To innovate, start small and see how it grows

A common complaint in the journalism world is that newspapers aren’t innovative enough. The complaint usually goes something like, “Why didn’t a newspaper invent Google or Yahoo! or MySpace?” And then there is some finger pointing at executives for not funding R&D or being bold enough in their visions.

This “why didn’t we come up with the big idea” is one of the myths of innovation.

The problem with innovation in incumbent industries isn’t the lack of big ideas. It’s the failure to see the importance of little ideas, because they don’t point the way to immediate profits commensurate with current company values.

All innovation starts with taking a look at what tools and materials are available now and how they can be used differently. It involves finding a job to done and figuring out how to modify what’s already on the table. Or it involves, “oh, I can use that thing differently and I bet this will help other people, too.”

That was true of the light bulb, the telegraph and YouTube.

Innovation is small. It only looks big in hindsight.

Google began with a small, simple idea — what if we ordered our search results based on how many sites link to a particular URL (not even an original idea, since the notion of authority ranking pre-dates the web). Simple idea. Big results.

Any person working in any department of a newspaper can be an innovator. The trick is to look at what you do every day, what you touch every day, and ask, “are there other uses for this?”

For example: Find a rubber band and ask yourself, “what could I do with this to derive as much value as possible?”

Does that sound like an impossible task?

Watch this video:

A very basic lesson in innovation (via Guy Kawasaki).