All-new Accenture?

One of the things I’ve always liked about Accenture (and I like quite a lot of things about them) is its apparent capacity to reinvent itself on a fairly regular basis. ERP, outsourcing, offshoring: Accenture has often been the first mover, prepared to go out on a limb in the market, often, I suspect, at the cost of turmoil behind the scenes. It puts a strategic stake in the ground, then expects the organisation to catch up.

So what are we to make of its campaign around “new”?

The first thing to say is that the word “new” is an unusual choice. From all the interviews and other research we do with clients, we know just how crucial innovation is at the moment: it’s the most important factor senior executives say they consider when thinking about which consulting firm to use. But “innovation” is also a hugely problematic word. Not only has it been massively overused (you’d struggle to find a single consulting firm on the planet that doesn’t refer to its ability to innovate somewhere in its credentials), but it’s also hard to measure. “Innovation”, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder: whether you find something innovative depends on what you’ve seen before. But “new” is different: you can test for it. There is, for example, a world of difference in a proposal that claims to put forward an innovative approach (what does that actually mean?) to one that says the approach suggested is new. You could go and read all of a firm’s previous proposals. At least in theory: in practice, of course, no one would. “New” is bald and bold; it suggests no compromise, that no stone will be left unturned. It makes “innovative” sound careful and, ironically, incremental.

Just as important is the potential impact of “new” on Accenture internally. You can’t put “be more innovative” on someone’s annual objectives because you can’t measure it. But asking them to do something new is. If I write a proposal that takes an innovative approach, that’s quite hard to prove; writing something new would be–well–new.

Once again Accenture’s outward-facing persona has grasped something that has the potential to renew the firm, literally and figuratively. My only question–and it’s always my question with Accenture–do they know how clever they’ve been?