Innovation failure? The Economist's Red Stripe Project
Monday, February 11, 2008
Last year I wrote an entry about The Economist's Red Stripe Project
. The idea was to take a small group of "innovators" and create a disruptive product in 6 months.
I concluded my entry with the following paragraph:
I'll keep an eye on this project, as I've become interested in the exploration of innovations in any setting, but I don't expect anything beyond a combination of RSS feeds from the current content. The time is too short to really create a disruptive product and the incentives are not aligned with the corporate strategy.
I remember this project today and I found the conclusion. Essentially, it reads as follows: how to spend £100,000 (yes, that's Stirling Pounds), appear busy for 6 entire months (for 6 people nonetheless), and deliver nothing.
The cost, of course, is much greater than just monetary. For example, these 6 employees spent their time fraternizing over beers
to the envy for their peers, I'm sure, and costing the organization departmental disruptions. Furthermore, I believe there will be some resentment from the community that helped the group along, for their efforts vanished (if you recall, the idea was to get the "crowd" to help them generate ideas--very Web 2.0).
True enough, the value generated by these employees goes beyond just a salary, as they are likely to remain loyal to The Economist (I think it was more of a 6 months paid vacation), but I can't help to think that something really valuable should have come out from this expensive experiment--other than a free PDF with 7 obvious recommendations: Project Red Stripe, A Story of Innovation
Failure is a big part of Innovation Management, as risk averse organization are unlikely to reap the real rewards from a large gamble; however, accountability also plays a big part. In this case, I hope they didn't ruin it for the rest of the innovators in the organization. More important, I hope they can justify the "nothing" part to the board of directors and shareholders.
Typical shareholders are iffy about spending money in things that return nothing on investment.
If you indulge me in a bit of humor here, I can visualize the typical managerial meeting:
"So, when we can launch the new product the young go-getters came up with last year."
"Well, we don't have a product, but we gained great experience."
"So, what's our ROI?"
"Well, it's 0%, but these are internet times and innovation experience can't really be measured."
I think it's OK to be critical of this project, and, at the same time, thankful for making the process public: we rarely get a chance to see these type of projects failing. In most cases, we only see and hear the stories of the products that made it big.