Speaking of the Future: Mark Read, Adam Bain, and Pete Blackshaw on Innovation

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Mark Read joined USA Today’s Laura Petrecca, Twitter’s Adam Bain and Nestlé’s Pete Blackshaw on the Cannes Lions Innovation stage for a rolling conversation on how companies can generate breakthrough thinking.

If you have a large, global company, how do you share big ideas and encourage innovation?

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For Adam Bain, the spark for innovation can come from anywhere, so anyone at Twitter is allowed to ship any concept they develop to one percent of Twitter’s audience (approximately three million users) without approval. If you have an idea, instead of debating it or hearing no, you can send the idea out. Then, by every Wednesday, you need to have tested the idea and gathered data so the company can review your project. At any given point, Twitter has five hundred tests in review, which tends to weed out innovation blockers.

Twitter especially encourages innovation during the beginning of each quarter, when no work is planned for employees. Instead, employees are able to work on any project they are passionate about. At the end of the week, a show-and-tell is held and people can talk about their projects to the management team. Over one thousand projects are reviewed during this time, and those that are selected are put on a road map to production.

While Twitter looks inwardly for inspiration, Mark Read pointed out that, while Wunderman’s large network is fertile ground for collecting content, we also connect our people through partnerships with companies like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., and we leverage the access we receive through WPP (e.g., VICE Media and Refinery29) to our practical advantage. Read is also keen to ensure that Wunderman’s people experience what we talk to clients about—our recent partnership with Uber in New York is one example.

According to Blackshaw, Nestlé—which boasts more than 340,000 employees and two thousand brands—has an “innovation trifecta”: 1) The Nestlé portfolio contains digital acceleration teams that conduct hackathons and move from group to group generating ideas, bringing “the best and brightest to the center”; 2) Nestlé is constantly inspired by neighboring companies in the Silicon Valley and other places where innovation is bubbling; and 3) Nestlé utilizes internal social media in order to get people talking about things and creating content to ensure that there is a cross fertilization between geographies. All three work together.

IMG_1737Considering how busy employees are, how do you get people to contribute to social media?

Blackshaw said to stop distinguishing between professional and personal; the key is making sure there is no friction between the two so employees can nurture followers through good content.

Read pointed out that location and leadership are pivotal in fostering innovation, and that leaders should use new media to better understand them and to bridge cultural divides. YouTube vloggers have staggering amounts of followers; even their most mundane tweets garner two thousand retweets.

Riffing on Read, Bain pointed out that leadership must include everyone. Twitter has an active culture that welcomes transparency. For example, at the beginning of a meeting, someone is designated as notetaker and shares the meetings notes with the entire audience (providing the notes are not financially sensitive). This ensures that there are no excuses for someone not knowing what’s going on.

What empowers great brainstorming or kills it?

According to Bain, what kills ideas is empowering too many people to say no. A healthy “bias to impact” is what’s needed. Blackshaw agreed, saying, “You don’t want to be too cynical in early stages of ideation sessions.”

So, what are the next big ideas for this group?

At Twitter, it’s Periscope, which came out of an idea to create a “teleporter to anywhere in the world.” Periscope is being used at Nestlé as well, and is still in its early days, but Nespresso machines that are customized for nutritional diets are what’s on the horizon for Nestlé.

The inspiration pump needs to be constantly primed. For inspiration, Read mentioned the book about Elon Musk, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. What impressed Read about Musk was the level of detail he engaged in for his SpaceX project, despite its recent setback. The deep-pocketed entrepreneur could have paid a team to go out and build the rocket. Instead he obsessed about the details himself. “The most successful companies are run by the most obsessive people,” said Read, “curious people who really understand what’s going on.” Bain offered @trendwatching, a UK-based account, and @SLSWA (Surf Life Saving WA, which watches three hundred sharks off the western coast of Australia) for inspiration, while Blackshaw has rediscovered NPR and Planet Money.

What are some tips each person can do to foster innovation?

Bain suggested finding your version of Twitter’s “one percent.” Read suggested taking time out of your schedule to think, saying, “We live in an instantaneous world…which is not conducive to innovation….Get through simple things first by making rapid decisions and you will be able to focus on the future.”

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