Innovator Interview: Amanda West, Thomson Reuters

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What makes innovation tick at Thomson Reuters? Amanda West, Chief Innovation Officer of the organization, shared her thoughts on why a common innovation language steers success, how leadership needs to set a clear mandate, and how good training and tools can make all the difference in the world.
  • 1. Amanda West Chief Innovation Officer Thomson Reuters Found from website recreated PMS the innovator’s interview The Innovator’s Interview highlights unique innovations from a wide range of industries, and is an opportunity for futurethink and some of today’s leading innovations to share insights and ideas. May 2009 Anticipate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–09 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY
  • 2. the innovator’s interview 2 Amanda West the background This Innovator Interview series highlights leading innovators at Fortune 500 companies. In contrast to past interviews, focusing on a single innovation, this series examines the state of innovation at global organizations. We spoke with both innovation leaders and practitioners, within varying business units and organizational structures, across a broad range of industries both for–profit and not–for–profit. The interviews offer a unique insider’s view into the world of innovation—what makes it work, what holds organizations back, and what critical advice new innovators need to know to be more successful with innovation overall. the interview What makes innovation tick at Thomson Reuters? Amanda West, Chief Innovation Officer of the organization, shared her thoughts on why a common innovation language steers success, how leadership needs to set a clear mandate, and how good training and tools can make all the difference in the world. You help drive innovation at Thomson Reuters, I understand? I’m the Chief Innovation Officer at Thomson Reuters. And we’re a fairly new company. The Thomson Corporation took over Reuters officially in April of 2008. So, we’re a large organization, with about 52,000 employees. My role is to enable and encourage our businesses to drive greater growth through innovation. Prior to Thomson Reuters, I worked at Reuters, where I ran an Innovation Program for the company for three years. The Reuters Innovation Program’s role was to incubate more transformational, longer-term potential new businesses on behalf of the company. With the merger, we’ve gone from being a much smaller company to one that’s much bigger. Right now, as the CIO of Thomson Reuters, I’m doing two things. The first is really focused understanding what we mean by innovation, on generating a common language and then creating the basic environment or infrastructure to enable the businesses to innovate. And then, the second is beginning to look at the more longer-term opportunities, which are a mixture of being able to take assets from all of the businesses and apply them in others to drive new growth, or looking at completely new opportunities for the company. The goal is to create, corporate view of why and how we innovate but to leave the business to get on with it. So has the definition of innovation changed for the new organization? Innovation at Thomson Reuters is about ‘smart’ growth! We interpret ‘innovation’ as being really intelligent about how you can maximize the amount of growth for your company, by having deep fact-based customer insight and a level of understanding that helps you anticipate their needs. Innovation isn’t solely about pure invention. Anticipate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–09 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY
  • 3. the innovator’s interview 3 Amanda West What would you say is the single biggest challenge to making innovation happen? Be clear with your definition of innovation and be really clear about the “Be clear with your definition mandate for innovation within your company. Do you want new things, or do you want to go to new places (markets) or both? What else? And of innovation and be really then, the second thing I would say is that you’ve got to have the buy-in clear about the mandate of the senior crew to what you’re doing. for innovation within your Say that the CEO wants a progress report on innovation tomorrow. company.” What are the three metrics that you would choose to report on, and why would you do that? That’s totally dependent on the mandate for innovation in your company. You have to be able to demonstrate value. And by value, I mean dollars. The challenge there is that you’ve got to be prepared to measure it over a very long period of time, and you’ve got to be prepared to keep the measures as simple as possible. As you’re developing your program, though, you also want to measure participation and use of the tools you have created. So, in our case, we are thinking about measuring based on organic growth that’s generated as a result of a resulted from the skill-building workshops we have developed. When choosing new ideas, which do you use: scorecard or gut? A mixture, and often depends on how old the idea is. Initially, it’s very much gut feel, and then the more in-depth knowledge you gather over the weeks, then you can start to apply slightly more – and I stress the slightly – rigorous criteria. We also have a portfolio tool that we use to simply then say, “Does it fit with the strategy?” Who is involved in that process of selecting ideas, and how does that change as an idea moves through your stage gate process? So, in the beginning it’s my team. That’s our job. We start by putting them on the table and then get them to the point where it’s worth asking the business what they think. But, that means we have to have done a certain amount of background research so that we can get one or two relevant people brought in and involved. What do you think the role of an innovation team or an innovation office should be? It really depends on the company. I don’t think there’s a black and white answer to that. I think, if you are in a company that’s more about invention, then you need the ring-fenced approach, where an independent group can challenge and push the status quo and corporate authodixies. But, if you come from a B2B company where the business is about execution and the application of their services across multiple customer segments and markets environment, then I think the role needs to be more about enabling the rest of the business to drive growth. Anticipate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–09 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY
  • 4. the innovator’s interview 4 Amanda West Is there anything that you would say that the innovation group or office shouldn’t do? Teams have to help the business units really build business – not just “Teams have to help the think whacky thoughts or run whacky brainstorms. If you don’t cut business units really build the mustard in terms of building businesses, then you can’t be taken seriously. You’ve got to do things that are very tangible. That’s why you’ve business – not just think got to be prepared to let people measure you in dollar terms in some way, shape, or form. Innovation isn’t about making people feel good. whacky thoughts or run whacky brainstorms. If you What did you do to get traction and build momentum around innovation? don’t cut the mustard in We started off building the baseline tools and an innovation network of terms of building businesses, people to get the business engaged We’ve gone in and picked a specific piece of the business and said, “Not only will we build these tools, but then you can’t be taken we’ll do it in order to help you solve a business challenge for you, and see how much additional value you can drive into your business.” seriously. You’ve got to do things that are very tangible.” How do you make people understand that innovation is important? Again, in my experience, there’s only one way to do it, which is to encourage and inspire them do it. We did an innovation fieldtrip with the Reuters senior management team and board where we took them to Palo Alto for three days, and set up an agenda where they visited lots other companies outside of our industry. Our goal was to get insights around a couple of themes that we picked; themes that we felt were macro trends that were of real relevance to us, but that much longer-term than the business would naturally look at. This worked very well. I think these sorts of things are real catalysts to getting a program off the ground. How is the current economic environment affecting your role or the perception of the need for it? Some people see innovation as ‘nice to have’. This is the most important time to prove that you’re really valuable to your customers and be prepared to come out of the recession with some fantastic new business ideas. What are the skills or the mindset that makes an individual good at innovation? To me it’s very much about having deep customer and value-based insights, and then a very clear execution drive. It’s about having the ability to sort of think with both the left and the right brain, in my view. Tell me the biggest piece of advice you would give to other innovators at this time. Don’t innovate unless the CEO, or whoever your equivalent of the CEO is, buys into it. Anticipate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–09 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY
  • 5. the innovator’s interview 5 Amanda West What can you learn from Thomson Reuters and their approach to innovation? • Having a common language around innovation: Does everyone have a consistent definition of what innovation means in your organization? Is there a published set of language that’s used an understood to make innovate happen more quickly? • Getting Management Buy-in: How are your senior leaders participating in innovation efforts? Are they allowing them to live outside of the standard set of metrics and measurements for awhile? • Provide the tools and training to facilitate innovation: What resources are you providing to employees to help them better innovate? What training do you provide to teach them critical innovation skills? What types of tools and research are you offering them to keep them on top of important trends and help generate winning ideas? To learn more about the research, tools and training you need to better anticipate change and move innovation forward, visit us at Anticipate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–09 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY
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