Wall St. Journal Nominates “Innovation” as Most Overused Word in 2012


Each year, we make predictions as to what may be the most overused phrase in 2012. In April, we nominated the word “pivot,” used to indicate when a business (generally always a startup) changes its focus, its technology, its strategy, etc. to find a new business model.

Pivot is still getting a lot of ink (or, more accurately: pixels), and is being used in a lot of meetings we’ve been attending.

However, the Wall St. Journal has nominated another word as most overused word or phrase for 2012: Innovation. The article, You Call That Innovation?” makes the case that “Companies Love to Say They Innovate, but the Term Has Begun to Lose Meaning.” saying:

“Businesses throw around the term to show they’re on the cutting edge of everything from technology and medicine to snacks and cosmetics. Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies and even innovation days.

“But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they’re describing is quite ordinary.

Even Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of the 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” thinks companies are overusing the term: “Most companies say they’re innovative in the hope they can somehow con investors into thinking there is growth when there isn’t.”

The Journal has compiled good proof points to support its claim: 

  • “A search of annual and quarterly reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows companies mentioned some form of the word “innovation” 33,528 times last year, which was a 64% increase from five years before that.”
  • “More than 250 books with “innovation” in the title have been published in the last three months, most of them dealing with business, according to a search of Amazon.com.”

Check out the article You Call That Innovation?” because it also includes more proof points about the overuse of “innovation.” We’ve already advised clients to reduce their reliance on the word.

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