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We’ve got the power: Why innovation is important (and how we can encourage more)

I invited the newsroom to chat about innovation during a brownbag session this week. While the turnout was lower than I’d hoped (five, including myself) — I was really encouraged by our conversation.

Before we started our discussion, I played "The Power" by SNAP! —- a cheesy blast from the 90s, yes —- but it helps motivate me through a rough patch in life and work. Whenever someone says, “Wouldn’t it be cool if …” or “Someone should really do this ….” …. I hear the song in my head: “I’ve got the power!”

These are the highlights I emailed to the newsroom following the brownbag:

What is innovation?  
I like author/innovation guru Jeff DeGraff's definition: Any creative improvement.
Innovation isn’t just a huge, expensive Project (with a capital “P”) that results in a game-changing product like an iPad. We innovate every day in small ways, in minute processes that save us time and improve our journalism.
Example: What happens if you’re on the scene of breaking news, you want to send a photo, but your mobile phone service is spotty in rural areas? Rebecca Barnett didn’t give up — she quickly asked a bystander to borrow their phone and sent some to Natalee. Small, yes — but huge.

Why is innovation important?  
Because we have the power to help shape our community and lead with ideas. In order to preserve our values and sustain the business, we must embrace change and expertly improvise  … and stay excited and curious and joyful about our role.

How can we encourage innovation?
My Top 5 highlights from the conversation …
1. Don’t fear the #Fail. We talked a lot about developing a culture more tolerant of failure. You learn the most from your mistakes, right? How can we see meddlesome, embarrassing corrections as opportunities to prevent future corrections? If we see consistent copy mistakes (like spelling “judgment” wrong in every instance), why don’t we take the time to (diplomatically) tell that person — so we don’t have to correct it again? Would we embrace failure as a normal part of progress (like scientists) if we each kept a Failure Resume (as suggested by Tina Seelig)?

2. Knowledge Directory  — Jeff Sturgeon proposed this great idea, which is an evolving directory/wiki of different storytelling tools (like Facebook, Storify, Excel). We would add tips, FAQs, etc. for each tool — and list the folks in the newsroom who could be helpful teachers for each, building a community of trainers.
(Travis Williams was cited specifically as a social media star … watch out Travis, I’ll be calling.)
3. Another Jeff Sturgeon idea: Are you starving for honest feedback? Would you be interested in a Feedback Club that might meet every month? Jeff will send an email with more details about this idea …
4.  Question:  What’s the most fun part of your job? How can you do more of that? Example: If you are energized the most by being out in the community — at the scenes of crimes and “closer to the real,” as Jeff says — what tools do you need to keep you away from the office? And maybe it’s not technology — maybe it’s just taking the time to reimagine how you structure your job. And if you are consistently frustrated by something in your job, isn’t it worth the time to focus on some creative solutions?

5. Breaking news protocol? The idea of a breaking news simulation — or an experimental group project covering a real event — came up. More questions: What should be our priorities when we cover breaking news? Should there be a more defined process? We’ll be talking more about this during our June 19 brownbag, when I’ll try to answer: What does breaking news success look like? We have some great examples  — today’s coverage of the bus wreck comes immediately to mind.   
What ideas can you share?

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