Once upon a time there was a magical land named Newtopia. Newtopia was filled with busy people who were always thinking and talking about new things.
They had a voracious appetite for the latest writings from “gurus” and “experts” who lived in distant lands. Unlike their parents, they were able to procure new information without waiting for the town crier to read from rolled parchment on a street corner. They were also able to interact with people in distant lands instantly, enabling them to engage in non-stop discussions about new ideas.
To help with these discussions, they invented wondrous new devices that blinked and beeped and vibrated. They used these devices to work in new ways and stay “connected” all the time.
And so it came to pass that the citizens of Newtopia began to highly regard themselves and their culture of “innovation” (a word they coined which meant the creation of a significantly new manufactured good or process change).
Although most magical lands have kings and queens, Newtopia had a large government that had the ability to administer a survey on innovation across every sort of public and private company throughout the land. And so it came to pass that the National Science Foundation, a group within this government, prepared to release an exhaustive report on the state of innovation in Newtopia. The government was not particularly creative and so bequeathed unto this report the name “Business Research & Development and Innovation Survey”, or the BRDIS, for short.
The report would tell the citizens of Newtopia how innovative, in fact, they had been during a recent two year period. It would tell them how many manufacturing companies in the land actually HAD introduced a significantly new manufactured product, and how many companies HAD introduced a significantly new process change.
The citizens buzzed with excitement. They were making guesses and forming office pools. “No way it’s less than 50%” said some. “Put me down for 65%” said others. Some, who were cautious by nature, thought the number would more likely be around 25%.
And the report was issued. And the number was communicated unto the people, and the number was this: 9%.
In one thunderous voice the entire people shrieked: “Nine percent?!” “How can this be??”
But the numbers told the real tale. The report said:
Companies’ reported innovation varied considerably across industries, but overall in the period 2006–08 about 9% of all companies introduced product innovations (one or more new or significantly improved good or service) and about 9% of all companies introduced process innovations (one or more new or significantly improved method for manufacturing or production; logistics, delivery, or distribution; support activities).
Despite the blinking and beeping and vibrating of devices, despite constant contact with distant lands, and somehow despite the vast array of gurus and conferences, it turned out the people of Newtopia weren’t innovating as much as they thought.
Some of them said the numbers couldn’t be accurate. “How can you really determine something like that?”, they scoffed. Others pointed out that it took two years to crunch all the numbers, so they were likely stale and not worthy of reflection.
But others paused and considered.
Could it be that having ideas is easier than executing ideas? Could all the things that prevented innovation from happening in earlier times – the fear of failure, the innate suspicion of change, short-term thinking – were as much a problem today as they had ever been?
Could it be that new communication processes, new work paradigms that emphasize “teams” over “hierarchies”, and yes, new devices that blink, beep and vibrate, make many people in Newtopia only think they are being innovative, without actually innovating?
The story, of course, hasn’t ended. There are many in Newtopia who are innovating in very profound ways. They are making sure the human dimension is considered as profoundly as the electronic dimension when new ideas are put forth. And despite the fact that their shiny devices blink, buzz and vibrate with new ideas every minute of every day, they are staying focused on a limited number of ideas for longer than five minutes and committing themselves and their teams to executing on the details.
How will it turn out? Will Newtopia actually innovate in deed as well as in word? Will new jobs be created, new products designed, new processes implemented?