Thoughts on Disruption and Innovation

Published on ClickZ on January 22, 2014.

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing panel, "Time to Change -- Culture and Brand Disruption Leading to Innovation," held at PARC Forum. The panel was made up of some great Silicon Valley thought leaders (and friends and colleagues): Susan Etlinger of Altimeter Research, Bryan Kramer of PureMatter, Michela Stribling of IBM, and moderated by Todd Wilms of SAP, all of whom had great thoughts to offer for the topic at hand -- disruption and innovation.

It’s wonderful to know that armed with a smartphone and Twitter, I was part of the contingent in the room that was helping to share this great insight beyond the four walls of the event itself. Reading through my Twitter "notes" now, I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you all some of the highlights of the discussion.

Are we becoming disconnected because of tech?

Etlinger's reply was an immediate and emphatic, "NO!," with the explanation that it takes a while for us to understand the human impact of new technology. The example given was television -- when it was invented in the late 1920s it was used only to record the existing radio programs that were already being broadcast. It wasn’t until 30 years later that I Love Lucy really began to take advantage of the new medium in its fullest sense -- using the visual medium and multiple camera angles to communicate its comedic moments. The same is true of new technology.

Social has gone through the same application discovery. Kramer discussed the shift in "connection." Tech, especially social tech, has allowed us to focus not on demographics but on what he calls "personographics." It has allowed us to connect with people who share our common interests, regardless of where in the world we are.

Historically, innovation happens in 10 year chunks, allowing for people to understand the innovation and test for its best implementations. There is innovation around the application of the concept to find its best usage. Striblin also adds that there must be support from the top, saying that "[Companies] must talk the talk and walk the walk! Innovation and culture change starts at the top with executives." It is becoming more difficult for companies to whitewash innovation; they can’t say and not do. And for effective change, it must come from the top down.

Business disruption is not just disruption for disruption’s sake -- you need to rally around a business goal and then innovate with passion.

To add my perspective, this is absolutely true. We are at a juncture in time where social technology has been around in an advanced commercially available personal capacity for more than 10 years now. It is now time for us in the professional world to see how we can innovate and apply this to our daily business function. I see this as Social Business, and that organizations need executive charter to make this transformation a priority in strategy and process through every part of the organization -- infusing social communication principles into how we collaborate, engage, and create value.

The discussion continued: Innovation can happen at any and every level of the organization. And in order for a company to embrace that, people need to know that they have management support to fail. People will not put their ideas into action if they think that their jobs will be on the line. An example given was around social innovation in marketing -- what a great opportunity to engage more authentically with your prospects and clients, but it creates a huge disruption for the risk management team. And this is where I believe policy and governance strategy must evolve to keep up with both the innovation and disruption (as I’ve mentioned, here in the past). The panel agreed, social governance is key for social. The bottom line is: you need to train your people. Laws and tech are evolving so use common sense.

Brand ownership has changed. Wilms' favorite story is about brand ownership and the power of authenticity in apology for employee transgression.

Wilms elaborated on his favorite example of a brand that showed its human side during a social media event that was threatening its brand value. The scenario was that an employee, a deliveryman, of one of the major shipping companies had been caught on camera throwing packages, including TVs, over fences instead of properly delivering the packages. The company spokesperson, who was clearly nervous, made a sincere apology from the organization stating the embarrassment of the company, that the employee’s actions were not reflective of the company beliefs, that sometimes mistakes are made in hiring, and that the employee was being properly reprimanded and dismissed. Wilms emphasized that this was a truly authentic apology, and that the spokespersons’ (nervous) demeanor further approachability of the brand.

The moral of the story is that organizations need to take ownership of operational mistakes in social. Social has made human connection easier. People accept that brands are no longer a "thing" but now a collaboration of people, and that people are human -- and therefore fallible. Brands that can accept that they are fallible, and can respond to transgressions quickly and authentically, will be able to mitigate financial and sentiment risk.

Parting thought from Etlinger: "To be innovative, you need to get over the fear of being seen as 'stupid.'" Which in my mind is giving yourself permission to be curious, ask questions, and try new things. Don’t let your own fears stop you!

Many thanks to my fellow Twitter conversationalists for helping me archive this panel to share in this post! @cshasarrived, @CecileSF, @dlack2010, @ShawnDMyers, @motodot, @lisajoyrosner, @JanetJoz, @PegahKamal, @jaydiamond, @suzannahscully, @SVTechWire, @PARCinc