3 Things I Learned About Innovation from Airbnb’s CMO, Jonathan Mildenhall

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I had the pleasure of logging into Google for Work’s largest digital event last night, Atmosphere, which looked at how businesses can think creatively and innovate boldly. If you missed it, you can watch it online and download additional content here. There were some great speakers, many of who I was thrilled to see were Brits, including Tim Brown, Co-CEO of IDEO and Laslow Bock, SVP People Operations at Google – whose mission is to “make work suck less through applied science and doing right by people”.

Airbnb logo

However, I was particularly excited to hear what Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO of Airbnb (with his dulcit Northern UK tones) had to say as the company has taken the travel world by storm over the last five years and disrupted the market beyond belief. Here are the three most interesting things I took from his presentation…

  1. Innovation is either corporate or entrepreneurial, and the latter is the only way to drive real creativity – Corporate innovation, in the traditional sense, is typically a slower process based around market research and specific product development, working towards guaranteed returns. It often revolves around a 3-5 year plan. At the other end of the spectrum, entrepreneurial innovation is rapid, risky and far more creative – commonly initiated without any guarantee of a return. The idea that the latter is the better way to drive real creativity certainly isn’t news to me. But at Wazoku we believe that with the right collaborative idea management platform and strategy, larger corporations can achieve the same agility and creativity as their smaller counterparts, while minimising the risks and proving the return. We call this intrapreneurialism.
  1. Do things which don’t scale, because it’s better to have 100 people really love something you do, than 1000 just like it – Jonathan argues that by putting the customer at the heart of your business’ vision, you will ensure that when you find a really successful model or product, it scales up with real “stickiness” and delivers time and time again. David adopted this method successfully in his marketing strategy for Coke, which followed the insight that their customer base drinks their product when they are happy or want to be happy. The result of which was corporate success and a Cannes Advertiser of the Year award.
  1. Culture is an incubator for creativity and innovation – Without an open, transparent and empowering culture to support true creativity and innovation, it simply cannot happen. As my colleague wrote in a previous post, employees must be encouraged to think strategically, to create, generate and share ideas in order to help build and nurture this innovation culture. Encourage them to think boldly, to take risks, to generate solutions to complex issues and novel approaches to challenge solving. To incentivise your employees you can set innovation goals and even gamify your innovation management programme by rewarding and giving points to the best contributors. To be successful, the innovation culture must be supported and promoted by senior management. It is important that senior management demonstrate active involvement in the innovation programme; all ideas and suggestions should be acknowledged and reviewed in a timely manner.  Employees want to feel valued, empowered and listened to, therefore all contributors should be recognised.

Do you agree with Jonathan’s sentiments or do you have other ideas? If so, I’d love to read them in the comments below.

For more insights you can follow Jonathan (@mildenhall) and myself (@saraheryan) on Twitter.

If you think an idea management programme might be for you, try our Beginner’s Guide to Idea Management.

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