Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Two years after DIG's launch, innovation crawling

Here's my Internet math: If one year in a dog's life is equal to seven in a human's, then a year on Earth equals 10 on the Internet. By that measure, an alarming 20 years have passed since CEO Craig Dubow in 2006 unveiled Gannett's formal research and development efforts into digital innovation. Even by Dubow's reckoning, the R&D operation's output has been weak.

The Center for Design and Innovation -- known by its nickname, the DIG -- has had two leaders since its formation. Roger Ogden, who also was chief of the company's broadcast division, lasted barely a year before his abrupt (ahem) retirement. The current leader, Vice President Michael Maness, got the job in June 2007.

Dubow, in his annual letter to shareholders, cited just one new product that's come out of the DIG: Nimbus, a weather widget. (Dubow also mentioned as an example of innovation Gannett's moms sites. But I'm pretty sure they were hatched at The Indianapolis Star.) Dubow also referenced Nimbus in an interview with SmartMoney magazine, published today.

In his letter, Dubow told shareholders that the pace of change must quicken: "The word for 2008 in digital: speed." A faster pace better come under Chief Digital Officer Chris Saridakis, named to that post in January. In comments, Gannett Blog's readers have been deriding the R&D center -- and Nimbus. "If that is the most innovative thing that Gannett has produced, then we not only have a problem at the top, but we have a lot of stupid, uncreative people working in this company,'' one reader wrote on my post, here.

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

8 comments:

  1. You can't innovate without taking risks, and no one is going to take risks if they're afraid they'll be punished for making a mistake. This deer-in-the-headlights corporate climate has got to be one of Gannett's biggest obstacles to change. Managers aren't going to take risks at a time when they don't feel they have job security. Why rock the boat?

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  2. Nail right on the head, Jim. Too many people been whipped for too long to change at this point. Nobody wants to be on the radar screen, even if it could turn out good. You can't change the culture keeping the same task masters and bean counters in place. Undoing the mess will require a massive firing of people bred to be in the mold of their masters. Good luck with that.

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  3. Out of newspapering4/23/2008 7:39 PM

    We just used to love our DIG e-mails that would come around every so often. Then they dried up and nobody's had a chance to win a coffee mug since.

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  4. A big obstacle to participation in the DIG -- which is supposed to solicit ideas from all employees, and let them collaborate to refine them -- is the lack of funding to pay nonexempt workers to participate.

    Unapproved overtime gets managers and employees in trouble. Since everyone's workday is already full, the odds of finding time to work on the DIG within six months of coming up with a killer idea are nearly impossible.

    The idea of requesting permission from a supervisor prior to working on a DIG initiative contradicts the purpose of the DIG, which is supposed to get your supervisor out of your way so you can bounce your idea off of the minds at corporate.

    Pitching a new idea takes time. Ideas need thought and polishing. They need to be explained clearly so the DIG can understand what is being proposed. Otherwise, a great idea can be lost for being too unrefined or too unclear.

    There has to be a way to innovate without exploitation and without undue delay or obstacles. The DIG in its current form was never it.

    -XXX-

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  5. Amen to all the above. A friend tried to offer an idea but wanted to know who would own the outcome should it be something that could make a lot of money. DIG didn't respond to weeks. Then a one word response - Gannett. No discussion, no curiosity, apparently no interest. That's not how you innovate.

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  6. I would have no problem with Gannett owning the idea if they paid for the development of that idea (see previous post). If it were a good idea, and the company profited from it, there would hopefully be a high-visibility bonus and promotion, to further encourage innovation.

    If anything is patentable, it will have the innovator's name on the filing.

    -XXX-

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  7. A colleague submitted an idea worthy of consideration to the DIG a few months after it was launched. This included a well thought out proposal with the names of people who could be contacted, etc. She never heard anything from the DIG, no thank you for your submission, nothing. So, as far as she's concerned the DIG is a waste of time. If this happened once, it's not a stretch to assume it's happened other times, as well.

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  8. Why on earth would I submit an idea that makes Gannett rich and I receive a $250 check for my efforts??? Wouldn't I be better off to patent my idea and get the residuals??? Please, they must think the employees are morons!

    That DIG is so useful as a napkin in the bathroom! But that comes for promoting somebody to head-honcho who had not a single idea since he started in the DIG - because there was nobody else to push into this job after the idiot Ogden left and they needed to give him a job because he had no real one in the Newspaper Division under Sue Clark-Johnson in the first place! LOL! Retirement for Ogden - if somebody believes that, they must be living in Disney Land. LOL!

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