Innovation Day

December 5, 2007

For the past couple of hours I’ve been struggling to put a photo in this blog post. I managed it on my internal BBC blog but not on this one. Which shows you how “innovative” I am.

So when I was invited to an “Innovation day” at the BBC last month, I did a quick double take and thought “why me?”. But I always try to go to anything I’m invited to on the principle that everyone there will be cleverer than me and therefore I might learn something (and I did).

Firstly thanks for Rowena Goldman (Innovation Executive at the BBC) for inviting me. It was great to finally meet Ant Miller in the flesh and to see Rosie Allimonos again (Rosie worked on the BBC’s editorial guidelines website when she was at Illumina Productions and did a sterling job. She now works for CBBC).

I really enjoyed the day. But the key thing I took away from it was happened at the very start,  when Garrick Jones outlined the principles of design (“design as a strategic weapon”).

After the Media Literacy Summit I attended the previous week it struck me that the principles and processes of design were completely opposed to the processes of policy and regulation. Try saying to someone from Ofcom or the European Commission “what you’ve got to do is fail early and fail small”. S/he will look at you very nervously and start backing out of the room. Regulators, policy makers and politicians aren’t allowed to fail at all. If media becomes more and more informed by design principles as the internet gets stronger, the gap between media and policy making about media becomes bigger and bigger.

I had fun doing our project playing around with ideas for a BBC homepage. But with other projects I found myself thinking “this is really clever, but why would anyone want to do this?”.

I am a heretic on innovation.

I think the BBC is very innovative and creative. We’ve got innovation coming out of our ears. We don’t need more innovation. We need better project management, better leadership, a functional (as opposed to a dysfunctional) work culture and a better relationship with licence fee payers.

“How does this innovation serve licence fee payers?” is the key question, which we don’t ask enough.


4 Responses to “Innovation Day”

  1. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    I emailed Dan Hill who is someone I admire to see if he had any thoughts on this and he kindly sent me this which he is allowing me to post as a comment.

    Dan’s blog is the beautiful City of Sound

    Dan said:

    “Read your stuff. Interesting perspective, but I think there’s more to it. First up, the BBC isn’t as innovative as you might think – but that depends on what market/culture you’re judging it by. Either way, innovation is essential to its future, and should be nurtured. The key point is design, as you note – which isn’t the same as innovation. That’s a different area and more to do with execution, perhaps. The principle change from a design-led perspective is the user-centred approach, which is fundamentally a challenge for the older governance systems of Board, Trust, OfCom etc.

    Design tends towards the interest of the user, when done successfully, and that’s sometimes complex to integrate with strategy, which traditionally was in the interest of the business. However, businesses today, if they’re not oriented towards the user, have a big problem strategically. A recent HBR piece by Bezos indicateshow Amazon allegedly do this well. Everything is about the customer. And indeed, that works for them, in the physical sales business. When they don’t deliver on their promise, and don’t orientate around the customer, as with the Kindle, it won’t work. That’s the difference. It’s why DRM is such a complex issue – it’s never in the interests of the customer (no matter what some might say about that paying for innovation in content production in the long term, that’s not the case). And yet it’s in the interests of the business (and related integrated businesses). That’s one of those issues that shears companies and industries apart, and you have to ask what role the Board/OfCom might have in that space?

    So, picking that apart. Innovation is necessary – and there are many flavours of that (see the recent-ish Economist survey on that, which is pretty good). That’s quite different to design, which is more about execution. Policymaking should be creating frameworks that enable both, and orientate towards the interests of the user. That way business is catered for too, in the long term. Make sense?

    As to whether Ed Richards blogs or not, I’d say this: not everybody should be a blogger! In fact, only those with an aptitude for it should do it, really. Just as only those with an aptitude for broadcasting should be in front of the camera or mic. Should Ed Richards make a broadcast, perhaps, in order to qualify him for the role? I’m not sure you’d espouse that, but it’s equally valid. So I think it’s tricky for a minister to ever understand in detail the sector they’re responsible for.

    However, I don’t think it’s a problem that should get in the way. A deep understanding of the sector, from a strategic, cultural or economic viewpoint, is possible without having to do it. Just as transport ministers don’t have to drive trains (thank god). That’s just whether they’re any good at their job or not (and sharper management of *that* would be welcome.)

    Blogging is best done by those with an aptitude for it, just as with anything else. It’s up to Richards as to whether he has that or not.”

  2. ant Says:

    Hi Nick, sorry left this so long- I get the cynicism- enought with the innovation already! and I do completely get the need to get a strong professional project managment function going. Having a pop at innovation isn’t the answer though- to me it comes down to the mickey mouse money culture inside the BBC- producer choice wasn’t the answer, but something where the responsibility to deliver and the budget to do the job turn into a mandate to make stuf happen is very desirable. and occasionally lacking!

  3. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Cheers Ant,

    When I did a grumpy post on innovation on my internal blog I think Ian or Matthew of Backstage pointed out that innovation should apply to all areas of the BBC including our relationship with licence fee payers. That’s the kind of innovation I can buy into…

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