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Innovation Washing: The Facade of False Progress

Updated: Feb 27

Innovation washing

In the corporate world (sometimes, sadly, in the start-up ecosystem as well), a new phenomenon mirroring the well-known greenwashing has emerged: innovation washing. This term describes the practice of companies claiming to embrace and drive innovation when, in reality, their efforts amount to little more than superficial changes. Despite minimal advancements, these organizations position themselves at the forefront of innovation, leveraging this facade for marketing and public relations gains rather than genuine progress.

Innovation, by its nature, requires a culture that fosters creativity, encourages risk-taking, and supports the development of new ideas. However, many companies jumping on the innovation bandwagon lack this fundamental ethos. They are not equipped with the necessary environment or mindset to nurture true innovation. Instead, they engage in what can be termed as 'innovation theater,' where the appearance of innovation is staged without substantial outcomes.

Identifying innovation washing is often simple: it typically involves grandiose claims of innovation with little evidence of substantial or meaningful change. The language is decorated with buzzwords and vague promises, yet lacks real examples of impactful innovation. The appeal of appearing 'disruptive' sometimes leads established companies to embrace surface-level signs of innovation (like using the word smart for basic features, labeling products as AI-enhanced with features that don't genuinely use AI and accelerator-like activites with no real content) confusing these for authentic innovation. However, true disruption comes from fundamentally challenging and changing the status quo, not merely pretending to do so.

The core issue with innovation washing is its erosion of the true value and understanding of innovation. It breeds complacency and a superficial approach to what it means to be innovative. Each time an organization labels trivial changes as groundbreaking, it moves further away from establishing a genuine culture of innovation—one that is capable of producing ideas that are truly novel, valuable, and sustainable for its customers. This dilution not only misleads stakeholders but also hampers the organization's long-term capacity for real innovation and growth.


Image by El Guseinov
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