The non-obvious innovation obstacle: charlatanism

No, we don’t need innovation offices or officers for our cities. Buzzword mania, and everyone wanting to be a part of the bandwagon make it a ignorant proposition. Most of the innovation offices want to resemble Silicon Valley, including its focus on technology.

Remember, innovation isn’t just about tech. So, another tech center does not innovation make.

With that said, it seems that everyday a new business accelerator or innovation office pops up everywhere. Here in Tijuana, the same is occurring. In the last three months, I’ve been invited to start two startup accelerators with people who believe innovation is all about technology. And, it follows the same story as elsewhere: get funds from the government, manage those funds and put them into promising startups.

Anyone can do it right? No.

It is the typical government initiative that creates a budget for innovation related activities, and needs to spend it in some way to show that they are doing something with it. This is short-term-ism at its finest. Then throw in some opportunistic dudes with financial freedom in mind, and you got a big hairy mess.

Don’t get me wrong, some people are well intended, others are not. And there, is where the issue is.

For example, a buddy of mine informed me that a person he knows had been promoted as the Chief Innovation Officer for an aeronautical center in Mexico. What is interesting about this particular situation, is that this person has no innovation experience whatsoever. He is, basically, a speaker.

How many of those do you know? Infinite right?

As you can imagine, he talked a good game and came come across as experienced. In other words, he is a charlatan. What is sad, yet not surprising, is that people fell for his words. It is the typical dude that reads, asks, and then mimics those he read and talked with.

From the other side of the equation, are the listeners who promoted him to that position. It is typical of Mexico, and other places, to love BS.

In my book, a speaker does not a leader make. They might be great at getting people motivated (for the short time they are there), but for actually getting stuff done, they are worthless. Think about it, would you go to war with someone who’s read a bunch of books about warfare, or with someone who’s actually been there-done that and has the war scars to prove it?


Anyway, by talking about “heart grabbing” stories in which they didn’t participate in, and giving “cookie-cutter takeaways”, they are doing a dis-service to those of us who actually care about what we do, why and how we do it. Those of use who stir the pot, know full well that innovation takes a lot more than just importing “cookie-cutter tips”.

As my buddy Steve Koss says, one needs to carry the X-Files with them at all times to look beyond the BS. That is why reports that say that Mexico will be Latin America’s Tech Leader is flawed. You can have all the infrastructure you want, but it isn’t enough. And, no, scale doesn’t mean anything. A much smaller and focused country (like Peru and Chile) has more opportunities than a bigger country like Mexico. It is all about focus.

Again, in Mexico the desire exists, but the mindset doesn’t. I can tell you that because I live here. It is very simple, anyone who thinks that simply copying Silicon Valley and importing some ideas will do the trick, is hallucinating. A culture of innovation is built with people, conversation and mindset. And, that last part, mindset, is what sets you apart.

In conclusion, speakers are an obstacle in the innovation journey because they are committed to talking about it, not being about it. Going from talking to doing is a huge jump. And then continuing on through the middle where all the interesting things happen, is another challenge most don’t take into account. The journey of innovation is a marathon with sprints in between. It is not one for those without guts.

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