Expert Insight: 'Innovation Comes And Goes With Fashion And Economic Cycles'

We talk to Rebecca Evans, Head of Innovation at Emerald Group Publishing


Ahead of her presentation at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London on April 25 & 26, we spoke to Rebecca Evans, Head of Innovation at Emerald Group Publishing.

Rebecca combined her experience in publishing with her passion for technology and design thinking as the first Head of Innovation for global academic publisher Emerald. She believes that innovation isn’t something that sits locked up in a specialist team; to change the culture of innovation you need to include staff across an organisation.

Do you think what we used to call innovation has actually become a transformational process and why?

Innovation comes and goes with fashion and economic cycles: innovation units can be the first to get cut as belts tighten. To remain relevant in the workplace it has to add value, transforming a business, product or service is one way to do that.

Innovation by nature is a disruptive activity; having new ideas and making them happen challenges the status quo within businesses. If that makes it a transformational process I can only celebrate its new name!

How have the realities of operating within your organisation impacted your innovation goals?

When I first started working in innovation, I struggled with a two-speed model. Basically, how can we innovate quickly alongside having a long-term business planning model? This has been much less of an issue lately, as businesses use agile methodology such as sprints as part of long-term planning and development.

My original goals were all about culture change – embedding practices and principles, though there is always influencing to be done, it is not at the same level. 

What impact has new technology had during the development your innovation plan?

For me, the biggest change to innovation hasn’t been the actual technology but the processes that support them. At Emerald Group Publishing we have been going through an agile transformation which has involved change across structures, processes as well as bringing on board new technology. We have integrated innovation within agile cycles – beforehand it was an innovation team that ran sprints, now this is business as usual for product development. This has been great in many ways – mainstreaming innovation frameworks, language and practices. 

Do labs and partnerships offer businesses opportunities that in-house innovation doesn't and why?

Absolutely! I see labs and partnerships as a brilliant way to scale up and accelerate innovation. I have written about this for Publishing trade magazine The Bookseller. Have a read of this article on partnerships: and this one on labs – our version of Google Ventures Design Sprints:

Do you believe that technological advancements will change the way that the economy operates in the near future, and will this have a profound impact on your innovation objectives?

Yes, I believe that technological advancements will continue to have a profound impact on innovation objectives; as it will on the rest of the economy. Digital is now default; this has changed the skills people need. Curiosity, creativity, problem solving, understanding user needs and designing solutions – these are all core innovation skills and ones that the digital workplace demands from staff. They are also the skills hardest to automate and least likely to be affected by technological advancements in machine learning and AI. I believe that innovation will become more mainstream as we keep pace with technological advancements. Everyone will need an innovation skillset to stay relevant. 

You can catch Rebecca's presentation at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London on April 25 & 26.

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