Who is Responsible for Innovation?


August 2010

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos

Who is Responsible for Innovation?

Are you considering adding social media to your customers’ information portfolio? After seeing all the product videos on YouTube, are you thinking about adding basic or advanced video presentations? Have you finally decided that customers really don’t want 500-page PDFs, preferring to reference, download, or print one or more individual topics? Do you think that it’s about time to begin a minimalism project? How about that nagging feeling that you should be collaborating with the training organization or start meeting with customer support?

Or—have you never thought about introducing new ideas about the way you deliver information to customers? Are you not at all certain whether the delivery methods you now use are preferred by your customers or even acceptable? Are they making do? Or, would they prefer something entirely different? Have you surveyed your customers to find out how to best meet their needs?

As a reader of this newsletter, you have an opportunity to learn about what other organizations in information development are up to. Or, you may have attended the Best Practices or the Content Management Strategies conferences. At either of those events, you were most likely bombarded with new ideas.

I’ve heard too often that many come to the conferences or read the articles, only to head back home to the daily grind of getting the docs done in time to meet the deadlines. The same old docs that you’ve been doing for years!

Whose responsibility is it anyway to introduce innovations in information delivery?

For at least the past 5 years, we’ve been fixated on efficiency. We’ve introduced single-sourcing and XML-based authoring to reduce the time it takes to develop information. We’ve

been all about doing more with less. But what impact has all this efficiency had on the customers. In too many instances, it’s had no impact at all.

Efficiency gains may have little effect on usability or customer satisfaction. How many of our current innovations have been aimed at improving the information we prepare for customers?

A Serious Lack of Innovation

So—how has this sad state of affairs come to be? I argue that it’s not merely a factor of “too much to do, not enough time.” It’s a problem of leadership.

As managers, we’re consumed by a commitment to efficiency in performing the everyday tasks in our organizations. We manage effectively, introducing new tools and methods, streamlining editing and production tasks, eliminating anything we can get away with (good indexes, developmental editing, even basic copyediting). We have to get the basics right before we can move to something new, but there never seems to be enough time to initiate information innovations.

As leaders, we know that the status quo is definitely not good enough. If we don’t meet our customers’ changing needs, if we don’t help sell the product by reducing the mean time for customers to achieve an acceptable level of productivity with our products, we simply aren’t doing anything that will win customer accolades and help secure our jobs.

Look around at the staff members. Are they being exposed to innovations in information design and delivery? Do they attend conferences, workshops, or webinars? Are they encouraged to learn what the competitors are doing or what the best in class have up their sleeves?

Many technical writers come to the field with no previous exposure to information design. They can happily continue to do the jobs they were hired to do without exposure to innovations in information design. Many staff members view their jobs as just that—jobs. They continue to do the same work they have always done, updating the same volumes, adding to the same help systems, and going home at five o’clock. It never occurs to them to experiment or recommend a new approach.

The Solution—Promote Innovation

As a leader in your organization, you certainly cannot be solely responsible for innovation. But you owe it to your staff and to your customers to find ways to deliver better information in better ways.

If you attend outside activities, bring the ideas you’ve been exposed to back into your organizations. Set up work groups and give them responsibility to investigate innovative ideas, better understand customer needs, or collaborate with other customer-facing groups. Work really hard to get funding to send interested staff members to meetings, workshops, or even online webinars that focus on innovations in information design (not just new tools).CIDMIconNewsletter