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"Innovation" is Dead. Herald The Birth of "Transformation" as The Key Concept for 2009.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on December 31, 2008

“Innovation” died in 2008, killed off by overuse, misuse, narrowness, incrementalism and failure to evolve. It was done in by CEOs, consultants, marketeers, advertisers and business journalists who degraded and devalued the idea by conflating it with change, technology, design, globalization, trendiness, and anything “new.” It was done it by an obsession with measurement, metrics and math and a demand for predictability in an unpredictable world. The concept was also done in, strangely enough, by a male-dominated economic leadership that rejected the extraordinary progress in “uncertainty planning and strategy” being done at key schools of design that could have given new life to “innovation. To them, “design” is something their wives do with curtains, not a methodology or philosophy to deal with life in constant beta—life in 2009.

In the end, “Innovation” proved to be weak as both a tactic and strategy in the face of economic and social turmoil. It couldn’t get us safely through the troubles of 08 (indeed, financial innovation was to large degree responsible for the economic trainwreck). Most importantly, “innovation” cannot guide us into an uncertain and tumultuous future. It is too narrow to generate radical alternative options and build risk-taking frontier skills needed to remake and restructure our lives, our economies and our countries.

We need a deeper, more robust concept. “Transformation” captures the key changes already underway and can help guide us into the future. It implies that our lives will increasingly be organized around digital platforms and networks that will replace edifices and big organizations (students already know this, university presidents still have edifice-complexes, which is why so many of them are getting the boot). Check out Jeff Jarvis’ new book, What Would Google Do, on platforms and networks.

Global networks of trusted relationships working within ecosystems/platforms (think iTunes/iPod/iPhone, Nike Plus, Facebook, Threadless, Zipcar) will make up our socio-economic and political worlds. It is already underway. The concept of “Transformation” takes these changes much further. It implies radical transformation of our systems—education, health-care, economic growth, transportation, defense, political representation. It puts the focus on people, designing networks and systems off their wants and needs. It relies on humanizing technology, not imposing technology on humans. It approaches uncertainties with a methodology that creates options for new situations and sorts through them for the best quickly.

Most importantly, “Transformation” accepts the notion that we are in a post-consumer society, defined by two groups of economic players: manufacturers and consumers. “Transformation” deals with a new Creativity Society, in which we are all both producers and consumers of value. Look around and you can see Gen Y in particular creating practically from birth, mashing music, designing Facebook or MySpace pages, doing videos and podcasts—creating value. Check out futurist Paul Saffo on the subject.

My good friend Frank Comes, ex-Business Week and now at McKinsey, puts it this way: In the past, economic value was generated by transaction. Increasingly, economic value is generated through interactions. The key is monetizing those interactions. That’s the heart of an economy built on social media.

“Transformation” takes the best of “design thinking” and “innovation” and integrates them into a strategic guide for the unknowable and uncertain years ahead.

As a concept, it needs more detail and texture. What do you think we should add to it? Does it work for you?

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Reader Comments

tony fry

December 31, 2008 09:49 PM

On the end of innovation

Wrong again Bruce. Language, ideas, nature, society, economy, design ... do not function teleologically. We live and work amid the afterlife of redundant rhetoric. On new thinking on design check out 'design futuring.'


December 31, 2008 11:36 PM

Interesting intersection with Portigal in interactions today

Also, what a daring challenge! Does the tab on the Business Week site now read "Transformation" instead of "Innovation"? Does everything (to be relevant) now have to have had a prior, but faulted, existence, or is there still a space for truly new stuff?

Maybe branding is the origin of the ambiguity of language?

Christopher K. Travis

December 31, 2008 11:51 PM

Transformation works for me!

A shift in being is a sure cure for redundant rhetoric.

Prof. M P Ranjan

January 1, 2009 06:19 AM


We already have a group that has been functioning for over a year called "Transformation" which was set in motion by G K Van Patter of NextD fame

I hope it does not become another buzz word like "Innovation" particularly in management circles since in my view "Design" is still a deeply meaningful word that is not yet understood in the way it has been defined and expanded upon in the seminal book by Harold G Nelson and Eric Stolterman, "The Design Way".

The World Economic Forum has shown interest in connecting with "Design" this year particularly from the angle of bringing sustainability thinking to business and political leadership in the wake of the economic meltdown as well as a co-incident global warming which present day economics of growth and power broking does not seem to have an answer for. Design at this level is an act and process of politics far beyond the business roles of aesthetics and brands.

Design imagination and sensitive transformation may indeed be the way forward and I have commented on these at length on my blog "Design for India" for those who may be interested

Tonyt fry is very eloquent in his book "Design Futuring" however I still feel "the Design Way" to set the agenda as none others have done before. My students quote both these authors and debate the future shape of design and the world in the days ahead. You may wish to to take a closer look at Design as it is shaping up in these quarters and may indeed be a way forward for all of us in the post innovation era.

Design is about intentional human action that generates great value for society and environment alike. It is the oldest activity and predates science and technology and was perhaps manifested in this form over two million years ago with the first use of fire. Check out Harold Nelson and Dawkins for this angle. (Richard Dawkins, "The Ancestor's Tale")

Prof M P Ranjan
Faculty of Design
Head, Centre for Bamboo Initiatives at NID (CFBI-NID)
Chairman, GeoVisualisation Task Group (DST, Govt. of India) (2006-2008)
National Institute of Design
Ahmedabad 380 007 India

Saul Kaplan

January 1, 2009 02:27 PM

Happy New Year Bruce

As usual you challenge our thinking. I agree that innovation officially achieved buzzword status in 2008. The conversation has been too focused on invention and how technology can save our current business models and systems.

The narrative needs to focus more on designing new business models and systems or as you suggest, real transformation. The big hairy issues of our time including health care, education, energy independence, public safety, and quality of life are all systems issues that will require systems solutions. We must learn how to explore and test new system level solutions if we are going to make progress.

As you know at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) we are creating a real world lab for system level experimentation. My new mantra is R&D for new business models and systems level innovation. We need safe and manageable platforms to try more stuff and to learn from our exploration.

Here's to progress on transformation that matters in 2009.



January 1, 2009 02:41 PM

Is transformation the next iteration? The next layer on top of innovation? The next bubble?

That's, unfortunately, the feeling I walk away with after reading this.

Makes me want to hit the "Restore" button first and at least get back to my original OS as a human computer.

Maybe we should talk about how to accomplish that for a bit first, before we launch off into putting new siding on the crumbling structure.

Wow, sorry, that last line sounded way more cynical than I'd intended. But you get my point. I'm all for advancing the state of humanity. But we need to recognize and tackle the challenge of getting back to and restoring the core values that can serve as a stable foundation before we rush ahead to the next thing. Good news is, the world is so broken down now, we've never had a better time to start over at ground level.

If we don't rebuild on a foundation of honesty, trust will remain elusive. We will transform with one eye trained over our shoulders, looking for the next Madoff, the next Greenspan, and we will be hampered.

Let's do better.

Robert Jacobson

January 1, 2009 04:47 PM

In 2005, on my former blog, Total Experience, I wrote an essay, "Edification and Commutation, Canons for Experience Design."* Edification means improvement through participation; commutation, mutual change. The resulting outcome:

"Experience design is a transactive process. Commutation leads to edification, and edification makes possible commutation."

In other words, experience design ideally produces transformation and is transformative.

The concepts of edification and commutation are not original with me; they date back to the early Middle Ages, and probably are prehistoric, as the bison and hunters on cave walls indicate.

To Tony's comment, transformation occurs in the moment and is manifest in the future.

* My Total Experience entry is available at:

I welcome comments here.

Nate Archer

January 1, 2009 06:57 PM

Bruce, I agree with you whole-heartedly that innovation died in 2008. While I think transformation design is a valid concept and movement, proclaiming it the “new innovation” is detrimental to the cause.

As you pointed out, “(innovation) was done it by an obsession with measurement, metrics and math and a demand for predictability in an unpredictable world.” is this not a case of business not being able to cope with the natural unpredictability of design thinking? In my opinion we should be looking at why innovation (and design thinking) haven’t gained the traction that we hoped. When we begin to look at the failures from before, we can perhaps learn how to reframe or improve the ideas of design thinking. For one I think we can all agree that simply coming up with a new buzzword is not the answer.

Based on how you defined transformation, “It puts the focus on people, designing networks and systems off their wants and needs” I find it hard to see how it differs from definitions of design thinking?

Whether we call it transformation, innovation or design thinking, I think we are all attempting to express a feeling that things are not working the way they are. Rather than argue over the definitions of these words, we should be validating new methodologies and showing businesses and organizations that new approaches can help, whatever we call them.

Nate Archer

Dave Malouf

January 1, 2009 08:05 PM

I don't see how "Transformation" is any better than "Innovation". The arbitrary definitions you apply can be mutated at will be any force.

I agree with our fine Professor from India above when he talks about the power of Design.

I would add that it seems like your first opening statements about why "Design" is not understood or accepted are really the root we are looking at.

I see so much energy by people trying to rename "Design". Maybe we just need to stop changing the labels and fess up to our true agenda of trying to bring the creative and social/human sciences to bear on the financial and world problems we are trying to tackle.

It's a non-linear world, we need non-linear methods and practices for trying to describe and change it.

Conrad Lisco

January 1, 2009 08:13 PM

Right or wrong, I'm glad someone else is questioning innovation in its current form. The word has become marketingese... overused in meetings and pitches. What does it really mean anymore? I hope "transformation" (for our clients' sake) has something greater in store.

Dan Lewis

January 1, 2009 08:26 PM

Does this mean that you will become the Transformation Guru?

Happy New Year

Christopher S. Rollyson

January 1, 2009 08:31 PM

Bruce, people who have been around the block a few times have seen this all before: concepts get bandied about as corporate but few make it past the talk stage and all end up discredited. I don't know whether irony was intentional, but replace "innovation" with "transformation" and you'll have already written next year's post.

The problem with disruptive propositions is that Industrial Economy organizations (i.e. big prospects) are built to produce value from efficiency, and innovation is disruptive, discontinuous change; hence, very few companies really do it. They talk about it. Transformation suffers the same fate. Big organizations would like to do "innovation light" so it doesn't interrupt their continuous processes, but that doesn't work. Obviously I'm generalizing greatly here. Innovation, when practiced well, can always produce value, as can transformation.

Here are some additional thoughts...

Patrick McGowan

January 1, 2009 08:56 PM

Innovation vs. Transformation
In a sketch on Prairie Home Companion a character said, "Sincerity is the new irony." Similarly, Mr. Nussbaum has promoted transformation as the new innovation. It doesn't appear that "transformation" is any different than what innovation is becoming. His main point is that the word innovation has become overused and degraded.

Nussbaum says this about transformation: "It implies that our lives will increasingly be organized around digital platforms and networks that will replace edifices and big organizations (students already know this, university presidents still have edifice-complexes, which is why so many of them are getting the boot)."

Similarly, @ricetopher said: "Deleuze and Guattari had it right in 'A Thousand Plateaus': the tribe must become nomadic, rhizomatic to survive/thrive." Which, if I understand it correctly, means that there is no longer just one expert, but a multitude of voices contributing to the knowledge base. Wikipedia entry states: "Rhizome theory is also gaining currency in the educational field, as a means of framing knowledge creation and validation in the online era."

If we crowdsource the term, what might we get? Is "Transformation" a better description of what company's need to do to embrace a the future? Or is there something else?

Nussbaum continues: "(Transformation) implies radical transformation of our systems—education, health-care, economic growth, transportation, defense, political representation. It puts the focus on people, designing networks and systems off their wants and needs. It relies on humanizing technology, not imposing technology on humans. It approaches uncertainties with a methodology that creates options for new situations and sorts through them for the best quickly."

Tony Fry, author of "Design Futuring" believes that transformation is wrong.

"Design Futuring argues that responding to ethical, political, social and ecological concerns now requires a new type of practice that recognizes design's importance in overcoming a world made unsustainable."

Nussbaum makes mention of Paul Saffo. Here's a recent discussion he had on KQED. Tim Brown with IDEO on his blog Design Thinking summarized Saffo's thoughts.

"He discusses what he calls the ‘Creator Economy’ based around the simultaneous creation and consumption of value. He thinks of this as the evolution of what was once the producer economy, where scarcity was the controlling factor, and then became the consumer economy, where sales and marketing was the dominant idea. I have been wondering about this idea recently and see it as a natural extension of Robert Wright’s Non-Zero thesis. As our communication networks grow so does our ability to create new kinds of value. The early examples are Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Threadless. These all rely on their ability to generate participation and through that create individual and group value."

What I appreciate about the discussion so far -- across multiple channels -- is the understanding that we can move forward; that we need to move forward. Innovation may very well be old-school, bushleague. Join the conversation at my Friendfeed... it only makes sense, right?

Greg Atkinson

January 1, 2009 09:02 PM

Transformation is great, but you're wrong about innovation. Innovation is alive and very much needed.

Jim Graham

January 1, 2009 11:29 PM

In my opinion, the last thing we need is to trot out a new term for the same old pap. After all, as long as it is the same set of CEOs, consultants, marketeers, advertisers and business journalists, what is going to make the steady degradation and devaluation of "transformation" any different than any other overused term? What is going to change the pap, and not just the label attached?

Tom Flanagan

January 1, 2009 11:58 PM

We will have more innovation than we will have transformation, and if we loose the capacity to manage innovation we will nave no transformation. The key difference is one of moving among the rules or changing the rules. If we transform, we make a durable change in the rules. And if we install a new set of rules, we will have a whole lot of innovation to do to fit solutions back into our increasingly complex rule-structured systems.

Christopher K. Travis

January 2, 2009 12:34 AM

I too am a member of the Transforming Transformation Google group, though most often a lurker since the discussion typically relates to graphic and product design rather than my area of expertise, which is architecture.

Transformation is a human experience. It is ontological and can only be declared by the person experiencing it. Only living things "be" and transformation is a shift in being.

Creating a transformative graphic design is a pretty tall order. I run an architecture firm and design homes. Our clients say the methods we use - which include psychology and human factors research - lead them to a transformation experience in their new homes...but we are creating environments that envelope them.

The prevailing ideology in architecture posits architecture as art, not as fitting living space. Human experience is secondary if considered at all outside the practicalities.

Transformation, it seems to me, can only be delivered by any type of professional when they understand the total "system" of an individual, group or organization as a living breathing organism.

Design is an applied art form. Art like architecture seldom compromises itself by seeking the experience of the observer. Too bad, as I think a focus on "user experience" is one of the most profound cultural changes occurring in business and society today.

My question would be this: If the new paradigm for design is transformation, can you offer an example of a "transformative" design? I would assert the most impactful designs are often created intuitively, and not as the result of a rational process.

Transformation is in the brain of the observer, not the pen or hard drive of the designer.

Marc Van Norden

January 2, 2009 01:59 AM

I enjoy your point of view. Yes, the terms are worn out by the end of the year. And I agree, all the groups mentioned have helped contribute to that end. But I don't think those factors alone were the cause. It was the inability to get the economic value out of the interaction. Beyond Media/Ad placement within those high traffic networks the nut has yet to be cracked. I don't think there was a defined formula that demonstrated the economic value pulled from Social Media. In the end people were continuing to talk about the promise of innovation, but with no realistic tie to economic value, the focus was on the metrics and analysis.

It was the problem going into the 2008, and it will be the problem going into 2009. We haven't figured out how to truly define the economic impact for our clients.

Marc Van Norden
follow me: @mvannorden

Todd Sundsted

January 2, 2009 04:00 AM

I agree with and like the sound of so much of what you wrote. But I don't think another term is necessary. While I like "transformation" because it implies a shift or a change, and is in some ways a more focused activity, it is just as likely to achieve buzzword status once money enters the picture.

That was the problem with "innovation". "Innovation" got hot; consultants, speakers, designers, artists, ex-CEO's jumped on the bandwagon and started selling "innovation". The hype machine rev'd up and reality distorted. Like innovation, you really can't deliver "transformation" or "change". But if they get hot enough, people will try to sell them to you.

So what did I like about your post?

The point almost got lost in the ensuing commotion, but you touch on one trend that *will* make a difference in the next 10 years -- the speed and ease with which ordinary people can create sustainable value by building narrow, tightly focused solutions that address needs in niche markets that they understand well, but that can be served nationally or globally using the power of the commerce and communication infrastructure the last two waves of tech investment have created.

These innovators won't *talk* about "innovation". They might not even know what the word means, but they will be the ones creating value.

Michael Melnick

January 2, 2009 04:05 AM

I Agree with Dave Malouf. "Innovation" and "Transformation" only describe WHAT we all want to achieve while "Design" offers HOW to get there.

Matt Anthony

January 2, 2009 04:17 AM

I think that encompassing meaning for what is happening in design in one word will always have limited potential in connecting design with business. The best thing design can do is show the value of the process in applications outside of traditional design realms. We need to be able to interface with business in ways more meaningful than creating the next business jargon. I think Bruce has been pretty strategic in facilitating this discussion between the two and hopefully 2009 might bring a better understanding between the two disciplines.

I think words and phrases such as "innovation" and "design thinking" are well meaning but bound to be tainted with multiple interpretations as to their meaning. Why not just talk about the coming trends and the implications of how design can impact them meaningfully. "Transformation" is an important concept but doesn't fully encompass the growing connection of consumers in the process of creating their products. People are interested in origins, transparency, creation, individuality. They wonder about how things are being created and how they can make things their own by tweaking the creation process. Collaboration is important. I don't think its something that can or should be encompassed in one word. Why not just declare 2009 a year that design matters, that design can really make a difference (and hopefully we can live up to it more than other years)? What design really needs beyond forecasting and applying the things that are to come is really creating action in this "transformation" and to do that we need clear communication of how designers can understand the needs of business and so that business can fully understand and utilize designers in new and important, dare I say innovative roles. I think this could be the great strength of the Business Week Nussbaum connection.

David Barrie

January 2, 2009 02:44 PM

Right. Innovation has always felt to be another version of the genius-in-the-attic attitude towards social and cultural change. Transformation implies a process and implies working with things that have latencies and valences for change: the job being to turn those things in to something worth while and different. This is where the net and digital/virtual networking is so on the money - and unbelievably exciting!

Joe Moran

January 2, 2009 04:37 PM

What happened to "branding?"

Very Respectfully,

Robert Jacobson

January 2, 2009 06:50 PM

Innovation is about getting others to change. Transformation is about changing oneself in the process.

This goes for individuals, groups, and organizations.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy opened the door on transformation with general systems theory in the 60s. Herbert Simon, Peter Senge and Charles Handy have been its most eloquent advocates for the last two decades. John Thackara, Hilary Cottam, and Bruce Mau (IMHO, there are others) are its most ardent current proponents.

Transformative design, design thinking, change management, scenario planning ("futuring"), etc., are all means to the same end: enduring positive change. Some methods work better than others, depending on the situation. All work better than what's gone before.


January 2, 2009 07:20 PM

Transformation? Does that have anything to do with growing or raising one's own food, or actually producing something of tangible value in order to earn a living? If not, then stand by to see this sort of self-important wankery rendered doubly useless. Designers will not shape the future -- circumstances will, and dire circumstances at that. It's already happening, kids.

Liz Moise

January 2, 2009 07:57 PM

What a fantastic discussion. While I do agree that the term "Innovation" has run its course, I believe that a change in terminology does not help address the issue. At issue I believe is the fact that Design itself (with a big D)is not fully embraced by most consumer-facing corporations and brands.

We all know the few companies that have fully embraced it, but for most companies Design (or Innovation, or Transformation) is an afterthought, or a visual band-aid.

In 2009, as thought leaders, designers and marketers let's strive to help our colleagues and clients get past the labels and truly meet (and anticipate) need with good positive design, whether that's brand design, product design, program design, or world-changing design.

Liz Moise


January 2, 2009 08:49 PM

Interesting piece. In looking at the generational perspective - My company and I have been talking through the idea of Gen Y being best identified as the "Transformer Generation". They share the same birth date as the toy brand and have evolved in the same ways with implications in networks, design and identity. They are also a generation at the point of maturation and currently defining themselves at a point of disillusionment - which is always good as a catalyst for new paradigms and cultural shifts. The transformation over innovation is consistent with what we have been talking about. Here is a presentation on the Transformer Generation:


January 3, 2009 12:18 AM

I think the point you are trying to make is valid, and transformation is a more viable concept than innovation, but your arguments are rather thin. In fact, "It couldn’t get us safely through the troubles of 08.." is a silly remark. This has nothing to do with the concept of innovation but with the people doing it. Innovation is bound by guts and courage (or 'irrational exuberance' as people like to say these days), and there is very little of that in the face of severe economic downturn. Transformation gives us more tangible buttons to tweak and therefore more predictable–but MUCH broader–results. It's innovation + social aspects. NOT innovation 2.0.

For more 'texture' (from an advertising perspective), check out what Leland Maschmeyer and the people at Collins: are doing.


Evelyn So

January 3, 2009 05:10 AM

Agree on principle, but wonder if this is just a matter of semantics when it comes to the application of "innovative thinking" vs "transformative thinking"?

Idris Mooeee

January 3, 2009 05:25 AM

No Bruce,

The word may be overused. The idea is hardly dead and it is more important than ever. The word is hardly as misused and abused as the word 'brand' or 'strategy'.In fact, the word 'transformation' has been used or misused for a long time outside of your circle. It was used since the early 80s by management consultants. You can argue that no word is as accurate as 'innovation' as terms of describing the need for reinvention/applied imagination/rapid prototyping/co-creation/design-driven.

Let's stick with INNOVATION and instead help people to truly understand and practice innovation to create value other than finding another word and try to explain it once again, You did a great job making this word a vocabulary for the average managers, let's keep it up.

Idris Mootee
CEO Idea Couture

Mike Reardon

January 3, 2009 06:56 AM

I think Transparency would get more crowd support this year. More functional for all concerned deciding what direction really needs to be transformed.


January 3, 2009 08:48 AM

transformation is deepening the place where innovation comes from

Toby Coop

January 3, 2009 12:02 PM

The points you make only touch the surface of the problem. The real issue is not Innovation but learned incapacity or skilled ignorance. Organizations and their teams are basically really good at avoiding how to do new things, at avoiding real creativity at avoiding real change.

What we lack is a logic of innovation a logic of experience. Social technology is driven by relationships, by emotions, by ideas, really great ideas. Innovation, or transformation, or design are principles governed by thought.

Therefore the heart of change is about the human endeavor to understand oneself and discover meaning. The economic crisis returns us to this question of personal examination.

The business questions of the future are ethical and they are about the new ways organizations can engage with their people and the world at large in Noble endeavors that offer real change. Noble Business... business as a force for is a mantra for change. And that change ranges from the individual to the world. However the change begins with the individual. And real ideas, great ideas are always dangerous.

2008 marks the death of the technocratic school of management. What 2008 needs is leadership through ideas. And that requires a mental set that has been missing in action.
Toby Coop

Dyot Ana

January 3, 2009 01:28 PM

Innovation is the key to transformation as well as transformation opens the doors to innovation. No way for one without the other. And the process starts right where the roots of the heart can blossom: into the fields of consciousness where one is able to living through action.


January 3, 2009 02:21 PM

Are these comments curated?

Antonio Rodriguez

January 3, 2009 02:37 PM

What does:

In the past, economic value was generated by transaction. Increasingly, economic value is generated through interactions. The key is monetizing those interactions.

mean exactly? Aren't interactions valuable precisely because they can be monetized through transactions, either directly (when I read an Amazon review and buy the product) or indirectly (when I do a Google search and follow a sponsored link to a transaction)?

I love the piece and think you've almost got it down, but the flyer you take at the end with that one line is really confusing to me. When Facebook struggles with revenue it is because they've got tons of interactions but very little way to turn those into transactions which they can charge someone for.

Please explain.

And happy new year!


January 3, 2009 02:58 PM

Bruce, writes for Business Times and I like his focus – business focus. He spots and illuminates design related issues that businesses should be interested in a timescape where before each phenomena is known and understood – it’s meaning and relevance becomes obsolete. We live in such times.

My take on why innovation is dumped : Business Times Readership cant make it happen. Only small start-ups can.

My take on why Transformation is the new buzz word : Because the Business Times Readership need to worry about it.

If you took at the cross section of most cars or open up any electronic device you will see that they have all converged - and they “lack of innovation “. Innovation can only create value when the barriers are maintainable and not in a context when everybody has access to the same tools, technologies, distribution channels and design capabilities. Innovation is well and truly dead. Businesses cant make money with it.So "innovation" is declared dead.

Globalization wedded to the internet is creating new possibilities for products and services where consumers are participating in creation – not hi-level inspiring stuff, but stuff that they like and stuff that is meaning full to them. Companies have no choice but to support this – by transforming themselves. Thus transformation is a nice and relevant word. Well done Bruce.



January 3, 2009 03:03 PM

pls replace business times with business week - in my previous post.

Sorry about this mistake



January 3, 2009 05:55 PM

I agree with the comments above that merely a name change or re-branding doesn't do much. In the end, we are talking Design and Creativity to bring about solutions to complex problems and add value to our society.

The thing about innovation is it seems like such a powerful force at the individual level. Innovation seems tangible to me. I can touch and feel it.

Here are some great examples of how ex-wall street types are innovating and creating a new creative-class ( It is unfortunate that it took a crisis and the end of easy money/high paying jobs to get these people to follow their creative passions. We needed these people solving complex problems using creative thinking or were they a little too creative and this led to "mortgage backed securities?" I think not. I think that was the creativity of a slim majority and herd mentality from the masses who themselves were not unlocking their creative potential

Maybe the transformation will come when we get enough of a generation to think in a different way, monetize the creator community, and start rebuilding our institutions to solve our complex problems.

I am now seeing that design thinking leads to innovation, which will hopefully bring about transformations in our society. Macro vs. micro thinking.

Peter Jones

January 3, 2009 06:00 PM

BW is business-oriented publication, so I realize the declarative bombast inherent in calling one concept dead and another its replacement is largely provocative. the way it is presented here is very much supply-side driven as well.

Those of us responding to this article should also investigate the different understandings of how "transformation" is known, used, and understood in the business and social innovation communities. If we co-opt the term as providers in place of innovation, the power of transformative design thinking will follow the same trajectory as innovation, except even more quickly. It is not a service to sell, and it is not a strategy to endorse.

Transformation first appeared in wide usage in the business community in 1995, when John Kotter published "Why Transformation Efforts Fail " in the HBR. Transformation was the concept that followed re-engineering, and many large organizations used the expression to imbue their biannual re-org rituals with the gravitas of the implication that transformation "changes everything." The problem is, once an organization has "done transformation" once, it has no listening or availability to do it again. I would caution the design community to be aware that this meme may go back a lot farther than your own experience and practices.

More recently there was the re-envisioning of complex social problem solving as transformation design as initiated by the UK Design Council around 2005, and their well-known RED projects. There is a reason that most of us do not sell transformation design - consultancies need a clear client owner, and transformation design projects cross multiple boundaries and constituencies. Typically only governments will pay for such complex, large scale problem solving.

However, there are communities of design practice working in the transformation space. Some call this Design 3.0, as in "design of the organizational capacity to innovate." Others use the term to denote social innovation projects, or public services redesign.

When it comes right down to it, to innovate is a verb, something we do. But do we DO transformation? Transformation lives in the thing that's being changed. We do not actually do the transforming, and for large-scale systems, the transforming takes time, commitment, forbearance, and vision. Things in short supply in the business cycle.

Change for change's sake is expensive and disruptive. From a purely business perspective, transformation is not a strategy, something Kotter points out. An organization transforms because it must, or it will die off. But does it transform as a growth strategy? Maybe - but extreme strategies may also kill the company, as innovation theorist Michael Raynor points out.

Consider other targets of design. Does transforming a well-known brand help it to grow? Did the transformation of the music industry help its productive artists earn a living? Transforming is not a design strategy, it is an outcome of an extreme makeover strategy inspired by survival, social, or significant competitive drivers.

We need to be very careful in how we deploy the concepts of transformation. There are multiple versions of the idea out in the marketplace already, and each application deserves a modifier. Our clients deserve intellectual honesty from us - therefore we should develop the body of knowledge with the rigorous inquiry of our own research and experience.


January 3, 2009 08:07 PM

This is a depressing article and discussion, for the reason Liz cites above: "I believe that a change in terminology does not help address the issue." Our societal "burn rate" projects species extinction and we think a choice of words will help? Transformation and innovation are both necessary - the former to re-invent our foundations and the latter to shorten the distance between that and what we do every day.

The questions then become: how deep can we go in foundational transformation, and how perpetually we can innovate within our practices?

Jules Pieri

January 3, 2009 10:20 PM

So, I should be able to really get into this argument and discussion. At least on professional qualifications; I'm the first industrial designer to ever get an MBA at Harvard (I am told), and happen also to be a social media expert, having recently ran a social network. So I "get" design, social media, and business from the inside.

(In fact, way back in the'80's I used to send Business Week snail mail exhortations telling the editors to start to cover design..."Hey you guys are missing the boat!") But now I am not so much interested in the theoretical.

I just want to see good thinkers take this whole social media avalanche and turn it into good: good businesses, products, and institutions. I'm doing my bit in our startup: harnessing the power of social media communities to discover great new products. (Sorry for the plug, but some fresh examples are needed in this discussion.)

It takes a combination of new media savvy, a powerful understanding of human psychology, and good old fashioned operating skills to monetize social media. The problem is very few company founders and teams have that rare combination.

Jules Pieri
Founder and CEO
Daily Grommet


January 3, 2009 11:46 PM

So do you want even more risk while the former risk lead us to present situation?

Btw.Transformation is concept already in Military for about a decade or more.


January 4, 2009 05:05 AM

On the last day of 2008, Bruce Nussbaum in Business Week:

"Innovation" died in 2008...
He couldn't start the new year more...well, wrong.

It reminds me of a client in London who approached me after a presentation I gave to his holding company at the dawn of the commercial WWW in 1998. He asked, "How can I make money on the Internet?" It was at once a breathtakingly open-ended question for a new platform so pregnant with myriad possibilities. And so demoralizingly foreclosing in its shortsightedness. After a minute of resignation, I remember answering, "The same way you make money on the telephone."


Did "'Design' die in 2006" so that "Design Thinking" Nussbaum has since been promoting could be born? Will "'Transformation' die in 2010" so that design bureaucracy can manufacture another buzzphrase, maybe "Reformation"? When the pendulum makes its way back, will it be "Restoration" in 2015?

Continues in:

Snake Oil: "Transformation" kills "Innovation"

Christa Avampato

January 4, 2009 05:25 AM

Hi Bruce,
What I love about the idea of transformation is that it requires us to give up any preconceived notions of how things "should be". It means we let go of our fears about the future and embrace positive changes in our behavior. We become willing to give up old habits, and stop imposing limits on our own creativity and the creativity of others. Transformation, and our capacity for it, gives us reason for hope.

I believe firmly that we are not in a typical economic cycle - the rules of the game have changed. Those cycles of years past are gone. We aren't going to bounce back. Many big companies are not going to rebound. Like the old Darwinian adage, we must change (transform) or perish. Those are the only two options.

Nejdeh Hovanessian

January 4, 2009 07:47 AM

Is it important what we call it - 'innovation' or 'transformation'? They are just titles/names, even if they are overused verbally. But the question is 'have we overused it in reality?' I don't think so… Otherwise we wouldn't be in the middle of a financial crisis, like the one started from the most developed countries, or the human crisis, like the one happening just now in the Middle East.
I don't think that changing the title/name will change the approach…

Nejdeh Hovanessian
Design, Brand & Innovation Catalyst
Tehran, Iran

John F. Wedman

January 4, 2009 05:32 PM

Bruce’s posting is thought provoking, but a new term is not going change things in any meaningful way.

It is fundamentally flawed to associate a concept with its implementation. Innovation as a process does not necessarily fail; but poorly implemented innovation processes fail every day. There are many clear examples of this. The same will be true of transformations. The transformation road will be very rocky since, as it is asserted, transformation “takes the best of ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ and integrates them into a strategic guide for the unknowable and uncertain years ahead.” What is the best of innovation if it is indeed dead?

The idea that transformation relies on humanizing technology, versus imposing technology on humans is not revolutionary. John Naisbitt said as much in 1982.

In the main, I found responses to Bruce’s blog to be spot on, particularly Crawford’s posting on restoring core values.

John Wedman, Professor & Director
School of Information Science
& Learning Technologies
University of Missouri, Columbia

Christopher K. Travis

January 4, 2009 05:57 PM

Peter Jones nails some of the trickier aspects of this discussion in his post above...but I think additional challenges exist.

With respect, and understanding the context in which Bruce Nussbaum is writing here, the definition of "transformation" must be determined for this discussion to be useful.

Bruce says this: "The concept of “Transformation” takes these changes much further. It implies radical transformation of our systems—education, health-care, economic growth, transportation, defense, political representation. It puts the focus on people, designing networks and systems off their wants and needs. It relies on humanizing technology, not imposing technology on humans."

That statement points out the possibility of transformation, but also the challenge. There are a wide variety of academic disciplines that look into "human factors" as they relate to design.

They range from environmental, behavioral and clinical psychology to behavioral economics, from neuropsychology to ergonomics and anthropology, to "evidence-based design" in architecture and systems science. And that is a very brief list. There are many more.

And no systematic and reliable methods that have been put forward have been generally accepted or are currently in a state to be applied in the marketplace.

I know because we created one of those methods for creating "transformational living space" and our work is considered quite controversial even though we have used it with clients for a decade. Most of the more effective and "monetized" methods in that area are also "edgy" and not fully accepted by academic, scientific and industry groups.

For instance, Landmark Education offers an entire suite of courses related to "transformation" and has a global business built around it, but their work is often seen as "self-help" and not as a business technology.

But I think Bruce's core point here is right on. If you cannot get into the psychological and cultural system of an individual, a company, a family or any other "complex adaptive system" and map it effectively so you can understand the recurrent patterns of its behavior and its "values and motivations" - you cannot create designs of any sort- graphic, identity, architectural, HR or operations related - that will have lasting value.

Our "homes" are in our heads. Our "product identities" are in our heads. Our cultural and economic relationships are in our heads.

You cannot design a package unless you focus deeply on the contents it is designed to display or hold. That is the starting point for creating a transformative design of any sort.

That is exactly where we need to go, and this kind of conversation is what will take us there. We are talking about a shift in paradigm here, not just a new buzz word, but we have to understand the mountain we are climbing if we expect to crest it.

Christopher K. Travis
CEO - Nidiant Corporation
Sentient Architecture, LLC

Siamak Salimpour

January 4, 2009 07:40 PM

Innovation may be dead, but the innovator is ever alive!

Perhaps we need to separate the two from each other for an instance. Perhaps we have built an economic structure in far-West around our society that has chocked off innovation, constraining innovator. After all, without the innovator (aka human) the planet earth as we know it has no meaning. Perhaps we should go back to the basics and pay closer ‘attention’ to the innovator. A deeper and intimate attention… Perhaps we need to rethink the idea that innovation comes from certain foundries (i.e. design firms and so called think thanks). Perhaps we need to revisit our employment practices so innovators can efficiently and effectively align to what they do best. Perhaps an employment and investment culture that allows them to be discovered and nurtured.

Looking at the recent years post dot com crash, from upstream (aka financials/VCs) that supposedly nurture innovators to downstream (aka employers, firms) that supposedly give them playing fields have become gated communities—with left brain thinking as gate keepers. A deadly protocol based on the same mindset that brought us to this historical economic mess. An oxymoron that preaches “think outside the box” while boxing things up in its day-to-day practice. Perhaps…

Siamak Salimpour
Founder, CareerSpice

Joe Schwartz

January 4, 2009 10:42 PM

Transformation is the trailer-park version of innovation, like the cheap, affordable knock-off of a full home. It will never increase a company's value if all it does is continue to re-invent the wheel.

True innovation requires minds that actually think of new ideas, rather than repackaging old ones; it requires a company that fosters failure to find that one success; and it requires a mindset that play is an important component of innovation.

Consider a company such as Pixar, who "stumbled" across animation while trying to show off a video card and software they were trying to sell - to the military, if I am not mistaken. Where would they be if they were still peddling hardware?

Or Walt Disney, who conceived of an amusement park unlike any ever built and then had the guts to order it built in exactly one year! Where would we be if old Walt had stuck to merry-go-rounds and pony rides?

Transformation is what Microsoft does, by building more and more apps on top of already ineffective software, in an attempt to be PERCEIVED as innovative; transformation is a new logo, but the same old customer support; a new wrapper for an old soft drink.

We have become used to accepting sh*t as "what it is", rather than expecting quality results. We are no longer shocked when our leaders rip us off and disappear to some tropic island because we already think they are crooked and expect them to rip us off.

Until we raise our standards, expect better of ourselves, our co-workers, our employees and our children, we will continue to be a society that is in a constant state of "transformation", rather than a society of innovators. And if we are always transforming, we will never, ever be able to stop, look around, evaluate and do something new and worthwhile.

Joe Schwartz
Graphic Designer and Design Educator
Spotswood, NJ

Jim Bleck

January 5, 2009 06:12 PM

We are in an age where executing on an idea is what counts. There are hundreds of decision points, new information everyday, and dozens of people involded in every project.

Innovation/Transformaion projects fail because those involved stop aticipating change and responding to the day to day changes. They can't manage all the decisions, or fail to keep pace with faster competitors. Team members have other adjendas, or managment has no vision.

Todays adversity breeds invention, innovation and transformation. Make it better, faster, cheaper etc. It is called progress.

Keep the economy uncertain and only the boldest risk takers will succeed. These people don't care about trendy words, they just forge ahead and maximize the next opportunity. Design, innovation, who cares! Grab the opportunities and go! Make the deal, get to the next step.

After the bold succeed then the press writes endless books about their success and how you can do the same. College professors pen endless textbooks on how to be creative and all descibe how Apple and Google do it. Creative firms write press articals claiming most of the success was due to their efforts.

Meanwhile the boldest visionary entreprenuers work coutless hours a week and take imense risks. After they do this on a few projects they get good at it.

Chas Porter

January 5, 2009 06:17 PM

Thanks Bruce.

A new term is needed to describe the seismic shift in business, culture, and life brought on by a networked society, and "transformation" works. It brings all the chatter about change, trend, etc. together under one term that describes both the process and the goal. Well done. The challenge now will be to actually implement transformation. At my company, Mint Strategy, we've redesigned strategic planning to help companies evolve and better align themselves with the way people live, search, interact, and share today. It's an iterative/incremental process. A key feature of our new methodology are micro strategies: multiple options for new situations that start small and are then sorted by the results they achieve, with the best receiving further investment. It's described in more detail on our web site: Thanks again. I'm going to start using "transformation" immediately.

nicolae halmaghi

January 5, 2009 06:18 PM


It is not Innovation that failed, and I don’t think Transformation will save us. These terms are way to broad and all-encompassing to deliver relevant insights into specifics. Everybody will to use them according to their level of understanding. General terms like “Change” had a huge impact in Obama’s campaign because they were general in scope but had specific mass appeal. Most people craved and shared at least some part of the Change. His campaign was designed more or less like a tapestry of changes that in the end amounted to massive change.

The problem with Innovation was that people either abused the term, or assigned it only to certain domains, mostly science and technology. In the process they diluted the meaning. Transformation will have the same fate. It is a new buzz-word from the 2009 WCF in Dubai, that may have general applications to the world at large, but design itself is about transformation.

It is not Innovation that failed us, it is Design Thinking that let us down.

Five, six years ago we hailed Design Thinking as the new field that was about to elevate the design profession onto new heights. Sounded great…and it got even better.

The Perfect Creative Storm blew in:

• Richard Florida predicted the “Rise of the Creative Class”
• Virginia Postrel hailed the “Aesthetic Imperative”
• Dan Pink assigned new value and gave power to the right brain: “A whole new Mind”
• Bruce Mau liberated design from its constrains in “Massive Change”
• The Davos Conference asserted the “Creative Imperative” and proclaimed Creativity as the “Currency of the Century”.

WCF, Davos 2006 gave us a blank check to innovate according to our way of thinking. Not only that, but we had one of the High Priests of Design Thinking, Tim Brown from IDEO as an advisor to the world.

So, how far did we come? How much did we accomplish in this field? Did we optimize our potential? If this were a business venture did we meet our projections?

I am not sure that we have done so well. Yes, we get articles in Fast Company. Even the New York Times writes about DT and yes, BusinessWeek truly believes in Design Thinking.
But then again, after all these years, you cannot overlook the fact that an air of confusion and doubt creeps between the lines in most articles on the subject. What is DT, what exactly does it do, and how exactly does it deliver any value?

Let’s ask ourselves some hard questions?
How many schools (design or business schools) have adopted this new field?
How many people are qualified to teach in this domain? How many top executives are really getting it? How many are interested in adopting the principles of DT? What exactly are the principles of DT? Is DT innovation?
After five-six years, at what stage is DT? Infant, puberty, etc… Where should it be?

What is the State of Design Thinking?

In my opinion I think we need help:

• When Tim Brown, the head of one of the top design firms in the world asks years into the process on his blog: “is there a definition of Design Thinking? Is it useful to have one?”
• When John Maeda, from MIT Media Lab, now RISD president, one of the great thinkers, who is actively working on blurring the boundaries between science, art, business and design refers to Design Thinking in a recent article in Fast Company as ” …basically being able to make good PowerPoint slides, the quad-chard slide, the stakeholder slide”
• When trusted design critics, whose passions and interests are to promote design in all shape or form, are now blaming DT for selling out to the business community, or how Maeda puts it “Drucker-up”.
• When we shift from naming design conferences “ Serious Play” or “Design -Craft” to calling them “ Design 2.0, Design 3.1.” What the hell does 2.0 mean? Open source design? We went from clarity, meaning, poetry and metaphors to “2.9… the new and improved version”.

The problem that has plagued Design Thinking from the very beginning is that there has never been a clear definition of what it actually is. “Rapid Prototyping, Ideation ”…and all other terms used to define it were just part of the machinery that drove the process…they didn’t constitute Design Thinking.

By not taking the time to define this emerging profession design undermined itself and neutralized one of its most valuable assets; its uncanny ability to create clarity.

If “Design Thinking” were assigned to a consultancy, as a new project to be launched, it would have failed miserably from the very beginning due to the fact that it never ever defined itself.
We didn’t bothered to generate a crisp, clear “Brief”, the absolute key ingredient to the success of any project in the design world. The results are only as good as the brief, and the brief is only as good as the people who think it through. The current state of DT reflects our situation. Within a few years I saw this movement go from something that was quite difficult to understand to start with, slip into something even more abstract, In the process we ticked off the design community and confused the business world.

So the big question: Where do we go from here?
According to the responses on your last posting on “Transformation” there seems to a huge interest and active participation on this subject. Why not start serious discussions on Design Thinking on your blog? Present DT topics that are DESIGNED to elicit and DELIVER VALUE.

The concept by macro-economist Joseph Schumpeter of “Creative Destruction” may be the right remedy to the current economic situation as well as to the state of Design Thinking.

In my opinion, this is what we need to do first:

1. We Designers and Design Thinking advocates need to RE-DEFINE and UNDERSTAND What Design Thinking is?
2. We need to be able to COMMUNICATE ELOQUENTLY it’s meaning so that even a five year old can understand it.
3. We need to SHOW HOW and WHY DESIGN THINKING WORKS and why is the BEST EQUIPPED field that can solve these problems: (a,b,c,….z)
a. “Design is pictorial therefore not open to infinitive ways of interpretation” (Tim Brown)
b. Design is of all creative disciplines the closest to the business world
c. Etc..etc..
4. We need to DEFINE WHERE it resides within the design domain as well as business field.
5. We MUST SHOW HOW Design Thinking delivers MEASURABLE VALUE to both, the business and the design community.
6. We need to FORM a GENERAL CONSENSUS so that Design Thinking can be adopted as a valid CURRICULUM in business and design schools.(tailored accordingly)

Since I have initiated this discussion I may as well start with my understanding of what Design Thinking is. I use these parameters it in my consulting practice, as well as part of the syllabus whenever I teach the course in Design Schools.

Design Thinking

1. Is mining and extracting the essence of ALL DESIGN disciplines
2. Is using its inherent process of thinking and solving as a conscious tool to teach how to innovate.
3. Induces and elicits cross-pollination of creativities from different disciplines with different objectives.
4. Interprets and displays data, information and knowledge generated through Integrative Thinking.
5. Designs platforms that allow for the creation of contextual clarity between left and right brain thinking. The results generate communal sense-making.
6. Calibrates the level of understanding between participants from similar or opposing disciplines.
7. Manages the creative capital of ALL disciplines under one governing intelligence.

Each of the above parameters MUST SHOW HOW and PROVE that it can deliver what it says it does.

I think before we embrace another movement, we should start fixing and improving what we have already adopted and identified as being crucial to the innovation process. The quicker we put our collective mind to work, the faster we gain credibility in the design and business world.
If we are not careful we may fall pray to the way Bruce Mau, in his SMLXL book defined Post-Modernism.

“…a moving backwards. It was a process that took from the original copies, copies of copies, imitations of interpretations, all timidly following the past. This not only ransacked our past, but more importantly robbed us of our present, obliterating our future.

Lets make 2009 the year when Design, and Design Thinking emerge as valid, and credible forces. Formidable forces that improve lives, help a wounded planet, become vital, integral parts of modern business models, and will be adopted into forward thinking learning institutions.

Sorry if this posting was too long, but I had to get it off my chest.


Scott Rowe

January 5, 2009 06:59 PM

I think this is ripe for a Dilbert cartoon or two...


Alberto Hermosillo

January 5, 2009 07:01 PM

I skipped the comments here because the article triggered a gut reaction in me, and can't wait to let this out.

Innovation is what professors preach in our major. (I am currently an University Student in Mexico.) They try to sell us the idea as if it were the key to success, and at the same time, the reason of any failure.

I don't know, maybe if they could transmit the idea along with it's subtleties they could result in a more effective concept.

I would throw out all that "if it can't be measured..." thing, and infuse some more 'radicalism' into the Social Sciences; and to put an end to this rant, I think it goes this way: Innovation > Transformation > Evolution.

Gert Verschueren

January 5, 2009 07:08 PM

Whatever you name it - innovation, transformation, change,... - the essence and objective is, or should be, always the same: creating a better world to live in.

Sarah Couto

January 5, 2009 11:05 PM

Consumers? I thought you were talking about human beings.


January 5, 2009 11:13 PM

nice to see Business Week coming on board. we have been focusing on this for six months.

here's the most recent summary at the AWhere blog:

# Business Intelligence Transformation: organizing and comparing data provides more accurate information about your business.

# Location Intelligence Transformation: adding the geographical frame-of-reference provides more knowledge about the relationships between information that don't appear in spreadsheets.

# AWhereness Transformation: interaction and correlation with outside data provide you with the understanding of the impact that different choices can make.

# Geo-Analytics Transformation: this ability to ask new questions of your data and analyze changes in the market (geographic distribution of credit defaults, as one example), as well as your competitors creates wisdom that is based in solid data and information, which enhances the intuition that professional develop over time.

more detail available at:


January 6, 2009 09:38 PM

Innovation is currently seen as idea generation but the innovation process extends far beyond that. I think 2009 will bring a much broader understanding of how to implement innovation rather than just start the process.

Linda Naiman

January 7, 2009 01:12 AM

Thought provoking article. Transformation for me has a different meaning from innovation. While both effect change, transformation suggests elevated uplifting change for the better.

We have an opportunity to transform our economic system from a transactional model where I win and you lose, to a relational model where I win, you win, the community wins, and the environment benefits.

Linda Naiman
Corporate Alchemist

Helping Organizations transform leaden thinking into gold

Jonathan Vehar

January 7, 2009 02:54 PM

Innovation is dead! Long live innovation!

Thanks for the perspective, Bruce. I found the article to be thought provoking, and the responses a wonderful debate that showcases one of the problems of "innovation" and "transformation:"

As concepts, they are so broad and all-encompassing, that we all get tripped up in our own understanding of them.

According to several definitions, you could describe "innovation" and/or "transformation" as a "phenomenon."

Which means that it's more about what happens than how you make it happen.

So whether your process for making it happen is Design Thinking (one way, but only *one* way of creating innovation), various strategic planning processes, Creative Problem Solving, Synectics, 6 Hats, or whatever...the result is what we can observe as "innovation," or a "transformation." We observe the phenomenon that happens after it happens.

Is innovation dead? No.

Is the obsessive, rampant waving of the flag of innovation by people trying to spike the stock price of their firms a dying trend? Let's hope so, since it cheapens what we are all interested in creating.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter in a recent article describes many waves of innovation that we've gone through, which in fact are really just waves where we stand on the ramparts waving the flag of innovation. Innovation never stops happening in our world. Without innovation, organizations die.

The difference is whether we're shouting about it from the roof-tops. To really make the world a better place, or create better offerings, organizations need to pay attention to that great philosopher king, Elvis Presley, who sang, "a little less conversation, a little more action please."

(For more on the various waves of innovation, check out Kanter's "Innovation: the Classic Traps." )

So let's focus on creating the systems, processes, offerings, thinking that will lead to innovation/transformation, that will innovate or transform our lives and the lives of the human beings (aka "consumers") we impact.

I'm not saying that this discussion isn't important. I believe it's critical, and I appreciate Bruce kicking it off.

Yet, when we can truly create better people, products, systems, processes or worlds, it doesn't matter what we call it (even though "words mean something,"), as long as we're doing it.

Jonathan Vehar

Fred Hess

January 7, 2009 04:42 PM

I think we are in a semantics loop. Until we agree on specific definitions, this discussion will continue endlessly. My take is that Innovation is a technique for creating breakthrough ideas to solve specific problems and Transformation is the method for driving an business/environment from its present state to a desired state.

Chris Columbus

January 8, 2009 01:38 AM

This is a completely imperialistic; plant the flag, name it something else and kill all the natives.

It seems more logical to ask for the rebranding of "design". Since every GenX or Y consumer (blogger) with an opinion (and too much time on hand) is a designer maybe we should now call design "consign".

No, really.

Sujit Sumitran

January 9, 2009 05:25 AM

Hey Bruce,

The key question is what's the intent of "innovation"? If it is merely cosmetic and incremental, something that one's customers can't even identify - then it's a shame to call it innovation! "Transformation" - hmmmmm, sounds like another way of saying I'm doing something that's so radical (innovating!!!)that it will set new benchmarks for my industry and I'm be in rarified space!!! Now isn't that what "innovation" is all about?

Paula Welén (SE)

January 9, 2009 09:41 AM

Continual transformation lies at the heart of our corporate philosophy. In fact, after our recent presentation at the Copenhagen Business School's International Innovation Symposium, we have launched a Facebook page to support the debate around "Learn to Live in Beta".

Paula Welén

linda cooper Bowen

January 10, 2009 04:48 PM

Whatever happened to the old "NEW"? Since this discussion originated with Bruce via Business Week, one must assume that the context of defining design is connected with business, Design as it applies to Commerce. While designers may wish to see transformation as a quasi-religious experience, the fact is we are actually concerned with the bottom line here. (This is the USofA, no?) I like the simplicity of Nicolae's point..."designed to deliver value". I find that the average consumer, client, man-in-the-street, not to mention the designer himself still has a hard time defining what Design is and does, so Innovation or Transformation may be a premature concern!

Karen Fu

January 11, 2009 03:21 PM

I've just posted an opinion over at my new blog ( ) and I will extract it here:

'Bruce Nussbaum claims a new word over innovation: ‘transformation’.

In context, I agree with change as we clearly need it to make lives better in a world where design is not positively used to benefit and value add living. But how daring are we to this transformation or change ? And also how are we supposed to implement such transformation? If we fail to create this transformation with a solid methodology and a earnest desire to do well in practice; then ‘transformation’ is bad as the earlier concept in ‘innovation’.

If we look at the things around us, there are plenty of useless things around us. Products that we could have chucked it away but are there because for a solely commercial reason. If we need to save this world from environmental damage, I often feel we need to change our thinking. Things are there because of us, so to handle a problem on the product itself isn’t exactly pinpointing to the problem, but merely recycling them into another different form. Not everything needs a product to solve a problem. So I respect the fact that certain issues require intelligent policies to the world’s problems in poverty and hunger.

Everyone has a role to play in improving everyone’s lives. It’s only a matter of identifying what one’s strength is and use it positively and selflessly.

Then Change has genuinely come to save our skins..'

2 cents from an elfinic little lurking member who is also on the 'Tranforming Transformation' list at Googlegroups.

-- Karen Fu


January 13, 2009 12:00 AM

In general we have reached to this point because of the transformations of human thinking about things in the history of human kind, and I agree to some extent right now we should think in a new direction to transform the way our mind imagines about our surrounding which will lead us to a new era or innovation in that transformation.
Most people don't get this concept mostly because they are not willing or ready to transform their thinking or most people are hesitant to change.


January 14, 2009 04:56 PM

What comes immediately into my mind is a quote from Peter Drucker, who says:
“The business enterprise has two and only two basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”
I strongly believe, that innovation will always play an very important and driving role, independent if it fits to the zeitgeist or not.

Michael McKenzie

January 14, 2009 10:32 PM

Call IT what you you chatter on about IT, the noise you make is a SPIN and as others ad their voices to the chorus it becomes a Buzz and quickly then gaining momentum IT enters the center of just another black hole sucking in marrow and meaning.
I say...Imagine IT, create IT and resist any temptation to describe what you're up to. They know.
We all know what we need to do.


January 21, 2009 11:51 AM

I disagree that Innovation is dead.The main reason for the current fiasco is human greed and irresponsibility. The only thing that irresponsible CEOs care about are the size of their paychecks driven by short-term results. Consequently, they innovate hollow and virtual financial services which show increasing profits until the bubble burst. More of such irresponsible innovations or will not lead us to anywhere. In fact, they may serve to deepen the crisis. I wonder what the gatekeepers (auditors) are doing. How come they did not sound the alarm bells? Yet no one talks about them. Perhaps the need for transformation is to punish the gate-keepers for failing in their duties to sound the alarms until they exploded into a global financial meltdown.

Paul Hobcraft

January 21, 2009 02:52 PM

The debate over innovation and if it is dead clearly shows it is not. Innovation should be transformed, that I agree. Partly through design, partly through approaching innovation differently. It is a time to mature it, not abandon it.Why?
We still lack the momentum of treating innovation as a clear corporate business process that is systematic and methodical. We still lack a repeatable innovation engine. We still don't provide enough capacity for people to innovate. Luck still is playing too large a part in discovery. We still can't come to grips with measurements and reviewing the inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes in less emotional ways. We still see that constant pushing of personal agendas for pet innovation projects, often in total conflict with strategic alignment and resource allocation. We still don't focus enough on execution; the back end needs greater focus. Finally, even if the strategic direction is truly known for many in an organization, it certainly is not known how much of the innovation activity going on contributes to this. In short, there is an awful lot of work to do to embed innovation-still!

HR Communicator

January 22, 2009 09:42 PM

From a strictly semantic perspective, professionals/leaders/consultants in the HR space (in particular) might struggle with the word "transformation" as they attempt to drive innovation into their practices going forward. "HR Transformation" has been over-played and has under-performed in too many cases to be taken seriously any longer/again.

Innovation, I believe, is still the right noun--but with a lowercase "i." Or, maybe it is transforming into an adverb...and rightly seeks to embed itself into the fabric of the enterprise. What has died, I think, is Innovation with a capital "I" representing some functional, carved-out business process (complete with corner office & occupant).

Stefan Lindegaard

January 27, 2009 12:29 AM

I disagree. Innovation has been over-used but it is here to stay. It will also keep evolving.

Why do I disagree? Let's consider the innovation piano (Ten Types of Innovation) which is a concept developed by Doblin - - several years ago. In short, Doblin argues that when people think of innovation, they often think products. As Doblin learned that product innovation alone has the lowest return on innovation investments, they set out to find out why this is so and in the process they identified nine other types of innovation that should be combined to achieve the best return on your innovation investments. They are divided into four categories:

FINANCE (business model and networks and alliances)
PROCESS (enabling process and core processes)
OFFERINGS (product performance, product system and service)
DELIVERY (channel, brand and customer experience)

The idea of looking beyond product innovation should be obvious for everyone working with innovation - including leaders and managers. It is not. In a quite sophisticated innovation country such as Denmark the understanding for this is just beginning to form. Today, companies want to learn how to innovate in a more holistic way that goes across business functions and with different types of innovation. It will take a while to go from trying to understand this to actually doing it.

I assumed this kind of thinking would be much more developed in the innovation stallwarth of Silicon Valley. I was in for a surprise. In a session with innovation leaders from large Silicon Valley corporations, I asked how they worked with the many kinds of innovation. Actually, I was shocked. Seven out of nine people in the room had not even heard of the Ten Types of Innovation concept. But they were definitely interested in learning more as I started to explain the concept.

What about China? They do not even understand this kind of thinking yet.

I think this is a great example of why innovation is here to stay and why there is plenty of room for innovation to develop. Other reasons? Take a look at open innovation and see how people are getting into this. Take a look on how innovation leaders are climbing the corporate ladders entering the executive rooms. This is happening more and more in Denmark.

I am sorry to say so, but Bruce, you are wrong on this one. Innovation is not dead.

A. Livin d'Ziner

January 28, 2009 05:07 AM

I would argue that Bruce Newzbomb himself has killed design; and that he did so quite intentionally so he could enjoy the notoriety of being the first media-mouth to declare it dead.

So... now we see that Transformationism's time has come, according the our high priest/cheerleader who would like to help devise "a strategic guide for the unknowable and uncertain years ahead" . Sorry, Bruce, too many sillybells for the common folk. Ain't gonna fly.

Here's my guide to the "unknown future" in a nutshell: Get the f**k out there and make it happen! Stop this idiotic shell game of moving money about and create some real value, you effin dweebs! That or we're doomed.

Anybody catch my drift?

Doug Berger

January 30, 2009 02:12 PM

Oh ... the power of the press to make pronouncements and to take potent areas of human endeavor and then simplify and trivialize. I have been immersed in the world of innovation, transformation and breakthrough performance for over 30 years. There is ONE THING ... getting the best from an organization requires an organization that brings out the best in people. There is recurring disappointment, reported in survey after survey of executives, on quality, 6 sigma, re-engineering, innovation, etc. Perhaps it isn't the discipline ... perhaps it is all about the true spirit of leadership and serving the right interests in a potent way.


January 31, 2009 07:09 PM

BLAH BLAH BLAH...Lets stop playing word semantics and leave that to the corporations and marketers and all those we feel "killed" innovation. We are all designers and need to focus on what the terms really mean. Transformation = Innovation = Design Process. Its all the same thing just another reason to write an article.


February 1, 2009 04:53 PM

The innovation phenomena as been thinked at XX century is probability a key factor in present crisis of the economic-acumulativ sistem. Obsessions for design futures with scenaries from past or agonic presents was illusions of a form of pseudo-prophecies whith catastrophics consecuences to us all.
I think that "transformation", "innovation" and relatives concepts doesn`t make significatives differences for help us to exit from development and progress collapse.

Lic.Psic.Jhonny O. Pérez Alviarez
Complex Environments / Human Factors


February 23, 2009 11:23 PM

I fully agree that innovation as a word and concept has been overused and misused but it’s not a good enough reason to give up under the label of mistreatment.

Innovation is a by-product of a strategic intent, and to innovate, one has to create an environment of freedom and no allow mistakes to be stigmatized. We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world; yet, we want to control it out of greed (the ROI). That’s the root of the problem!

Here's my input, read the book: Get There Early by Bob Johansen


March 4, 2009 10:31 PM

This was still uncontrolable.


March 25, 2009 08:17 PM

Innovation vs. Transformation: Innovation is the right expression for anything new in the outer world. Let it be there. Transformation means something new in the inner world of a person. Read Ken Wilber.


April 15, 2009 06:00 PM

W. Edwards Deming used 'accomplish the transformation' and 'unknowable' in his writings some 25 years ago.

Grant Parrinello

December 30, 2009 04:39 AM

What you call it when someone does something amazing and new is largely unimportant. A course of action is best communicated through action. Hanging up on words kills it.

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