Marking the Line Between Innovation and So What

4994844715_f33797c931_mLast week, a new feature started popping up on some Facebook pages. It looked like this:

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 2.10.59 PM

A friend of mine shared a post to her company’s page and we utilized the threaded replies feature. She said she kind of liked it. I said it seemed okay but I was not really sure what the point is. For most of last week I was having a problem commenting on regular posts from my friends. I would go to reply and I’d get an error message saying the post did not exist. I told my friend I’d rather have the basic functionality versus a new feature that did not really seem necessary.

This got me thinking about a bigger picture. There is a lot of pressure on companies today to stay ahead of the curve. There are cries for innovation. There are pleas for all businesses to be as creative as Apple. But how do we truly define something that is “innovative?” I fear we are starting to dilute this term, as we are with so many other buzz words these days. It almost seems like innovative is becoming synonymous with “new” or “freshened up,” even. Are the newsfeed changes perpetually occurring on Facebook innovative or are they just “so what”? How can we tell the difference?

The difference-maker

To me, innovation means you have created a product or service that meets a need people may not even have realized they had. When Apple created the iPod, we didn’t really know that the Walkmans or MP3 players we carried around were inconvenient. Music was portable, and even if it was kind of a pain to update the music you had with you, it still seemed like technology had taken us to a new level of comfort. The iPod improved our lives before we really realized we were looking for something better.

Facebook itself, as a new entity, was innovative. While we may not want to say we “needed” a way to keep in touch with everyone we have ever met, the popularity of Facebook indicates it is meeting some greater need that millions of people share. We didn’t know that we needed something more than MySpace, but when Facebook came along, it made perfect sense.

Who cares?

Contrast these kinds of developments with the ongoing “improvements” and “innovations” that companies inundate us with these days. It feels sometimes like in an effort to be titled “innovative,” companies are simply throwing out as many new ideas as possible, as if the quantity of new products and services can outweigh the quality. Is it this engine that drives Facebook to perpetually update everything about the platform every few months? Is it this pressure that motivates companies to come up with products that are only slightly different from their predecessors?  The effort to be “innovative” is overshadowing the basics. Just as I would rather Facebook work as it should versus getting new bells and whistles, I think it’s safe to say we’d all rather pay for higher quality products than get bombarded with messages about product improvements that aren’t really worth of our attention.

Perhaps instead of striving to be innovative, companies should go back to a customer-centric focus. Innovation comes not from a drive to be innovative but rather from solving problems, perhaps before those problems are even truly defined. Instead of striving for the label of “innovative,” why not simply go back to trying to be the company that produces the best, highest-quality, most needed products or services?

What do you think? Are we trying too hard to attain the “innovator” title?


3 comments on “Marking the Line Between Innovation and So What

  1. I think Facebook is always playing catch up and never really innovates anymore. So what is my feeling.

  2. Innovation for innovations sake does not make sense. Innovation for the sake of simplicity, functionality, coolness, etc. does.

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