We use buzzwords like digital and disruption to describe what we say is something new these days. Apps, the fourth Industrial Revolution, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and the other lingo that helps create the near-mythic legends sweeping the world right now may well be new to us.

But when you look beyond the façade, through the slender veneer of hype, you see the real change is as old as human history. It’s simply innovation.

Innovation, or change, is permanent

Innovation took us from walking to rolling, to sailing, flying and ultimately interplanetary travel. Maybe the quantum physicists will have us teleport at some point. Who knows? But that type of innovation permeates every aspect of humankind’s history and it’s the root of the cliché that change is the only constant.

The first person to roll on a wheeled carriage of some sort made it possible to move more than a horse could carry – using that same horse to power the vehicle. It was innovative then but it’s long since been shuffled into the realm of fairy tale weddings and photo opportunities.

The rush to smart everything is not necessarily the goal

Apps, mobile devices, social media, automation, robotics, smart machines, smart everything – these are new for us now but they won’t always be. And that means that, while digitalisation is the immediate goal for many of us and the businesses that employ us, it’s not the ultimate goal. Before long the next thing will come along and we’ll be caught napping or told that we have to change once more. But that wouldn’t be the case if we knew how to innovate, how to manage our ability and capacity and capabilities to manage innovation. We need to learn to manage the constant change.

And the pace of that change is quicker now than ever before because technology helps us create new technologies quicker.

The broad-strokes evolution of transport demonstrates the similarly rapid increase in the pace of change we’re experiencing in the digital world today.

Scholars typically agree that horses were domesticated somewhere between 4 000 to 6 000 years ago. The wheel was invented roughly 5 500 years ago (about 3 500BC) and wagons shortly thereafter. Steam power was harnessed in 1712. The internal combustion engine sputtered to life in 1859. A Zeppelin airship took to the skies in 1900, a liquid-fuelled rocket in 1926, Chuck Yeager achieved supersonic flight in 1947, in 1957 the Russians put Sputnik in space, three years later did so with a man aboard, and in another eight years Neil Armstrong trod on the moon.

That’s about 5 200 years from the wagon to the steam engine, 147 more to the internal combustion engine, another 41 to the airship, a further 26 to rockets, 21 more to supersonic flight, 10 more to Earth orbit, and 11 more to the first man standing on the moon.

Digitalisation is too narrow a goal

That’s why taking the time to put the measures in place to deal with digitalisation is far too narrow a task. It’s like preparing our businesses to make airships in 1925. Just one year later the first rocket takes flight. Rather, we must build our innovation management capacities because, if change is not already continuous, it soon will be.

The only way to evolve is to take stock and develop your organisation’s capabilities. Right now that may mean managing products by beefing up your product experimentation capability. Or it may be enhancing responsive DevOps capabilities to roll out and manage software rapidly, perhaps tight security that’s also frictionless so you can better manage the customer experience and improve governance. It may mean investigating lean design, start-up thinking, growth hacking, co-creation or other methodologies that can support your business in the correct context.

Crucially, you’ll want to be comfortable that, regardless of the choices that suit your business today, you future-proof your organisation through regular and relatively frequent updates to these elements that support innovation management.

The elements are numerous and depend on the industry sector, your individual business, your employees, available skills, customers, partners, competitors and more factors. That’s why there’s no panacea, no potion, no secret sauce you can drip over the whole shebang. You need to brew a potion specific to your current and ever-evolving conditions and that means baking in the capabilities and capacities that support it. That’s what we help companies do. And we can help you do it.