Why Carat is ditching the word 'innovation'


After Carat announced it is dropping the term "innovation" from job and team names, the agency's head of innovation explains the thinking behind the move.

Matthew Knight Matthew Knight head of strategic innovation London innovation

Hello. I'm Matthew Knight, Carat's head of innovation.  

And I'm on a mission to eradicate innovation.  

Well, the word at least. 

If you're a fan of satirical news outlet The Onion, you may well have seen their article a few years back during the first day of SXSW, on how the very word had been used on average 8.2 times in every second during the festival.

There's probably a healthy amount of truth in this. 

We may have reached peak innovation – proven by someone in my team buying an "innovative" salad from a nearby deli yesterday.

As a word, it's applied to such a broad set of activities and intentions that it has become meaningless. 

If innovation is defined as "exploration and experimentation into new things aligned with the organisation’s purpose, leading to their adoption to create significant positive impact," surely, this is the role of everyone in an organisation, to keep developing new and better and different work, in line with a business purpose, rather than standing still? 

Indeed, we frequently talk about how the smartest businesses in a digital economy have innovation baked into their core business models, not 20 per cent of the week, but constant invention, evolution and application. 

I believe we've passed the point where innovation teams should exist in a business. Innovation must be everyone's responsibility. 

That's why we have a clear ambition to phase out the innovation team at Carat over the next three years and move to a model of deploying innovation as default. 

Instead of a small group of specialists who have innovation in their remit (and risking the "oh, we don't have to innovate, we'll leave that to the innovation folk" mind-set), we are enabling our entire team and culture at large to be connected, curious and brave. We want to make innovation our standard practice.  

We are experimenting with alternative ways of working  from fluid teams drawn from across our network to agile project methodologies. We’re inviting external partners into projects early on so we can benefit from diversity of thought. We’re creating networks of "innovation champions" in each village team within Carat to act as mentors and ambassadors. They will support each other and rotate frequently so that every member of staff will have a chance to play that role at some time. 

We’re supporting autonomy and mastery and celebrating effort instead of just success. One literal example is taking a moment in our weekly town hall meeting to share with the agency when we've tried something brave (even if it didn’t work out) so others can build upon the learnings. 

We invested a great deal of time at the end of last year analysing our clients and considering their challenges in the ever-changing digital economy. The aim is to explore proactive briefs which could benefit multiple clients. What we learn as we go may serve them all so that any brand who joins Carat gains from being part of our community of clients. Indeed, we aim to encourage our clients and partners to embrace these approaches alongside us. 

By the end of the three-year process we'll have the largest "innovation" team in the country – which everyone in Carat, and arguably at Dentsu Aegis will be a part of  a team who don't overuse and abuse the word but simply focus on actively partnering with our clients to grow their businesses. 

Now all that's left is to work out is what I'll be doing with my time, once I've made myself redundant.

This article appeared in Campaign on 22/04/16

Matthew Knight Matthew Knight head of strategic innovation London innovation
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