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There’s no such thing as risk-free disruption

11 September 2012 · By John Newby

The push for institutional innovation must come from the top, from leaders who provide the emotional and financial incentive to shake things up.

I recently attended the Astech Roundtable in Vail, Colorado, which provided the opportunity to listen to and see what others within the newsmedia industry are doing to stimulate innovation within their various markets.

While each presentation over the 2 ½ days was interesting and innovative in its own way, two outstanding examples came to the forefront: the presentations by James Gold and the Leap Media team and the Columbus Dispatch team.

Both organisations have taken or are undertaking significant innovative changes to their business models that are quite unusual for newsmedia companies. Make no mistake: These are major changes that involve risk, albeit calculated, when moving forward with their new business models.

But this column isn’t about either of those presentations, although I would encourage all to explore those outstanding innovations. It’s about what really stimulates the kind of innovation they are undertaking.

I have to ask: What really stimulates innovation in some, while other, very bright executives within our industry appear to be innovation-averse? What clicks with some, while others fail to heed the call to action, or don’t understand the dire situation we as an industry find ourselves in today?

While not earth shattering, I have come to this conclusion: While there are many bright and innovative people within our industry, without the push and culture from the top (wherever the top might be in your organisation), innovation will never be a part of your company’s DNA. In listening to these outstanding presentations, what became evident is that those in charge of the innovation process were given the resources, the power and authority, and even the push from the top to innovate.

By definition, disruptive innovation disrupts. The disruption can come in many forms: in the systems and/or processes; in the culture; in the team involvement, or lack thereof; in how the customer is dealt with; and on and on. The only constant with disruptive innovation is the disruption. Disruptive innovation is not for the faint of heart; it is for those with a grasp of reality and the knowledge of the cost of their failure to innovate.

I believe far too many within our industry want to innovate as long as there is no financial or disruptive risk. Good luck with that. Disruptive innovation need not be financially blind. It may not always involve major financial risk. But it will always involve, without fail, disruption.

All too often I fear we seek the path of least resistance when we need to seek the path of most resistance. Of course, the path with the most resistance usually always yields the greatest reward. It is time for those in leadership roles to not only encourage innovation, but demand it. For when we create the DNA of innovation, our industry will thrive instead of merely hoping to survive.


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The Satisfying Audiences Blog aims to reflect print and digital content not just across platforms but extending into consumer events, non-news-related subscriptions and other audience vehicles for newsmedia companies. This blog written by INMA members is dedicated to identifying the emerging linkages between content, audiences, and platforms. The blog is an initiative by the INMA North America Division Board of Directors.

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