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It's Not a Bird, It's Not a Plane...Uh, No. It's IBM's Innovation Man

Posted by: Reena Jana on January 2, 2008

My colleagues Jena McGregor and Aili McConnon found a funny video clip of a new IBM commercial, featuring an awkward character in an ill-fitting cape, mask, and leotard — Innovation Man. The character seems to be based on an anecdote that Jena used last year (in 2007) as the lede for her annual story on the “Most Innovative Companies”.

You can see the clip in Italian (but not English on YouTube):

If you don’t parla Italiano, you can see a clip in English, posted on this blogger’s site.

The IBM ad is a jab at empty innovation-speak and the I-word itself.

Beyond its humor—made even funnier in the context of the real-life Innovation Man that Jena wrote about in the pages of BusinessWeek last year— the ad’s meant to jab those companies and executives who toss the I-word about as jargon but don’t follow through, too.

I actually like to ask interviewees how they define innovation when they start throwing it around without really explaining how their ideas are “innovative.”

How do you define the I-word? Has the definition changed in the last two years?

Reader Comments

Pete Mortensen

January 2, 2008 5:45 PM

My definition of innovation hasn't changed lately -- it's still anything new that has a social or economic impact. Starbucks, not Segways, etc.

I'm hopeful, however, that other people are starting to see innovation in this way, as well. Many people still have the dominant frame of innovation as invention of anything, from toasters to top hats. For example, my grandfather holds a patent for golf shoes with rakes attached to the heels, but I don't see if making an impact in the market. Innovation is about people, not stuff, and any metrics of innovation "effectiveness" or "failure" seem to ignore that the determining factor in the success of failure of anything new is how people respond to it. Adoption of ideas and technology is the biggest problem facing companies that try to chart a new course. And understanding people on a deep level is the only way to start to address that issue.

But I start to digress. I'm hopeful that at least many companies are starting to view innovation in this way. For the rest of the world -- well, they're still waiting for their hoverboards. I think they'll be waiting quite a bit longer.

Reena Jana

January 8, 2008 5:10 PM

Thanks for the post, Pete. Curious -- how do you (and any other readers out there) think that companies should measure response to innovation? Is it simply sales? What about innovative products that are ahead of their time, that don't sell well right away but might catch on later?

Pete Mortensen

January 10, 2008 6:29 PM

There are any number of appropriate metrics, some strategic and some tactical. I won't get into it here, but you can measure things like revenue growth, percentage of revenue from recently introduced products, number of projects in the pipeline, stock price, media perception of others, but those aren't terribly good day-to-day management tools.

To be more actionable results, you need to create innovation-specific strategies that contribute to the overall vision of the organization. These give people more relevant tasks to work at, ie: Our company is great at rolling out ideas, so we'll set up an overseas scout team and reward them based on the number of ideas that come to market. That kind of metric is better for management, but it still allows the room to measure overall health in the bigger picture strategic numbers.

As for adoption, well, I've got a perspective on that, too, but I'll spare you the white paper on this blog...

Paul Fearis

January 23, 2008 2:54 PM

To pick up on the original question, Innovation is sometimes best defined as the practical application of creativity. People frequently confuse it with creativity itself, however one can be creative without being innovative. Innovation by definition contains an element of commercialisation e.g. it is practically 'implemented' into a product, service or offering which meets a need/demand (which may be latent or unspoken). I feel that it is this demand element which is often overlooked but that is the vital commercial component.

...of course, that's an unashamed business perspective...

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What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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