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Don't Call it Innovation

Don't call it innovation

by Howard Coleman

The year 2022 looks like it’s continuing to be a year of sudden stops, turmoil, turnarounds and daring actions. But, for some, there is no question that this year has also been a year of new beginnings.

If we want to find our way forward, if we want to adapt, to pivot, to survive and thrive in change, we need to find new answers, new solutions and new approaches.

I see people reacting negatively to the word innovation as if it’s a bright lightbulb that goes on that suddenly transforms your company.

Innovation is the buzzword that has been around for so long that one could make a case that a cult has developed around it. CEOs and other senior leadership speak to it as one of their major objectives, a “top of the list” goal for many.

Defined properly, innovation is something completely new or different being introduced that changes the marketplace. It’s one and done. It’s terminology that’s been used for years, even when it’s not truly innovation, at least according to the definition I’ve posited. It’s become part of the confusing word salad that has littered our business ether; transformation, continuous improvement, lean thinking and, finally, reinvention. All of this terminology seems closely related and one can now see how it all quickly became that word salad, confusing and potentially leading to effort failures.

The fact is, most of us will never achieve real innovation in our businesses. But, don’t despair.

6 keys to changeFind terms that help employees engage more with the process.
But here is the problem: People generally hate new things. So why change then? CEOs might love innovation, but often most of their employees don’t. Visiting with a company recently, I often heard, “For senior management, innovation is the thing; this month’s new program. For us, it’s extra work with no results – or much worse – the possibility of lost jobs.”

In episode three and four of our MCA Talk Podcast Series – Distribution on the Cusp of
Metamorphosis ( I made an attempt to unravel it all, to put it into a usable and common sense perspective about how to bring new ideas to life in ways that work by being more thoughtful and grounded in our approach.

Stop calling it innovation. Think of it as reinvention.
Why? Research has frequently demonstrated how people make decisions. “Fear, fight and flight” is nearly always in charge of our decisions. So, while you might use the word innovation, because it’s such a common buzzword to mean improvement, employees may be hearing alarm bells ringing. “Danger! Danger!” You now have lost the time to put a positive spin on it.

So, instead of scaring everyone off with the “I-word,” how about finding language that in your specific context or industry speaks of continuity and benefit?

Does reinvention work? Let’s define it. What is it really?

  • To remake – or make over, as in a different form – a practice of embracing change by reimagining and remaking something so that it manifests new and improved attributes, qualities and results.
  • Reinvention is more closely related to “continuous improvement.” It’s not a “one and done” thing, it’s not a one-time event. It’s a regular exercise, like taking a shower. We all know what happens when you don’t take a shower, right? To put it nicely, you get stale.
  • Reinvention implies a deliberate effort to engage in healthy cycles of planned renewal to ensure current and future viability. Transformation is only the result.
  • Reinvention, at least every 3 years, is probably a bare minimum, reinventing yourself over and over again. Consistency ultimately builds a habit and a culture.

Danfoss, a global manufacturing company, has branded its innovation process around the simple, manageable word “idea.” While not everyone thinks they can be innovative, nearly everyone has at least one idea. Ideas, fully developed, can ultimately become transforming.

Another company (who I can’t mention), a leading construction materials company, puts “Reinvention Days” at the heart of its process, betting on the word “reinvention” that projects continuity and accessibility. Others choose words or phrases that focus on the end benefit to customers and employees, such as simplicity, organizational health or even staying in business.

The word innovation might speak to your financial stakeholders, but when it comes to engaging your employees, it’s time to stop using the word. Whatever term you choose, make it about your audience, not you, or your PR announcements.

That way, who knows, innovation might actually stand a chance.

Part 2 of this article will explore the Six Keys to Change (at right).

Howard ColemanHoward W. Coleman, principal at MCA Associates, a management consulting firm, works with wholesale distribution and manufacturing companies seeking and committed to operational excellence, implementing continuous improvement solutions and much more. Howard is also the creator of the “MCA Talk” Podcast Series: Distribution on the Cusp of Metamorphosis. Contact him at (203) 906-7268 or by email at

This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2022 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2022, Direct Business Media.


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