Posted on May 7, 2008
How to foster innovation
How to become a (dying) dinosaur:
When I entered Disney, it was like a classic Cadillac Phaeton that had been left out in the rain … The company’s thought process was not, “We have all this amazing machinery — how do we use it to make exciting things? We could go to Mars in this rocket ship!” It was, “We don’t understand Walt Disney at all. We don’t understand what he did. Let’s not screw it up. Let’s just preserve this rocket ship; going somewhere new in it might damage it.”
Trying to hang on to your past success is a sure way to commit suicide, because it will kill all real efforts at innovation and creative growth. Creative growth is vital to future economic growth, even though in the short term, an organization might enjoy economic growth by doing the same old, same old. But this cannot continue indefinitely.
How to foster innovation (according to Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille; the 10 tips are his, and the parts following the colon are mine, unless in quotation marks):
- Herd Your Black Sheep: Find the people who are whining and tell them to do a project that they want to do.
- Perfect Is the Enemy of Innovation: “Good enough” can be fine if it gets the job done in an acceptable manner. Don’t let people fiddle around on a project forever.
- Look for Intensity: If people are angry, loud, or extra talkative, they’ve got passion. Harness that.
- Innovation Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum: Get everybody together in a room and make them talk, show stuff, critique stuff, and throw out ideas. (Remember that the key to real brainstorming is “There are no bad ideas.”)
- High Morale Makes Creativity Cheap: “If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.”
- Don’t Try to “Protect Your Success”: Playing it safe doesn’t lead to innovation. Taking risks does. To allow people to take risks, they must be allowed to fail. Failure has to be an acceptable outcome.
- Steve Jobs Says “Interaction = Innovation”: People have to meet and talk to one another face to face. They have to say, “What are you working on?” — and then listen. They cannot huddle in their cubicles alone and produce good innovative work.
- Encourage Inter-disciplinary Learning: The photojournalist can write a blog. The reporter can take a class in art photography. Everyone who does audio should teach it to one new person every single week. Everyone should learn a new skill about once a month, and it should be something out of their comfort zone. It’s okay if they do not then USE it in their daily work — it’s learning how it’s done that fosters new ways of thinking in various areas.
- Get Rid of Weak Links: “Passive-aggressive people — people who don’t show their colors in the group but then get behind the scenes and peck away — are poisonous.” Fire them.
- Making $$ Can’t Be Your Focus: Even though it seems counterintuitive, you are going to fail if your goal is to make big profits. If instead your goal is to make great journalism that serves your community, then your product will be good again, and people will want it again. (Note: Self-serving columns and op-eds, easy stories, and superficial reports are not great journalism. Neither are 10,000-word boring investigative pieces that don’t show clearly why the issue matters and what can be done about it, even if they do win fancy prizes.)