Confessions of an Innovation Faker

Picture this — a great conversation with a new client.  Wonderful meeting of the minds. They think you’re so “innovative” and “creative.”  Cough.  Not really.  You’re faking it.

You pulled out an idea you’ve used before.  You used it in a different industry, a long time ago, and without a confession, no one will probably ever know.  But you’re tweaking the concept to fit this industry, this client’s needs and audience, and it will work  just fine. It will be better than just fine — it will work really well and be work that you can be proud of. Again.

But, it’s nothing new.  Not truly innovative, merely a rehash.

We’ve all done this before — we dazzle in a meeting, laying out a detailed course of action to solve a problem.  We sound brilliant because the plan is one that we have followed before.  Maybe more than once.  (Sometimes we confess our self-plagiarism, sometimes we don’t.)

One way to keep things fresh is to explore new and different industries.  For the first two decades of my career, I merely swapped out one high tech industry for another.  Design engineering, inventory management, networking, business intelligence, HR software, project management tools, SaaS, Web-based tools — all gave me a chance to learn about a new industry and redeploy basic ideas that had been successful previously.  The changing high tech PR landscape also provided change and new opportunities.

Faking innovation doesn’t have to stop only at your own doorstep. I also read and research a ton.  I love to read and do it every chance I get.  I pick up ideas everywhere.  But, is finding someone else’s idea and applying it to your situation innovative?  No.

This is the reason companies pay higher salaries for “experienced” (old) employees.  We have a repertoire of tricks we can produce upon command.   We also have a list of things we avoid like the plague — things that have failed us before.   My clients reap the benefits of my learning from mistakes I’ve seen, and made myself, before.

Being experienced doesn’t necessarily translate into innovation — in fact we all know the “old dog” adage.   I’m very aware that my experience could be detrimental to my desire to be innovative.  I could get so comfy that I stop learning.  I could fall into the proverbial rut and never emerge.  Knowledge gained during mistakes or failures could make me fearful or cynical.  But I’m determined that this won’t happen  and have made a personal commitment to keep learning.

Here are three ways to “fake innovation.”

  • Change industries – it may be old hat in consumer products but no one has ever heard of it in software.
  • Move — everyone may be doing it in Boston but maybe they’ve never heard of it in NYC.
  • Wait — like skirt lengths, different marketing tactics go in and out of fashion.  What goes out may come back in and seem fresh and exciting.