This morning I want to look a how large organisations can create cultures where it’s possible to make new things more easily.
So let’s start with a confession. There’s a lot of hyperbole around innovation.
It can mean lots of things, to lots of people. And more often than not people’s frame of reference for what innovation is can be way off.
If this is the goal, the headline you’re after, you’ll struggle to make anything.
Not all innovation is about a sliced bread moment.
Let’s start by looking at definitions of innovation and culture so we can really understand what we’re looking at.
So to answer ‘what is innovation’, I think you need to have to have a simple lens for really understanding the characteristics of what makes an innovation.
Lots of smart people have tried to define what innovation is. But I think the smartest and simplest explanation is from Tim Kastelle. his Ted talk on innovation is well worth a watch.
An innovation is the synthesis of these 3 things. A new idea, that creates customer value and that has become a reality.
It can’t be just 2. that’s demonstrated if you knock one of the circles out.
An idea that is a reality, but with no value is just a novelty
An idea that we think creates new value, but that we haven’t yet made a reality is just a concept
And something which does create user value, and is a reality, but isn’t a new idea, is just an iteration of something else already out there and may well not take off.
So, that’s an idea of what innovation is. But what about Culture?
Well for culture, I think this picture is simpler.
Here’s the thing about culture. it moves really slowly.
To demonstrate this I found a painstaking video of a sloth crossing the road.
And from our experience when we go in to big organisations, this can often be how teams think about innovation and culture. It feels like walking through treacle. It’s really slow.
But there’s stuff we can do to culture too. We can poke it with a stick, and we can get it to speed up if we can find the right tools.
In this case the right stick was a dude who picked the sloth up to move it to the other side of the road.
And I think if you start to look at the culture at certain organisations who are typically perceived as being innovative they possess two things.
The first is that a lot of their output matches this innovation synthesis of ideas, customer value and the ability to make things a reality. And secondly, they have tools, processes and ways of working around the edges of their culture that make it faster to get things to market.
So to demonstrate that, let’s start with something recent from Instagram. I’m sure a lot of people have seen the hype about Instagram’s new product, Hyperlapse, over the last few weeks.
It’s essentially an image stabilisation tool for creating near production quality time-lapse videos on your iphone.
The real innovation here is the technology powering the image stabilisation tool in the app. Previously to stabilise a video you would need specialist tools and software and lots of expensive man hours of people who knew the software. As of last week, you can get 95% of the way there in an app.
And the story of how the idea actually came to life typifies a lot of what I mean about the interaction of culture and innovation.
Companies like Instagram and Facebook, Instagram’s owners, are famously known for originating as quick hacks and startups. And as they’ve grown hacking has remained in their DNA
They’ve been able to maintain that hacker culture even as they’ve adopted millions of users
Here’s the guys who created Hyperlapse.
There’s three of them. A product designer, and two software engineers.
And between that team of three they pursued the idea which became the product.
So firstly, Hyperlapse began life as a side project. A hack.
These guys were enthusiastic about the idea of producing the types of tracking shots they’d seen in films on their mobile handsets and felt there was untapped potential in the hardware that was already out there on the iphone in order to achieve that.
So it was an idea being worked on in private, in between the other stuff that these guys were actually employed to do.
Significantly, they also had the skills to move the idea through to reality fairly quickly. Prototyping with technology to validate that the idea worked as things evolved.
Secondly, a culture existed at Instagram which supported this way of working.
First the guys shared a very early version on an internal message board and just got a note from Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom saying ‘this is cool’.
Encouraged by that, hyperlapse was demo’d at an internal event called a pitch-a-thon.
Note, the difference in emphasis here to a hackathon. This isn’t about coming up with ideas, it’s about demoing them, and seeing them become reality.
After the pitch-a-thon they quickly scaled it out across the company .
Hundreds of people helped play with Hyperlapse, but it didn’t leak. A culture of sharing existed around ideas which made them feel comfortable about sharing and testing a good one.
And when they launched it it flew.
This is a quick screengrab of the guardian the days after Hyperlapse’s release
In the first few hours the app was in the top 10 overall apps in the UK App Store,and higher in the US photo and video category than the instagram app itself.
So hyperlapse is interesting when you look at it through Tim Kastelle’s definition.
The idea was new. Although image stabilisation was actually out there, microsoft had previewed a similar technology a few months earlier, these guys figured out how they could on board it on to a popular handset.
Secondly, it created value. The technology was expensive beforehand and democratising it in an app is a real game changer.
Thirdly, they accepted the limitations of making it a reality. It’s iphone only, but they still launched it. For a number of reasons it needed to be a separate app that couldn’t live within instagram, but they still launched it.
These are the types of things which in other large organisations could’ve stalled a successful product launch. Not being able to make it available on all handsets and adhere to IT guidelines. Not being available for all users and breaking UX guidelines. etc.
Sometimes you just need to send things out in to the wild and accept it can’t be for everyone.
My first takeout from the hyper lapse process is this;
Creating environment where ideas can originate at any level in the business is one indicator of a great innovation culture.
Secondly, prototyping skills allow staff to demonstrate working ideas rather than concepts.
Showing real things to the business is particularly helpful when you’re taking an idea up to senior leadership.
More and more we’re working with internal teams to support their in-house prototyping process, rather than doing all the development ourselves.
Third, investing in ways to share internal ideas, both online and in real life is a good thing.
Company wide platforms that allow online idea sharing or real world occasions, like the pitch-a-thon, which create places where ideas can become reality is really important.
And this isn’t just for tech companies. Let’s think about one of the slowest moving cultures we can imagine and think about government.
GDS came about as a response to a report by Martha Lane Fox to fundamentally remake direct.gov A lot of the innovation here is actually about fixing the basics, but the basics can be hard.• Changing not just the output of online government services, but the way the work was done. Moving from waterfall to agile.
GDS is highly focused on the needs of the citizen, rather than the government.
Everything they do is about answering the question: What do users want?
One thing GDS are great at is sharing.
This video shows one of their public weekly updates.
• It’s completely transparent and shows exactly what the team is up to.
• Allows different parts of the organisation to understand what’s going on, irrespective of whether teams are actually involved in that piece of work or not.
Also, GDS do this sort of thing, which I think matters hugely.
• This is the GDS Service Design manual - a manifesto for how they want to work • Public facing, completely transparent • Not just making the solution, but sharing what the process is. • Provides a bit of a guiding light for the user experience and innovation goals to be shared and understood across the whole organisation.
And their approach works.
And innovative culture spreads too.
This week the Obama administration announced the launch of their equivalent US digital services team
First thing published is digital service principles, just like GDS
The first takeaway here is that understandable values matter.
They provide a jumping off point for new ideas. A platform to get the right things made.
Second is that an internal culture of sharing is a primary way that culture spreads and new ideas take root.
It’s not a nice to do, it’s a need to do.
If there’s no mechanism for sharing what you’re doing, it’s hard for people to understand what’s changing.
Third. small teams can get stuff done. lots of stuff.
GDS started as a tiny team and is still only a couple of hundred.
The US digital services team is starting at 25.
Changing big things isn’t always about creating big resource.
So next up, Spotify.
Everyone will have heard of Spotify and probably know that they’ve decided to organise themselves in an interesting way.
They’ve fully embraced an agile methodology throughout the business and they’ve scaled that to a thousand employees across the world in lots of different places.
So, how do you innovative across teams and departments?
Spotify have an interesting answer to that.
• Spotify is organised into Squads, Tribes and Guilds. Essentially this means that rather than a team being silo’d on on thing, they do have a core role, but also the fluidity to work on broader things with other teams.
What’s really interesting though is how Spotify get employees on board with their culture.
Bootcamp is; • 2 week intensive induction to all things Spotify • Designed to give a taste of all areas on the business • An introduction to their agile workflow
• Crucially it exposes people to an attitude, the message is - we’re interested in wherever you can add value, rather than saying you’re here to do these things and these things only.
We’ve actually pinched this at 383 now and developed our own version for onboarding our staff.
Ours is 5 days working across all the teams in the business and we’ve also had our own clients come along and ask to participate.
A takeaway here then is that that companies who have innovative cultures values skills and what people can add, over their job titles.
They also play with the shape of the teams.
The strategy is more about everyone focusing around the end user or customer, rather than on their department or team.
Also worth noting that multidisciplinary teams aren’t a product of ‘cool’ tech startup land.
Medicine has recognised this for years. If you look at occupational therapy as a service this consists of OT, Physio, Social Worker all focused on the needs of the patient. They are answerable to one another to make the best decisions for the needs of the patient.
So lastly, I wanted to touch on the idea of learning by doing and the importance of actually trying new things.
I spoke earlier about the fact that with slow moving culture you sometimes just need to find a stick to poke it with.
So, wanted to end with a few examples of what different organisations are trying out to shake up the status quo culture in their organisations.
Firstly the BBC. One thing that we’ve been involved with at 383 over the last couple of years is BBC Connected Studio. This is BBC’s attempt at taking some new tools and processes in to their culture and seeing what comes out the other end.
• One day briefing • Built collaboratively with BBC teams • Crucially, built alongside users • Prototype and iterate quickly
The goal here is to get from problems to prototypes quickly.
So here’s a problem that we were looking at. That sharing bbc content away from iplayer was basically terrible.
And here’s the quick prototype we made. A quick clickthrough to start to validate how a service could look for sharing and saving content away from iplayer.
BBC connected studio is allowing the BBC to collaborate on stuff like this, to move quickly and test new things.
Valuable outcomes happen even from build studios (like this one) which may not progress any further.
In retail, John Lewis recently announced JLab. JLab is quite interesting as it’s a business incubator for retail startups where John Lewis will take equity in one business at the end.
Opening up the John lewis brand API to select startups is already yielding some really interesting results.
There should be some good stuff that comes out of the project.
Rather than taking equity in startups to spark innovation, other businesses are starting up their own labs internally.
This is Westfield Labs in San Francisco which has been specifically located amongst an area of interesting retail startups, but is staffed and run by Westfield themselves.
Other ideas for poking culture in large organisations can come from looking at what smaller organisations are doing.
I’m not a huge startup fanboy, but I think there’s some things in that culture that are useful.
One, is the concept of building a board of people who aren’t ‘in’ your organisation. Using VCs, founders and entrepreneurs who see lots of innovation everyday as sounding boards for the new things that your organisaton is doing.
Creating a small team of people to disseminate new ideas can also be a great tactic.
GE, is a huge global organisation with 300,000 employees. They re-trained a team of 80 coaches from within the business on Lean Startup principles and got them to go back in to the organsation to help change and disrupt the innovation culture.
As well as adjusting thinking, you can also broaden the tools and software used to help things move faster.
There’s a ton of prototyping, ux and idea sharing tools that are all designed around the idea of making things fast. Quick MVP is just one example. It’s a piece of software to quickly validate product and service ideas and new innovations with users.
For people to be able to make successful things, they have to have permission to fail too. That’s a huge cultural shift for a lot of organisations.
In the states Nordstrom’s lab are granted an 80% failure rate on experiments. This isn’t about glorifying failure for the sake of it, but acknowledging that you have to fail to figure out what actually works.
In the background here is a labs experiment Nordstrom did where they were looking to innovate a new retail product by actually building over 5 days with real users in a shopping mall.
Ultimately, they decided the results of the build had less value than some of the other things that they were working on so chalked it up as a failure. That permission comes from having the right culture.
For some organisations failure is so important that they reward it.
Tata has a culture where a failure award each year is given out to the most ambitious idea that didn’t quite pan out.
This attitude to culture is hugely important as it trusts that people will eventually succeed. From a values point of view it’s also interesting that their brand strapline reads ‘leadership with trust’.
And if that feels too bigger leap, you could always make some posted.
It’s a simple and much smaller thing, but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of printing stuff up.
Facebook installed a propaganda centre in their basement to print posters around their values for staff.
It might seem a bit trivial, but it’s quite a good way of quickly changing the environment around a new set of goals.
20 CREATING A CULTURE FOR
INNOVATION A NEW IDEA CREATING NEW VALUE THAT HAS BECOME REALITY IMAGE STABLISATION WASN’T NEW, BUT USING HARDWARE ON AN IPHONE TO DO IT WAS. SHAKY VIDEO LOOKS RUBBISH. STABLISED VIDEO WAS EXPENSIVE. HYPERLAPSE DEMOCRATISED IT. LIMITATIONS WERE ACCEPTED; - NOT FOR ALL HANDSETS - NOT A PART OF MAIN APP SKILLS WERE UTILISED; - PROTOTYPING + FAST CULTURE