Lessons from Pokemon: How much innovation do you actually need?


Visit the"About Us" or "Mission Statement" of any organization and there is 99% chance they will mention "innovation." 

OK I made that up that stat. But whether they area a start up or a Fortune 500 company, in job search, I've lost track of how many organizations say they want to be "innovative."

It's a nice buzzword, but we humans are animals of contradiction. We want novelty and innovation, but we also want consistency and for things to never change...

Recently, I saw a video on Facebook that showed the "Pokemon" series through the ages. I can't find that exact video, but here's a similar one:


I was struck by the similarity the "color" games. Pokemon blue, gold, red etc are basically the same game, with perhaps slightly different graphics. 

(yes I know there are other series, like Mario Kart, that are basically the same game with better graphics, but I'm talking about Pokemon today).

Now, I'm not a Pokemon aficionado. I'm sure there are some experts out there who can point out exactly how each color game is so very different from the last. But the differences are not obvious to me. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing. The Pokemon franchise is wildly successful. Pikachu, from what I observe, is right up there with Mario in terms of the "faces" of Nintendo.  But even Pokemon Go, which practically everyone played a couple summers ago whether or not they were "into" Pokemon, was basically just a live version of the games that always existed. 

If I were to think about "innovation," Pokemon would not come to mind. The objective does not change. Ever. The gameplay doesn't really change. Ever. 

Innovation is not inherently negative or positive, and it's not a guarantee for success. Even though Amazon made it possible to shop for almost anything online, supermarkets still exist. Department stores still exist. Barnes and Noble is still hanging in there despite the age of kindles.

For me, one of my guiding questions when making decisions large or small is "Does it work?" Pokemon works. It's been working for over 20 years. You don't always need to re-brand or rebuild. Sometimes you just need to tweak.

When do you think an organization should strive for "innovation?"