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SissieThis month we’ve been posting regularly on the subject of innovation as a prelude to our annual Innovation Awards on February 23rd.  

We’ve been asking our shortlisted candidates for their opinions on every aspect of innovation in business, from identifying innovative ideas and people to scaling projects at multi-national level.

Today, we thought it would be useful to hone in on one particular business and gather their responses to our list of innovation-themed questions.  

Sissie Hsiao is group product manager at Google Analytics, a company which has based its reputation and success on doing things differently from the very start. We asked for her opinions on a variety of topics, and on the awards themselves.

What makes something innovative?

Innovation is something that solves an existing problem in a novel and elegant way.  Even better, innovation creates a solution to a problem that people didn’t even know they had in the first place.

How do you build an innovative company, or foster innovation within your organisation?

I think companies that are innovative have it built into the cultural DNA of their organisation. It’s a very intentional decision that genuinely comes from the leadership.  At the heart of it, innovation comes from the nature of the people who are hiring and are hired -- are they naturally inquisitive people who tend to think more broadly about how to solve problems? That’s definitely been a key part of our culture at Google. But it’s also about making intentional decisions around priorities, strategy, and approach. It comes from processes that champion evolution and refinement.

Are most stakeholders happy to go along with innovative ideas, or do you have to work hard to persuade them to take chances?

I think humans in general tend to prefer the things that they know and understand.  To be innovative yourself is one thing - everyone likes their own cool idea!  To accept and support another person’s cool idea is a whole other ball game.  That requires being open-minded, cohesive, flexible - and even so, it’s a hard job convincing others.  I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing - an idea should be able to be challenged, questioned, refined, before putting significant resources or effort behind it.

Can any company become innovative? What are the barriers to innovation within organisations?

Companies, like people, are hard to change. In order to be genuine, that spirit of innovation has to be core to a company’s culture. I may be an outlier here, but I personally think if a company isn’t innovative it will require some significant disruption before they have the impetus to change their DNA.

How do you persuade people to take risks and embrace innovative ideas?

Hiring and nurturing the right people who are passionate about what they do is the first step. Having a culture to incentivise and legitimise innovation is also important, since people will more likely bring up out-of-the-box ideas if they are in a supportive forum that rewards them for doing so (and see their peers doing the same).  Last but not least, having leadership or some decision-making body that has vision - the ability to, with high hit-rate, weed out the good ideas that may become awesome, from the ones that are more likely to fail.

Why is innovation so important in digital? 

Computer technology has been the fastest changing, most dynamic area of technology in recent history. Digital innovation has moved at breakneck speed, largely because of the technology industry's culture of testing and iteration. We’re able to experiment and improve on technology quickly - in part because of the virtual nature of the medium, and in part because of the culture of the “next new thing” that has become a driving force in the industry and has shaped the public’s expectations. So we're always thinking about how we can make a product or feature better now.

Is there still plenty of scope for new innovation? 

Yes! I can’t even imagine what it looks like when we’ve “tapped out” digital innovation.  I’m not sure that there is a boundary as of yet.

What do you think judges will look for in this year’s Innovation Awards?

I think the judges will be looking for ideas that re-frame the conversation and open new possibilities for users. So, it’s not merely the next iteration on an existing set of features, but a product that has the capacity to change the marketplace -- by offering a unique solution to an existing problem, or by spreading innovative solutions to a broader audience, or by providing a new approach to dealing with all the digital data we see everyday to make it more usable.  Specifically in the ad measurement space:

  • Innovation around ad formats - how can we make display and video advertising as interesting and sticky as TV advertisements so people will *want* to view them?
  • Mixed media - since everyone has multiple devices now, how can we innovate around multi-device advertising - formats, social settings, other?
  • Measurement and effectiveness - being able to capture all the data and have it make sense, tell marketers what they should focus on and what is really working.

What are your top three innovations you've seen in 2011?

For me personally - I am hugely excited about the promise of payments innovations like Google Wallet.  While it’ll be a bit before we truly get to the promise of not having to carry cash or a credit card, I think this will be majorly cool if it develops as we all envision it to.

Spotify - I am not completely sure how the financials work out, but as a consumer it is super cool to be able to type in a song, any song, and listen to it for free.

Last but not least, my product Multichannel Funnels in Google Analytics, revolutionising how marketers do conversion attribution.

What do you see as the major trends in digital / multichannel for the next 12 months?

I think we’re going to continue to see a convergence of ad formats and measurement around the customer, where there’s a customer-centered view around which advertising, offers, and measurement of ad effectiveness pivot.

What would winning an Innovation Award mean to you and to your business?

My team and I would be personally honored to be recognised for creating an innovative product!  Our goal has been to create products that help more marketers do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, and winning the award would be a great validation of our efforts. 

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Econsultancy's annual Innovation Awards are a celebration of everything new in the marketing industry. We'll be celebrating in London on February 23rd.

If you'd like to attend then click here to view the entire shortlist and book your table for an evening of food, entertainment and revolutionary ideas. 

Matt Owen

Published 17 February, 2012 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

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