Dear Innovators,

I'll never forget the first time I met a real-life, honest-to-god Innovator. I was operating* (*babysitting) AV equipment at SXSW in Austin, TX, and during one of the breaks I started talking to this dude; or rather I should say, he started talking to me. He asked me what I did, as smalltalkers talking small are wont to do, and I told him I was a student at UT working at the tech conference to score free tickets for the music festival later that week. Then he said a bunch of stuff, and as the pitter patter of our soulless conversation slowed to an intermittent drizzle, I could tell that he was slowly building an elephant in the room. He kept communicating to me indirectly through hints and stories and questions, that I was to ask him what he did for a living. I know good manners dictate that I should have done it directly after he had asked me what I did for a living, but I was afraid that that would just encourage him to keep talking for the entire intermission, and I really wanted to make a clean break with this 30-something-year-old man and go get something to eat before the conference started again.

But he had me cornered, and things were getting sadder and more desperate with every passing sentence. 

"Yeah, I've got a really interesting job, I just love going to work every day. That's the difference passion can make," he said, making it ever more obvious that I should inquire as to what exactly his chosen profession was. I buckled.

"Yeah, that's really important," I said. "What is it exactly that you do for a living?" I winced internally as I heard the words come out of my mouth. His eyes lit up like Roman candles.

"I AM THE CHIEF INNOVATION OFFICER AT A DIGITAL MARKETING START-UP!" he ejaculated into my ear canals. A visible wave of satisfaction flooded over him and he looked like a man who had finally had an orgasm after three years in a straight jacket and padded room filled with pornography.

I had to deflate him a little. It was just perverse, watching him float around in an ocean of self-gratification like that. 

"So then you like basically come up with new, harder-to-close, pop-up ads?" I responded. My question had the desired effect, but he maintained an air of smugness that just couldn't be mocked out of him.

He gave a little chortle at my dig and waved it off like Godzilla getting shot by a marshmallow cannon. Then he countered and went on the offensive with a punitive 5-minute job description. The punishment then extended to a summary of his recent initiatives and over-arching core philosophy on the principles of measuring marketing ROI. 

You see, I had miscalculated my foe. I was over-confident, and I paid the price. I was certain that a quick blitz of satire to the balls would break him, but he turned my surgical strike into merely the first salvo in a long, drawn-out, passive-aggressive war of attrition that didn't end until the intermission was over, the lights were dimming, the audience was seated, and the interactive panel members were testing the microphones I was supposed to be manning.

I wanted to kill the Chief Innovation Officer at the Digital Marketing Start-up, and eat him as my intermission snack, but by the time I had fished through my jeans and found my Leatherman, he had already disappeared into a sea of fellow Innovators. 

I'll never ask someone what they do for a living again.

The other lesson I learned that day is that if someone calls themself an "innovator," they almost certainly aren't. It's sort of the same phenomenon as hood rats wearing sweatpants with "princess" on the ass, or those anonymous nobodies who wear t-shirts that say "Famous."

But calling ones self an innovator is on a whole other paradoxical level. It's not just pretentious with a tendency to inaccuracy. Putting the king of over-used corporate buzzwords into your title is the opposite of innovation. It's a contradiction in terms. It falsifies itself the moment it's uttered. It's like saying, "I never fucking swear," or "I bet I'm the humblest person in the world," or "Hello, I'm a bachelor and this is my wife, Estella."

"I'm an innovator, but I couldn't think of anything more creative than this trite, threadbare trope of a title."

You know who was really innovative? Whoever invented the word "innovation" back in the 1540s. Anybody who's still scaling the ever-growing summit of Mt. Platitude should be subjected to some innovative new form of testicular/vulvic pummeling. (Google books Ngram Viewer)

It's 2015 and after years of hard work and R&D, Charles Bugler from Cleveland, Ohio, has had a breakthrough- he's going to call himself an Innovator on LinkedIn! How perfectly... innovative! How originally clever! This Thought Leader is Life-Hacking Outside the Box! Some say the global impact of this gamified, disruptive innovation could rival that of the social media mobile revolution! [satirical monologue ends; curtain falls to an uproarious standing ovation]

The commonality that is shared by both those who wear a T-shirt that says "party animal" on it, and those who call themselves innovators is that they're both full of shit. If you're going to do something, just fucking do it. Self-selected titles are meaningless. Elon Musk doesn't have to call himself an Innovator, because he just sort of... does it. It'll be up to the historians to decide on descriptors, and something tells me that fifty years from now "innovator" will sound about as anachronistic and dated as "rapscallion" does now.

Sebastian Braff


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