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It was another fantastic Off the Record event at the 352 offices on February 20th. Our own Robert Berris, SVP of Innovation, sat down with business leader and 352 client, Yang Adija, VP, Business Operations and Strategy at Turner NBA Digital. In his role at NBA Digital – a joint venture between Turner and the NBA – Yang leads operations, strategy and tactics to drive NBA league initiatives.

Robert and Yang had a rich conversation about innovation at Turner Sports, and the challenges that come with creating an innovation practice in a mature organization who is facing industry disruption.

Skate where the puck is

Starting with Ted Turner’s early ground-breaking work in broadcast and cable, Turner has innovation in its DNA; however as the company grew, its priorities shifted. Yang told the crowd,

As you get bigger and take on more, you lose the ability to innovate. AdultSwim was probably our real last innovation, and that was over 20 years ago.

At a macro level, industry and consumer behaviors changed, with on-demand streaming changing the way viewers managed and consumed content. With the NBA as a forward-thinking partner, the NBA Digital team has made it their mission to find fans where they are, and own the digital NBA experience.

The innovation journey…and bringing leaders along

Yang noted that these market dynamics were the catalyst for conversations about innovation with Turner leadership. While it was important to come up with great ideas, that activity in and of itself wasn’t enough. Turner needed a process to show the business where it should go.

To get there, Yang and his team worked with 352 to develop a stage gate process to allow ideas to progress in a way that demonstrates which ones have the greatest likelihood of success. Critical to this thinking is knowing not just what success looks like, but also what needs to be learned at the start of each initiative. In engaging as many stakeholders as possible early and often in the process, it’s possible to overcome the innovation antibodies that exist in a mature organization. Yang added,

In the past, we would have tried to sell the large opportunity. Now we focus on the small movements, which reduces risk and keeps us from having large-scale failures. We can pump the brakes to make sure we are working on the right thing.

It’s those small wins that carry the momentum forward.

Standing up the process isn’t the end of the story

Yang shared that despite the innovation process being “done,” it was surprising to see how much ongoing sell-in is required to ensure alignment, buy-in and ongoing success. It’s not just the doing of the work, but also selling the work. Yang and his team are still working on executive buy-in, still working on rolling out the process within the larger Turner Sports organization, and still rewriting initiative pitches to tell great stories. It’s a balance of selling in and doing the work, helping leadership see that they are actually saving money by not taking bad ideas too far down the path. 

The stage gate process is helping to change the culture and mindset at Turner. It’s allowing the team to constantly make sure that projects align with strategies. Yang is always talking with his executive sponsor to make sure that the foundation of the process is strong, and that the “steel doesn’t shake.” He notes that most innovation should fail at early stages, when you are learning what the market needs. And that processes should be put in place not just for the sake of process, but to build a business.

Coming up next

We hope you enjoyed this Off the Record and you’re able to join us for our upcoming event featuring Ayana Johnson of Georgia Pacific’s Point A – Center for Supply Chain Innovation on March 19th

About Off The Record

What started in 2016 as an experiment to bring together 30 corporate innovators, turned into the largest corporate innovation community in the Southeast. Join our community of 600+ innovators today! To learn more, visit www.threefivetwo.com/events.

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352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.