'Sell it First and Create it Second' - the Best Processes for Innovation

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“Innovation isn’t just a tool to grow, it’s a survival tactic,” said Greg Hart, director of marketing for PSMJ Resources, during a session on Building a Company-wide Culture of Innovation at the recent SIPA Annual 2017 Conference.

That innovation can take on many forms, he said. “You can take an existing product and give it new life. We put on a two-day project management boot camp. It went over budgeting, scheduling and other important areas" that were in their information arsenal. "It proved to be one of our most popular products! The market actually took it on itself to be PMSJ-certified. We would get calls, 'How do I get PMSJ-certified?'

"We had been looking for another recurring revenue product." Instead of doing the heavy lift of building something from scratch, Hart said building from something you already have will often be the answer.

Here are more ideas from that session:

“Have a think tank where you can bring people to brainstorm,” said Elizabeth Petersen, chief people and strategy officer, Simplify Compliance. “Every person has ideas but you need to coax them out. I like to brainstorm on the fly. I have introverts [on staff], and they need to be encouraged. To have a structured agenda is a great way to get people talking. Make sure you’re making eye contact with people even if you think [what they’re saying] is a bad idea.”

Sell it first and create it second. It's another principle Hart goes by. “Get that firm commitment that there is a market for the product. Writing marketing copy for it could be a great exercise to flush out. You might realize that there are no benefits here.”

"Innovation without collaboration doesn't work, especially in the publishing world," Petersen said previously. "To ensure cross-departmental engagement, each group needs to be involved as early on in the new product development process as possible. And while collaboration can be seen as a 'soft' skill, there are ways to structure better communication.

“…Be comfortable with risk and to set measurable (and transparent) benchmarks for product success," she added. "The information industry is changing so rapidly and there are so many unknowns. Even the most thoroughly researched product may not gain market traction.”

Keep the customer involved throughout the new-product process. “Understand what their challenges are but then think about the solution," Hart said. "That does not just come from the C-level of an organization. [Innovation] needs to be customer driven.”

Get sales and marketing to work closely with editorial to develop new ideas. Even by doing this this, Julian Rose, director and co-founder of CW Research Ltd., said that with a staff of 50 now, innovation has become harder. “We’ve lost our ability to respond in a way. It’s easier to be innovative when there are three or four of you.”

“It comes back to your leadership team,” Rose added. “You need an enabling culture that allows for failure. We’re maybe not as tolerant of failure in the UK as you are here.” They’re also not so good at stopping things when they’re not working. “’Do we really need to do this? Is it fruitful?’”

Convene a focus group. Petersen said, at times, she has reached outside her own company for ideas. “Once every other month we brought together 8-10 prospects and asked those prospects to grade 8-10 ideas. Some that we thought were terrible would get Bs. We invited someone who gave an idea an A to be a pilot partner on it.”

Ask for ideas, but not anonymously. Petersen said they once tried an anonymous idea box. That ended quickly when personal potshots were taken. Giving customers $250 for a new idea worked better and produced results.
Petersen believes strongly in filling out detailed new product forms. “It forces people to really think what their colleagues would do with this product.”

One thing everyone agreed on: you need a process. “Failure comes from not being process driven,” Hart said. Added Petersen: “There needs to be processing for creating these ideas and then vetting them.”

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…