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Distinguish how you will approach continuous improvement and more fundamental innovation

Continuous improvement efforts must be pervasive; everyone has to find better, more effective ways to respond to today’s digital realities. But you also have to pursue fundamental innovation.

Continuous improvement efforts must pervade the entire enterprise. Given the ‘from/to’ challenges described throughout this report, everyone has to find better, more effective ways to build the skills, roles, work and workflows, technology, tools and habits and culture required for audience-first approaches that respond to today’s digital realities.

Continuous improvement, though, differs from fundamental innovation because of the nature of the risks and rewards involved. To use an analogy, consider the famous “Fosbury Flop” – the fundamental innovation Dick Fosbury made for high jumping. Prior to Fosbury, high jumpers went over the bar stomach first. Fosbury innovated this to back first. The risks he confronted had more serious unknowns than, say, the continuous improvement efforts of stomach-first high jumpers who tried out different diets, exercise regimens and so forth to keep getting better. Think only, for example, of the risk of injury when Fosbury shifted to back first.

Getting to Table Stakes requires both continuous improvement and fundamental innovation. Table Stakes #4 and #5, though, are likely to encompass more fundamental risk taking than, say, many of the actions needed to serve targeted audiences with targeted content (Table Stake #1), publishing on the platforms used by your targeted audiences (Table Stake #2) and producing and publishing continuously to meet audience needs (Table Stake #3).

Consider moving to a meter – which can be key to success at Table Stake #4’s mandate to convert random visitors into habitual, and paying, loyalists. During Knight Temple Table Stakes, Dallas made its third attempt at a meter – an experience fraught with serious uncertainties about whether folks in Dallas would pay for content. Or, think about Philadelphia’s effort to build shared data as a bridge through which PMN might focus on, attract and build audiences with greater value to advertisers.

Similarly, experiments in building new kinds of revenue beyond subscription and advertising have significant uncertainties more akin to fundamental innovation than continuous improvement. How might your metro, for example, embrace – and monetize – the challenge of revitalizing local connectedness among folks? Similarly, reimaging the role and value of classifieds, building eCommerce businesses, exploring membership, creating and selling new consumer services – these and other possibilities confront serious unknowns regarding such things as whether a market exists and, if so, is it large enough to be attractive, whether or not your news enterprise has, can build or can partner for the needed capabilities, and whether the technology and tools exist to deliver on promises you’ll make.

Your innovation team has to ensure widespread shared understanding about the distinction between continuous improvement versus fundamental innovation across your enterprise – and, design and lead a coherent overall effort that embraces, guides, and regularly monitors progress against both. In doing that, the innovation team must ensure that:

  • All continuous improvement efforts have performance and learning objectives, and use clear, established criteria for selecting or rejecting efforts (including one criterion related to ‘We have and will commit the resources required.’).
  • All fundamental innovation efforts are selected (or rejected) against a clear set of criteria. The team must identify the uncertainties to be tested, figure out how to test those uncertainties as speedily and cheaply as possible and, for innovation efforts demanding significant resources or risks (e.g. brand risks), use/follow a “phases and gates” approach (see the illustration/explanation below)