‘Innovation Needs to Be Embedded’; As Times Change, Are Our Ideas Keeping Up?

“Different actors require different approaches, and my job is to accommodate them,” Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan said recently, when asked about his process. “I like to read through some of the scenes with actors early on, just to put the words out into the room—see what they sound like.” (He even mentions letting star Cillian Murphy “explore the voice he’d be using.”) Are media organizations letting enough innovative ideas out into the room to see what they sound like?

Speaking about what makes an effective employee onboarding program, Qualtrics’ 2023 State of HR Report states that “right now, there’s an experience gap. Our research showed that, compared to employees who have been with their current employer for more than six months, new starters have a more negative employee experience… To close this experience gap, organizations must redesign their candidate and onboarding experience programs to ensure they meet the expectations of incoming talent.”

The employee onboarding strategies that worked in the past may not work today, the report adds, but then kind of just tails off. This is one example where innovation is called for—especially as organizations deal with remote work issues. But are we getting it?

“I think the industry has a systematic problem with innovation—too much with too little focus,” Lucy Kueng, senior research fellow at Reuters Institute, told WNIP for their report. ”Innovation needs to be embedded in a smart and strategic process, and then setting up the process to match the outcomes needed.”

In a recent media organization survey, only a fourth of respondents currently have a framework in place for innovation and new ideas (26%, up from 20% in 2021), while one-third are working on developing a process to support and grow innovation and new ideas (32%, up from 27% in 2021). That still leaves 42% with no process for innovation in place.

With all that said, here are five suggested paths to innovation:

Allow and stimulate a risk-taking environment. “Create a culture to build trust and collaboration, and breaking down silos…” Tim Hartman, CEO of GovExec, once told us. “Think ambitious experiments and trust each other. If you look around and don’t see that, you have a problem.”  Advises Thomas Seymat, editorial projects and development manager at Euronews: “I would strongly recommend setting up structures or pathways internally for people with innovative ideas where they can find the support of people who ‘have done it before.’” Oscar winning director Sam Mendes often establishes a “safe room” to try to bring out great performances. “I will find out what the actors need,” he said. “My language to each of them has to suit their brain.”

Bring people together, strategically. At BIMS in February, Gemma Postlethwaite, CEO of Arizent, said they have replaced the term “office” with “studio” as a destination for clients to make meaningful connections. What are those meaningful connections? We’re challenging team leaders on how we are going to develop our talent”—especially when it comes to strategic planning and responding to ChatGPT… “What are the meaningful ways to bring people together, to create innovation?” Wrote Fast Company: “If you are going to require employees to come into an office, make sure employees understand what is valuable about that…. Make sure the office environment actually improves productivity. And if you expect innovation, collaboration, or solidarity, make sure you have some way to measure the impact.”

Democratize data. “Make sure data in its various formats is accessible at a company-wide level.” At Industry Dive, the audience and marketing team creates actionable dashboards for the editorial team. “This not only helps us measure more of the things that matter to our audience, but it makes it really easy for our editorial team to get actionable insights that they can make decisions on and can really inform what they’re doing,” said Davide Savenije, their editor in chief. Those insights can lead to innovative coverage of their many verticals.

Celebrate “good fails.” Even ideas that don’t take off can provide meaningful information. “Embracing failure is easier said than done,” said Anita Zielina, former director of news innovation and leadership at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, told us at BIMS a few years ago.. “We like to win and are not so excited about failure. But the culture of failure empowers your team to experiment. If you don’t, you’re not going to have creativity in the room. Experimentation includes failure, and organizations need to live with that. There is no digital product development that doesn’t have unexpected turbulences. But it also allows for agility.”

Avoid the idea of the CEO as a singular leader who is the sole shepherd and generator of brilliant ideas. “Rather than being a ‘Moses’ proclaiming wisdom from a mountaintop, the CEO should be a ‘gardener’ who helps coordinate ideas and takes away roadblocks from experiments,” Zielina said. She encourages leaders to think about whether their organization is prepared for transformation. They must focus on which audiences they want or need to reach, and how to ensure that appropriate resources are prioritized. Integral to this is a “talent pipeline” as well as clarity about the type of work culture you want to instill.


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