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What Innovation Can't Do
By Steve Powers

(Business 2.0) – Like "open sesame," "innovation" is an expression executives invoke to find a quick escape from tough times. In his new book, Renovate Before You Innovate, former Coca-Cola marketer Sergio Zyman warns against the temptation to overextend a brand in the name of change. "At its core, this approach to business growth is simply lazy," he writes. "Actually, it's worse than that; it's dangerous."

His alternative is "renovation"--a return to what a company does best. Trouble occurs when, under the guise of innovation, companies stray too far from their core competence. A case in point: New Coke, which Zyman says failed because it tampered with a product that consumers trusted. McDonald's learned a similar lesson from its ill-fated foray into the European hotel business.

Zyman's remedy: Make the most of what you know you can sell, rather than what you think you can create. Witness the iPod, which he sees not as an innovation but as a shrewd pairing of Apple's talent for developing user-friendly technology with consumers' obvious enthusiasm for digital music.

Is this just a repackaging of plain old common sense? Perhaps. But as a counterpoint to the usual hocus-pocus about innovation, Zyman opens the door to a more realistic approach to corporate strategy. -- STEVE POWERS