July 6, 2022

Always In Beta: Building a Culture of Innovation

Marketoonist cartoon by Tom Fishburne

Cartoonist, author, Stanford lecturer, TED presenter, marketer, and cartoonist Tom Fishburne recently spoke to a group at EVERSANA INTOUCH with expertise drawn (pun intended) from his 20-year career as a marketer for brands including HotelTonight, Method Products, Nestle, and General Mills, and his decade-plus of full-time content marketing with his agency Marketoonist.

We’re so grateful for his insight and, with his blessing, wanted to share a little of his wisdom here. But for more insight and humor, visit marketoonist.com – and have Tom come to speak to your group!

In his discussion about the importance of innovation, Tom spoke about the difficulties, not only of innovating, but also of executing innovation, despite our shared belief that it’s more important than ever to stand out against the overwhelming clutter of daily life.

There are a million ways to critique or kill an idea… Often, our processes are designed to be not ‘survival of the fittest,’ but ‘survival of the safest,’ which is not the same thing. — Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist

Tom spoke passionately about the power of humor in innovation, and he offered us several ideas to break through some of the common blocks of innovation – with many wonderful stories, examples… and, of course, illustrations!

  1. Beware of Newton’s applesauce. Far too often, your “eureka!” idea can take a beating by the time it comes to execution and look more like applesauce than that original crisp shiny apple. Recognize the importance of protecting it against that process!
  2. Playing it safe is risky. Tom gave us several examples of how standing out, while requiring extra effort, pays off. Just one example is his story of when, while working on Haagen-Dazs, Food Network asked to film briefly in the factory. Tom responded by proposing and achieving (despite plenty of internal push-back) an entire 60-minute Food Network special specifically on creating the next Haagen-Dazs flavor!
  3. Thinking like a challenger is a state of mind, not a state of market. Often, wild creativity is thought to be the realm of startups, but that mindset is available to larger organizations as well, Tom reminded us; it’s just that, often, small companies innovate out of necessity. We have to be creative even when our backs aren’t against a wall!
  4. Break down siloes with “Trojan mice.” Dr. Mohammad Al-Ubaydi, a physician who used his personal experience having a rare disease to spur him to develop the world’s largest personal health records company, introduced Tom to the concept of “Trojan mice.” Rather than trying to get large-scale, top-down buy-in, Dr. Al-Ubaydi started small, from the outside in – an approach we can all apply! – and Patients Know Best has become a groundbreaking tool embraced by the UK’s National Health Service.
  5. Ideas need oxygen. Tom shared a quote from Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress: “Usage is like oxygen for ideas. You can never fully anticipate how an audience is going to react to something you’ve created until it’s out there. That means every moment you’re working on something without it being in the public it’s actually dying, deprived of the oxygen of the real world.” He gave us several examples of how a relentless commitment to piloting new ideas have helped organizations do amazing things!

Sharing imperfect, unfinished creativity (your true self, in many ways) can feel uncomfortable, and so can the process of protecting it as it comes to life. Tom encouraged us to accept those feelings of resistance as necessary parts of doing worthwhile work, and to create and protect cultures in which that happens!