02/22

Innovation in Radio is Stupid

It was a company district manager in Southern California who first observed the strange beverage that Starbucks’ competitors were offering – it was cold and frothy almost like a milkshake, but spiked with coffee.

“We should have something like this,” she told Starbucks’ International President Howard Behar, who agreed.

So Behar took the idea back to Seattle, where he was met with this reply: “We don’t do that at Starbucks. ¬†We’re in the coffee business.”

Behar took the bad news back to Dina Campion, the district manager who first suggested the odd beverage. ¬†Undeterred, she asked if she could test it in her stores anyway, and Behar said “sure.”

As reported in Jonathan Fields’ book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, sales were explosive – good enough for Starbucks head Howard Schultz to okay a broader test – one that in the long run created a multibillion-dollar-a-year product line called Frappacino.

Perhaps Google employee number 23, Paul Buchheit, put it best:

If you want innovation, it’s critical that people are able to work on ideas that are unapproved and generally thought to be stupid.

That was after Paul created a little product called Gmail.

There are two lessons in these stories, both crystal-clear:

First, your business category is usually broader than you think it is.

Second, probing the limits of your business category requires experimentation and play and testing and trying stuff that some folks in your organization are likely to label “stupid.”

All Christmas format – stupid.

A format that “plays everything” – stupid.

A show that eliminates music in the morning for the sake of information and entertainment – stupid.

A series of radio streams that complement your over-the-air station and is monetized separately from it – stupid.

A station name you haven’t heard a million times before – stupid.

A non-music station aimed at women – stupid.

Talk on FM – stupid.

A digital platform designed less as a station brochure and more as a solution to the problems of consumers and advertisers in your local community – stupid.

Trial and error and experimentation and passion and delight and Frappacinos and Gmail – stupid.

Right?

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