THE BLOG
11/16/2013 12:43 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Questions Surrounding Unnovation vs. Innovation

As I thought about all the questions that came to mind regarding unnovation vs. innovation, I began to instantly think about how abstract and unorganized my thoughts were. I tried to wrap my arms around the concept and reality of both, however, like a global product launch about to hit the market, there are many questions still unanswered and others soon to be revealed. Umair Haque gives his simple, yet profound opinion in a Harvard Business Review article.

Most innovation, well, isn't: it is 'unnovation,' or innovation that fails to create authentic, meaningful value.

Unnovation Has Become More Mainstream

Unnovation is not a new term in business; however, I have noticed that it has become more mainstream of late. Just type unnovation in the online search bar and you will see that many people and businesses are talking about it. As I see it, my perspective may be just one person's viewpoint, but let's be honest, there are probably millions of businesses who are unnovating and don't know it, and even more who are unnovating and do know it and have no clue how to change it. What does that mean for companies who think they are innovating when in fact they are not? Haque just might have a clue for a solution.

To rediscover the art of innovation, you've got to kick the unnovation habit first.

Innovation vs. Unnovation Research

In order for me to conjure up any sort of meaningful response to the questions surrounding innovation vs. unnovation, I had to do more research. It didn't take long before I discovered an article that was like a magnet; I just couldn't keep myself away. Unnovation - The Biggest Threat to Business by Olaf Swantee was eye opening to say the least.

If unnovation ever made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, I believe the description would be something along the lines of "unnovation (noun) ... the refusal to identify, create, embrace or adopt new ideas, leading to the unnecessary and un-timely end to a business, which is ultimately overtaken by external progress.

Pandora's Box

Is it possible that unnovation could be in its simplest form about refusal? Or, is it more about the lack of new idea adoption? Hold on to those thoughts, we will continue on with our search for answers in a moment. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Sam Watson, an entrepreneur and business owner for a global company called onboardonline.com. Sam's perspective about innovation and unnovation comes from her decades of experience and exposure in conducting business internationally. I thought she would be a great person to provide insight in an attempt to answer the questions surrounding our hot topic. Little did I know that Sam would open up Pandora's box and bring to the surface yet another question while she expounded on her thoughts.

Conceptually, I would argue that profit alone does not qualify an idea as innovative, any more than a lack of profit means an idea is unnovative. Is art or invention only innovative if someone buys it?

Watson brings up a great question. Is commerce directly related to innovation? I believe innovation and unnovation can intersect when a common denominator is evident, and that can happen regardless of a transaction or not. Conceptually, a transaction probably does not need to occur in order for innovation or unnovation to occur.

Unnovation Best Practice: Does It Exist?

There is no best practice for how to measure unnovation, how to remedy it when it is unraveling right in front of us and how to turn the process around so that the concept or reality of a concept does not crash and burn. Some innovative companies understand that unnovation can be a factor in loss of revenue. As Watson continues on with her thoughts about unnovation, she talks about a few things that are probably common in many businesses in their quest to be innovative, not unnovative

In practice, unnovation can be the opposite of innovation just by being plain stupid. It's difficult to think outside the box, and it's easy to think you are doing something new when you are not. The line between the two can also be narrow, just as the best innovations are often those that seem most obvious once they exist. In my experience, this is because there is usually a rightness about the timing of an idea; a feeling that you're swimming with the tide. Common themes start to emerge in conversations, and when a number of people are saying the same thing in different ways, what you have is a wish, which creates a vision, followed by the practical (and financial) challenges of making it happen.

Timing is Everything

The goal of this article was to hopefully help answer questions surrounding the
unnovation vs. innovation saga. I feel all I did was begin to ask even more questions that blur the line between the two even more. To that I say I'm sorry. There are many questions surrounding both of these business challenges. However, I do feel that there is one thing that is common among both unnovation and innovation. Timing. You could have an incredible idea, but launch at the wrong time and it will probably fail. Or, you could have a not so good idea and launch at the right time and it could work. I feel timing is the key performance indicator and common denominator that probably has strong ties to concept and reality of both unnovation and innovation