Monday, August 31, 2009

The once and done innovator

The more I read on blogs, news sites and Twitter (especially), the more alarmed I become that innovation has lost all of its meaning. Too often we see people point out innovation "examples" that seem more likely to have been accidents or one time events that demonstrate that even a broken clock is right twice a day. By placing too much emphasis or spotlighting events that aren't really innovation, we place a lot of good work at risk.

Too often the examples are arcane instances of happenstance, or the last gasp change by a firm that had no other options, or some really wacky new product developed on a whim. That's a shame, since it treats innovation as a sideshow or a circus project, done for the illusion and then let's get back to the serious work. Too few innovation articles show all of the real work that goes on behind the scenes in firms with mature innovation processes and programs. It's as if new and interesting products just happen. Rather, many of them are the outcome of good thinking, watching trends, identifying opportunities, creating competing solutions and bringing something entirely new to market. When we focus only on the end solution, we give management teams the excuse to believe that innovation is quick, simple and easy. Rather, most innovation is long and challenging. If it weren't so, we'd have literally thousands of interesting new products and services confronting us each day.

It's time for those of us who write about, talk about and actually do innovation work to come clean and communicate the "science" behind innovation. Innovation is not a sideshow, not a distraction for the masses but ultimately core to any firm's long term success. If innovation is important over the long term, why would any management team consider it a sideshow? If generating new products and services is important, why wouldn't we invest in that capability?

Yes, I am a consultant and yes, I make a living helping firms innovate. So, yes, my life is easier and incomes possibly higher when firms buckle down and consider innovation as a repeatable, sustainable process rather than a quick brainstorm or two and one somewhat interesting product. But the latter is simply not sustainable, not innovation and a distraction or sideshow from what the business really does. We need to convince executives to make innovation what the business really "does" and then we'll turn loose the real creative power of this economy.

So, if at all possible, let's focus on the innovation successes by all means, but let's also point out the effort that went into making those innovation successes a reality.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:47 AM 2 comments

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why your firm can't innovate

Recently there's been a debate about why larger firms can't innovate. Perhaps they are too comfortable. Perhaps they are too afraid to cannibalize their markets. Perhaps they are afraid of risk and uncertainty. Perhaps, Perhaps.

Or maybe they operate under a management model that rewards compliance and punishes creativity. Now I think we are getting to the crux of the problem.

I've had the opportunity recently to hear Gary Hamel speak and see Dan Pink's new Ted Talk. Both are compelling, and somewhere between Hamel's discussion about management innovation and Pink's thoughts about compensation and incentives lies the real issue that challenges many larger, and especially entrenched, firms. We structure our organizations (Hamel) and reward structures (Pink) to reward consistency and compliance, when what we really need is experimentalism and creativity.

Think about it. Most of the management practices we follow are based on management models put in place by Taylor or others modelled after GM in the 30s and 40s. Many of the employees at that time were uneducated or undereducated and their value proposition was in labor. The goal of the organization was to send down management's goals and break them down into work units for simple tasks. The goal of the organization was top down, consistency and compliance to orders and tasks. As Pink points out, the compensation models that accompanied that structure made sense as long as the tasks were simple and clear and can be executed following a very specific process.

Now, most of the work we do is knowledge work. It is difficult to place specific outlines or processes around the work, and can be difficult even to define the end products. If I can outsource a steel factory and make semiconductors overseas, the premium on labor and compliance is gone. What differentiates a firm in this environment is not compliance and control, but creativity and engagement. I need an organizational structure that attracts people to work on products or services they believe in, and are engaged in, and I need different compensation models. Pink talks about Autonomy (choice), Mastery and Purpose (engagement), the words in parenthesis being my interpretation.

So, many firms, especially older firms are built on hierarchical models that are top down and organized for compliance, not creativity. As I blogged earlier, they are well designed to meet the operating needs and realities of the mid 20th century, just as labor and compliance were becoming less of an issue as a management consideration. We have entered a completely different environment, which calls on organizations to be nimble, able to adjust rapidly, call on the best insights of all employees and create a meaningful relationship and experience with customers. Virtually none of those attributes are prevalent in older organizational models.

Many firms can't innovate because their structures, processes and compensation models are rigidly organized for the work world of the 1950s and 1960s and haven't shifted the organizational structures, processes and compensation models to reflect what's necessary today. When a firm like P&G is heralded for taking ideas from its customers as if that is a novel concept or something no one else could foresee, or when WL Gore is held up constantly as a management icon because of its "Lord of the Flies" organizational and management approach, you can see that many theorists in academia and many executives in larger organizations can't quite grasp the changes that are necessary for many businesses to innovate successfully.

It's not the people, it's not the "culture", it's not the compensation, it's not the management hierarchy, it's not the fear of risk or uncertainty that holds back most larger firms. It's all of the above, and being willing to make a clean break with the past.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:55 AM 5 comments

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Making a hash of the Soup

It's not often that you can find a "live" case study to discuss innovation and how not to do it, but we have a live example at Campbell Soup. First up, a tip of the hat to Stefan Lindegaard who wrote about this first. Before you accuse me of kicking a company when they are down, well, check out the Campbell Soup Idea site, and then let's discuss the opportunities and challenges therein.

First, we should offer up praise for the fact that people with Campbell's are trying to gather ideas from external partners and customers. They've definitely taken the first step in an external innovation activity. The question we are going to ask ourselves now is: did they do a good job?

From what we can see, the answer is a definitive "no" for the following reasons:

1. In the introduction Campbell's notes it has many smart scientists, so they probably have already thought of your idea! Quite a downer.
2. When you click "Submit your Idea" the first page that is presented is a legal agreement. While most external communities have a legal agreement that states they will "own" the IP and you agree to give up rights to the idea, this agreement and its presentation is bound to discourage many people from going any further.
3. You are next asked to provide contact information but it is unclear why. If Campbell does not like your idea they tell you in no uncertain terms they won't provide feedback. Strangely enough for a contact form, my email wasn't required! Also, you are not "signing up" to submit to the system, just providing contact details for the one idea. There doesn't seem to be a concept of an active community.

Once you add contact details you are then requested to enter an idea and categorize the idea. The list of categories is overwhelming and aligned to business functions or lines of business within Campbell. There is no concept of tagging or providing other contextural information. Once the idea is entered, a final screen is presented which asks if you own the intellectual property rights. What if there aren't any intellectual property rights for the idea you submit?

After I submit my idea I am informed that I may hear from Campbell's in three to six months if they like the idea.

The problems with this site are many. Campbell's doesn't suggest areas of need or interest, so many ideas they receive won't align to their needs. They actively discourage ideas from being submitted early in the process with their language and emphasis on legal agreements, and once the idea is submitted I have no control over it. I can't see it, comment on it or others or influence it in any way.

Ultimately this is a black box which will probably prove less than successful for Campbell's. Given many successful examples of idea communities, it is surprising that Campbell's took such a narrow view of the idea community.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:46 AM 4 comments

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What will be disrupted next?

Here's a rather interesting question I like to pose. The question is: what industry or business will be disrupted next? There are a couple of leading indicators that I think bear watching.

The first is what I call the Branson effect. Like him or not, Richard Branson is trying to change the way we do business, and has been fairly successful at changing the travel industry, airline industry and bridal industry, and has just established a toehold in the cellular phone industry. Now, it appears Virgin has set it's sights on the financial services industry. Branson seems to target industries that are rigid, locked into bloody competition with little comparative differentiation. He brings in a different customer experience and, as far as I can tell, some magic pixy dust. Want to know which industries may be disrupted or at least feel a significant pressure to change? Watch what Richard Branson and Virgin do. His organization does not appear to care about industry verticals or expertise - he thinks he can hire that.

Second, watch the societal and demographic trends. Lately I've been reading a lot about people who are gardening in their back yards, or on rooftops in cities. This is the immediate result of the costs of food and the growing organic movement - eating locally grown, organic food. But it eventually could change the way we think about farming and food consumption. Can we rely on an ever dwindling fragment of our population to grow our food in the hinterlands when the rest of us migrate to the coasts and big cities? Also, bet your life there will be a lot of new products and services for the retiring baby boom population. There probably aren't enough golf courses, casinos and adventure travel companies to keep the retirees busy. These individuals won't sit at home watching TV. They will be involved in their community and in travel and leisure. Look for new products, services and solutions for people over 65 to continue their favorite activities at a very high level of competence.

Third, keep an eye on the management of personal information. Think the "Data cloud" for corporate America is interesting, given all the data that every company generates? Think about how much content and data any specific individual creates, uses and manages on a given day. Music, video, chat streams, photos and more. Individually we need methods to capture and manage our own proprietary content and protect it, share it and distribute it. While we have a number of tools based on the medium (Twitter for chat, Skype for Voice, Flickr for photos, etc) there is no one organizing medium, product or service to help capture, manage, store, recall and publish all of our personal content. There's a huge opportunity here, as we migrate away from large monolithic publishing houses like TV Networks or book publishers and each of us become our own publishers.

What industries can you ignore? Any industry that Congress has in its legislative sights. We can argue about the costs of health care, but a 1000 page bill clamps a significant number of limits on innovation in health care and insurance. Likewise with the automobile industry in the US. Even under the cover of federal ownership, GM and Chrysler lag behind the foreign manufacturers in terms of innovation. This goes for financial services as well. Many of the new rules in financial services, like stricter rules on over limit fees or interest rates will have the perverse result of limiting credit that people can receive and costing those of us with good credit even more. In these cases, watch for disruptive innovation on the margin, as nimble players carve up the health care and financial services spaces the way Toyota and Honda carved up the auto market in the US in the 70s and 80s.

These are just a few suggestions to watch for to see the next disruptions in action. I'd be interested in your thoughts. What are you watching? What disruptions do you expect?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:00 AM 13 comments

Monday, August 24, 2009

Working as designed

I was pondering recently why it can be so hard for a large firm to innovate successfully. Too often it seems we are trying to graft an innovation capability or process on top of existing teams and workflows. While these grafted processes can work effectively for a short time, while the white hot focus of management is felt, often these grafted processes wither and die if not constantly renewed and refreshed. Then it hit me. I'd just finished reading and reviewing Design Driven Innovation by Roberto Verganti. His thesis is that innovation should be driven, even led, by design. Innovation efforts often feel grafted on because the organization is working as it was designed to.

Many of my larger clients are Fortune 1000 firms that have well defined business teams and processes. After a round of Total Quality Management, Six Sigma and Lean in the 80s and 90s, these processes and workflows are well documented and highly efficient. Add to the fact that many firms have grown without adding headcount, and the processes are maxed out in terms of throughput and efficiency. There's little more work that can be added. Now, attempt to introduce a concept or process that requires change, risk, failure and uncertainty, that seeks to "hit a home run" when all the other processes seek to hit consistent singles and doubles and never make an error (sorry about the baseball analogy). Not only does innovation violate the "designed" process, it adds new work that conflicts with existing standards and norms. Innovation efforts, in most cases, are added to a fully engaged workforce in opposition to existing standards and processes.

So, if many firms have difficulty innovating because of existing expectations and designed processes, is the opposite also true? Do firms that innovate successfully have well designed innovation programs that are part of the fabric of how they work? In general the answer is "yes" with the caveat that every innovator has its own methods and approaches. Apple, for example, innovates from the top down in a very structured process informed by user design and experience. WL Gore, on the other hand, innovates from the bottom up and from specific capabilities or technologies. P&G, as a third example, has shifted from a completely internal R&D organization to one that receives 50% of its ideas from outside. Talk about a significant change of design and process! Each of these firms is innovative, and each has a defined, designed process for innovation success, and each process or design is different.

What's important to realize is that innovation can be designed into your organization, into the processes and expectations of the employees. Rather than "graft" on an innovation process, if your team seeks consistent innovation over time, seek to design in the innovation capability. Your innovation methods and process and how it impacts your organization can and will be unique to your firm. There are no "best practices" yet, and quite possibly there won't be, as innovation means so many different things to so many different firms and people.

Rather than fight the existing systems to innovate, why not consider designing the innovation processes and methods into the structure of how the business works?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:31 AM 21 comments

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Innovation and Unrealistic expectations

I grew up as one of those kids who was sort of good at a lot of sports but not really a master of any one sport. As I've gotten older, I've put considerably more time into biking, tennis and running, which leaves little time for the sport of business titans: golf. Now, I "play" golf at least four times a year, in a fund raising game or with friends and neighbors. I never practice and it shows. I cannot break 100 to save my life. I'm not familiar with any of the local courses and not familiar with my clubs (tools). I don't expect to be successful when I play and I don't take it too seriously. I uncork a nice drive every once in a while, or a good putt, but I don't expect it to happen regularly. Mostly I am a very poor golfer who occasionally gets in a good shot, and that's all I expect.

If you are still with me, then you must be thinking this is leading somewhere. If you've drawn that assumption, you are right. The comparison I want to make to my very part-time golf game is to the part-time efforts most firms put into innovation. If you want to be good at golf, you'll get instruction, play frequently and learn the nuances. Similarly, if you want to be good at innovation, you'll get instruction, work with a pro, learn the tools and use them repeatedly and constantly. Innovating occasionally is like golfing periodically. You may get in a few good shots, but you won't be consistently successful.

As an innovation consultant we get calls several times a week from firms that want to conduct a brainstorming session or a scenario plan. These firms are interested in quick generation of ideas or insights and have no longer term plan, or want to "stick a toe in the water" and see how the initial engagement pans out. I understand that - no one wants to commit to a big investment if the initial effort won't pan out. However, almost all of these engagements are likely to be less than fully successful, since there is a) no longer term commitment to the effort b) no real momentum for change and c) no consistency of intent or knowledge of tools. I always ask our clients - "OK, assuming we do the (brainstorm, scenario plan, training) - what's next?" Usually there are vague assurances of more focus on innovation, but in many cases I have the sense that the effort is merely a "ticket punching" exercise, with no longer term commitment. It's as if I showed up at St. Andrews, shanked the opening tee shot and decided, well, that's it for me and golf.

If I want to be a good golfer, I need to take lessons and play regularly to gain insights and improve as a player. If I want to be innovative as a firm, I have to do things on a regular basis that grow my skills and demonstrate my intent. An occasional innovative project or task does not change the baseline capability, and often detracts from a larger intent or goal, since "everyone" knows that nothing will be done with the ideas anyway.

It is completely unrealistic for me to think I can play three or four times a year and then compete at the Masters. Likewise, it is completely unrealistic to expect that I will innovate only occasionally and then create the "next iPod" or whatever your baseline construct for disruptive innovation is. Interestingly, most CEOs or executives who tell their teams to be innovative have an outcome more like the Masters and less like putt-putt in mind. Do you think your CEO or executive sponsor has asked you to innovate to create tiny incremental solutions? No! They want the really exciting, interesting, captivating innovation that gains market awareness and attention, but they certainly aren't likely to get it.

So, we have these crazy, mismatched expectations and capabilities. People who should be playing a par three course and getting instruction have been turned loose on Pinehurst #2 with no instruction and are expected to bring home the cup. No wonder CEOs are constantly disappointed in their companyies' innovation efforts, and no wonder many innovation teams live in fear of meeting their executives' expectations. Periodic, half-hearted attempts at innovation are almost worse than no efforts at all.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 10:38 AM 4 comments

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do you need an innovation strategy?

I've thought for a while that it would be great to get a number of bloggers to write about the same topic, which would allow readers to have different perspectives about an innovation topic from noted (well, at least some of us are) experts in the field of innovation. Braden Kelley asked us to write about the need or importance of innovation strategy, so here's my response to his request.

First, let's set out that there is really no such thing as innovation strategy. Strategy is about setting out the vision and goals for your company, and what your long term objectives are. Most firms set out some vaguely worded strategy which does not lock them in too much, and which they ignore and settle into a comfortable middle ground. Innovation, on the other hand, is about finding new opportunities or new markets and creating new products, services or business models. Innovation should be in support of, and an enabler to, corporate strategy. There is no innovation strategy.

Now, once strategic goals are established, a firm should begin to ask itself, "How can innovation accelerate our goals and help us achieve differentiation or discover new markets or needs?" If you want to think of an innovation strategy, think of it as deciding whether the firm desires incremental or disruptive innovation, or open or closed innovation, or how much disruption or change the firm expects or can bear. Too many firms start innovation efforts without defining these parameters (what we call the facets of innovation) and trying to work with the project teams in this lack of definition is like watching tap dancers in a mine field. They rest very comfortably on ground that appears to be safe, and are completely unwilling to risk another step unless pushed.

What do successful firms do in regards to innovation and strategy? They define very clearly what they will and won't do, and what they expect from innovation and from the firm in general, then they empower (I hate that word) the team to do its best. Note that Apple (top down innovators usually in skunkworks) and Gore (bottom up innovators based on core capabilities) both follow this model and have radically different organizations, but expect people within the firm to understand the strategy and to innovate to achieve the strategic goals.

Closing doors by clearly defining your strategic goals is even more important than opening them. Too many firms are afraid to place clear limits and expectations on an innovation team, and so the team flounders from one seemingly valuable opportunity to another. Most firms fail to enunciate their strategies clearly and that hampers everyday operations, and it creates difficult distractions where innovation is concerned. Clarity is called for when the team is doing new, or difficult, or risky things. Leaving the team without an understanding of its mission and how the innovation efforts supports core business strategies or needs is almost criminal, and will usually result in failure.

So, the takeaway is this: innovation is an ENABLER to corporate strategy, and what innovation needs to succeed is clarity about what is important to the business and what risks and scope are offered by the management team for any innovation to succeed.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:36 AM 8 comments

Sunday, August 16, 2009

There is no slow innovation

Just as the peacekeeper missile and "postal service" have entered the lexicon as oxymorons, I'd like to add another: slow innovation. Clearly, slow or cautious innovation is anathema to innovation and an oxymoron. Why is there such an emphasis on speed where innovation is concerned?

Innovators have to respond quickly with new ideas, and implement the ideas as they arrive, and move boldly when generating ideas and implementing ideas. There's no such thing as "slow innovation". Think about it - even firms that aren't really innovative but want to be ahead of the "pack" are called "fast followers".

Let's look at a couple of reasons innovators have a need for speed. First, the world is changing quickly. It seems the pace of change is accelerating and new concepts, new products, new services are constantly being introduced. Simply to participate in this product or service development cycle, your firm has to be operating at a high rate of speed, to spot new trends and identify new opportunities. Then, to ensure your innovations win, you've got to identify the right opportunities at the right times, and produce the right products or solutions to meet those needs. Also, it is helpful if you produce them before your competitors, so you can gain more of the awareness and market share than they do.

The second reason for speed is that many new entrants, entrepreneurs and disrupters are looking for the same opportunities to produce new products and services as your firm. Yet they are relatively unencumbered by sloth-like decision making bodies and annual plans that lock an organization in for the next 18 months. If your firm is going to compete, it has to compete with the same rules and the same capabilities. Where innovation is concerned, size isn't nearly as important as speed.

The third reason for speed is that at some point every person on earth has looked at a new product or service and said "I thought of that two years ago". Congratulations. You are now a member of the "I thought of that and did not commercialize it" club. Too many firms actually have good, viable ideas for products and concepts but do not commercialize them quickly enough, only to see new entrants or competitors bring a product or service to market faster and gain more credibility and market share. Simply having the idea isn't enough - you have to speed the product or service through the development process and launch it successfully.

Now, some of you will say "Edison took years to perfect the light bulb. He was rather methodical and took his time." Edison lived in a period where few people could even imagine what electricity was, much less have the time or knowledge to experiment with different forms of filaments. Today's Edisons have to move much more quickly as information and knowledge is much more diffused and pace of change is much more radical.

So, what's an innovator to do? Establish processes and methods for moving quickly, subverting or avoiding the typical planning and approval cycle. Demonstrate the importance of quick decisions, quick implementations of new ideas and the quick death of an idea that doesn't prove out. Understand the pace of change and how quickly new needs and opportunities arise, and constantly assess the market to understand the opportunities. Respond quickly to these opportunities, and you'll be an innovator, not an oxymoron, or worse, roadkill.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:18 PM 10 comments

Friday, August 14, 2009

Passion, Creativity and Initiative

Quick question: What would Gary Hamel say are the most important qualities of a successful company of the future? As you might have guessed, the answer is in the title. He believes that firms, and the people that make them up, will need to focus on passion, creativity and initiative for success in the future. Right now, he argues, we ask for and receive obedience, diligence and intellect from our people, and frown on passion, creativity and initiative.

Gary was talking about the company in general, and management practice specifically, but he could have just as well been talking about innovators. What makes a successful innovator? Someone who identifies an unmet need or new opportunity, has the interest and passion to attempt to solve that problem or opportunity and is able to think creatively about new solutions. When you start thinking about the attributes of innovators within your firm, and what you should expect from people on the "innovation team", these capabilities are "must haves".

Why? Because the work demands it and the corporation resists it. We still work in very top down, hierarchical organizations with strong reinforcing bureaucracies that channel the employee's capabilities and expect diligence and obedience, not initiative or creativity. Most organizations can't tolerate individuals or teams that work outside of a specific set of guidelines or that challenge or threaten the status quo. Imagine if all firms worked to these guidelines. Yahoo would still be the only search engine, Microsoft the only operating system.

Fortunately many individuals and small teams have passion, creativity and initiative. Many of these teams are called entrepreneurs. Funny how entrepreneurs and innovators share many of the same attributes and interests. Now, the question becomes, can larger organizations shift to reward and expect passion, creativity and initiative so that they look more like entrepreneurial firms, or will much of the truly innovative work still be accomplished in smaller, entrepreneurial firms, which disrupt the larger dinosaurs?

Yes, it may be a wrenching change, but the sooner we tap into our team's interests and passions, and ask them to take the initiative rather than simply handing down strategy as a fait accompli, then we get their full attention, buy-in and commitment to use all of their skills and knowledge in ways we haven't even begun to tap into yet. Most organizations are afraid of "passion", and many people clock a 9-5 day every day and then go home to do things they are really interested in doing. Imagine working at a place where your interests and passions were fully engaged. Then, your initiative and creativity would be fully engaged as well.

To be successful over the long run in innovation, firms simply must begin to change the organizational structure and reward systems so that people can bring their interests and passions to work, and leverage their creativity. Today, trying to do too much of that is frowned on. We're still Taylorists at heart. In the future, we may all be "Hamelists".
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:45 AM 3 comments

Monday, August 10, 2009

Witness to the events

Do you ever wonder what it felt like to be there, at the scene of the crime? Or as a witness to wrenching demographic or societal change. Well, wonder no more, because at this very moment there is playing out a significant disruption in the news industry, and how this disruption plays out, and how you obtain information and news, will change much about our knowledge and our culture in the future.

The obvious place to look first is at newspapers. Newspapers have been hit hard over the last decade as printing prices increased, the costs of raw material increased and the number of sources of news has skyrocketed. Every facet of the newspaper business has come under assault. Papers have responded by shrinking their staffs and coverage, reducing the number of pages, trying to do more online or even simply shifting to an online publication. The problem with most newspapers is that by the time you have the "news" in your hands, you've already read it online or seen it somewhere else. Newspapers are at risk of becoming what Time and Newsweek have been for years, a wrapup or reflection about news you already know. Time and Newsweek (and other such publications) will be doing "analysis" and reflection not on news from years ago, but weeks ago.

The newspaper business isn't the only "news" business that's hurting or changing. When is the last time you stopped to watch the iconic 6pm "Evening News"? I can remember when this was a not-to-miss event - sitting down with the family, watching the evening news and discussing it over dinner. Cronkite, Brinkley and a host of other famous news men captured our attention. Now, ratings are plummeting as fewer and fewer people "wait" to get their news at 6pm, or have the time to sit and watch only four or five significant stories when their news feeds can bring them up to date on a wide array of news in just a few minutes.

These two anecdotes point at a problem in the news business - like airline seats on a plane that just left, news has value at a point in time. As we have options to gain news when we want it and in the format and context that we want it, these older, more "fixed" options seem almost archaic. What the TV folks have done a good job with, and what the newspaper people are still figuring out, is that we can get news from anywhere, at any time, and they need to respond to that. That accounts for the increase in 24 hour news channels on television, which is another factor that decimates the evening news hour.

NPR carried a story this morning (August 10th) that indicated that many news organizations, especially newspapers, are actually meeting and discussing survival strategies. They know they have a problem and change has happened, now they are discussing how to innovate to survive.

Here are a couple of things to watch:

1. The increase of "local news" Newspapers and local TV can bring you news and
actually create news about local events that the majors can't cover. Soon your
high school football team may get the same coverage as the pros.
2. Tailored to your needs/tastes. As the sources of news increase, large news
organizations may become providers of stories rather than publishers, allowing
you or other firms to aggregate the news and "publish" it for you.
3. Segmentation. Some would claim that this is already happening - Fox news for
conservatives, MSNBC for liberals, etc. It is possible to image a news source
for elderly or retired people, just as we have financial news for investors.
4. Different voices. The major news sources have one value they can still sometimes
provide - objectivity, although even that seems to be declining. There is a
value in objectivity and rational discourse about the news. Too often even the
major, respected publications (NY Times, Wash Post) have taken perspectives or
reported with a more liberal or conservative slant than is warranted or
justified. If these major publications can't be trusted to provide the straight
news, then why not turn to bloggers and independent news sources. Perhaps
what we should ask is that everyone simply report the news from their perspective
as long as we also know their politics, beliefs and filters. Then we can
assemble the news we want to believe.
5. Get the news that's important to you. Don't care about sheep herding in
Mongolia? Could care less about natural gas prices in the Ukraine? Why pay for
it? You should be able to construct a "paper" or access to the news that is
tailored to your interest and needs. Read about what is important and relevant
to you, rather than what the NY Times declares is the news of the day.

These firms - the major papers and the folks who bring you news on television, are experimenting with many different facets of their business and business model to adapt to the changes the audience is demanding. What's important is that they experiment quickly and often, to tap into the new demands and expectations, rather than simply tinker around the edges. How we receive, analyze and take action on the news that is out there is changing, and the providers and channels for that content must change to survive.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:54 AM 11 comments

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

To Be innovative or To Do Innovation

Some famous quotes about being and doing:

To be is to do - Socrates
To do is to be - Sarte
Yabba Dabba Do - Fred Flinstone
Do Be, Do Be Do - Frank Sinatra
Being innovative is much harder than doing innovation - Phillips

OK, I just made that last one up, but I am convinced it is true.

After working as an innovation consultant for a number of years, and it seems even longer, I can tell you that simply doing an innovation project or program is simple. Yes, it requires funding, and getting people on board, and defining the project and all of that stuff. Frankly, nothing different from any other project or effort in a large organizations. Thousands of people do innovation work every day - forecasting the future, looking at trends, building scenarios, brainstorming ideas.

Recently I was in Chicago working with a client at a hotel. I entered an elevator for the ride up to the conference room. In the elevator was a small boy, perhaps three or four years old. He was holding a small toy that appeared to be broken. In a 30 second elevator ride he generated at least ten ways to fix the toy, including a solution based on a type of glue that doesn't exist. Oh, for the freedom and creativity of a child! But we all do this every day. Some of the most creative brainstorming happens when we try to avoid work or being assigned a project that we don't want to do.

Many people do innovative activities and tasks every day. However, that does not make them, or their team or organization, innovative. Even the slowest, least reactive firms in the market have people in them that conduct brainstorming and other innovative tasks. That means those people are doing innovation, but the organization is not necessarily being innovative.

For you see, to be innovative is a conscious decision about your plans, actions and perspectives. Once you start every question with "what if we..." and begin to create a culture within your firm where innovation is a consistent expectation, like breathing or avoiding long teleconferences, then your firm may become innovative. When innovation is an expected part of your annual plan and your firm consistently produces new ideas that become new products and services, then you are innovative.

Doing innovation is easy, but in most firms it never really leads anywhere. We've conducted brainstorms for firms that manage to create great ideas for new products and services, but since they haven't crossed the doing/being gap, most of the ideas languish. Being innovative is easy if the culture expects innovation and reinforces it. Too many firms think of innovation as the window dressing they need to spruce up the appearance of the organization, rather than thinking of it as one of the important foundations of how they operate.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:19 AM 6 comments