XTC—Examining the Change: Ingenuity over Innovation

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At our 2014 Tech MarkScreen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.02.01 PMeters Playbook event last week, we previewed a number of themes we see emerging in tech PR this year that we will be examining in more detail on this blog over the coming weeks. Namely, approaching customers as influencers; changing the relationship with risk; engineering for expectations; and the rise of small data over big data. But one of the biggest trends we see emerging is the rise of Ingenuity over Innovation. And as “innovation” is now center square for buzzword bingo in tech PR, it’s worth a closer look.

Here I’m defining “innovation” as the creation of a brand new component that’s never been seen before, and “ingenuity” as the creative recombination of existing components into something more useful. The wheel was an innovation. New. Impressive. By itself, useless. Then some ingenious soul took two wheels, put a stick through them and set a box on top, thus creating a cart. Also impressive. And immediately useful.

The problem with innovation is that it usually happens in a time of surplus. The wheel only came along after we’d learned to farm and store food and discovered free time. But ingenuity happens in moments of great need, when a difficult task needs to be done right now and we simply have to make do with what we have.

That’s the reality we face today.  And that’s why we are entering an era of ingenuity.

The good news is that ingenuity is an inexhaustible human resource. You see it at work today in key verticals such as automotive, healthcare, manufacturing and financial services. These sectors have to be cautious around innovation, given the regulations and cultures that govern them. But they must adapt to disruption to survive. So they don’t default to spending time and money on innovation for its own sake. They find mind-blowing new ways to use things that have already proven to be useful—and trustworthy.

Perhaps the most liberating thing about ingenuity is that it allows us to challenge the myth of scarcity. Too often we as a PR community begin our pitches with cost, complexity and risk. Without realizing it, we perpetuate a zero-sum game that assumes we just don't have enough to work with now.

But what if we in the tech PR community could flip the script on scarcity and pose the viral question, “What if we do have everything we need? What if we just need the ingenuity to make better use of what we have?” What impact would it have if together we started telling the ingenuity story? Imagine the dialogue across entrepreneurs, technologists, economists and influencers around the ingenious utilization of the plethora of proven innovations at our feet.

Now that’s a story worth telling.