Piers Jones, Group Product Manager at The Guardian, is a member of the judging panel for our Innovation Awards. 

I’ve been asking Piers about creating a culture in which innovative ideas can flourish, his top innovations for 2011, and what he’ll be looking for when judging this year’s awards…

What makes something innovative?

It is something that changes things in a new or exciting way. Something that is really valuable for people and solves a problem. It might be an idea that is disruptive or even controversial at first but rapidly gains acceptance because it meets a need.

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

By encouraging the people around you to take risks and not be afraid to fail. The only sure fire way to fail with digital products is to change nothing. So keep trying but test and learn, get better and always think about your end user.

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

We are very lucky at the Guardian to have a team of people who are really excited about trying new things and willing to take risks. The culture is very supportive of change, which is how we get to be innovative.

Can any company become innovative? How do you persuade them to take risks and embrace innovative ideas?

Yes I believe that any company can become innovative if it genuinely wants to. The barriers to innovation are things like rigid long term planning horizons, risk aversion or a blame culture that prevents people from having a go.

I would point to the successful companies that are growing in the digital world at a huge pace because they have people, processes, technologies and cultures that embrace change. Compare those successes to companies that are slower to adopt.

Why is innovation so important in the digital arena? Is there still plenty of scope for new innovation?

It is the pace of change and the fact that the cost of solving problems with software is getting cheaper. Change creates new opportunities so there is always scope to solve problems in new ways, the growth of mobile is one example.

What will you be looking for when you judge entries to this year’s Innovation Awards?

Innovative ideas that really meet a need and are showing strong signs of adoption and growth. Ideas that change the game in some way and took a risk.

What are your top three innovations for 2011? 

  • Facebook’s evolution of their open platform for thinking big.
  • Google+ for rethinking how we share.
  • Amazon’s Kindle Fire for a bold step in reducing the cost of a tablet device.

What do you see as the major trends for the next 12 months?

More products for the touch screen and second screen. ‘Social’ becoming more than a like button on your webpage. More adaptive interfaces as mobile grows. Everyone wanting an app store. Plus I hope to see something really interesting with IPTV.