Innovation Work

I‘ve been trying to formulate my own approach to what innovation should achieve and how it should work. So these are some of my loose notes and thoughts on the topic. Collection

All notes
Entries: 5

The ideas guy is a common phenomenon in corporate settings (or LinkedIn):

Somebody who can come up with endless lists of ideas, some good and some bad, but lacks the skills and / or motivation to execute any of them.1

And yes, he‘s almost always a guy.

His prevalence might be due to the myth of the idea as a key to innovation, a precious resource to be generated and managed. Spoiler alert: ideas are cheap and useless.

Way more valuable are a) a shared understanding of a problem and b) the ability and power(!) to implement a solution.

The ideas guy tends to lack both.


Innovation & Language

Innovation speak

A critique of the often misleading and over-optimistic language surrounding “innovation” by Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russel1.

Innovation-speak is fundamentally dishonest. While it is often cast in terms of optimism, talking of opportunity and creativity and a boundless future, it is in fact the rhetoric of fear. It plays on our worry that we will be left behind: Our nation will not be able to compete in the global economy; our businesses will be disrupted; our children will fail to find good jobs because they don’t know how to code. Andy Grove, the founder of Intel, made this feeling explicit in the title of his 1996 book Only the Paranoid Survive. Innovation-speak is a dialect of perpetual worry.

  1. Lee Vinsel, Andrew Russel. (September 08, 2020) ‘The Innovation Delusion’. Currency 


Minimal Supportable Product

A minimal viable product (MVP) is a version of a product, project, or concept with just enough features to satisfy early customers. It‘s a way of testing an assumption before committing to building a fully-featured product. The concept was popularized by the author and consultant Eric Ries.

But during my work in the innovation team at the Süddeutsche Zeitung I found the MVP-framework lacking in a couple of ways. As with most concepts out of the startup-to-consultancy-pipeline, it lacks a way of interfacing with the structure of the organization and its dark matter.

As a result, MVPs build by an innovation team are in danger of being created in a vacuum. They might fit the users‘ needs but aren‘t sustainable inside the organization because of lacking resources, knowledge, man-power, or a miss-fit with strategy or business goals. Such teams might end up with a perfectly fine new product, but without a way to sustain it further.

Products and projects need the political will, the people (developers, designers, etc.), the tools, and the technical infrastructure to build and maintain it. Building this infrastructure is often an implicit part of innovation, but for complex organizations, it has to be explicit to be successful.

Which in turn means, that innovation has to work on different levels inside these organizations. It might be more useful to influence the strategy, hiring, or processes to build a solid infrastructure that can then support the new product, then building the product itself.

My suggestion would be something like a minimal supportable product or (MSP). An MVP that is embedded from the start in the organization and can not only be iterated along with the users‘ needs but also the organization‘s capabilities, while also transforming both product and organization.


Work in Progress Reading List

This is a collection of articles, books and organizations that inspired and informed my work at the innovation team of the Süddeutsche Zeitung and was part of the “Work in Progress” zine.

A sporadically updated list can also be found on

  1. Article
  2. Books
  3. Organizations



(Please note, that I am trying to link directly to the publisher‘s or author‘s own website. The books in question are with minor exemptions available at your favorite global e-commerce giant, as well.)



Dark Matter

One of the most influential metaphors for my work is Dan Hill‘s „Dark Matter“ from his book „Dark Matter and Trojan Horses“. Dark Matter describes the invisible forces influencing organizations, projects and concepts:

organisational culture, policy environments, market mechanisms, legislation, finance models and other incentives, governance structures, tradition and habits, local culture and national identity, the habitats, situations and events that decisions are produced within.

To work successfully as a in-house innovation team means being able to read and understand this Dark Matter and also having the tools to engage with it.