April 17, 2019

Leading and Managing Innovation – The Innovation Engine Podcast, with Taylor Ryan

On this episode of The Innovation Engine podcast, we discuss whether to view innovation as a top-down or bottom-up function, why measuring innovation may in fact be a mirage, and why outfits like Google X believe that rewarding failure is a way to fuel future successes.

Taylor Ryan, Partner at the growth hacking agency Klint Marketing and ex-CMO of Valuer.ai, joins us to discuss those topics and more. 



Does innovation require a top-down or a bottom-up approach?

  • One the one hand, leadership needs to be vocal and thinking about innovation. They need to be able to look around and say, “Hey, we need to do something different here.”
  • Ingraining the flexibility necessary to innovate within either an innovation lab or within departments, in general, also comes from middle managers, as well as those that are up at the very top, who say, “It’s okay to make mistakes.”
  • On the other hand, you also need to look for the right type of talent. You want people who can be intrapreneurs, and that generally comes from the youngest people, the people that are brand new.
  • “And so, I think it’s a full spectrum, not just top and bottom,” Taylor says.

Where should you invest to drive innovation?

  • A lot of Valuer.ai’s most successful clients are doing innovation externally. Of course, they need to be able to find out, internally, what’s happening and what’s wrong, but then an external innovation department can say, “We understand your issues. Here’s what we can apply to it to change that.”
  • “Now, in terms of collaboration, I do find that startups seem to give a bit more value just because they’re already focused in on the problems that they’re solving,” Taylor says. “There’s a million different ways that your customers could potentially benefit from using something in the way of startups.”
  • Then there’s also innovation consultants, although Taylor thinks they can be very hit or miss. He sees a trend of the snake oil salesman that decided they didn’t want to sell cars anymore, or didn’t want to be a personal trainer, so they decided to get into corporate innovation.
  • That isn’t to say all innovation consultants are universally bad, though. You just need to find consultancies that are able to present solutions, and then also implement those solutions, and more or less carry you through that. It’s not enough to say, “That’s not right. That doesn’t work. This is a problem. Here’s my bill. I’ll take cash as well if you’ve got it.”

What is Google X and how does it add value and drive innovation?

  • Google is willing to give a bonus to people who have exhausted every possible avenue for solving a problem and come to, essentially, one of two conclusions: the technology or resources aren’t there and won’t be there for the foreseeable future or, given a long enough timeline, we can revisit this.
  • For example: there was a great project where they were essentially turning seawater into a fossil fuel. The conclusion that they drew was that it is possible, but in order for them to get even close to it, the amount of expenditure might not necessarily be worth 25 years of hustling. So, they were better off shelving for not to refocus their efforts and resources.
  • That’s a really difficult decision to make, especially for people that have been working months or years on a project that they really believe in. But if a company can’t build out a project to the extent that it works and, at some point, generates something in the way of revenue… well, then maybe it shouldn’t be pursued at this time. So, if a project is a nice-to-have but generates no revenue, then it either needs to be looked at again and pivoted, or potentially killed.


About The Innovation Engine

Since 2014, 3Pillar has published The Innovation Engine, a podcast that sees a wide range of innovation experts come on to discuss topics that include technology, leadership, and company culture. You can download and subscribe to The Innovation Engine on Apple Podcasts. You can also tune in via the podcast’s home on Spotify to listen online, via Android or iOS, or on any device supporting a mobile browser.