M&E Connections

WiTH @ Smart Panel: Innovation Remains Challenging Across All Organizations

Regardless of the size or maturity of a business — and even across all media, entertainment and marketing channels — innovation continues to be a challenge that transcends all business units within an organization.

That’s according to technology executives who spoke earlier this month during a Women in Technology: Hollywood (WiTH) Innovation Panel session at the Smart Content Summit in Los Angeles.

Early in her career, Jane Chung, GM of video game developer and publisher Riot Games, thought innovation was all about being the ideas person, she said. However, over the past few years, Chung has come to realize that innovation means “not just coming up with the great ideas.” After all, “often times you won’t” be able to come up with great ideas, she said. Instead, “innovation is more the process of finding those great ideas and converting them to great value for an end user,” she told attendees.

“You need to constantly innovate for your customers; you need to constantly be aware of what they want and what’s interesting — and innovation is really relevant to our company,” she said.

There is no lack of great ideas and entrepreneurs, according to Chung. One major challenge is matching capital to the entrepreneurs who have those great ideas, she told attendees, adding: “I hope we can solve that problem.”

One thing that “could encourage more innovation and more creativity,” meanwhile, is “allowing women to fail more often,” she said. That would, of course, mean that women are being given more opportunities than they are now.

A problem that Chung said she has seen at larger companies is a “tendency for meetings to proliferate group think.” To reduce that, she suggested organizations become more discriminating about who is participating in a meeting — especially important meetings such as when projects are being greenlit. Don’t just include the same old people in the same type of meetings because you will just wind up with the same old ideas instead of innovation and “that complacency is what builds that group think,” she said.

Innovation, meanwhile, is all about “disruption” to Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia, founder and CEO of both PlayWerks, an interactive media and gaming company that teaches Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEAM) through gaming, and WhizGirls Academy, an organization that teaches kids computer coding skills through hackathons

“Disrupting industries is really important,” Salemnia told attendees, noting: “There’s so many industries that need to be disrupted.” Pointing to the education tech sector she is part of, she noted: “That’s a big, huge space that needs massive disruption.”

However, “unfortunately, right now, disruption is the function of innovation plus capital,” according to Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed & Spark, a film-centric crowdfunding platform. “There are tons of disruptive ideas in industries that need to be disrupted,” but there are a lot of women who can’t get the capital for their innovative and disruptive ideas, she said.

It is, meanwhile, important to focus on the human part of the equation, regardless of the tech being used, she said. Her company’s crowdfunding platform’s process is “human-centered,” so there is a person that actually reviews a project and lets the content creator know what will work and what won’t work, she noted.

There is also “a limit to the innovation that can be achieved by crowdfunding if we don’t deeply invest in the education of the people who are using it,” Best said.

Her funding and distribution platform for creative works was “built to increase equity and inclusion in entertainment and culture” and also “built to optimize the cultural impact of the work our creators make,” she told attendees. Its crowdfunding platform has a high campaign success rate and “we’ve helped more than 2,000 creative works raise close to $26 million,” she said, adding her company also runs a national education program.

Seed & Spark offers a couple of different strategies for its creators’ work, she also pointed out. One involves event-based distribution across the U.S. and the other is in the workplace, which is the “most diverse place most people actually spend their time,” so her company is taking creators’ work there, she said.

There is also plenty of room for innovative technology in the cosmetics sector, according to Marina Cortazzo, head of information technology at cosmetics company Anastasia Beverly Hills. Her sector has been increasingly taking advantage of social media to promote its products in recent years, she told attendees. It is increasingly all about “being aspirational [and] about creating videos” and tutorials, she said.

Like Chung, Cortazzo’s definition of innovation has changed somewhat over the years. “When I was younger, I used to think innovation and invention were the same thing,” she said. However, she has come to see them as “completely different,” she noted, adding: “What innovation means to me is really helping people solve problems” — not just when it comes to products, but also to process and people.

It “can be overwhelming” for a company to try and innovate, but she explained that innovation can be done in many different ways. For example, she said, innovation can be done by just making minor changes over time. There is also architectural innovation in which you take things that exist already and put them together in a different way or make them available to a different market, she said, pointing as examples to the Apple iPod and memory foam that was first used in aeronautics and then adapted for use in bedding products. And then there are disruptive innovations and “radical” innovations like the Internet and the telephone, she pointed out.

Panelists also said they are seeing a growing demand for interactivity including augmented and virtual reality, and strongly suggested that organizations make sure they create environments in which their creative teams feel safe to suggest ideas and disagree with others on their teams.

Christina Lee Storm, VP of business ops, strategy and emerging tech at DreamWorks Animation, was also on the panel during the session, which was moderated by Rachel Souder-Arguedas, president of the WiTH Foundation and executive director, enterprise innovation at Sony Pictures Entertainment.