At Snack Media, “Innovation” is one of our company values. Along with a commitment to be fearless, commercial, relentless and trusted in everything that we do, it forms part of the foundations in the way we work.
These are a set of core values that we live by and are ingrained in our company culture. In fact, innovation is so important to us that we have taken the step of creating a brand new Innovations Department within the company – a department I will have the honour and privilege of leading.
So given the emphasis on “innovation”, I thought I should gather my own thoughts on what that word really means, and why it is that Snack values it so highly. In doing so I have discovered complexities and considerations I hadn’t previously thought of, and actually started to realise that defining innovation and what it should mean to us is not necessarily as straight-forward as I had anticipated.
If creativity is thinking of something new, innovation is the implementation of it. When our sense of dissatisfaction with something drives our will to change it, we innovate: it is what happens when we strive to improve.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw
But when we talk about that process in the context of business, and particularly in the technology sector, we are really talking about turning an idea into a solution that adds value – usually from a customer’s perspective.
In a time of unprecedented change and technological progress, innovation is about staying relevant. What may have helped a company to be successful in the past could, in the future, potentially be the cause of their failure. Companies need to innovate, adapt and evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers and to stay ahead of their competitors.
Snack Media already has a great history of innovation, not just in technology, but in all areas of the business. As a company that started up with a very small initial investment, Snack has always had to live and grow on its own profits. For this reason we have had to be innovative in order to initially survive, and then to expand and improve. The fast growth and current success of the company can really be put down to the sheer ambition and drive of our founders, along with their receptiveness to new ideas and willingness to experiment with innovation. This has always been balanced with a strong focus on results, which has helped to focus our innovation efforts to drive improvements in the areas that matter to us most. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
“I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.” – Jeff Bezos
The new Snack Media Innovations Department will have two key functions: to manage a workstream of R&D focused projects in order to develop new products, tools and technologies; and to further promote and nurture a culture of innovation and creative thinking within the wider company.
As it happens, promoting an increased focus on innovation within an already highly innovative team will actually be a challenge. The bar is already set high, so raising it further will require an innovative approach in itself! One of the ways of doing this is to look at a holistic approach across the company, promoting collaboration in the quest for improvement. Encouraging staff to broaden the scope of their influence ensures buy-in from the whole company, as well as providing the Innovations Department with a crucial diversity of thought.
To successfully cultivate innovation no organisation should look to just a handful of people in one department. Instead, we should actively seek inspiration and ideas from all people within the company, as well as those from other organisations and industries. To look beyond the everyday and continually acquire new perspectives is what stimulates ideas. Those in the most successful companies know the value of curiosity. By sharing and discussing these insights with all employees we can highlight the importance of learning and listening in order to foster innovation.
“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” – Steve Jobs
But there is a flip-side to this, and one not a lot of people like to talk about. There’s a risk that, in asking for ideas from everywhere, we invite a lot of noise and unnecessary work. Every person inside and outside the project will have an opinion, a suggestion, or an idea about how to improve things. But the reality is that a lot of these ideas won’t be effective in producing positive results. Organisations that spend too much time on idea collection risk imploding under the weight of lightbulb moments.
There are other pitfalls that we must avoid too. Not listening to the needs of clients and customers is a mistake that a lot of companies make, concentrating their focus and energy on creating unique and imaginative products that nobody actually wants. Again this comes back to maintaining a strong focus on our key objectives, and putting a lot of emphasis on understanding what our clients and customers need, the issues we can solve for them and the value we can add for them.
“Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.” – Bill Gates
Another issue is around ambition. Small, simple innovations can sometimes deliver the biggest results, however thinking too small and putting too much emphasis on ‘quick wins’ could also potentially prevent us from ever doing anything truly ground-breaking. There is definitely a balance to strike here, it is important to be ambitious and try things that will be difficult to achieve, but also try out and test smaller changes and measure the impact they have too. We surely need to be fearless though, as the worst that can happen is that we spend time developing an idea and it doesn’t deliver. We might risk wasting time and effort, but nothing ventured, nothing gained!
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” – Wayne Gretzky
Similarly, overstating small innovations as being “ground-breaking” or “game-changing” is a trap a lot of companies in the tech space seem to fall into. All too often we put too much emphasis on narrative and storytelling (particularly on social media, company blogs and newsletters, etc.) This will only ever result in lowering the bar. Ambition and industriousness should never be in doubt: every innovation should be tested and backed up with real results before being publicised. The results should always be the talking point.
If we can avoid these pitfalls and maintain a strong focus on innovation, we can expect outcomes that will not only improve upon our existing successes, but also allow us to diversify into new areas. We expect to see both an increase in variety and improvement in quality to the range of products and services we can offer to our customers, as well as an improvement in our internal working processes, methods and overall efficiency.
A strong culture of innovation within the company can help to improve upon an already excellent level of enthusiasm and productivity. Making suggestions or sharing ideas is a sign that employees care about the company and the direction in which it’s headed. Listening to their ideas and implementing the best ones gives staff a greater sense of ownership and being part of the bigger picture.
Taking something that is already at the core of our company identity and improving upon it further is a challenge that I am greatly looking forward to.
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