I won’t shame the speaker or the event that recruited him for a keynote, but let’s just say that a few weeks ago I experienced one of those moments at a conference that prompted more eye-rolling than insight.
It happened when the speaker in question put up a slide which suggested organizations that adopt artificial intelligence technology can become “1,000% more innovative.”
I was waiting for a “than,” but it never came. Did he mean 1,000 per cent more innovative than a firm’s competitor? One thousand per cent more innovative than it had been before AI came along? Besides being a ridiculously large number, it was a statistic with a ridiculous lack of context.
Of course, the fact that he was talking about AI was irrelevant. You could swap in speakers from conferences past and technologies like cloud computing, wearable computing, the Internet of Things and even virtual worlds and you’d have heard the same kind of hyperbole. Innovation may have reached peak buzzwordiness, but it has a long history of being used as a means of coercing B2B executives to buy things they’re not sure they really need yet.
The big difference recently is that innovation has evolved beyond the theme of a company’s marketing materials to become a foundational element in its brand experience. When I recently toured a technology and design centre from a major consulting firm and shared a few video clips on Instagram, one of my best friends messaged me and said, “I am so tired of all these innovation labs.” I know what she means: the wall-to-wall white boards, the colorful furniture, the lack of even a basic dress code — it’s like we have commodified the idea of a space for generating new ideas. We can’t be the only ones occasionally feeling innovation fatigue.
In fact, maybe all the innovation labs are making us too comfortable, leaving it to geniuses in chair hammocks to daydream the next big breakthrough. In real life, innovation often comes from becoming fed up with what’s around you. Steve Jobs reportedly hated every cell phone he carried until the first iPhone was developed. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain were born in part due to dissatisfaction with existing financial institutions and processes. AI might simply be the product of people impatient with humans’ abilities to sift through and manually analyze vast quantities of data.
So far the over-arching outcomes of our biggest technology innovations have been to help us communicate in new ways and to collect and learn from data. As those technologies mature — and with little else visible on the horizon — what should the goals of all these corporate-led innovation programs be? That’s one of the things I want to explore this month in our “Innovation Issue.” We’ll be looking at how some of the best-known B2B brands are unleashing the creativity and talent of their best people to do things that go beyond process improvement or revenue generation.
These are stories of B2B companies innovating new ways to build a more human connection between buyers and sellers, or innovating approaches to shifting cultures in organizations that seem deliberately designed to resist change. I’m also going to capture how this “innovation economy” might grow as more startups position themselves as leaders in breakthrough thinking, and as the next series of enterprise technology labs open their doors.
What’s great about this particular moment in history is the desire of so many organizations to treat innovative thinking as a value to nurture and encourage across the people they employ. Will they get it right? Maybe not right away, but all the labs and chief innovation officer roles might just be the mistakes we need to make before we see real results. Should we keep trying? Absolutely, 100 per cent.
Actually, make that 1,000 per cent.