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Drain Your “Shark Tank”

Posted On  November 18, 2013

My company isn’t innovative. At least, that’s what I heard two years ago. It was the summer of 2011, and I was having dinner with one of our best Silicon Valley clients to discuss why our relationship seemed to be waning.  After some thought, he shared that he had challenged his organization to be “innovative,” and that LRW wasn’t perceived as a very, well, innovative partner.

That critique from a close friend stung me, and sat with me as we were developing our longer-term strategic plans. I had to take a good, hard look: maybe we weren’t very innovative?

Up until that moment, I would have described LRW as an innovative company…sort of.  I would have cited our flexibility and custom solutions, our creativity, and our willingness to break the rules if it served our clients and our mission. Now, seeing what we have accomplished in the two years since with advances in Pragmatic Brain Science®, social media analytics, virtual reality and marketing science advanced modelling, I would assess our company circa 2011 as one that had the potential for innovation, but that hadn’t really figured out how to quite realize it.

In the spirit of sharing so that others might be able to alter their course of innovation and advancement, I can see three key things that have helped us along.

  1. We asked for innovation.
  2. We asked everyone to participate in our innovation efforts.
  3. We were willing to take risks and even fail.

Three months after that fateful dinner, at a company-wide meeting, we launched “innovation” as one of the five strategies that would drive our business.  That turned out to be a defining moment, because we didn’t know how much the desire for innovation was lying dormant, waiting to be unleashed.  More importantly, we also didn’t realize that without a call for innovation, we were sending a message that we thought the “status quo” was good enough.  At the most fundamental level, our new message for innovation told our organization that their leaders weren’t satisfied, and what we were doing wasn’t enough.  At a minimum, it was a call for change and growth.

We have since also learned that moment was important because we asked everyone to innovate.   Not just our senior team.  Not just an R&D group.  Everyone.  By asking everyone, we have identified a previously overlooked subset of people who had the skills, creativity, and drive to innovate.  So while in actuality, only a sub-set of the organization is probably driving most of our larger innovations, without asking everyone, we would not have found them.  For example, an employee who had been with us less than one year stepped forward to offer an innovation idea.  The idea didn’t pan out, but we saw his passion and skills and deployed him to create and launch our Social Media Analytics capability, which has grown tremendously. As noted innovation leader Robert Tucker (who I had the pleasure of meeting in April) proclaims as the title of his book: “Innovation is Everybody’s Business”.  Who knows where our next innovation will come from?

Lastly, we have been willing to try and fail.  My favorite was a failed effort called “Shark Tank”.  Stealing from the TV show, we created a monthly venue where any member of the organization could bring their “innovation case” to a public forum with the highest leaders in the company.  While the novel first episode drew a lot of attention, it wasn’t the right format for our organization and it wasn’t sustainable.  We couldn’t put innovation on a monthly cycle.  We drained the Shark Tank after four months.  But it may live on more importantly as a symbol of “failing forward” and a rallying moment of change.

We’ve still got a long way to go to become a strong innovation company, and to innovate at the pace required to achieve our own vision of being the “so what?”® company that uses consumer feedback to drive business impact.  But it is fun to look back on our successes and failures and see the progress in our evolution.


  1. Jeff – great post.

    As a participant in the first Shark Tank we had, I can attest that the energy surrounding innovation was palpable. But, it was interesting to see the different ways innovation emerges, and how it wasn’t as we initially predicted. Through the Shark Tank events, it was clear you cannot just say to people “Innovate now!”. Innovation comes from a constant lens of recognizing challenges and subsequent opportunities and, equally as important, being enabled to take action.

    So, while the Shark Tank wasn’t the engine of innovation, it granted permission to apply a proactive lens and take action when possible. It succeeded as both a rallying cry and a demonstration of how our culture embraces innovation. Though, while it ultimately failed, it taught us that innovation must come from inspiration, which strikes unpredictably. Opposed to ‘Innovation Events’, our learnings from the Shark Tank has helped create a culture of innovation, and that ‘always-on’ mentality has helped produce some of the biggest breakthroughs. I see it in these massive initiatives, as well as through the smaller tools my team builds that helps us become even more effective, efficient, and accurate, and I truly believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Hell, it’s also more fun.

  2. As a major sample and technology provider in the online research space, it is a bit of relief that a company like LRW is trying to push the envelope. I am constantly caught in-between a rock and a hard place delivering solutions to some of the great research companies in the world. In my experience, most are too comfortable and like the “status quo” others are too big and compartmentalized to move forward with company wide solutions as it pertains to problem solving, synchrony, and innovation. I wish LRW the best of luck, because most of the industry is looking up to you!

  3. Nice Post. I am a new bee in the Market Research world. But I would like to share my belief: Market Research need to be more innovative and should emerge out of the clutches of traditional research methods. To be successful researcher, there is need of keeping one leg in the deep research and analysis and not forget to dig your other leg in the implication of the research in the business. Being a follower of LRW, I wish them best for their 5th strategy ” INNOVATION”.


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