Saturday, May 10, 2008

Innovation - 5% Planning, 95% execution

Thomas Edison might not appreciate my application of his famous quote about invention, but I do think that invention and innovation are very similar concepts.

For the past two years, dozens of conferences like today’s BISG Making Information Pay (MIP) event and the ECPA Leadership Summit earlier this week, and our own event a month ago, have been focusing on the interesting changes being made in the publishing industry by a few key companies. Looking back now, it seems that those few have been very impressive on multiple fronts. Not only did they focus on an innovative idea, they acted on it, and made it real. The simple fact that they planned and executed the development of an idea seems to be the real victory. Virtually all of the speakers at MIP today were speaking about things that they had DONE, not things that they were planning to do.

And execution seems to be what separates the successful from the unsuccessful. In my estimation, successful companies have a culture of execution. They don’t just talk about doing things, they actually do them. And then, they review the results and improve the process. In today’s MIP event, Carolyn Pittis explained that this was certainly the case at HarperCollins.

Size doesn’t matter in this either. O’Reilly Media, self considered the third largest computer book publisher, is widely viewed as the most innovative publisher in the business. The reason isn’t because they simply talk about their ideas; it is because they demonstrate them! Michael Cader of Publisher’s Lunch and Publisher’s Marketplace showed in today’s MIP that very few resources are really necessary to create very innovative services.

Other publishers we work with like Island Press, The University of Chicago Distribution Center, the University of Nebraska Press, and Southern Illinois University Press, also have cultures of execution, even though they have limited resources. These companies continue to drive themselves forward, not worrying about whether others are or not. This type of self reliance is refreshing and exhilarating to be around, and I applaud these companies for their efforts. They are truly Firebrands!

What I think is so impressive about these companies is that execution of a new idea can be a nerve wracking and risky move. When we launched Firebrand, I was privately wondering right up until the night before the launch whether it was a good idea. Fortunately, by that time the plan had so much momentum that my private worries were overwhelmed. Now looking back, I’m very pleased that was the case!

No comments: