Does innovation really matter?

I saw a commercial the other night for a car company. I’ve since forgotten what brand it was for (not strong on the messaging, then, eh), but the memorable scene was a person take a flame thrower to a wall filled with images of car interiors.
The take-away: if you want a unique car interior, don’t look at interiors of other cars.
I’ve asked my creative teams over the years not to look at similar solutions to seek inspiration. If creating a user interface, don’t Google “user interface” in images. That leads to copying.
Try something like “geometric futurist art” or even “bento box.”

There is no problem, per se, with copying. We’ve all been “inspired” by things we’ve seen or heard.
Of course creating something “new” is very difficult. Anything new is probably old to someone else.
I used to work with a brilliant art director who came up with the most inspired logo designs. He was the one to go to for interesting insights. And then, quite by chance, I discovered that many of his ideas were “inspired” by examples drawn from a particular logo collection book. I’d just never perused the book carefully enough.
Still, his talent lay in adapting logos to fit the client’s needs, even if the design was heavily influenced by someone else.

Which brings us to “innovation.”

Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulate needs, or existing market needs. -wikipedia

Don’t confuse innovation with invention.

It’s very difficult to invent. Is the Microsoft Surface inventive? No… it’s basically a Windows iPad.
But is it innovative? Yes, of course. It solved the needs of Windows users to have a tablet experience similar to the iPad.

So the iPad was inventive, right? Totally unique creation.
Well… no. It’s just a larger iPhone…
…which was inspired by the Palmpilot…
…which was inspired by something else…

None of these products were brand new inventions. But every one of these products was innovative.

So here’s the point:

Innovation is buzzword. It’s basically meaningless, like the word solution or even worse, disruptive: every agency throws these terms around liberally in hopes of convincing you that they have something no one else does.

“We provide innovative solutions that will disrupt the market.” The next time someone says this, consider this:

  1. Of course they are providing a solution. That’s their job. Your local dry cleaner also offers a “solution” to your dirty clothes.
  2. They should be ‘innovative.’ Innovation and creativity almost go hand in hand. If your agency is not innovative, they shouldn’t be in business.
  3. Disruptive? Their an agency. They are in the business of convincing your customers buy what you’re selling. And that’s disruptive exactly why?

“Innovative solutions that disrupt” = meaningless marketing speak that means about as much as “everyday low prices.”

In the world of agencies, whether marketing, digital, branding, or whatever, they should be providing innovative thinking just like they provide good customer service and fair prices.
Innovation is not some fantastic, elusive entity that only a select few possess.  Innovation comes from working harder than someone else does; from adapting what already exists into a new application; and from drawing inspiration from sources not related to what you are working on.
And the best innovations come from simplifying what everyone else over-complicates.

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