too eager to label anything new innovation. This is not to detract from any new initiatives or technology incorporated into the environment – that’s fantastic and entirely necessary. We need to be careful that in the quest to be innovative we don’t

You could argue that the motivations of organisations are correct if it allows them to be productive and create innovative solutions, but if organisations are only giving off the illusion of innovation – are they really being innovative?

Innovation washing is the spin organisations place on different technology, processes or “new, cool things” being implemented and labelled as innovation. Innovation washing is when an organisation makes claims about their innovative nature or overlays the term over a number of programs, processes and implementation of new technology as innovation, when they’re really just adopting technology, processes and ideas that are already in market but new to the organisation. To be fair, this generally isn’t done to distract or mislead, but rather it is done out of a deep aspiration to be seen as developing an innovative culture.

The fundamental problem with innovation washing is that it dilutes the process and perceived benefits of innovation and creates an inherent laziness for what it is to be ‘innovative’ in that environment. The more an organisation “washes” ideas as innovative the more it hinders their ability to develop an innovation culture that develops ideas that are new, different and repeatable for your customers.

If being innovative is merely copying or adopting the latest technology, then there’s no need for the people inside an organisation to dig into the core problems or possible future gaps of your internal and external customers. If no one is looking at these challenges and problems then you may leave yourself wide open to disruption, because others in market will looking for the problems, challenges and gaps to create new solutions. Don’t wait for someone else to solve your customers problems.

We need to take a long, hard look at what we term innovation. When we whitewash the process, not only do we dilute the meaning and vision of innovation, we can create an inherent laziness when it comes to innovation.

When we allow anything new, technology or process to be adopted that allows an organisation to meet the market or keep in line with competitors, then can disrupt the process and take our attention away from developing the really cool, new and innovative ideas.

There’s no disputing that innovation will be an essential element to grow and help pull many organisations and the economy out of the recession, but unless we give it the respect it deserves, we’ll miss the boat…so to speak.

If you keep focussing on the superpower that you don’t have, you’ll miss the ones you do have.

In terms of innovation, sometimes less can be more, particularly with how we define innovation in the organisation. Innovation will have a greater impact and drive the culture of growth in an organisation when we don’t label anything and everything new or different innovation.

Here are my key steps to avoid innovation washing:

1. Create a clear and robust definition of innovation and what it means to the organisation. Set the tone, vision and mission for the organisation’s pursuit of innovation.

2. Get comfortable labelling the adoption of new technology and others ideas that may be new to the organisation but not new in the market, as meeting expectations of the market and your customers.

3. Be thoughtful and critical about how you assess if an idea is innovative – if it is not innovative it doesn’t mean it gets scrapped, it might just belong in a different portfolio.

4. Keep your planning and process open to the ebb and flow of different innovative ideas as they happen - innovation is never something that works exactly with your planning and budgeting cycle.

5. Unlock the human potential and genius inside your organisation to supply the ideas and potential solutions for the challenges and problems your internal and external customers have.

6. Fall in love with the process – ideas are easy, cheap and fast but it takes time, persistence and dedication to bring ideas to life.



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