An Innovation Journey. #46 #cong17

By Fergal O’Connor.

Madness or Human - Doing the same thing over & over, expecting different results.

I love gadgets and innovation. From ZX Spectrum, Atari, Nintendo, Nokia, Creative Nomad Jukebox, Sony Clié, Dell, Grunge, iPhone, Apple Mac, Bluetooth, Apps, Wifi, One Plus, Indie, Canon, Motorola 360, Fitbit, AI, Data analytics. Chatbots, AR, VR and much more. I’ve been lucky to embrace an amazing array of gadgets and live through the fast paced world of cool innovation over the last 40 plus years.

I never grow tired of the latest new thing and embrace it with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning. I remember when apps became a thing and the 400 plus apps I had on my iPhone of which I probably used 10. I just couldn’t bring myself uninstall the other 390 just in case one day I needed an app that could translate my voice into animal sounds (it’s an app trust me). 

I embrace innovation and change with boundless enthusiasm and in my naivety I expect everyone to be pretty much the same. However since I’ve moved more into the tech world I’ve discovered a populous of sceptics and a tech weary public that are much more careful about what they will download and maybe one day love. 

Innovation has become hard and no longer will the allure of the next new shiny thing guarantee success. Yes we’re looking at you Juicero. In 2017 there are 2.8 million apps in the Android store and 2.2 million in the Apple app store. That’s a lot of ‘innovation’ to chose from and people are becoming far more discerning and protective of their own personal data.

People are by nature inherently lazy. By that I mean that they are slow to change from their routine, what they know. Cognitive ease means that the human brain prefers to perform the most comfortable or routine activities. The activities that it has become used to, that it knows and understands, even if this is not always the best outcome for the individual or the corporation. As Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman stated,  “Laziness is built deep into our nature.”

In a recent Forbes article by Edward D Hess, Hess muses, Thinking differently is also hard emotionally.  Many neuroscientists, including Antonio Damasio and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, believe that our emotions influence and are integrally intertwined in most of our cognitive processing. In other words, rationality is a myth. Emotionally, we seek to affirm our self-image (our ego) and we use the 3Ds—deny, defend, and deflect—to ward off challenges to it and to our views of the world.  Fear is one of the emotions that comes all too naturally to most of us—and makes it hard for us to engage in the messy work of innovation. Fear of failure, fear of looking bad, and fear of losing our job if we make mistakes all can lead to what Chris Argyris called “defensive reasoning”: the tendency to defend what we believe. This makes it hard to get outside of ourselves in order to “think out of the box.”

All of my professional career has been in media, an area once considered cutting edge and innovative has in the last few years been tarnished with a deathly moniker, contrary to innovative - ‘traditional’. Print, radio & TV have all suffered in a wave of digital dominance. Although I have also worked with ‘new’ media, in the world of digital transformation my grá for ‘traditional’ media seems to conflict with my enthusiasm for innovation.

When I started our company buymedia in 2016 part of our mission was to vaporise the word ‘traditional’, transform media, make it cool again and not the creepy guy that no-one wants to hang out with at parties. Although €144 billion is spent annually on ‘traditional’ media advertising by SMEs this is in slow decline while growth in digital and mobile advertising is experiencing double digit annual growth.

We spent over a year examining the players and processes in this market and discovered that the move from traditional to digital was driven by a number of factors. Firstly there was a huge lack of market intelligence available to SMEs when making advertising decisions in either type of media. 76% of SME advertisers were unhappy with the results of their advertising campaigns in traditional media. There was limited visibility of all the opportunities available in that market. No easy way to plan or purchase traditional media ad campaigns online, while 80% of B2B business was researched online before making a purchase. Finally, there was no easy way to find solid information on what has worked for other businesses and data analytics to help calibrate future campaigns against past performance. So lots of burning pain to address.

So we aimed for the stars with twin goals of helping SMEs worldwide (starting in Ireland) to get a better return on their advertising make the process easier and digitally transform media sales for the collective good of both businesses who advertise and media companies who sell advertising. Sounds easy, right and if you look at the stats on digital transformation of industries the speed of growth of businesses in recent years is phenomenal. Accenture research shows that it has taken a typical Fortune 500 company on average 20 years to reach a valuation of $1 Billiion or more. It took Google 8.1 years, Facebook 6.2 years, AirBnB 2.8 years and Xiaomi 1.7 Years. So innovation and digital transformation is the way to go if an industry, particularly one in decline, wants to reverse it’s fortunes and experience growth. 

In testing our innovative processes, by streamlining advertising procurement we saved a business on average 25% of their time when planning & purchasing ad campaigns. By delivering market intelligence and data analytics we increased their advertising return on investment by 30%. Huge savings and impressive gains.

So when faced with all these global industry facts, our own primary research, customer discovery and test results surely everyone would realise the errors of their ways, jump on board and join the buymedia revolution.

Then we remembered that ‘rationality is a myth’ and ‘laziness is built deep into our nature’. My 15 year old son informed me that there is also a physiological state called homeostasis - the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements (clever boy).

We also discovered a piece in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Colbert, ‘Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds’ - New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason. This remarkable piece examines ‘confirmation bias’ through numerous psychological studies examining the area of how ‘once formed impressions are remarkably perseverant’.  It quotes extensively from the new book “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), written by the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. The main conclusion - Humans are wired with an inability to reason. A recent McKinsey report found that while 84% of corporate executives think innovation is key to achieving growth objectives, only 6% are satisfied with the innovation performance of their firms.

Innovation that talks to reason may be more difficult to attract mass adoption. We’re on the start of our journey, we know we have reason on our side, we’re aware of the bias of the human condition. We hope for the sake of the people that we aim to serve that as we gain trust they don’t continue to do what they have always done and expect different results. We sincerely hope that they give innovation a chance and if we can help even a small percentage of the people that need our help then our innovation journey will have been a worthwhile crusade. What we and all other innovators should realise is that the challenge to innovate will not necessarily be technology, it will more likely be human behaviour and our hardwired brain.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie