The Secret About Innovation

Tom H. C. Anderson
January 13th, 2014

[Re-posted from the Next Gen Market Research blog at www.tomhcanderson.com]

“Too Much Innovation”, is there a word for it?

In the software industry there sort of is, it’s a bad word, and it’s called “Vaporware“.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is a similar word for new market research methodologies, if there is please let me know.

Pretty much all companies have both outbound and inbound marketing. Everyone knows inbound calls are far better than outbound cold-calls. In the former a potential new client has found your number somewhere, so they probably know something about you and probably also have a real need.

I happened to take one of these calls last week. At some point during the call I asked the customary “where did you hear of us?”, the response was, and I’m paraphrasing now, “Well I asked around a bit and heard your company has a more ‘traditional’ approach, and well I think that point of view matches our culture here well”. I laughed a bit as the response surprised me slightly, not because I don’t think there’s truth to it (depending on how you define “Traditional”), but because I’m not used to hearing it too often in a good way these days. I decided right away I liked this new potential client.

Hmmm “traditional”, but isn’t all text analytics innovative, and isn’t innovation a good thing?

Sure, I certainly like to think so. Was this client saying we weren’t innovative? No,that was not the case at all. Reading between the lines he was actually saying “Hey, I heard you know what you’re doing, you have techniques that actually work and do what they say they do. I’m tired of all this talk of ‘innovation’ don’t have time to separate all the wheat from the chaff. We’ve heard you guys aren’t just marketers selling “innovation” and vaporware, so we’d prefer to work with you!”

The call made me pause and think about the paradox of innovation. Everywhere you turn today you hear about an innovative this or innovation that. It seems every industry conference claims that they have the most innovative companies and speakers. But the hard truth about innovation is that TRUE INNOVATION, whether in software or in research service methodologies, is ALWAYS kept SECRET.

If you have anything innovative that is actually worthwhile there are only two ways to protect its value.

  1. Keep it as a trade secret
  2. If possible file for patent protection

Blogging it, speaking at a conference about it or even speaking to someone on the phone about it (outside of a non-disclosure agreement) means your innovative idea is free to be changed slightly and copied or, probably more likely, copied outright with no attribution to you or your company.

What does this mean in practicality?

It means you will never hear anything very innovative from my lips, or anyone else worth their salt, (unless you are under a mutual NDA). That also means that I have never included anything in a blog post or industry conference that I either don’t already consider a dated innovation (~4+ years old), or is something that is protected by patent law.

So what about all these innovative companies at these innovative conferences? Logically they can only fall into one of three categories.

  1. They are talking about rather dated information
  2. They are stupid
  3. Or worse, are selling “vaporware” (half baked ideas with little to no potential value)

What does that mean in regard to research industry events and about how we strive to market ourselves? Two things.

It means that rather than hoping to make clients think we are “innovative” – which would mean we are trying to convince clients that we are one of the many companies who claim to have some new idea that is worth their valuable time and consideration to evaluate under MNDA — maybe we should focus more on convincing them we have tried and true methods, deep expertise, and are trustworthy. That we are competent!

So where then, if anywhere, can free innovative ideas be found?

In my experience it’s certainly not at our industry conferences. While they’re great for a personal meet and greet, and hopefully some best practice case studies, unless you’re new to the field or have kept your head in the sand for the past 5-8 years there won’t be anything too innovative there.

However I have found innovation can often be found by looking across your field into other fields. Looking at what data those outside of our discipline collect, how they measure, analyze, visualize and put these findings into practice. Look specifically for fields that touch in at least one important way on what you are doing. For me personally (in text analytics) I sometimes get inspiration from psychology, olfactory, sound, vision, security and military sciences to name just a few.

You may be looking at ideas that are actually 5-8 years old in these fields, but they are likely to be new to you, and hopefully some will give you inspiration and ideas that lead to innovation!

@TomHCAnderson
@OdinText

[Full Disclosure: Tom H. C. Anderson is Managing Partner of Anderson Analytics, developers of a new patented approach to text analytics. The text analytics software platform is called OdinText]

One thought on “The Secret About Innovation”

  1. Tom, I think you nailed it on the head. Buzzword marketing, i.e. vaporware, is a veil covering lack of creativity. Terms like innovation, big data, leading company in xxx are most often used to sell “me too” solutions to professional “silver bullet” buyers.

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