Innovation thrives on meaning, but superficial innovation talk can lead to stress and fatigue, and thus less creativity, in a company culture.
It is common knowledge that talking the talk is easier than walking the walk. What we still tend to miss is that sometimes, the talk can actually hinder the walk, and in my research I’ve found that this holds particularly true in the field of corporate innovation. Here, excessive and repetitive innovation talk can trigger two issues that are harmful to organizations but have received scant attention: Innovation stress and innovation fatigue. Both can act as powerful barriers to take action on and engage with innovation, yet managers often respond to these by even more innovation talk. This can in turn create a vicious circle, one which can turn an organization’s creative culture toxic.
What, then, is innovation fatigue? In brief, it stands for a situation where invocations of innovation and exhortations for involvement with the same no longer creates engagement but rather tedium and tension. As an example, in one major corporation I worked with, a mid-level manager could easily recall at least 12 separate ongoing innovation initiatives in the organization, and when I asked him how many past such he could recall, he gave up after about 20, but insisted that there had been countless more. This was only the initiatives. He could also recall numerous innovation consultants, speeches from top executives about the importance of innovation, and various creativity workshops with “all kinds of silly games”. He grimaced throughout the listing of these.