I’m tired of hearing that dirty “i” word: “innovation.”

The term is used so much, it’s empty. But that doesn’t mean the ideas behind it are.

There are two main contexts that I’ve heard people use the word “innovation” to describe – both very different, and both better described by more precise language.

Innovation. /ˌinəˈvāSH(ə)n/ noun

Common use #1

An innovation is a new product or approach within an existing business.

When people say they want “innovation” they really mean:

  • We want to figure out how to adapt to stay relevant in the Digital Age.
  • We want to figure out how to respond to changing client demands
  • We want to figure out how to diversity our business model.
  • We want to figure out how to take more smart risks while testing new product ideas.
  • We want to figure out how to incorporate our environmental and human rights values into our products/business model.

Innovation. /ˌinəˈvāSH(ə)n/ noun

Common use #2

An innovation is a disruption to a market, which fundamentally changes how that market functions.

When people say they need “innovation” they really mean:

  • We want to come up with a better way to do this.
  • We want to come up with new ways to address pain points in this industry.
  • We want to come up with new ways to make this more effective/efficient.
  • We want to come up with a way to get people to consume less.
  • We want to come up with the next Uber/AirBnB/Google/Angry Birds.

English is a rich language that gives us so many options to describe exactly what we mean.

But yet, both the business and not-for-profit worlds seem to be stuck in this weird fifth dimension where the only noun we’re able to speak is “innovation.”

From these examples we can see it doesn’t have to be this way.

So, here’s my challenge to you: let’s abandon that shiny, empty “i” word. We don’t need it.


Also published on Medium.