Innovation

The Next Big Thing.


As most of you are seeing this post for the first time, I’m behind closed doors with a group of six-dozen digital sales leaders talking about something crucial – innovation – in a very non-standard way.

In our industry, we tend to think of innovation almost exclusively in terms of technology:  it’s always about a new algorithm or bidding engine or streaming solution that’s going to change everything.   It’s a natural conclusion, since we’ve all been brought up on the fable of two guys in a garage or a dorm room tinkering away at world-altering technology.  Jobs, Brin, Page, Gates – these make up our pantheon of digital change.  But there are two major problems with this narrative.  First, it disempowers the rest of us…we end up as hapless pawns on a chessboard that’s always on the verge of being overturned.  Rather than being agents of our own fortune, we accept helpless victimization.  The second problem with this fixation on “the next big thing” is that it’s not even true.

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One of our speakers at today’s Seller Forum is Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of “The Innovation Biome.” In his book, Mehta challenges the myth head on.  The next big thing is usually NOT a thing at all.  It can be a policy shift, an approach to pricing, or even just a change in a process inside your company.  In addition to not being things that one needs to invent, these examples also have one more quality in common:  they are eminently controllable by the sales leader and other executives in the company.

  • Amazon didn’t have to invent anything to offer free shipping and tie it to your Prime Membership.
  • Airlines didn’t have to invent new technology in order to create frequent flier programs.
  • Google didn’t invent search; only a radically different way to buy it.

Embracing this new narrative democratizes innovation.  It’s no longer a thing that 95% of the company waits around for (or fears), and it doesn’t only happen during formal brainstorms or executive retreats.

By simply questioning our assumptions, asking “How might we” and breaking down and examining our own processes, we can yield extraordinary results.

  • Can your team adopt a new pricing model for your services or inventory?
  • Can you offer free services alongside your core offerings to justify your premium price?
  • Can you reorganize the ways in which your teams work on client problems to deliver superior results?
  • Can you fundamentally change the approach toward meetings – both team meetings and one-on-ones – to build innovation and experimentation into your culture?

The answer to all these questions is yes.  How frequently, though, does our first answer end up being no?  Perhaps a better first response to most all of our business and revenue questions should be Yes…and….

The next big thing just might be you.


Flopping Into the Future.


Flopping Into the FutureIn looking through my business and creative library for ideas for this fall’s Upstream Seller Forum Leadership event, I came across The Imagination Challenge by Alexander Manu, which my good friend John Durham gave me a decade ago.  I immediately recalled one of the great stories of innovation contained in the book.

For a couple of millennia, the high jump had been pretty much executed the same way.  The jumper would approach the bar straight on and then execute a straddle jump, in which the lead leg and arm are thrown over the bar and the back leg and arm follow.  The jump would end with the athlete landing in a shallow sand pit. If you saw film of such a jump today it would look archaic – much like the underhand free-throw or the straight on placekick.

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In the early 60s, foam rubber was developed and, in a nod to athlete safety, sand pits were replaced by foam landing pads in the pit.  To most jumpers, this meant fewer sprained ankles and broken wrists.  But one jumper – Dick Fosbury – took a deeper look at this innovation: he asked, “What is now possible?”  Fosbury realized that the new landing surface would also prevent broken necks, allowing for an entirely different approach to the bar.  Inventing what was then called “the Fosbury Flop” – and what’s now simply “the high jump” – he ran to the bar, turned his back on it, cleared it backward, kicked his trailing legs up, landed on his back and neck in the foam pit – and blew apart two thousand years of a sport’s conventional wisdom.

What relevance does this story have in our world?  More than you might imagine.  We are constantly confronted by massive innovation:  real-time, data enabled marketing…programmatic audience buying….cheap and plentiful broadband access…social and sharing technologies.  These are the foam rubber of our age.  A great many of us take these innovations in stride, going about the business of what we already know and do.  Some wring their hands or curse the fates for bringing so much unwelcome change.  Other might make some subtle changes or adjustments to the new reality, all with the goal of protecting their own status quo.

Rare, though, is the modern day Fosbury, who looks at the newly disrupted landscape and asks, “What is now possible that wasn’t before?”  Innovation and disruption are not the sole province of the Jobs, Gates, Pages and Brins of the world though.  We can all stand a little reinvention…and we’re all capable of it.  Take the leap.

If you’re a CRO, EVP, SVP or VP in a digital media sales organization and would like an invitation to the fall Upstream Seller Forum in New York on October 28th, drop me a note. We’d love to have you join our unique, peer-to-peer community.