The Struggle for Innovation at The New York Times

Writing in The Harvard Business Review, John Geraci talks about his attempts to innovate during his tenure as Director of New Products at The New York Times.

The Times is a perfect example of company-as-organism. Employees at the Times rarely go offsite for lunch or meetings. When you work there, your network is inside the building. That’s where all of the action is, where the valuable information is traded, where the battles are fought, and where the victories are won. When the Core Team or the Newsroom Team or the Beta Team finds a solution, it is a Times solution. Naturally there are inputs and outputs to the company, but like an organism, these are discrete—a mouth, a nose, an ear. At the Times, the Strategy Team pursues and manages strategic relationships for the company, takes in the resources needed to stay alive, and channels those to the rest of the organism. It’s the model of the companies our fathers and mothers worked at. And it worked great for them.

But in today’s world, it doesn’t. Companies with the organism mindset are too slow to adapt to survive in the modern world. The world around them changes, recombines, evolves, and they are stuck with their same old DNA, their same old problems, their same old (failed) attempts at solutions.

Geraci contrasts that with what he calls “the ecosystem mindset,” or a worldview that emphasizes how well an organization is connecting to what’s going on outside of its walls. Essentially, he makes the argument that the Times is too insular, and not sufficiently well-connected to what’s happening in the market.

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