When the first 5-year-old stamped his feet and said no to grape jelly on his peanut butter sandwich and instead got PB with strawberry preserves – a classic – I’m sure it was a breakthrough and the heavens rumbled.

When the first 5-year-old stamped his feet and said no to grape jelly on his peanut butter sandwich and instead got PB with strawberry preserves – a classic – I’m sure it was a breakthrough and the heavens rumbled.


Here in a kitchen somewhere on planet Earth, a frazzled and frustrated mom looked in the fridge for grape goo alternatives and, lo, she did split the atom.


At least that’s how the history would be written today. That mom was an innovator.


Innovation abounds to the point that if you can’t use the egregious verb “innovate” with a straight face, then you’re not cut out for the business world. The Wall Street Journal, never one to miss a good trend, reminds us this week that companies have “chief innovation officers,” whatever that might mean, and that corporate behemoths try to sprinkle magic innovation pixie dust on themselves so they appear as edgy and agile as the startup coffee shop down the street.


Then the Journal gets to the heart of the matter:


“Like the once ubiquitous buzzwords ‘synergy’ and ‘optimization,’ innovation is in danger of becoming a cliché – if it isn’t one already.”


Way to go out on a limb, guys.


The rule of thumb is that a really lousy buzzword – and I mean one with staying power – sounds like a cliché three seconds after you first hear it and decode its meaning. Think of the first time you heard someone say “proactive.” (I’ll bet it was at a seminar. Companies spend good money to send people to these things where good sense and the queen’s English are banished to a quiet room down the hall.)


I spent enough time covering schools in a previous journalistic life to have concluded that educators were the all-time champs at pushing indecipherable language. It might pass for learning, but regurgitation of jargon accomplishes exactly nothing.


Lately I’ve had second thoughts. I have sat through entire businesses meanings, with speaker after speaker saying we will innovate, calibrate, collaborate, network, partner, interface and ultimately be in our space and impact our options, and have left with no a earthly clue about what the plan really is. Sprinkling a few of those in your conversation is annoying but probably harmless, but if your presentation is nothing but that stuff, the poor listener is left thinking he’s been told to go conquer a bold new world but isn’t sure where it is or if he’s using a light saber or a bow and arrow. Or if the current residents of said world might fire back.


The Journal also points out that there’s good money to be had as an innovation consultant. I guess I should have seen that coming. But the jig is up, and innovation is no doubt a legacy market threatened by creative destruction, another tired phrase that’s about played itself out.


I need to attend more seminars and find the next cutting-edge verbiage. Wait. “Cutting edge” is so yesterday. Well, you get my drift. Find the buzz while it’s still buzzy. And then consult, helping companies pathfind their way to, what, nirvana? Sure, why not? It doesn’t matter much as long as the check clears.