Who Has the Ressources to Innovate in Times of Transformation?

 May 31, 2022 ·  4min read

Innovation Strategy

The media industry is in the throes of its biggest transformation yet. And on top, public service media is supposed to be innovative, too. What seems like asking too much, might be a blessing in disguise.


Imagine: You’ve been a caterpillar all your life. Then, all of a sudden, you start to turn into a butterfly. So many changes occur at the same time that the creatures before and after barely resemble each other. Now, you’re a radically different animal.

That’s what transformation is. Many changes on many levels, all at the same time, turning the process into a radical metamorphosis. The organism has to learn many things all over again because its mechanics have fundamentally changed.

If we didn’t know it already, it’d be hard to imagine that this caterpillar might be able to fly at some point later in its life

Innovation vs. Transformation? 

Switching from organisms like caterpillars/butterflies to organizations—let’s take a look at the media industry:

Traditional media outlets always kept an eye on (mostly technological) developments to improve their business. Being innovative was considered important, if only for reasons of reputation. Some even went so far to create innovation departments to foster and coordinate these efforts throughout their organizations. Yet for the longest time, innovations affected single parts of their business and rarely disrupted it in its entirety.

Then came the moment when new technologies opened the door for a new breed of actors to propose new offers in new ways and new quantities. I’m referring to streaming services challenging traditional broadcasters. Now we’re talking disruption—and if you’re one of the established actors, you have a lot of “new” all at once to deal with.

So, to stay in the game and keep being relevant to your audience, traditional media are left with one option: to transform their organizations, quasi from caterpillar to butterfly. It means making many fundamental changes on many levels—like strategy, culture, leadership, collaboration, workflows and technology just to name a few. All in short time, all at the same time. Changes to organizations that are up to a century old and consequently pretty set in their ways.

Whoa. You can imagine that such transformations absorb a lot of an organization’s attention and energy.

It can also lead to interesting impressions:

We’re too busy transforming the organization. How am I supposed to find the time to innovate on top of the transformation?

Yes, innovation is important. We should get back to it once the ongoing transformation permits it.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that innovation and transformation are largely separate topics. But are they?

Or: Innovation as Atomic Element of Transformation? 

I’d like to make the case that transformation is like a massive accumulation of simultaneous innovations. In other words: Many interconnected innovations in many parts of the business at the same time amount to a transformation.

Just like the many small words INNO make up the single large word TRAFO in this word cloud, a single transformation is made up of many innovations

Taking this perspective leads to two positive things:

  • Immediate relief: Recognizing that transforming an organization is equal to massively innovating it in many places at once, means that the organization is already being innovative. Innovation is no extra effort, no luxury—it’s rather a large and integral part of what’s already being done throughout the company. So instead of investing precious ressources into innovating the next big thing, use them to successfully transform your current big thing!

  • Valuable methodology: So far, there’s no manual for successfully transforming companies. On the other hand, with starting up businesses becoming a big business itself (i.e., by venture investors or incubators), we have developed a pretty good understanding of innovation. Knowing that transformation is made up of many innovations makes it possible to use innovation methods and tools to de-risk single elements of transformation. Take advantage of this knowledge!

Innovation Is a Matter of Perspective 

Some might argue: “But doesn’t innovation mean that it successfully results in something completely new which was never done before?”

Absolutely. I’d generally subscribe to that definition, only precising one aspect: “completely new for our organization which was never done before by our organization.” It adds to the immediate relief that I described earlier. Innovation doesn’t have to revolutionize the world for it to be innovation. Instead, innovation is the art of succeeding at something new, as small or big as it may be.

And succeeding at something new is the entire point of a transformation, too!

In the analogy of the caterpillar’s metamorphosis, developing a butterfly’s wings would be only one innovation. Interconnected with other simultaneous innovations, it results in the overall transformation of the organism.

Conclusion 

This article served to highlight the nested nature of innovation and transformation. Some organizations treat the two topics like they were largely separate, missing out on two positive aspects. On the other hand, organizations that incorporate transformation and innovation benefit from: immediate relief of guilt for not separately innovating on top of their ongoing, all-demanding transformation; and valuable methodology developed in the field of innovation to properly de-risk single elements of transformation.

Transformation is like a massive accumulation of interconnected, simultaneous innovations.

I hope this integrated perspective helps you succeed in your transformation, too.

About the Author

Michael Schmidle

Head of Business Development at the Swiss Radio and TV, SRF. Start-up consultant, hobby music producer and blogger. Opinionated about strategy, leadership, and media. In love with Mexico. This blog reflects my personal views.

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