Get Back in the Box
Innovation from the Inside Out

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in DigitAll on 1 December 2005

Ever since he linked super-sticky trends with the genetic concept of “memes” in his book Media Virus, Doug Rushkoff’s rep as a top pop pundit has been scarily out of control. His new book, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out is full of advice for floundering corporate innovators trying to think outside the box: get back in it.

In fact, Get Back picks up where Rushkoff’s previous books left off, describing the media and business as a bazaar where individuals, cultures and institutions create, share, and propagate each other’s values. Now Rushkoff is putting his spin on corporate innovation with a new question: Is fun the key to business success?

Most people in business think of innovation as something new, different, and outside the scope of what they’ve done before. Real innovation is actually mining deeper into your true sources of competency and expertise to find new ore that you then bring up to the surface and apply.

You’ve got to love what you do to innovate. It’s not about extrinsic rewards. “Compensation” is a horrible word for payment because what are you getting compensated for? The pain of work!

The problem with the former understanding of innovation is that it’s anathema to expertise or continuity. It’s seen as turning a page, or stepping into a whole new world. That’s only desirable if you hate what you’re doing.

People who experience innovation as an abundant resource have no problem sharing what they’ve learned with anybody, collaborating with people who are supposed to be their competition, and letting in all sorts of influences. They understand that their employees and customers are the great experts in everything they’re doing.

Too many companies hire CEOs generically. The current CEO of Gap Inc. proudly announced, the moment he got the job, that he’d never worked in the garment industry before. To do that in your opening press conference shows that you actually have contempt for the industry you’re in. What he’s saying is: “This has nothing to do with garments. We’re not in the garment business, we’re in the media business, we’re in the Sarah Jessica Parker business…” Maybe that’s why H&M and Zara have overtaken Gap with a computerized model that practically connects their cash registers to their weaving looms. They understand their business pretty damn well. Innovation stems from management that actually has management in the particular industry they’re managing.

If you really want to be innovative, turn the entire company into an enthusiastic and passionate culture focused on the thing you make. It’s not the brand. People who work on Mr. Clean at Proctor & Gamble don’t shave their heads, and wear an earring and white T-shirt. They genuinely care about how ammonia works. Their whole culture is built around R&D.