By Cathy Enz, PhD., Lewis G. Schaeneman, Jr. Professor of Innovation & Dynamic Management, Cornell School of Hotel Administration.
It seems that everyone loves to talk about innovation these days, but sadly the overuse of the word to describe minor tweaks and ordinary activities has turned it into a confusing if not meaningless term. While senior leaders in many different industries use the word at alarmingly frequent intervals, I wonder if they mean the same thing I do when I talk about innovation. For me, innovation has its roots in the notion of creating a new idea or the rearranging of an old one in such a way that it creates significant customer value. However this business of new ideas is not as easy to sell as we might think. You history buffs know it took the British Navy of the 17th century over 150 years to adopt a proven cure for scurvy, but in today’s world we embrace new ideas – right?
I have begun to wonder as we prepare for the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit coming in October (CHRS14) if people really like new ideas. The catalyst for my reflection is the decision Rohit Verma, my co-chair for the summit, and I made to encourage new methods for the presentation of proposals for the summit. This year we have asked moderators and speakers to experiment with different session types like posing a “big question” to spark debate, or both showing and telling participants about a new practice, process, program, product, or application. We have tried to ask folks to step away from the comfort of a traditional formal PowerPoint dependent presentation to be creative, or to more fully explore a devil’s advocacy style to question the positions of others. In short, we wanted to be innovative and experimental in both the theme of the conference and the way in which we shared information at the conference.
Here is what we have discovered in trying to execute on this idea. First, many presenters don’t automatically accept, understand, or really want to try this new idea. In some ways their hesitancy makes perfect sense. Who likes to take unnecessary risks, or move out of their comfort zone, particularly if the new idea is unproven, or ambiguous, and the probability of success is uncertain? New for the sake of newness is not necessarily a good thing. The second thing we have discovered is that how the creator of an idea sees it can be quite different from how it is seen by others. In fact this gap between the acceptance of a new idea by others and the expectation that people will embrace something new is perhaps one of the biggest challenges innovators face.
It is too soon to tell but our desire to improve on the conference method may not be embraced with enthusiasm, as we had hoped. Watching from a safe distance, and following once the idea is clearer and proven seems prudent, and we get it. I’m reminded of the inventor Howard Aiken who once said, “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” We of
course don’t want to ram our idea for an experimental conference down anyone’s throat. In fact, we want to thank all of the folks who asked for clarity (see our do’s and don’ts video, including our bad acting below) and we are grateful to those of you who bravely promised to give it a go. We are looking forward to a great conference, but I would venture that just maybe people don’t love new ideas. See you in October, and let’s find out.
As the leading source for research on and for the hospitality and related service industries, the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration invites representatives of industry and academe to the 3rd Cornell Hospitality Research Summit, on the beautiful campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, October 12-14, 2014. A conference unlike any other, the CHRS is designed to create new knowledge through the intentional interaction of industry and academic presenters and participants.