Please Stop Using the Word ‘Innovation’

Some wiseass may have proclaimed “selfie” the word of the year, but in the business world the clear winner is “innovation”. It’s not even close.

And to answer the obvious question posed in this Wall Street Journal headline: no, a chocolate peanut-butter Pop Tart is in no way “innovative”. We can think of a few alternate adjectives that might apply, though.

  • Sweet
  • Chocolicious
  • Peanut-buttery
  • Crispity-crunchity (if you toast it long enough)
  • Unhealthy
  • Gross
  • Shameful

WSJ‘s Dennis K. Berman notes that he has personally seen the word used to describe perfume, high-alcohol beer and temporary tattoos for your pets as well as “pepper hamburger buns, beer-can cocktails and beer milkshakes”. OK, that last one does sound a little intriguing…

Back in 2007, 99 companies in the S&P 500 mentioned innovation in their third-quarter conference calls, according to reviews of transcripts from Capital IQ. This year the number was 197.

When Hewlett-Packard executives addressed shareholders on an Oct. 9 conference call, they used innovation 70 times.

Ugh. Let’s check out the meaning of the word, shall we?

Innovation: a creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation

We’re going to guess that the “study and experimentation” involved in the “creation” of the peanut butter Pop Tart amounted to asking kids “Do you like chocolate? Do you like peanut butter? Do you like them together?!?!”

We get that it’s hard to come up with synonyms for “really new and cool” and “unlike anything you’ve ever seen before”. Unfortunately, “innovation” is quickly going the way of “synergy” and other once-innovative buzzwords (see what we did there?). For example, in the past we might have described “sprayable caffeine” as innovative. Now we’ll just call it weird.

Long story short: “invent” another word, guys. This one’s all played out.

(H/T to The Awl)

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.