Not the concept of innovation, of course. Just the word itself. It's overused, it's underdelivered, and it's much easier to invoke than it is to pull off.
While it's difficult to name a company that doesn't consider itself innovative, or value innovation (at least in terms of lip service), it's easy to name companies that aren't innovative.
I came across an article entitled "You Call That Innovation?" which cited a stunning statistic: public companies mentioned the term "innovation" in their financial reports more than 33,000 times last year, a 64% increase compared to five years earlier. The article also noted that more than 250 books with "innovation" in the title have been published in the past three (3!) months, and that four in 10 companies now have a chief innovation officer.
So where is all this innovation?
It's not that it isn't happening; we see innovation all around us. But it strikes me that actual innovations are not as widely or evenly distributed as innovation initiatives are. It's not that companies don't want to innovate. It's that they don't have the stomach for it. As with everything in business, execution is everything. And execution is bloody hard.
In our practice working with stalled, stuck and stale brands, we find this to be The Great Distinction that separates the winners from the losers. There aren't many business challenges that can't be strategically solved. But going from theory to practice requires the courage to change and the perseverance to see it through. We need look no further than the JC Penney debacle to see how fragile innovation initiatives can be.
The next time you're tempted to invoke the "I" word, think twice. Do you want to merely develop new ideas, or are you committed to bringing them to life? Be honest. There's nothing worse than seeing someone else execute your breakthrough concept. Except, perhaps, wondering what might have been.
Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork + Company, and author of When Growth Stalls and Power Branding. A marketing strategist for nearly three decades, Steve has been published or quoted in many top news outlets and industry publications, and writes a monthly marketing column for Businessweek.com.