Companies that innovate thrive, and they do so in large part thanks to the foundations set down by other innovators. But it’s not a zero-sum game: those other innovators themselves benefit from the new tools, services and platforms built on their foundation. The companies that thrive the most are those that understand this two-way street, and make an effort to always give back more than they take. This is the guiding concept behind these innovation principles.
The instinct to close doors in order to protect content and technology is common, understandable, and almost always wrong. The immeasurable power of the internet stems from the openness of much of the underlying technology, from low-level protocols to staple file formats. Every company in the digital age has benefitted from this openness, and will benefit even further by contributing to it themselves.
Possible Action Items: Adoption of open licensing schemes for patents, content, and other intellectual property. Adoption of, support for and contributions to open standards over proprietary ones.
Discussion Points: This principle is not meant to suggest that fully open source and licensing schemes are the best choice for every company. How do we better clarify that there are various degrees of openness, and everyone should strive to be as open as possible, without making it an all-or-nothing proposition?
One of the greatest strengths of a global network like the internet is that it eliminates the need to do things twice. Once something is built, other things can be built on top of it, and the only reason to re-build it is if the original creator is fighting against interoperability – and this hinders users and innovators alike.
Possible Action Items: Commitment to building robust, open APIs. Commitment to data portability. Support for the scraping and repurposing of data by other products and services.
Discussion Points: We are curious about the relationship between “interoperability” and “interconnection.” Can the two be considered part of the same principle, or should they be included separately?
Innovation almost always involves entering uncharted waters, and that means the potential for failure. Innovative companies need to foster a culture and a business model that promotes lots of experimentation while tolerating and quickly recovering from failure.
Discussion Points: This is a new principle proposed at one of our initial discussions about the Statement, and we are seeking feedback on how to flesh it out and determine some possible action items. It’s clear that experimentation and tolerance of failure are key to an innovative culture, not just within a company but with regards to a broader ecosystem of users as well. What can companies do to build this principle into their business?
Sometimes innovation happens from the top down, but in the digital age it often happens from the bottom up. Users and online communities are the ones who plant the most interesting and unexpected seeds of innovation, and companies that encourage and embrace this trend flourish, while those that respond with trepidation find themselves falling behind.
Possible Action Items: Implementation of platforms for user feedback and interaction, and commitment to manning these platforms. Incentives for user contributions to a service. Mechanisms for direct user contributions that do not require the complete transfer of all rights and interests.
Discussion Points: One interesting point that has been raised is the idea that the “community of companies” is just as important as the community within and around each company. We’re seeking additional feedback on this idea, and how this Principle can be expanded to better include it.
All the pro-innovation principles in the world won’t make a difference if people aren’t sure where a company stands. Transparency and communication is key to ensuring that users and other innovators have the confidence, and the trust, to take full advantage of these mechanisms for fostering innovation.
Possible Action Items: Clarification, simplification and relaxation of all terms of service, with a focus on encouraging people to build and experiment. Frequent communication regarding projects and company decisions that impact ongoing and future innovation.
Discussion Points: The main goal of transparency is trust. We’ve had a lot of discussion about ‘trust’ as the future currency of the web, and how today’s innovators should be preparing for that future. Does this Principle need to expand more on the goal of trust-via-transparency, or does Trust need to have its own section entirely? Beyond transparency, what other things are critical to establishing trust?
Beyond transparency lies advocacy. It’s one thing to have pro-innovation, pro-user policies and be open about them, but the next step is to make your voice heard on these ideas and encourage others to embrace them, while actively letting people know how much you care about innovation.
Discussion Points: This is another new principle proposed in our initial discussions. Advocacy doesn’t have to mean politics, but we like the idea of encouraging all companies to go one step beyond enacting these Principles for themselves, and start promoting them to others. How is this best summed up as an Innovation Principle, and what action items should we be suggesting?
Other New Principles
The six principles above combine those from our initial draft with some of the ideas from the discussions held at our Inaugural Summit. Several other possible Innovation Principles have been proposed, and we’re seeking feedback on whether they should be included or rolled into the existing principles:
Operational Excellence: Also phrased as “Speed of Decisionmaking” and simply “Focus”, this is the principle that innovators need to be able to rapidly respond to challenges without getting bogged down in organizational obstacles.
Flexibility: Potentially covered by “Experimentation”, this is the principle that innovation cannot be so rigid as to collapse whenever something unexpected happens, and even these principles themselves must be enacted in a way that is highly flexible.
Responsibility: This is the principle that innovators have a mandate to do something that is in the public interest. That’s a complicated and sometimes controversial idea, and we want to explore ways it could be included in this Statement.
8 thoughts on “A Statement Of Innovation Principles”
Diversity. A couple people mentioned this to me after the session as an important principle, and I think it’s worth considering adding it to the list. Good innovation often comes from getting in a diverse set of viewpoints and perspectives.Reference
I think diversity is a core principle. James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowd summarizes the research that makes it clear that some of the fundamental mechanisms of Interest commerce depend on true diversity. Diversity in corporate policies is even harder, but at least as important. It’s important for all the societal reasons, of course, but it is absolutely central to innovation. Familiar thinking and buried assumptions are anathema to innovation. Diversity is hard; if it were easy everyone would already have done it. So it needs to be made a priority, and justified on the grounds that healthy innovation absolutely depends on it, in a global economy more than ever.
Another possible principle would be “customer first” or “user first.” But perhaps that fits here under “community.” Or maybe not? Still, I think there’s an important concept that, in the age of the internet, where switching costs are low, innovation is going to be driven by responding directly to the needs of end users more than any other stakeholder.Reference
This seems like a sub-point of community, where user and community are a priority, and innovation depends on meeting their needs. (But of course there are other types of tech where it may not be as user-focused, e.g. SpaceX.)
Good point, Elizabeth. I think there may always be some exceptions, but even in cases like SpaceX, I think therer’s an argument that they should be “customer” driven. Of course, maybe there’s another way of looking at this, which is somehow focusing on a more *long term* vision, rather than short term. I think many of the anti-consumer practices that some companies engage in is the result of short-term thinking and short-term focus. That leads companies to make decisions that may eke out additional revenue in the short term, but scares off people in the long term. So… perhaps this also goes back to the principle discussed elsewhere related to “trust.”
Yes! count me in. I think there’s a need for playbooks/documents that can be used to foster an open collaborative culture that recognizes a basic principal of freedom, freedom to operate. A github for legal code to promote openess? Having companies/projects write up and share the pros and cons of their approaches? Policy perscriptions as well? The output could take a lot of directions.Reference
I think putting users at the center of any statement of innovation is crucial, even if they may not know how to articulate their needs and wants. In this context we need to think of “users” broadly as they may be individuals or organizations.
To Mike’s point regarding anti-consumer practices: companies may pursue such policies but always to the end of gaining more customers. It’s important to recognize users and customers and know the difference. Sometimes they are one and the same but not always.
On the short-term vs. long-term thinking I have a question (pardon my ignorance) for the community: what time frames are we typically speaking of with respect to short term and long term? Most start-ups fail. How much effort and planning is devoted to long term vs short term? Are start-ups condemned to be myopic? At what point are start-ups able to think and plan beyond tactics to look at strategy?
How about an award track for innovation, as an alternative to exclusivity?
In math we discover and give grants/awards, we don’t invent math and protect labels and equations.
The same concept needs to be promoted for software.
As the word technical is sometimes used for complex abstract matters its otherwise easy to extend the “technical fields” of patents and protectionism.