Glenn Gillis.

JOHANNESBURG - In an effort to drive innovation at scale in corporate and other large organisations, Sea Monster takes us through 11 vital lessons that can be learned from such processes. 

Sea Monster shares their experiences to see how they can nurture a culture of learning and innovation, which is so desperately needed across South Africa.

1. Always, always understand the why?

As in, why do people need this thing? Why do I need an app? Why would some-one want to use this? And critically why would some-one pay? A handy trick is to ask the “why” question 3 to 5 times in a row. It’s amazing how quickly we realise we might be on the wrong track when you do this. 

2. User centered design really means what it says.

The key here is of course the user. So often we start with a product, or even a pre-conceived marketing idea. We seldom start right at the beginning, with the person who actually needs to use some software, engage in training or buy a product.   Get their input. If they’re not happy with it, then as a business, that shiny new product / app / advert is going to be a waste of time and money. 

3. You can’t describe the outcome perfectly upfront

Innovation means a bit of trial and error. There will be hiccups. Which is why you need user input and feedback. It doesn’t mean open ended design processes (or budgets), just the opposite in fact. What it does imply is a willingness to take some risk in a contained, strategic context. It’s amazing how much companies can waste (on old style, traditional approaches), yet they wouldn’t risk even a small fraction of this to try something new, innovative or potentially game-changing. 

4. Trust the process

From agile to design-thinking, these approaches really work.  Rather than trying to micro-manage people, and perfectly describe solutions, it’s more important to build momentum, and to learn quickly. Build a prototype, see what works, and trash the rest. 

5. It’s expensive, except compared to everything else

When looking at something new, it’s often easy to look at the costs involved in isolation. By definition these things aren’t yet part of budgets and traditional ways of working. We see this in the work we do in serious games for example. We’re trying to shift (and measure) behavior, we’re asking people to engage in learning or marketing activities voluntarily and people say what’s the ROI, or “that’s more than I thought”. Yes, except compared to the massive waste in the hundreds of billboards that clog our highways, and millions wasted on TV adverts no one is watching. 


6. Scale is everything, you can’t shrink your way to greatness

Of course you have to be realistic but you won’t change the world, or even your bottom line, by thinking small.  Often a new idea is piloted, starts getting some early traction and then gets pulled, or doesn’t get the marketing and communication support it needs to really start to scale. Data isn’t used to make decisions, and people don’t free up the budgets that are needed to see ideas through those critical early months as adoption ramps up. 

7. Beware of the second 90%

In game design for example, it’s usually quite quick and easy to get the first build out and approximately right. From there the real challenge begins.  It’s called the 2nd 90% because that’s how much effort is required again to make the experience truly sticky and engaging. It’s the difference between ticking the boxes and driving proper business results.  Be prepared to test and re-test, to polish and to leave proper time for user feedback. 

8. Making it is easy, selling it is harder, getting people to use it is hardest.

So many people think they have an idea for the next killer app or new product.  Or that simply coming up with the idea is the limiting factor. Without taking away from true genius and proper insights, usually the much bigger challenge is getting it to market, and finding ways to get people to really want to use your new shiny thing.

9. Innovation is also about stopping to do what is no longer working

Sometimes a thing just doesn’t work. Be prepared to lose it if it isn’t working the way you thought it would. It might result in some money lost but in the long-term it’ll mean a lot less money lost. Critically if we are to get budgets for innovation in tight times, be brave, just stop doing somethings, what’s the worst that could happen. Again we reference millions spent on advertising that might be better spent creating true communities of engagement around your brand. 

10. Beware of the KPI killer

Key performance indicators when well-implemented can help boost individual performance and thus the business. It becomes a problem though when too much focus is placed on only that which can be measured. By definition innovation is about things that don’t yet exist, so being able to measure them isn’t (yet) possible. 

11. Live and learn …. yes we know we said 10, but hey this is about innovation!

Innovation means heading into new territory. If a business is going to be trying new things, understand that mistakes will probably happen. Things that couldn’t have been foreseen will happen. So make room for that.

Glenn Gillis is the CEO of animation and gaming company, Sea Monster.

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE