The Key to Innovation: Build a Platform, like Apple
The CEO-SHOW van Robert Reiss. Intevieuw met Bob Safian van Fast Company Magazine
When it was launched in 1995, Fast Company magazine set a new tone in progressive business media, with a unique editorial focus on discovering the creativity and innovation in technology, ethonomics (ethical companies), leadership, and design. The publication set out to chronicle how changing companies create and compete, to highlight new business practices, and to showcase teams and individuals that were reinventing the future and reinventing business. With special editions focusing on the World’s Most Innovative Companies, World’s Most Creative People and the Most Influential Women in Technology, Fast Company has made itself a bellwether for innovation and creativity.
The publication has put its stake at the core of the cultural revolution. I recently sat down with its editor, Robert Safian, to discuss what exactly he’s aiming at, and how and why?
How do you define great innovative content at Fast Company?
We cover innovation and creativity within business, and our aim is to inspire business leaders to embrace change. To do that, the content is always about the story—it has to be engaging. In our world of content, we have to realize that we’re not just competing with other print media or other digital media, we’re competing with someone watching Family Guy on their iPad. We are competing forpeople’s time, and we have got to be dramatic, engaging, entertaining.
Readers are looking for content that tells them something they didn’t know before. This is a challenge with certain kinds of media. For example, with Google, if you want something, you search for that specific thing. For a lot of other media, people are actively engaged because they want to learn about something that they didn’t know was out there to begin with.
How do you define a fast company? Do CEOs have to use social media to be effective leaders?
We view fast companies as businesses that are innovative, progressive, and creative, and that are constantly changing. These businesses have it baked into their approach who their future customers are going to be. CEOs have to think about not just their customers but their employees who have been there for one or ten years. That’s what makes running a business so hard, because that is the matrix these leaders are operating on.
I mention this because your future customers and employees are using social media. It is a critical part of the way they communicate. If you want to tap into that and understand the evolving marketplace, you have to be attuned to that. It doesn’t mean they have to be Tweeting or on Facebook everyday, but CEOs should try to be comfortable with social media and keep their eyes open to other things.
What do you think social media will look like in 15 years or so?
Well, I really don’t think anyone knows for sure. Some of the leading companies in social media today didn’t even exist five years ago. And that is the key lesson about being a fast business, recognizing that you can’t plan out that far. You have to adapt and move, and base your decision on your best guess about where you are and where things are going. That is the way it has always worked;, it just gets harder because the world is moving faster.
Fast Company recently put out a study on the Most Innovative Companies. What insight can we gain from that?
We come out with an issue every year about the 100 Most Innovative Companies. The key trend that we’re looking at this year is about how platforms that are being built enable innovation for others. For example, the No. 1 company on our list this year is Apple. In some ways that was an easy decision—they came out with the iPad, a new product that no one had seen before, and it’s been a tremendous success.
However, Apple is on our list for a larger reason; that is that the combination of the iPad and the App Store and the iPhone have created a platform for innovation that other companies are building on. There really is an ecosystem, and it has spawned a tremendous amount of creativity across a wide range of companies.
Businesses need to recognize where those platforms are and try to see how they can tap into those. Facebook is a platform as well that certain people are using, as are Twitter and YouTube. These are all platforms that if you go back five or six years, they didn’t exist at all. These are tremendous cultural changes that have happened over the last five or six years. All businesses have to recognize that it’s there, and see how it impacts their business.
What is the culture like at Fast Company, and how does your staff get the inspiration to know where to look for innovation?
Our reporters spend months trying to find creative and surprising businesses that are doing things that you might not recognize. What tends to happen in a lot of businesses and media is that people get assigned niches. You’re a technology company, you’re a technology reporter. You’re a banking company. You’re a marketing company. I think a lot of the most creative and innovative things are happening in the gaps between those silos.
The lines are breaking down. I think if you can be inspired by the contiguous areas of your business, and if you can have your employees not define their jobs necessarily in just those narrow ways, there are lots of ideas that can come up. You can find new things and new areas of growth and opportunity in that kind of creativity.
Robert Reiss is Host of The CEO Show, which features leaders who have reinvented industry through exceptional customer experience models. The show is nationally syndicated by Business TalkRadio Network. Click to hear podcasts of this and other CEO Interviews at www.ceoshow.com