How do you do innovation?

Flipping Pages’ Peter Houston looks at innovation, and the recurring themes in the advice gleaned from recent industry events. 
I’ve attended three magazine ‘Innovation’ conferences already this year, including FIPP’s own Digital Innovators Summit in Berlin last month. If Twitter and LinkedIn are anything to go by, my three outings are just a drop in the innovation events ocean.
Why are there so many professional meetings focused on re-inventing the publishing industry rather than dealing with the daily challenges of running a publishing business?
Like it or loathe it, innovation has become one of our daily challenges, or at least it should have. And the fact that there are so many innovation-themed events is a clue to the fact that innovation isn’t easy, especially when you are trying to take care of an established business under pressure.
Looking back over my notes from the events I attended, there are a few recurring themes in the advice given to delegates on how to do innovation.
Technology is changing everything, but not just publishing technologies. Investments in CMS deployment and app development are worth little if they don’t consider trends in the technology used by the audience to consume content.
Competition for magazine content is as likely to come from entertainment apps like Angry Birds or ecommerce sites as it is from fellow publishers. Following developments outside your own niche has become mandatory, especially in mobile, social and video. 
Customer loyalty, capturing and monetising it, is everything. Tracking audience behaviours and applying learnings to content and service development is the key to creating sustainable digital business models.
Strong leadership and positive culture are indispensable for companies that want to innovate. Senior executives must remove obstacles to change and foster a culture of controlled risk taking. Failure should be presented as a learning opportunity.
People power is more important in publishing than ever before. Hiring and retaining great talent is crucial in growing your business, but only if you allow those people the freedom to challenge established ways of working.
Collaboration and communication are the fuel that drives effective innovation. Internally, share and celebrate project success; externally, engage your audience and clients in new product development.
A final secret for successful innovation only became clear to me once I stopped and looked back at the conferences I had attended and realised that the specific market innovative organisations work in is irrelevant: A good idea is a good idea.
American inventor Thomas Alva Edison said at the beginning of the last century “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration”. We accept the need for hard work and perseverance in publishing these days, but inspiration can sometimes seem illusive.
Luckily, there is plenty to inspire us out there. Looking at FIPP’s own work, from presenters and panels at the Digital Innovators Summit to the case studies in the Innovations in Magazine Magazine Media 2014 World Report, many magazine media businesses are pushing the boundaries. The secret is to remain open to ideas from everywhere, re-imagine them in your own context, and then do the hard work of making them happen.
Formerly group content director at Advanstar Communications, Peter Houston now works as an independent consultant and trainer helping publishers identify and dismantle the barriers between print and digital content. Peter writes the Flipping Pages blog, is a lead judge for the Digital Magazine Awards and Chairman of the Scottish Magazine Awards 2014.


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