The Innovation Communications Challenge

It’s just not fair.

Elon Musk has recently promised to connect human brains to computers, visit the Moon and populate the solar system, and send a self-driving Tesla across America (Uber sees flying cars in a few years). I’m sure there’s a startup somewhere working on time travel.

You want to publicize the improved efficiency you successfully delivered to a customer’s facility, for which you were paid good money.

Zzzzzzz.

No amount of access or glossy production can make up for what you’re missing. No storytelling can change the fact that you’re mired in, well, facts.

Innovation starts with vision, relies on passion and risk, and challenges norms and expectations. It’s what you do that nobody would expect your business to do. It’s compelling when it’s incomplete, and its outcomes undecided.

Providing creative solutions to your customers’ problems is smart business, but it’s not innovative, at least the way the media cover it.

It’s too bad, really, because there’s extraordinary vision and work underway at most established companies. Smart, motivated people and working on problems most of us have never imagined, but their organizations don’t communicate it.

Why? Competitors might learn something they want to copy. Shareholders could get spooked, or hold the company accountable for making good on its innovation. Executives who grew up in operations aren’t comfortable talking about what if.

As a result, the public dialogue on most industries is based on the imagination of tech startups with no competitors or customers to worry about. If there’s no visibility into how a business is changing, it’s only reasonable to assume that something external will do the changing for/to it.

Disruption is the name of the game because established companies haven’t dared name it something else.

The opportunity is immense, but actualizing it requires a rethink of how companies communicate on innovation…and who is allowed to do the communicating.

Announcements of project starts and completions need to be replaced with providing visibility into the journeys between those two points. Spokespeople need to be folks directly involved in the work, not executives describing it in the generic language of strategy.

And nobody should ever self-anoint something “innovative” ever again. If it isn’t obvious from the telling, the story isn’t about innovation just because somebody says it’s about innovation.

But don’t wait. That startup working on time travel is probably going to be on the cover of Wired in a few months. Entrepreneurs closer to your business are already making promises about the future that make your descriptions of the present look boring.

And Elon isn’t done yet.

It’s just not fair. So do something about it.