Innovation: doing vs signaling

Zaha Hadid innovation tower

“Innovation” is a very popular and powerful buzzword, but in spite of its overuse it is here to stay. Therefore we should be able to tell if a company is actually creating innovation and when it is just signaling it.

Innovation is difficult to achieve. Innovation is a real change in the majority of the market, a status quo disruption, a business word for revolution.

Signaling, on the other hand, is a content strategy which attracts customers without delivering value. A brand sends a signal that it is doing something good by publishing content about it. Customers believe it and buy the products, but the brand never delivers on the signal and products were never improved.

Examples of innovation signaling are:
– Slogans include the word “innovation”,
– Names of positions, departments, and buildings include the word “innovation”,
– Products are designed to increase shareholder value and not create customer change,
– Redesigns of packaging, communication, and offices without actually increasing customer value.

The first rule of innovation is that you never need to convince customers that you are innovative. Innovation simply makes previous options obsolete and disrupts the status quo. The more you signal it and pretend it is there, the less you are able to innovate. People who need to innovate, managers and customers, are distracted and stop fighting for change.

Written by: Nikola Tosic
Publishing date: 21 Jul 2020