‘Think Ambitious Experiments and Trust Each Other’; Building a Culture of Innovation Comfort

Last year I started a column about experimentation by talking about The Museum of Failure where they “aim to stimulate productive discussion about failure and inspire us to take meaningful risks.” This year, I’ve come across something that takes experimentation and failure a step further—the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia. What will they think of next?

“‘In the beginning, we were worried we’d just get items from summer flings, but the stories soon went deep,’ [co-founder Olinka] Vistica said,” in a New York Times article about that Museum of Broken Relationships—on Valentines Day, of course. “‘We’ve got items from the Second World War, about terrorism. Some of it’s heavy,’ she added. ‘But life’s heavy.’

“‘Yet it was the museum’s silliest items that seemed to resonate most with visitors,’ [co-founder and Vistica ex] Drazen Grubisic said, including a book called I Can Make You Thin. An Englishwoman sent that in, along with a note that began: ‘This was a present from my ex-fiancé. Need I really continue?’”

In his article for INMA last year—Consider These 6 Factors When Building a Culture of Experimentation in Media Companies—Alexandre Pedroso Cordeiro, product and digital strategy manager for Editora Globo in São Paulo, wrote about aspects that might keep relationships together—business ones that is. Here are a few:

“Most initiatives will fail. Teams should know this and expect it so they don’t get frustrated… The information industry is changing so rapidly and there are so many unknowns. Even the most thoroughly researched product may not gain market traction. The key to developing a humming new product development engine is to be comfortable with risk and to set measurable (and transparent) benchmarks for product success.”

Allow and stimulate a risk-taking environment. “Communicate effectively and regularly with teams so they understand the importance of the experimentation agenda,” writes Pedros Cordeiro. “Create a culture to build trust and collaboration, and breaking down silos…” Tim Hartman, CEO of GovExec and another BIMS 2023 speaker, once told us. “Think ambitious experiments and trust each other. If you look around and don’t see that, you have a problem.” As the director of big-money film projects, Sam Mendes has good reason not to be as tolerant of failure. But in his “safe room,” it’s more about coaxing out great performances. “I will find out what the actors need,” he said. “My language to each of them has to suit their brain.”

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. Adds BIMS 2023 speaker John McGovern of Grimes, McGovern & Associates: “The value is in the data that these businesses have about their audience and their exhibitors and sponsors and the more that they see themselves as data businesses, the better off they will be.”

Give teams problems to solve, not preconceived assumptions. “What often happens is that leaders provide teams with preconceived assumptions and biased opinions so the team can validate them… If [young people] find a culture that allows them to think about how to solve problems and take risks with autonomy, the results might be worthwhile when it comes to revenue-related and employee satisfaction goals.”

Make it part of the team’s routine. “Tests and experiments must be part of our routines so they turn into a natural habit.” “I tell everybody that works for me that I’d rather have them try and fail than not try,” said Rajeev Kapur, CEO of 1105 Media. “And that I want them to make a decision. We can fix a bad decision; we can’t fix a no-decision. No one will ever get fired for trying something new or for failing at something they tried to do. I reward people who try, people who think outside the box. I am doing everything I can to empower my team all the way down the chain to say, ‘Look, this is what we need to do for the customer.'”

Celebrate small accomplishments. “One of the best ways to empower teams is to recognize progress and results, whether sales increase by 50% or a process is automated with marginal gains.” Morning Brew makes this a habit. “The purpose of the emails [Morning Brew sends] is to acknowledge the reader’s accomplishment, show them how to redeem their reward (if necessary), and to motivate them to hit the next milestone,” said Tyler Denk, formerly of Morning Brew and Google and now CEO and co-founder of beehiiv. Morning Brew calls it “the referral pipeline,” and they want people to climb up it.

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