One sometimes finds writers declaring the death of words they feel have become popular and overused. Often the execution is in concert with a complementary declaration of a proposed newer and better term. Wired magazine’s “wired and tired” list is just one example of writers pandering to a pop culture appetite for “new” and engaging in the regular practice of making perfectly useful terms and the concepts they symbolize suddenly unusable in a conversation.
Sometimes it appears to be a stunt and we can suspect that there is some interest on the writer’s part to acquire some power in the effort and associate their own brand with the successful adoption of a new pop term for an established audience. A kind of “hit record” if it works.
Sometimes the new term is truly improved and the old one truly inferior. As an example some people are now introducing the term “resilience” as a superior view of the concepts explained by the word “sustainability” – illuminating that sustainability implies an interest in maintaining a course and a constancy that is both unrealistic and undesirable.
The word Innovation has been put to death in the past few years by a number of trend driven authors that needed to hold an execution. Yet I have not found a term or phrase that has been offered in replacement that works very well.
I suspect the word Innovation became a popular target not only because people were tired of hearing it used gratuitously but also because it was used to mean too many things. Most often it is used interchangeably to mean invention or simply new. When this kind of variety of meaning happens there is an alternative action we can take to putting the confused terms to death. Instead we can engage in the practice of defining what we mean by such terms before we use them. If done well, I have found that the terms have useful continued life.
In the case of the word Innovation, I prefer a definition that I learned was unique to the business community and an important difference to most designer’s preferred use of the word. While designers use the word interchangeably to mean new- and synonymous with invention, knowledgeable business-persons consistently stipulate that something that is new or an invention doesn’t qualify as innovation unless it makes it to market with success.