"Most CEOs now spray the word ‘innovation’ as if it were an air freshener," writes Dennis K. Berman in The Wall Street Journal (12/4/13). "In the last three months, CEOs of S&P 500 companies have put the ‘innovation’ word on Peony & Blush Suede perfume, premium potash and higher-alcohol Miller Beer. “Innovation also describes Dun & Bradstreet credit reports and PetSmart’s temporary tattoos for pets." At a recent shareholder conference, Hewlett Packard executives used the word ‘innovation’ "70 times."
These are not isolated incidents, and the trend is growing: "Back in 2007, 99 companies in the S&P 500 mentioned innovation in their third-quarter conference calls," according to Conference IQ. "This year the number was 197. The real question, of course, is what truly constitutes ‘innovation’? For some it’s just another word for ‘competitiveness’ and in many cases it’s simply "a more regal way to describe what business has always done: Adapt." For Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, this means introducing "pepper hamburger buns, beer-can cocktails and beer milkshakes."
For Matt Roberts, CEO of OpenTable, innovation is not a big breakthrough so much as it is the cumulative effect of multiple incremental changes that "can add up to something bigger. Change comes more from a process than an end-product," and he prefers the term, ‘optimization.’ At Pop-Tarts, meanwhile, innovation is Gone Nutty!, a peanut-butter flavored variety. While the idea itself may not be innovative, producing it arguably was. As a Kellogg spokesperson put it: "Development challenges and nut-allergy concerns stood in the way of launching this innovation."