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Building An Innovation Culture in a Pandemic Marketplace

As we head into transitional planning, I am contemplating my biggest growth challenge: my company, Podetize, has more than sixty employees and will quadruple at minimum in the next twelve months. We’ve been lucky, as our teams were already remotely working, to be growing and busy in the midst of a global pandemic but that isn’t without challenge. As we grow, I want to maintain the strength of our brand and podcaster-centric focus, and not lose the starting culture of innovation and our design edge. So I went through my archives of interviews and videos for anyone who might have the right type of advice, and be at a slightly more advanced growth stage, to review a business model that works.

I moderated a panel with Jeff Tan, the Managing Director of Product & Innovation at Dentsu Aegis Network, one of the worlds largest advertising agencies with clients including GM, Microsoft, and P&G.  They have made many acquisitions of diverse marketing agencies but still maintain bespoke solutions and a culture of innovation. It’s Tan’s job to champion this through his organization.

Solving Challenges with Innovation

In the product world, innovation is my back pocket toolkit. When clients are running into the same wall over and over again (which is often the case by the time they reach me), or facing down massive forced change, I use innovation as a process – not a buzzword, to shift their direction, perspective, language, strategy, and approach. My conversation with Tan put new language to a process I’ve embodied for decades in both economic upturns and downturns, driving innovative solutions across media, content and technology with the goal of enabling cross-collaboration across diverse company cultures- another timely conversation we should all be taking seriously. This needs to become foundational for my organization because our employees are spread into divisions around the world, and to keep up with our rapid pace of growth.

Developing A Culture Where Innovation Thrives

Tan shared with me some of his best points for creating a culture of innovation and each point matches with what I’ve incorporated, preached, or personally instituted in my own practices throughout the years. In a time where innovation could be what saves a business, we cannot overlook the importance of leaning into these strong principles. Let’s take a look at these five principles:

  1. Be Curious: Feed your curiosity. Schedule time for it and you’ll learn something new every day. Put 15-minutes a day on your calendar or make this an integral part of your role in the company. You can use this time to explore new ways to be more connected in this new normal we are experiencing. As a podcast host, I need to interview new people each week. This allows me to be curious, network, and be inspired with one task. 
  2. Empathize with Others: Consider their gains and pains first. We live in such a polarized world that we’ve stopped listening to one another. Empathy is vital. For us, requiring all our team leaders to be podcast hosts as well as producers has helped them understand intimately our clients so empathy is natural. Having the difficult conversations, seeing the troubling perspectives, understanding the battles and triumphs of those around us is necessary. 
  3. Remove Toxicity Fast: Have zero tolerance for people who become roadblocks or systems that are speed bumps. Eliminate toxicity from your team quickly so morale stays up and the team energized. The concept of so-called “safe spaces” was torn apart in the media and online, but what happens in your brain when you do feel safe is freedom to thrive, produce, and innovate. 
  4. Go Beyond Diversity: Develop a cognitively diverse environment. Bring people together who have diverse perspectives, thought processes, and personality types. Collectively, we can no longer be accepting of anything less than this. 
  5. Take Decisive Action: Make a decision and act upon it now. We are often paralyzed by boards, committees, and indecision. When you are competing against agile and flexible entrepreneurs who just lost their job and now their livelihood depends on startup success, they are going to be decisive by nature. The deficit to decide doesn’t exist anymore. Action is necessary, and for that action to be effective, a culture of innovation must be present. 

Implementation with Creatives in Mind

Dealing with strong-minded creatives, implementing these principles can be tricky. Tan suggests starting with one very simple question: “What do we want to achieve?” Follow that conversation with questions like, “How will we do this? How will we continue to motivate as we achieve?” and see where you end up. The thing about innovation is that, if you make room for it, it will show up. Tan shared a similar stance during our panel, 

“Now, more than ever, brands and organizations need to adopt an innovative mindset. This means questioning previously held assumptions that you or your organization may have had. Create a hypothesis for several future states. Test and execute repeatedly against this. And hold yourself and your organization accountable to this. Now is precisely the time to innovate.”

Jeff Tan, Managing Director of Product & Innovation at Dentsu Aegis

A culture of innovation is not optional. This baseline of strong innovation principles will drive your business, your people, your profits, and whether or not you survive in this post COVID marketplace.