As innovation is increasingly becoming an imperative for policymakers around the globe, there is a growing tendency to frame policy problems as problems of innovation. This logic suggests that we are unable to address grand societal challenges and ensure economic competitiveness because our societies, institutions, scientific activities or individual predispositions are not sufficiently geared towards innovation. In this paper, we analyze this “deficit model” of innovation in which a lack of innovation is routinely invoked as the main obstacle to social progress. Drawing parallels to research on the deficit model of public understanding of science (PUS), we develop a theoretical framework that captures the dynamics and normative implications of deficit construction, highlighting five salient dimensions: problem diagnoses, proposed remedies, the role of expertise, implied social orders, and measures of success. We apply this framework to three empirical case studies of recent innovation strategies in Luxembourg, Singapore, and Denmark. Attention to this deficit framing around innovation is important, we argue, because it is an essential part of how innovation transforms societies in the 21st century: not only through new technological possibilities or economic growth, but also by shaping public discourse, narrowing policy options, and legitimizing major institutional interventions. The implied pro-innovation bias tends to marginalize other rationales, values, and social functions that do not explicitly support innovation. It further delegates decisions about sweeping social reconfigurations to innovation experts, which raises questions of accountability and democratic governance. Experiences from the history of PUS suggest that, without a dedicated effort to transform innovation policy into a more democratic, inclusive, and explicitly political field, the present deficit logic and its technocratic overtones risks significant social and political conflict.