Ep. 51 Driving Innovation and Leading Change - Perspectives from an Intrapreneur and Entrepreneur - with Jim Brady

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In today’s ever-evolving world, companies are realizing the importance of being agile, innovative and forward-thinking in order to stay relevant and keep up.

As an intrapreneur however, it can be difficult to drive that change inside an organization or even get buy-in for new ideas and processes. But even as an entrepreneur where you have much more control, driving towards the outcome you intended doesn’t always net out the way you expect. 

Jim Brady, former executive editor of WashingtonPost.com and CEO of Spirited Media, has been on both sides of the coin. He’s an innovator in media and journalism and has had the challenge of implementing progressive ideas and technologies on a large scale throughout his career.  

In this episode, Jim shares the lessons learned on what it took for him to create that momentum for change and innovation in his various roles -- because transformation doesn’t start with technology or systems and processes, it starts with building that winning team. 

A Career Path Driven by a Desire to Always Do Something Different 

Jim’s career has always been about pursuing opportunities that were interesting to him, where he could “get the chance to break some things” and accelerate and adapt. As such he’s had several roles not necessarily in an orderly sequence, but all of them built upon another and fulfilling his own personal need to always do something different. And these experiences have continually put him at the forefront of digital journalism. 

Jim started as a sports writer for the Washington Post before moving to the digital side and serving as their sports editor and eventually executive editor for WashingtonPost.com after its launch in 1994. He saw the web’s potential early on from the sports perspective: sports fans could get the information they wanted on their own schedules. This fueled Jim’s passion for the web and desire to explore other ways to leverage its potential, a passion which accelerated his career. 

By the time he entered the startup world in the mid 2010s, Jim had held several leadership roles in various organizations from serving as the head of News and Sports for America Online and General Manager of TBD, to Editor in Chief of Digital First Media, and President of the Online News Association. And under his leadership, these companies garnered prestigious accolades and were recognized for the innovative work they delivered.  

In 2014, Jim started his own venture, Spirited Media, which started as a mobile-focused local news firm and now is a consultancy helping media organizations make the transition into digital. 

As a result, Jim’s experience working across a variety of companies has given him a breadth and depth of experience in understanding how to effectively bring new ideas and approaches to life whether it’s inside a large organization or running your own business. 

Innovation Starts with a Winning Team - Not the Processes or Tech 

Being involved in sports naturally aligned to the pace and opportunities of digital and it fundamentally shaped Jim’s management and leadership approach when came to driving innovation both as an intrapreneur and entrepreneur.

The need to solve problems immediately while motivating your team and communicating that solution as succinctly as possible it critical because time isn’t on your side. 

And these leadership qualities on the sports field are what’s needed in the digital world. 

“You've got to get the team to be pulling in the same direction whether you inherit them, or you hire them... you can't get anywhere if you don't have a team that actually wants to achieve the same thing you want to achieve.”  

But to be an effective change-agent, you also have to be a player-coach and not manage from an ivory tower. It means diving in deep, understanding everyone's position, yet also giving them a voice - and to make sure their equipment works.

And like a well run team, it all comes back to eliminating silos to operate in an integrated and collaborative fashion, ensuring that there is alignment on the goals that everyone is bought into. 

Breaking Through the Inertia to Build Momentum for Change as an Intrapreneur or Entrepreneur

To be successful in today’s digitally driven environment, it requires fostering the right culture to create that momentum for change. 

Yet, the politics and power struggles that can ensue are never easy to manage or navigate. You’ll have naysayers, and your job will be to get them on your team. Focus on shifting the perspective of those who are willing to change, or who you believe have that ability to “get it,” by helping them not only see the benefits they will gain personally, but also demonstrating tangible progress and success that is continually being made. It’s creating that flywheel effect to build that forward movement to they can see your vision and understand its potential.

Jim’s advice is to run lean, don’t be afraid to pivot (and quickly), and recognize that your original plan may not yield the outcome that you were originally striving for. And that’s okay because in the end, you have to focus on what’s most important to really scale your business from a revenue standpoint. 

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Jim’s Career Advice

  • You have to always be willing to learn. Even if you don't like your job, there are things about it that will allow you to grow if you just pay attention. 

  • You take different things from different jobs and apply those to your future jobs whether you know it or not. 

  • Never focus on your own. Don't get too focused on your own little corner of this universe. Understand how the universe operates as well.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Whether you inherit or hire your team, everyone has to be pulling the same direction. you can't get anywhere if you don't have a team that actually wants to achieve the same thing you want to achieve. 

  • Be that player coach and spend the time to get to know the ins and outs of your team. Essentially “walk the floor”. Because when you give people the time they deserve and build those relationships, a lot of problems get solved or you’ll be better equipped to solve them. 

  • Know the people who are really the influencers regardless of what level they are at because they are the drivers of culture at the end of the day. 

  • Innovation can come in many forms and is so much more than the end product, service or technology you are creating. It can be a process like the way you hire new employees or how you aggregate experiences to service a specific audience. In the end, don’t limit yourself and don’t forget that to produce innovation, it starts with people.

  • Culture is everything when it comes to moving an innovative initiative forward. So focus on building a common ground across all levels so everyone feels vested and aligned to create the necessary momentum vs. treating naysayers like the enemy. But also be realistic in that you may not get them to see your perspective so you’ll have to find the best way to navigate the landscape. 

  • Look to shift some of the inertia around the status quo by targeting those “in the middle” - people who may not understand your vision and goals yet but want to - don’t spend your time on those who don’t get it and never want to. You’ve already got the ones who do get it.

    • Help “the middle” understand the idea by highlighting the benefits  on a personal level. In a way, appeal to their egos to show how the initiative will directly help them. 

    • Clarify the end benefit by demonstrating to actual tangible results that are occurring constantly. It's hard for people to really see the vision and the outcome of something that's completely new until you've got something real. 

    • If you have those people on the bus who are ready and excited to go, leverage their successes to showcase to others. This will help bring others on board.

  • If the culture shifts away from what it is you're doing and how you want to run things, there's not much you can do about that. The best thing you can do about it is identify it as quickly as you can and move on. 

  • As an intrapreneur and entrepreneur, it’s important to balance impact with operating lean. Your ability to produce great work and make incredible process can reflect an organization far larger than what you represent. 

  • Be willing to pivot quickly and at times on instinct based on what you’ve learned. Maybe the route you end up taking isn’t the one that is going to be the most lucrative or sustainable in the long run. But don’t get stuck on your intended path because “when people get stuck in the mud, it’s because they keep trying to start the same engine that isn’t firing the way they thought it would. And sometimes, you just need a new engine.”

  • If you’re raising dust, you can't ever be angry that it doesn't work out your way. It’s a high-risk environment. You have to build a mindset of whatever happens happens.

Resources:

  • Connect with Jim via Email 

  • Follow Jim on Twitter @jimbrady

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