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5 reasons you suck at innovation

11 March 2014 · By Anette Novak

Innovation has been the industry buzz word for years, so why do so many news media companies keep missing the mark? Too many suffer from a lack of focus, investment, insight, and an adventurous spirit.

We have been on about it for more than five years: We have to start innovating. Experimenting. Testing.

But, sincerely, how many inventions have you actually developed, tested, and launched during this period of time?

The truth, of course: too few.

As I said in frustration to the WAN-IFRA World Newspaper Congress in Bangkok last year: “If you were innovating enough, we would have heard about it!”

Last week, during a panel I moderated at the #Meg14 conference – one of Sweden’ s most important conferences for trademark media (digital, broadcast, and print) – I realised we need to dissect this limp industry body and find out what’s wrong.

So, the question is: Why do you suck at innovation? Here are five possible answers.

  1. You have no measurable innovation goal. In my last official post in news media – editor-in-chief of a Scandinavian regional – I used to plan for one new launch every four months. It didn’t have to be a big, ambitious project. The idea was keeping the tempo up. One every four months means three a year, 30 in 10 years, etc.

    If you now admit your innovation tempo could speed up, what will your next step be?

  2. You don’t invest. Apple – designated the No. 1 innovator of 2013 by Boston Consulting Group – has been criticised for not spending enough on research and development. And even though they increased their efforts remarkably in 2013, they land on approximately 3% of its revenue.

    Benchmarking against other industry sectors, we learn that the R&D expenditure of the average European Union company consists of approximately 8% of net sales.

    Even though there is no clear correlation between boosting your R&D budget and growth (pointed out almost yearly by the Booz & Company’s “The Global Innovation 1000”), having zero focus on it and under-investing is not the answer, either.

    Certain indexes – such as the Research Quotient (or RQ) explored by Anne-Marie Knott, professor in business strategy at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA – suggest that investments in R&D not only increase profit but also the company value.

    In short: No R&D budget = no return on investment (ROI).

    If you now admit you under-invest, what will you do to get your act together?

    (The complete data set is freely accessible online here.

  3. You have neither staff or structure. Well, a good first move would be to actually create a structure – and recruit people – focusing on innovation.

    Does the I in CIO in your company still stand for information? Change it. And hire someone who can make innovation happen. Someone inspiring. Someone naturally thinking outside the box.

    Back home at the Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, our researchers always have worked according to the quadro-helix model, in which the fourth dimension is art.

    It gained us several mentions on Time Magazine’s best inventions list.

    Hire an artist in residence to stir things up!

    If no one on your staff list has innovation as their responsibility, it just won’t happen.

    What will your steps toward structuring your creativity be?

  4. You are stuck in ego-centrism. During the same panel discussion I mentioned above, we had the privilege of listening to Universal Music Sweden’s marketing director, Joakim Johansson, who revealed the truth behind the record industry’s errors that paved the way for Spotify and other music streaming services: 

    We were so focused on how we were doing business, we didn’t care about the customers. We made every possible mistake. Hell, we even tried to throw teenagers in jail!

    Today, the company is back, showing revenues that equal those of 2009.

    And his takeaway: Put the customer’s needs in focus in everything you do.

    That is the key behind the music industry’s successful turnaround.

  5. You do not foster the right in-house culture. The harsh financial situation of trademark media (better expression than old or traditional, isn’t it?) has turned us from fat and happy to starving and scared in less than a decade.

    The measures taken by management are often limited to saving packages. When the industry no longer has a cost problem, it has a revenue problem.

    To innovate, you need a fun and creative climate. And to get there, you need to let go of a certain amount of control. Allow staff members to express themselves freely, applaud initiatives, test ideas. And celebrate your victories, big and small.

Stop saving yourselves to your own death. Instead, start investing in your own sustainable and successful future.

What are you waiting for?


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About this blog

I am Anette Novak, CEO of Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, which conducts world-class applied research and innovation, creating groundbreaking user experiences. Also, I am an international media consultant, World Editors Forum board member, gourmet, long distance runner and Francophile – mainly because the Parisians walk and talk as fast as I do. I am former editor-in-chief of the Swedish regional media house Norran. I believe in digital opportunities for publishers, open innovation. The future belongs to media companies that are able to maintain the trust of the audience, who define themselves as active community players, and who are able to create amazing experiences.


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