Make it happen inhouse

How do you foster innovation? Schibsted Next Media is looking into new media products and is dependent on new ideas. Frida Kvarnström explains how her team works to reach successful internal innovation.

Innovation – a word on every business leader’s lips nowadays. The new ever-changing landscape with more dynamic competition than ever is driven by two self-enforcing trends; the customer’s continuously evolving demands and expectations that go hand-in-hand with the technological developments driving them. Companies, no matter the size nor the industry, need to innovate in order to remain relevant.

Businesses have different approaches on how to foster innovation. Some focus on venture investment and mergers and acquisitions, others team up with external innovation consultants to find the next big thing. But more often than not, the next idea already exists within the company and the people working there.

Willingness to embrace change

For a company to drive successful internal innovation and spark ideas some things need to be in place. The employees need to feel innovation can happen naturally. They require room and confidence to drive innovation, to challenge the existing ways of doing things and need patient leaders with a willingness to embrace change. The great thing with ideas is that they are cheap to come by, but worth little unless you execute on them. Companies often struggle to prioritize short-term versus long-term initiatives and close to core versus the next-generation business. This can lead to long-term value ideas or far from core business not getting the necessary focus and resources. The company needs to be strategic in how it allocates its investments, otherwise short-term investments tend to be over-prioritized, which can lead to long-term stagnation. Also, the further from the existing core business the idea is, the more separation it needs to flourish and to avoid being consumed by the core initiatives.

Experimentation, collaboration, failures, and learnings also come with big responsibilities, requiring a clear strategy and well-defined processes. To mitigate risk and reduce ambiguity you need to determine a few ground rules: how will we work, and what do we want to achieve?

Here are some suggestions on what you and your team can do to get started with innovation, but also what to be aware of:

Be curious and collaborate. New perspectives, knowledge, and insights are foundations for innovation. Meet and interact with people you know. Strike up a conversation with people you don’t. Listen to their thoughts and everyday problems. Be transparent and share your thoughts and ideas with others. Keep an open mind. Accept input and listen to questions. Read books, newsletters, and reports. Listen to a podcast. Visit meet-ups to broaden your view and expand your knowledge base. But remain disciplined and put some constraints on yourself. Otherwise, you might end up never getting started because there’s always someone new you could meet or a report you could read.

Dig deeper

Interact with your customers. If you have an idea of who you are targeting with your innovation, talk to people in that group. Don’t just ask them what they want, that will usually end up with them requesting new features and design. Dig deeper to understand their everyday pains. Observe them. Figure out how they behave when they use your or similar products today. Define some hypotheses beforehand but don’t force your truths on them. Have an open mind and let them lead the conversation. Be aware that your world view might limit your openness, refrain from being judgemental.

Don’t be afraid of failure and resistance. Innovation is hard work and the fear of failure mindset is a creativity killer. No one ever said it’s easy to build a flourishing company. You’ll face questions. You’ll pivot multiple times. Step out of your role and try to see your initiative from your skeptics’ lenses and use their input as fuel to answer their questions. It’s important to also remain humble and know when to stop, kill your project, and fail productively. A productive failure brings valuable insights and knowledge to your organization relative to the cost.

Innovation is a habit which you need to practice in order to improve. As a company, you have to build a culture of curiosity in order to drive internal innovation and be clear about whether an idea has to bring value in the short- or long-term. As an employee, knowledge comes with new ways of thinking and so does interacting and listening to your customers’ needs. Neither organizations nor employees should be afraid of failure and trying things out, as long as it is done in a disciplined way that celebrates learnings. The world around you will keep on changing – it is up to you and your organization to establish a foundation to enable you to change with it.

Frida Kvarnström
Head of Next Media
Years in Schibsted
My dream job as a child
Sports commentator