Building on the spirit of routine innovation explored by David Kelley at last year’s INMA World Congress, representatives from three news media companies shared their own innovation strategies with the audience at the INMA World Congress in New York City on Tuesday.

Making the strategic decision to put the reader first is a painful one, said Adina Broady Aasebö, head of insight and future lab at Aller Media in Norway. A large challenge is understanding an audience that does not like to reveal anything about themselves, even anonymously.

“Many times, people want to show a better part of themselves than they actually are,” she said.

Traditional research and Big Data are dangerous with interpretation, she said. Innovation in small bits can help tap into a situation of quickly changing technology and user habits: “Technology is changing the way we behave.” 

Cooperations, development of technology and data, and innovation programmes can help find smart solutions. It is important to create flexible systems, she said.

“I think co-operation is the new name of the game,” Aasebö said.

Cooperation required a passionate staff, but the challenge is creating passion under pressure. Managers tend to spend energy on the staff who are lack passion, but leaders should be encouraging employees who show and share their passion, Aasebö said. Giving them the right tools to create change is key.

Pulling up a slide with a picture of dolphins and of a shark, Aasebö said there are sharks hunting for food and dolphins exploring and playing with a sense of curiosity in every organisation. News leaders need to encourage the dolphins: “I’m hoping that we have a lot more dolphins playing around, because that’s what we need to do,” Aasebö said. “We need to have passion back.”

Leadership at MittMedia knew there was a crisis facing the news media industry, but did not actively try to stop the falling numbers, according to AnnaKarin Lith, director of editorial operation at MittMedia in Sweden.

“We kept on doing what we always have done,” she said.

Recognising the need for change, MittMedia has instituted a change management programme to encourage innovation because “0ld school leadership no longer works,” she said.

The programme, called “Framtidsverkstaden” (“FutureWorks”) gives employees the power of innovation that is not dependent on management. Passionate people drive change. Forcing people to lead change initiatives does not work, she said.

“You can’t make change if people can’t see, feel, or understand the same thing,” Lith said.

FutureWorks begins with a three-day event for employees. A current challenge or issue is explored, then those employees take their passion for the topic back to their own organisations.

At their own organisations, they lead “safaris,” where they study their audience and gather information to solve the problem they are exploring. Safaris offer a new way of reaching customers by direct observation, Lith said.

Employees are sharing their passion, she added, giving an example of an employee who raised her concerns for reaching Millennials. The employee, Inger, is using FutureWorks to look for solutions and bring a culture of research and innovation to a larger portion of the MittMedia company.

This system of shared responsibility is working, Lith said. “We have a substantial transformation of the culture today.”

Lith shared three takeaways from FutureWorks so far:

  1. Shared leadership.

  2. Transparency.

  3. Learning by doing.

“We have to have courage for trial and error because that’s a part of everyday life for a media company in 2015,” she said.

Martha Ortiz, editor at El Colombiano in Colombia, shared the company’s innovation project, ECOlab. In the face of digital transformation challenges, the company decided to make some identity changes.

“We were finally honest about ourselves,” Ortiz said.

One of those changes was the development of ECOlab. Seeing new opportunities, ECOlab was developed to provide a new way of solving problems. Using design thinking, the process is about understanding a problem, designing solutions and executing changes.

This moves control away from editors to small teams focused on problem-solving: “Editors are not in charge of product anymore.”

Ortiz said this power shift is crucial to finding innovative solutions.

“We have to change how we play the game,” she said.