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Innovation for the Fatigued

How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity

By Alf Rehn
15-minute read
Audio available
Innovation for the Fatigued by Alf Rehn

Innovation for the Fatigued (2019) grapples with a curse of the corporate world: innovation fatigue. Rather than inventing anything useful or new, many organizations are mired in fashionable soundbites about “disruption” and “blue sky thinking.” It peels back the layers of nonsense to look at how companies can establish a deep and purposeful innovation culture.

  • Tech company leaders who’d like to try something different
  • Anyone interested in the business world
  • Changemakers looking to innovate in other fields

Alf Rehn is a Finnish lecturer and author who holds the Chair of Management and Organization at Åbo Akademi University. Rehn works as a columnist and sits on the board of directors for several companies, including the government-run Finnish betting agency, Veikkaus. Other notable works by him include Dangerous Ideas and Trendspotting, which he co-authored with Magnus Lindkvist.

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Innovation for the Fatigued

How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity

By Alf Rehn
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Innovation for the Fatigued by Alf Rehn
Synopsis

Innovation for the Fatigued (2019) grapples with a curse of the corporate world: innovation fatigue. Rather than inventing anything useful or new, many organizations are mired in fashionable soundbites about “disruption” and “blue sky thinking.” It peels back the layers of nonsense to look at how companies can establish a deep and purposeful innovation culture.

Key idea 1 of 9

Innovation has become a tired buzzword.

When author Alf Rehn gave talks to corporate leaders a decade ago, the room would listen attentively and with genuine enthusiasm. Today, as soon as he utters the word “innovation,” people become fidgety, sag in their seats, or sigh in exasperation. They’re tired of even hearing the word. 

If you listen to entrepreneurial jargon, you’ll hear words like “revolutionary” and “ground-breaking” about products like Kellogg’s Pop Tarts or minor adaptations to certain models of car. The vocabulary of radical change has been co-opted for often uninspiring purposes.

Just as there is an abundance of “innovation” jargon, there are oceans of books about the trend. In fact, there are around 100 such books published each month. 100! But while there is a lot of talk about innovation – which you might expect to be full of new, exciting ideas – these books can be boring and repetitive.

This is because the advice has become so standardized that AI could feasibly write a passable innovation book. If it did, it would include the endlessly repeated advice on how to “experiment and test with customers,” “take chances,” and “learn to embrace failure.”

Rehn demonstrated just how far this innovation talk had gone via an experiment with a leading tech company. Having been invited to give a 20-minute talk on innovation at the company (which Rehn prefers to keep anonymous, for fear of embarrassing them), he got to work right away.

Wanting to make a good impression on such a massive organization, he decided to plan for many more hours worth of material than he actually had to present. When he arrived at the organization, he met their leadership team for some preliminary discussions. At such a prestigious company, he expected a robust, invigorating back-and-forth of ideas. Instead, he was disappointed to find they had little appetite for a real exchange of ideas.

Emboldened, Rehn decided that he would compose a nonsensical speech made up entirely of buzzwords for his big presentation. He delivered the speech sincerely, with all the necessary emphasis and gestures. He declared things like: “So, you need to be the box you think outside of!” The audience of tech leaders and innovators listened eagerly. Some even took notes. 

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