The innovation team, R.I.P.

For years, innovation teams always got the short end of the stick: the responsibility for the future of the organization, but without the power to achieve it. Worse, without strategic direction from the top and shackled by innovation processes that end in a management conference room, these teams were set up to fail. You might be forgiven for suspecting that news companies are more interested in appearing innovative than actually doing something new.

Working on “innovation” inside a newsroom can be a thankless job, not the least because it tends to be driven by the deceptive whims of the tech industry. There’s a long list of tech trends that arrived under the banner of “revolutionizing the news” only to whimper out in a pile of burned money: chatbots, blockchains, 5G, live audio, the creator economy, web3, etc. (The jury is still out on AI and the metaverse.)

A reckoning is overdue. There are a lot of big, systemic problems in this industry that won’t be solved by tech. And as long as the media industry is keen on outsourcing its own futures to California, it won’t be able to build its place in them.

Maybe we can start killing the innovation team in 2023 and instead take responsibility for the future of this industry. At the very least, there’s a need for a different kind of strategic unit in media organizations — one that can go beyond mere innovation and towards actual change.

Johannes Klingebiel is a designer and researcher at the Media Lab Bayern in Germany.

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