#DareSession: How do we make innovation real?

Constraint, speed and collaboration — three important lessons from last week’s #DareSession at Google.

Our latest #DareSession at Google HQ explored ‘How do we make Innovation real’. Speaking at the event was Google’s own Geospatial Technologist, Ed Parsons; TouchCast CEO Europe Paul Field; Group Technology Director at Nando’s, Ralph Marshall; and our Creative Partner Brian Cooper, who wrote a Medium blog on the topic last week.

We were live tweeting the event so follow #DareSession on Twitter for soundbites, but below you can find a speedy summary of the top 3 things that came out of the session…

Constraint is fundamental

This was a key message from Paul Field — and was one that met with unanimous agreement. Field is now CEO Europe of video start-up business, Touchcast, having previously enjoyed a long career in journalism at the Daily Mail — where he led the launch of the Mail’s tablet proposition, Mail Plus. At both TouchCast and Mail Plus, Field worked within financial constraints, with small teams, and quickly learnt that the importance of imposing discipline within this context. But this discipline is far from being a necessary evil; it’s actually a key force for good, for as Field put it: “Developing an idea without constraint will take it off the path of success.”

Ed Parsons echoed the point, telling the audience that nothing gets off the ground at Google without having a “mission that matters” and the data to back it up. Parsons added that innovation usually “starts with two people.” From such constrained beginnings, it’s then their job to convince others to join the team as they make progress — because “if their colleagues can’t get excited about it, it’s unlikely consumers will either.”

Speed matters — but only in so far as it is perceived by the consumer

When it comes to web speed, Parsons had the stats to prove how much the speed can affect performance — a mere 400ms second delay will lead to a 0.5% drop in Google search volumes. And part of his role on the team developing Google Maps, has been ensuring that speed is the top priority in development.

But the importance of speed was also explored from another angle: with all speakers agreeing that while “speed to market” was an important aspect of innovation, it was not the most important. All concurred that long-term thinking was vital to successful innovation — with investment spread over time and based on what Parsons called “bets on technical insights”.

Ralph Marshall brought this to life with his example of how, in his previous role, he’d helped McDonald’s bring contactless payment to market rapidly. The system was implemented across all UK stores in the space of a week, doubling the number of contactless payments in the UK in the process. Impressive stuff — but the result of two years of planning, strong collaboration with payment solutions providers and patience: because the most important thing was that consumers were ready to make use of the service.

So, according to Marshall, it is the appearance of speed to the consumer and the provision of a relevant service that really matter.

Innovation comes from everyone

The idea of innovation coming from cross-disciplinary teams was supported by all our speakers. Marshall, who pioneered self-serve check-outs at M&S as well as contactless payment at McDonald’s, was a huge advocate for this: “The best solutions are always the blended solutions — when people from different backgrounds come together.”

Field agreed: “People should not be pigeonholed in their roles — put them together and magic can happen.”

“It can be tricky,” Field added, “particularly for big old-school corporations, to cast cross-disciplined teams on new projects. But it is vital to mix expertise and experience if innovation is set to occur and succeed.”

And, according to Parsons, a key principle of innovation at Google is that innovation comes from everywhere and everyone.

So, if you remember nothing else, remember those three key ingredients of successful innovation: start small, with (self-imposed) constraints, a clear insight and lots of discipline; take a long-term view, testing and refining and discarding as you go, but never losing sight of the “mission that matters” so that, when the market is ready, you’re ready to move fast; in the process, build a cross-disciplinary team so that there is shared ownership and those all important sparks of magic.

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