Unpacking Innovation: Scott Kirsner
Innovation can mean something different depending on who you ask. In a previous post, we discussed why sports organizations need to take the concept of innovation seriously, and why they need to commit resources to stay ahead in a rapidly changing industry.
We decided to reach out to Innovation professionals, to ask them what they think about innovation—about why the concept is important, and about how best to lead innovation initiatives in the sports industry.
Scott Kirsner - Editor and Co-Founder of Innovation Leader
Scott Kirsner is Editor and Co-Founder of Innovation Leader, a Boston-based information service focused on helping innovators in large companies. Scott has spent two decades as a business journalist and contributing editor at the Boston Globe, Wired Magazine, Fast Company, Variety, The New York Times, BusinessWeek and other publications.
Sports Innovation Lab: What does "innovation" mean to you?
Scott Kirsner: Making new stuff happen—either inside a startup or inside a more established organization. The latter is much harder.
New stuff could be new products or services. It could be a new kind of experience, for a retailer or a sports venue. But it can also be creating better processes inside a company, or serving customers better and watching your Net Promoter Score rise. Metrics like NPS are really important to innovation. You can have all the cool ideas you want, but how can you tell they really matter to your employees or customers if you don't have a way of measuring the impact of innovation?
Sports Innovation Lab: Why do you feel it is important for companies to focus energy, and personnel, on innovation?
Scott Kirsner: Every company, no matter its size, is battling for two things: talent and relevance. You need to be able to attract the best people in your industry—the people you absolutely need working for you, not just the ones who want to work for you. And you need to be relevant in the minds of your customer. Creating a culture that is open to new ideas and allows innovation to happen helps you win on both those fronts. It makes your organization a place where people feel their talents are really appreciated, and it gets customers to pay attention to you in different ways.
The alternative—"let's keep on doing things the way we've always done them"—is a definite recipe for irrelevance and decline.
Sports Innovation Lab: What is the most common way that you see companies fail when it comes to innovation?
Scott Kirsner: There are really two answers to that. The most common way companies fail is that they aren't patient enough. You can't build a new innovation lab, or start an innovation training program, or begin to participate in a startup accelerator, and expect it will deliver instant results within six months. Innovation is a long-term investment. It needs to become part of the organization's DNA. And that takes time and patience.
The second answer, which is based on some recent survey data we gathered, is that corporate politics and corporate culture get in the way. When we asked 270 innovation, strategy, and R&D executives at large companies about the obstacles to innovation, the top answers were things like politics, turf wars, and a risk-averse culture. So while people are trying to make new things happen, trying to embrace new technologies, trying to create new customer experiences, there are a lot of people in the company who feel threatened. They may feel they're already innovating enough. Or that someone is getting into their zone. Or that they don't want to do things in a different way. That leads to failure.
One of the keys to success: How do you incentivize the whole company to get on board with the innovation strategy and vision that your leadership has laid out?
Sports Innovation Lab: What is the most important quality or characteristic that an Innovation Officer should have?
Scott Kirsner: I'd say diplomacy: the ability to build and maintain strong relationships inside and outside of the organization.
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