Innovation or are we fooling ourselves?

Last week, I attended an event called Business & Technology Update 2020, organized by Printmedianieuws, CMBO, KVGO and VIGC. For this event, several Dutch, industry leading graphics companies were invited to discuss their view in a panel-setup with a host leading the discussions. There were three sessions and every time, new business leaders were invited to the stage.

Because of the impressive line-up and interesting questions, it was a valuable event to attend. Also because of the great opportunities to network and learn from each other. I hope this was the first of more of these meetings.

The overall topic of the meeting was to give a business and technology update for 2020. One topic that more or less was the red line through this event, was innovation. Interesting was that almost all companies talked about innovation by putting the customer in the first place, AI, IoT, Big Data etc.

During the second session, the people on stage talked about using websites and store-fronts, making the ordering process as easy and intuitive as possible, claiming several, dedicated domains and technologies like flexible pricing.

During the third session, the people on stage talked about doing as much as possible themselves because of quality, flexibility and even decide to start taking care of logistics. Others choose to outsource and only provide the plumbing.

Something discussed throughout the different panels were trade shows. Do you still go to trade shows and wait to invest until the show happens or do you continuously keep yourself updated throughout the year and invest when needed?

Innovation, really?

Even though the panel discussions were very interesting and the interaction with the audience was great, no-one really went into detail about what is really cooking in their kitchen. It was all very high level, generic and a lot of the same.

After attending this meeting I am actually wondering, are we actually innovative or do we think we are? Are we maybe fooling ourselves a bit?

AI, IoT, Big Data are all new, cool names for processes that already exist for years if not decades or even centuries. Process optimization based upon data.

Examples are Lean, Six Sigma or a combination of both which goes all the way back to Venice in the 1450’s. So where is the innovation other than new, cool sounding names for the same thing?

Making optimized store-fronts, strategic and dedicated domains, flexible pricing is something that exists for as long as there are businesses. Finding the best location for your physical shop, routing inside the shop, specialize in something and change prizes based upon demand and popularity. This goes back thousands of years and the only thing different is that we are doing the same thing online. If you are starting to do this online today, you are 10-15 years late…

Producing yourself or outsourcing. I find it hard to see the innovation in there… “Just” providing the plumbing. Hmmm, sounds a lot like Amazon (anno 1994) or Alibaba (anno 1999), right?

I have the latest equipment ergo I am innovative.

Really? That equipment most likely is created by another company that started working on it months if not years ago. That equipment might have some innovations in it, but for the most part is based upon existing or just slightly improved technologies. So if you buy that equipment, does that make YOU innovative or just an (early) adopter?

So where is the innovation?

Of course, this article is generalizing and looking to start a discussion or to serve as food for thought. But I do think there is truth in there. I do think we are fooling ourselves quite often and need to become more honest about how innovative we really are. Do you really need to be innovative or call yourself this way? Do you always need the latest equipment? Do you need to be the cheapest or fastest?

Innovation? Or better something else?

In my opinion, this goes all the way back to 1859 and comes from the book “On the Origin of Species” from Charles Darwin. It is natural selection by adaptation to the environment to help you to survive and grow.

At the end of the day, is your final goal to innovate or do you want to survive and grow? Innovation might actually be confused with evolution…

Evolutive instead of innovative?