Archive | October 2013

Encouraging Innovation and Keeping up with Technology

How do companies keep up with technology/Innovation and encourage/enable employees to do the same?

Innovation is a word used a lot and I’ve used it many times myself, in my little articles. However, what a lot of people don’t consider, is the fact that companies need to empower their employees. Whether you’re a creative, a developer, producer, director, or from any other background, in a working environment you should be actively encouraged to innovate. I’m not just talking about innovation within your role; of course, I’m also talking about technology and design.

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There are many companies out there pushing technology to its limits and beyond and for anyone out there involved in an advertising agency (The example I’ll use here), there should be a real hunger to engage with these new technologies.  Why would you not want to? Why would you not want to take your own technology and design up to the next level? Granted, as an individual you may be all for this, however it’s likely that you’re limited by time and commitments. You can plan to do work in your spare time, plan to develop a new mobile app or a cool piece using an API, but in most cases this is a struggle. We all work long hours and heading home to loved ones will ultimately take priority, in the long run.

This is where your company comes in. It can only be beneficial to allow employees to spend some of their working hours ‘playing’. First, the company will gain important and detailed insight into what’s new and what’s on the way. They’ll have employees that can think further ‘outside the box’ in any brainstorms, or during ideation. They’ll have employees that can speak confidently and knowledgeably to clients, on how the ideas can drive their strategy and engagement. More importantly, from a company’s point of view, they’ll have a better chance of retaining talented staff and their clients will have a more forward thinking and dynamic agency.

Now there are ways of encouraging employees in this manner. As an example, you can setup a ‘Hackathon’ for developers to come up with new ideas and code them. This can work really well, but it depends on how it’s approached. During a conversation with a colleague, he made on very valid point. Most of these ‘events – for want of a better word – are held outside of office hours, maybe a combination of lunchtime and after work. There are clear reasons for this, from a company perspective, such as client projects needing to be worked on etc. and that’s completely fair. However, this can become an issue, especially when the gathering has a brief that is linked to an ongoing project. This cannot be for a specific project for the company, if you’re expecting people to work outside of office hours successfully. This is true for two main reasons; it will limit the employee’s ideas and it will not encourage them to follow through with the work. Unless the company is willing to allow the employees to spend work time on this type of brief, they should be approaching it as a more open opportunity. Allow those engaged to take their own path. Allow them to create a cool little robot using an Arduino board, or Raspberry Pi, allow them to create a mobile game to put up on Google Play, or iTunes and give them the opportunity to see their ideas come to fruition at the end of the process.

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A freer remit for something like this may also change the outlook for projects. It may be that the ideas generated could be more strategically relevant for a client, than an ongoing project, or strategically relevant for the next project. It will also kick-start the employees’ brains and get them motivated. Yes, a company would expect an employee to be motivated anyway, but that will not be the case if they are becoming stagnant and producing similar work over and over again.

There’s an easy way for companies to change the way they work with new technologies and with innovation as a whole. Allow employees access to the technology and encourage them to create with that technology. I’ve mentioned them earlier and they’re a good example; the Arduino and Raspberry Pi (Of which I have 2 at home). They’re easy to get hold of and they’re cheap, so there should be no reason that a company cannot provide one for each develop, each creative and anyone else that wants them, on their desk. At this year’s IBC in Amsterdam, there were content providers and set-top box developers showing their systems working on Raspberry Pi’s for example. One company was even using a Pi as an actual set-top box, based on a HTML interface. Make sure that the office has access to each and every games console – not just for entertainment – so that people can play with things like MS Kinect for projects. Make sure that every office has plenty of mobile devices, from iPads, Android tablets and Windows Surface, to wearable technology. Buy an Occulus Rift and allow full access to the APIs and encourage people to use things like Unity3D for apps etc. Get signed up with Google for any new tech, including Google Glass and let people play.

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These are just some examples and access and encouragement to use things like this is the only REAL way of a company being able to align and keep up with the new technology that’s out there and on the way. Get all of that information learned together and invite clients in to see what the latest and greatest is and show them pieces of work that employees have done. Striving for the ‘Bleeding Edge’ will ultimately be beneficial to both company and client, while the employee will be more excited and passionate about the work. You have excited and passionate staff and you have retention of the most talented people. You retain and use those talented people to their upmost ability and you provide amazing and innovative work for your clients. It’s win-win, right?

Bill Gates – The Return?

A lot has been said since Steve Ballmer stepped down and I’m not just talking about the similarity in looks to actor Dean Norris (He’s got to play him in the inevitable “Gates” movie, right?). The main source of interest for me, is the rumor that Gates will step back into a more hands on role at Microsoft. Gates took a big step away, back in 2008 and since then, it’s debatable whether Microsoft has been able to cling onto those dizzy heights of dominance they once had in the computer software industry.

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[ Steve Ballmer…or Dean Norris? ]

We’ve fairly recently lost Steve Jobs, who was an incredible inspiration to many of us and a great innovator, leader and speaker. When Jobs returned to Apple, having been famously ousted from his own company – as we’re all very aware by now – he turned Apple around. He gave Apple back that drive for innovation, creativity and he also gave them back the figurehead that they’d been missing in his absence.

I think Microsoft have got that opportunity now. Of course, I’m not saying that Microsoft are in dire straits, but they’ve got the chance to be a company that grabs hold of the industry again. Right now there’s kind of a flux. Apple are, if you believe the press and critics, starting to slump and have been since Jobs passed. Google are doing well and driving innovation throughout their product set, but still can’t take control. Adobe are still pushing, but with the imminent death of Flash, they’ll be relying on Photoshop and After Effects keeping their dream alive. Now let’s look at Microsoft.

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A big game-changer for me, was going to be Microsoft Surface. I’d taken the home computing step to Apple, back in 2007 and marvelled at the power and design of their laptops, especially for film editing and rendering. Along with the iPhone and iPad, Apple were changing things dramatically. It took a long time, but Microsoft stepped into the Mobile world with Nokia and I thought they may start pushing. Integration with desktop, mobile and gaming was on the cards, surely? However, with a less than satisfactory OS and a lack of innovative thinking – in my opinion – they missed an opportunity. However, when Microsoft announced surface, I was interested again. A tablet machine, with a decent portable keyboard, at a non-restrictive price? Sounded perfect for me and I eagerly awaited the release, so I could get my hands on one. What happened? They released it as an overpriced tablet, with a so-so OS and a separate keyboard that we would have to buy. Disappointment. I wanted to buy one, I really wanted to buy one, but when they were released I lost all interest. Yes, they’ve dropped the price a little and patched the software, but they may well have missed their ‘window’.

However, there could be one thing that could get them quickly back in the game. Bill Gates. Having the founder step back in as CEO and start driving the company forward again, could have both consumers and shareholders excited again. You can see that Microsoft want a fully integrated product set, desktop, laptop, tablet, phone and games console, it’s there waiting and they have the technology, especially with the buyout of Nokia Mobile. It’s time for Gates to step back in. It’s time for him to stand up, talk about the future of computing and Microsoft and about how they’ll be creating an innovative and exciting new environment for us all to participate in. Bill Gates could put a spark back into the industry again. He could make the other’s realize that competition is out there and the game has just been re-started. Wouldn’t it be great to be in the position of seeing companies having to fight tooth and nail to become leaders in the field? I think it’s all a little too comfortable right now, with technology companies tweaking existing hardware and software, rather than leaping ahead.

On a wider scale, company founders are the company’s life source, or at least that’s the way I see it. They are the guiding light, the energy and the DNA of the company – we should never forget that. Let’s bring back the leader, the innovator, the CEO to the world. Let them take the companies by the reins and take risks, break down barriers and push for new and exciting developments. Time for us all to get excited again.

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