Bleak Xmas Ahead: Where's the innovation I need to fill the stockings?

I know this is the July Fourth holiday and I'm half a year away from gift giving. But, when I looked through the Sunday supplements in today's newspaper, I couldn't find anything to buy.

I know this is the July Fourth holiday and I'm half a year away from gift giving. But, when I looked through the Sunday supplements in today's newspaper, I couldn't find anything to buy. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Squat.

Yes, I scanned the Best Buy, Office Depot and TigerDirect supplements and I couldn’t find anything I needed. I don’t need any new LCD monitors on my desk. I don’t need a digital camera, printer or hard drive. I don’t even need any of the software out for sale these days.

If you were my kids or a CIO, you should be worried this holiday season. I think the technology vendors out there are going to leave us with the highly innovative, LUMP O’ COAL version 4.6.2a this holiday season. I can hear the TV announcer right now. He’s saying:

WHAT’S IN THE NEW LUMP O’COAL THIS YEAR??!! WELL, WE’VE ADDED TONS OF NEW FUNCTIONS AND FEATURES THAT YOU’LL NEVER NEED OR GET A CHANCE TO IMPLEMENT. IN FACT, WE’VE EVEN CREATED SOME VERY SPECIAL AND HIGHLY EXPENSIVE UPGRADE OPTIONS THAT MAKE THE TCO OF THIS PRODUCT MORE PRICEY AND WORTHLESS THAN EVER.

WE’VE TAKEN THE SAME FUNCTIONS AND FEATURES YOU’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO THE LAST THREE DECADES AND ADDED THINGS LIKE GRC AND SOA. MAYBE, IF WE CAN STILL FIND SOMEONE WHO KNOWS HOW THIS SOFTWARE WORKS, WE CAN EVEN MAKE IT MULTI-TENANT.

No matter how much someone is screaming how innovative they are, I’ll be the judge of what’s really innovative.

I feel like I’m in the bottom of an innovation chasm. I’ve got all of the cool gadgets from the last decade or two and I can’t see anything new coming out. Even if I wanted to do my part to help the economy recover, I can’t. There’s nothing new to buy.

What’s passing for new these days is merely incrementalism. Incremental innovation has replaced real breakthroughs.

Incrementalism is rampant in the ERP space. The recipe is so familiar that it’s shopworn: take one really old package from the 1980s, re-platform it to SOA and then acquire a few complementary add-on products and, presto, you’re suddenly market relevant again. Bull.

I need proof that innovation is really occurring out there. Instead, we see headlines like these:

- ERP vendors raising $ billions in debt to pay for their acquisitions and to build up cash reserves for new acquisitions - cell phone/PDA makers releasing new products that can’t or won’t work on carriers’ networks or can’t enable a number of the new capabilities within it

Geoffrey Moore’s last book, Dealing With Darwin, is a great read. He stipulates that there are certain kinds of innovations and some, like incremental innovations, are appropriate at specific points in a product’s life cycle. Well, in that case, someone needs to send a few dozen copies of that book to all of the ERP vendors out there. Almost to a one, these firms are all piling on the incremental innovation space. Certainly there’s some room for something all new, amazing and ground-breaking.

I’ll take Geoff’s work and create my own addendum. Herewith are my laws of technology innovation:

First: Acquisitions aren’t the same as innovation. If they were, we’d see a different definition in the dictionary for innovation.

Second: If you innovate and no one can/will use it, it may not really be innovation.

Third: Vision is not the same as innovation. We’re not suggesting everyone on your team has to have 20/20 vision. No, we think you need people who are empathetic, well-read, cosmopolitan, imaginative and inspiring. You need people who can both imagine the future and can build the team, projects, etc. to make the future happen.

Fourth: Talking about innovation is not the same as innovation. If that were the case, the PowerPoint decks everyone emails me would be worth billions.

Fifth: Innovation takes daring, imagination, a sense of urgency and skill. If your firm’s glorious leader is long on financial deal making, financial engineering, sales quota enforcement or managing his personal stock option package, he/she may not be the best example of an innovation leader.

Sixth: Great firms are masters of innovation and exploitation. Some firms are brilliant at lifting other firm’s ideas. These fast followers can ramp up and exploit other firm’s innovations to great market success. Innovators can design brilliant solutions to real problems. But, the truly great excel at both.

Seventh: Being committed to innovation is not (I repeat, not) the same as being innovative. Oh, the misdirection this causes the average technology buyer. How many times have buyers postponed a major technology purchase because their favorite tech vendor has promised to some day, maybe, possibly (but not commit this to a written contract) deliver the new technology, application, vertical extension or functionality.