Everyday innovation

In response to the pffft of the Economist’s Project Red Stripe effort in innovation and the discussion around it, Suw Charman gives her best advice about innovation, saying it needs to come from seeing a need and solving it, from people who are in the mines and not from teams separated from the action: innovation over there vs. innovation here.

I agree. But there is still the question of whether incumbent organizations can innovate, whether they will do best getting their innovation from within or acquiring it, whether innovation also must be protected, like a hothouse flower, from the cold wind of a corporation’s structure and politics. I remember Barry Diller talking with Terry Semel at an event, saying that even their new companies were too old to invent and had to acquire invention (Semel quibbled, saying that their companies can innovate and Diller said he was talking about invention; I’m not sure what the distinction is other than politeness on stage).

The best way to innovate is from within, opening up a culture that not only lets but encourages people to see problems and try new ways to solve them. But the harsh truth is, of course, that the default in organizations is to fear and stomp out change. The uncertainty caused by making change is worse than that of letting change happen to you; illogical but true.

So I think there is a need sometimes to take people who are ready to make change and to build some sort of net around them to experiment without fear or the crushing pressure of corporate inertia. Maybe the Economist should have sent their team off not with the magnificently open challenge — create something innovative and of the web; that was it — but instead with a problem to solve and a few hypotheses to try out.

The other way to acquire innovation is to acquire innovative companies; that is what Yahoo has done (but if the culture is not open to innovation, even that won’t work).

I’m working on the idea of an incubator for innovation in journalism and media and wonder what form it should take: who should come with what ideas and what needs and how their work should be nurtured but also exposed to the hard problems they are trying to solve — and how to relate them and their work to the organizations that so badly need their innovation.

I’d be eager to hear your thoughts on that.