What’s wrong with innovation? (How much time do you have?)

By Danny Altman
March 29, 2009
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Filed under Branding

by Danny Altman

There is a strong post at Fast Company – Design called Just Say No to ‘Innovation’ by Gadi Amit, who is the president of New Deal Design in San Francisco. He forcefully argues against what has become the religion of innovation, saying “While design is usually measured by intuition and intangibles, it is far easier to explain metrics and tangibles” to clients. And that is what the priests of innovation preach.  He goes on to say, “Time and time again I see metrics and focus groups fail in predicting the outcome of a design effort.”

While I was reading this, I was thinking that naming and branding suffer from the same drive to quantify and predict results and to put the creative process in a box that is well guarded. Gadi talks about over-engineered products and I was thinking about over-engineered names – you know, the Aquents and the Centrobes of the world – names that are more driven by a formula and the desire for absolute certainty than by any connection to reality.

I think what happens is that this drive for certainty – and who knows if it begins with the client wanting to cover his or her ass or the branding company selling the ultimate brand power index to convince the world that they actually know what they’re doing – overrides the need to be different and to connect with the audience in a fresh way.

I think John Cage had it right when he said, “All I know about method is that when I am not working, I sometimes think I know something. But when I am working, it is quite clear I know nothing.”

I don’t think this is an argument for a stream of consciousness approach to important work. Maybe what it really is? A suggestion to all of us that a little humility is in order when you are threading your way through a million possibilities to arrive at a coherent, inspired result. A sound methodology is important, but so are things like walking the dog and taking a shower. The bottom line is that the cool stuff is totally unpredictable and you never know where the best ideas are going to come from.

Gadi is right when he says that “winning a market battle requires a very complex equation.” And that the reliability of the method is less important in the end than the track record of the creative people who are taking responsibility for getting the project across the finish line.

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