The cult of innovation
IT is currently gripped by a Cult of Innovation: novelty is king; development/improvement a headlong rush into the future; only the bleeding edge survives. We ought to know better.
Innovation can be change for change's sake, especially when staff are tasked with "Be innovative". Mindless innovation for its own sake is only inherently good in a consumer commercial market driven by novelty.
There is a real issue here with IT people using their personal consumer values and experience to think about the business context. I've talked about this confusion of the personal and commercial before on this blog. The hysteria around social media is a good example of something that has a major impact on our personal lives which then generates an overhyped expectation of results in business. Likewise personal and mobile computing devices.
So the same thing happens with innovation. "Apple are innovative so innovation is a winning strategy" (Actually it is debatable whether Apple are truly innovative or just good at making existing concepts look shiny and then marketing them brilliantly: iCandy). Just because innovation is an essential strategy for consumer products doesn't mean it is essential for a tractor parts supplier or a county council or a hospital. In many organisations we could use more thinking inside the box before we worry about going outside it.
Innovation is often blindly forward looking. Innovation must not throw the baby with bathwater, it must not lose what we have built. Attempts at innovation can be downright destructive.
The power of human society is our ability to transmit knowledge between each other and from one generation to the next. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.
"[For example] we went through this with websites. Early designs ignored all that had been learned before and set us back many years in progress towards usability and understand[ability]... the most egregious failures [of design] always come from the developers of the most recent technologies"
Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things.
Truly better design can sometimes mean regression, where "better" means meeting the business requirement (need/risk/problem). Sometimes going back to past ways of doing things is the best strategy. When it comes to efficiency and effectiveness, we can learn as much from the past as from a shiny unproven future.
Finally, innovation is a distraction to most of us. Even if some innovation is required in an organisation, that doesn't mean everybody in the organisation should be rushing after it. 99% of us in IT have a prosaic day job to do, which involves keeping the company working. As I said of the Cloud:
IT Management is 1% innovation and 99% perspiration. Innovation is not our day job. For the small number of IT people who are in charge of conceptualising new services or setting architectural directions, then Cloud is very exciting. In some cases it is even relevant to them.
For the rest of you, get back to work and stop looking over on that far horizon just because it looks cool - we have a business to run.
You're an undisciplined rabble of kids who run out the gate to dance shrieking around anything shiny or noisy that comes along the road. If the Cloud is coming to us, the CIO and the architects and the designers will let us know soon enough. If you wanted to play with the cool toys you should have studied harder in school.
Talk of "Innovation" has become a bizarre form of political correctness in IT: if you're not doing innovation you are failing in your duty, you are backward, you are a loser. This is dangerous rubbish. We need to concentrate on the efficiency and effectiveness of what we do for the organisation. If improving efficiency and effectiveness means introducing an innovation, good. Often it doesn't.
Avoid the Cult of Innovation.