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You Can’t Innovate if You’re Waiting for an Example to Appear in The Wall Street Journal

on January 14, 2013

Do you have a boss that says, “I want our company to be more innovative,” and yet when you do present an innovative idea his response is, “I need proof this will work” or “I need to see the ROI?”

If this describes your boss, he’s an idiot and will never ever innovate anything.

I have sadly worked under many conditions like this where money could not be provided for any social media projects until we could show an example, often published believe it or not in The Wall Street Journal. So while we had some great ideas, we had to wait until examples were published in a major media outlet before we got the green light and budget to begin production.

Problem is we know that after the examples have already been published, copying that example means that the results are guaranteed to be sub par. And then we’ll be questioned as to why it wasn’t successful as the other example. We constantly hear the comment that people don’t want to try something innovative out of fear. They want to keep their job. They don’t want to be seen as the person that green lit the experimental project that was a massive failure. The problem is a published example of someone else succeeding is not a sign that your version will succeed. Rather it’s a sign that you’re too late to try as someone else beat you to the punch. And for that reason you’re guaranteed to fail.

Trying to launch a corporate podcast for Sprint

Prior to the days of podcasting I had always been fascinated by the concept of subscribable on demand audio content. Before iTunes and podcasting via RSS, there were two companies, Voquette and Audio Basket, that were trying this idea of subscribable on demand audio content. Problem is they didn’t have this magical device, the iPod, to work with.

Both companies disappeared, and then in 2004 podcasting was born. My hope for subscribable on demand content had come through. Podcasts through iTunes were made available in 2005. It was also an unbelievable branding opportunity. If you could create a quality program that people wanted to listen to and subscribe to, your brand would be in their pocket all the time, and it would appear in iTunes every single time they booted up the program.

At the same time podcasting came in vogue I was working for an ad agency in San Francisco where I had launched the company’s new media and custom publishing divisions. I was so jazzed about the concept of podcasting that I pitched the idea of a show to my then client Sprint. They got excited about it too, and then I got mired in endless BS meetings re-explaining to people what podcasting was and why we should do it. They always wanted to see examples, and I kept saying, “We have to be the ones that others point to. Let’s do this now.” They kept sitting on it, until an article appeared in The Wall Street Journal about blue chip companies having their own podcasts.

During this time I was living in the Richmond district of San Francisco. As I would walk the two blocks to grab the bus to work, I would walk by a construction site that just started as a hole in the ground. In the time I could get Sprint to finally agree to do a podcast and we produced it, an entire year passed and a three-story apartment building went up.

We missed first mover advantage. We missed the opportunity to be in that Wall Street Journal article.

Stop waiting for examples and ROI reports. All those examples we point to as signs of innovative success never had previous examples to point to, nor did they run an ROI report.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Martin January 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm

AWESOME post David…. while it didn’t make the WSJ, I was fortunate enough in 2010 to have just such an innovative social media project (rebranding Mardi Gras with Social Media — ) did make Ad Age (link) and NPR.

Some folks just don’t get it… with social media especially, first mover wins… they’re the ones that get the ink.

JustaUN January 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

This is so true, I have a comic on my desk from, ironically enough, the Wall Street Journal.  It’s an HR guy and a candidate standing in the doorway of the personnel office and the caption underneath it says “We’re looking for bold innovative strategies to pretty much maintain the status quo.”

David Spark January 15, 2013 at 4:50 pm

 You’re very right Tom. What I’ve discovered is when you leave a public company or leave working for an agency that works for a public company, those issues disappear. Small companies are very agile and can do things that larger companies are simply too slow to move and respond to.

David Spark January 15, 2013 at 4:51 pm

 Love it. Thanks for sharing.

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