SXSW Panelists Tell The Truth About Innovation

Innovation is rarely that lightbulb moment many have come to associate with the word. Rather, it involves much foresight, buy-in from the top and across teams, and an understanding of those who might benefit, said panelists during a discussion on Sunday at SXSW 2019.    

“Every Tech Brand Has an R&D Mission. What Works?” was moderated by Josie Jeffries, design manager at Slack. She was joined by Samantha Warren, senior experience design manager at Adobe; Martin Ringlein, head of R&D at ticketing company Eventbrite; and Tom Giannattasio, executive principal designer at design firm InVision. (CMO.com is owned by Adobe.)

All agreed that the purpose of innovation is not to simply innovate. “Innovation is about building products that are going to resonate and add value,” Giannattasio said. “It’s not a mystical thing.”

It’s not a “roll of the dice” either, Warren said. “Innovation requires a lot of calculated risk-taking,” she said. “When we present something that is considered an innovation, some people think it came out of a magical box. They don’t realize all of the hard work and thinking that happens behind the solution.”

Step One
Innovation begins with understanding the problem to be solved. “One way to remove some of the risk of doing innovation is making sure that you are solving real, legit problems,” Giannattasio said. “That’s the first step. Validate that the problem exists. The second part is to then solve that problem.”

That involves putting yourself into a “future state” and creating scenarios of what could be in terms of your business model, products, and user experiences.

“To do innovation right, you need to be thinking a few years ahead,” Ringlein said. “You have to predict what’s going to happen, how the world is going to change, and make some bets. For example, think about how 5G is going to change everything. You can’t wait [or else] you may not have a business in the future.”

That notion must be presented to a company’s top brass. “You’ve got to communicate the ultimate goal: the impact on the brand and business. It is super important to get them to buy in,” InVision’s Giannattasio said. “When you are managing up, like presenting to the board, you also need to help them understand the risk of not doing what you are proposing. What would happen to the business if your idea doesn’t move forward?”

Remember to speak their language, too. “You’ve got to understand the business drivers and the metrics and motivations of the people you are trying to influence,” Eventbrite’s Ringlein said.

Multiple Perspectives
Cross-company collaboration also matters, according to Adobe’s Warren. “As a designer, we are constantly going out and talking to a lot of people to get diversity of input,” she said. “If you are the designer and only use your perspective, you won’t incorporate the diversity you need to.”

Added Giannattasio: “We have guiding principles around our innovation to help our team members work in harmony around multiple time zones. This is really important so people can always check to make sure they are aligned with the team’s vision day-to-day.”

Once development gets underway, it’s important to prototype quickly and put out early versions for feedback.

“You need to build something quickly and get it in real people’s hands,” Giannattasio said. “I too often see designers and engineers spending six months building solutions and then putting it in people’s hands and hearing, ‘This sucks!’ It’s better to be lean and build something in a month so you can test faster.”

In fact, setbacks are to be expected as part of the innovation process. “Every day our team is making micro failures and learning and pivoting,” Giannattasio said. “Failures are a good thing.”

More from SXSW: What It’ll Take To Make Immersive Tech A Scalable Reality

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