In our Innovation interview series, each week we talk to thought leaders, inspirers, and innovators in the industry to pick their brains about the state of innovation, trends, and what’s in store for the future. This week we caught up with Brian Singer, design manager and brand creative at Pinterest.
Check out our interview with Brian below:
Why does inspiration need execution when it comes to innovation?
Singer: Everything needs execution, or it’s just another idea. While there are plenty of good ones, and even more bad ones, an idea is simply that, an idea. Put a man on the moon. Reinvent how people shop on their phones. Without doing the actual work (which is 99% of the effort), what’s an idea worth?
Why are large organizations under fire these days to be more agile and opportunistic in their approach to innovation?
Singer: The rate at which new products and technologies are adopted has been accelerating over the last 100 years. According to (possibly true) internet statistics, it took the Telephone 75 years to reach 50M users. Radio was 38 years. TV, 13 years. The Internet, 4 years. Facebook took 3.5 years to reach 50M users. Angrybirds took just 35 days. The increase in competition, coupled with the rate of adoption results in a sizable risk of having your lunch eaten. This puts tremendous pressure on companies to continue to innovate (not something larger organizations are known for).
Why is customer-centered innovation so important now more than ever?
Singer: Experience wins. Not every time, I mean, look at Comcast. But, it’s clearly a strategic advantage and has become an expectation from customers. For larger companies that haven’t focused here, it’s provided an opportunity for their competitors. Smaller start-ups have this built into their DNA, and use it as a way to take market share from category leaders.
How can a company create a culture of innovation?
Singer: That’s the billion dollar question, isn’t it? And I doubt there’s a one size fits all answer. I’d say it requires three things. First, the right people. As I said before, an idea is just an idea. You need creative people that can turn a sketch into a prototype, who can design and build products, processes and experiences. Second, is the ability to work quickly with some autonomy. Enabling a team to solve a problem and pressure test their idea without too much bureaucracy and middle managers slowing things down is critical. Finally, you need the ability to fail. I know, I know, the big thing is to fail faster, harder and so on. The truth is, failing sucks, and while companies might say they encourage failure, it’s often lip service.
As part of a rigorous design process, failure is built in. There are 10 ideas, after pressure testing, it’s clear that 5 won’t work. The other 5 are developed, and during development, 2 more are eliminated due to technical limitations. The final three are put in front of customers, where there’s a clear winner. Turns out there was another team working on the same problem, and their winner beats yours. That’s a win for the company, but can demotivate employees. If the investment of time and resources is right (as lightweight as possible to get to confident decisions) people get used to the process, to failure, and can jump back in to solve the next problem.
Why is intrapreneurship key to innovation?
Singer: Having worked both outside, and inside of companies, I think it’s clear that employees tend to have a better lay of the land. Being so close to the business, and the problems it faces, puts employees in a unique position to find solutions to those problems. This only works when they’re enabled to do so, and if there isn’t a culture of innovation, then, well, it’s probably best to hire outside agencies, consultants, etc. (for folks that do this on the regular, it might be worth considering if your company has the right people and culture to survive).
How can large organizations keep the pace & creativity of startups?
Singer: Can they? They hope they can, but I truly wonder if it’s possible. Remove as much of the overhead from innovation teams as possible, and let them run. (of course, there need to be clear goals or problem statements to solve). I made that up. I really don’t know the answer, and if I did, I’d write a book and become a consultant.
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