Innovation Subscriptions

The concept of subscribing to something is an attractive way to build in practices to sustain innovative activities.

Whether it is for a magazine, film series, blog, wine club, or season ticket package — subscriptions can provide us with a means to engage with things we otherwise might not have due to the sustained exposure and commitment that they produce. This has real parallels to supporting innovation and creating or changing the culture of your organization.

Change-making for individuals, organizations, and communities alike comes through the enactment of habits. Once a behaviour becomes consistent and persistent the effort required to engage in it declines and the easier it becomes to do. In some cases, it becomes unconscious – we just do it. In groups or organizations this is what we call culture.

Creating Culture Change

Research on creating and maintaining cultures of innovation — real, sustained, productive change in the way things are done — suggests that its this persistence that is often lacking. The concept of ‘subscription’ model might be a way to change that.

I’ve had subscriptions to the theatre, sports teams, and magazines and can say definitively that I have engaged far more with the product, exposed myself to greater variety, learned more, gained more and for longer periods than I ever would have without one. It’s because there is a regularity to a subscription. Every six weeks over a period of 8 months there is a new performance for me to see. Every month a new issue pops up in my mailbox or three to five times a month I find myself at the stadium cheering my local professional soccer team.

Had I selected individual shows, issues, or games, I would have missed so much of the value of what a subscription brings.

Innovation is like that. By making innovation feel like a singular event — like doing a training on design thinking, a design sprint, or some single-day development education — we fail to subscribe. Learning — the heart of innovation — requires systems. Systems create structure and regularity. A subscription is a system that creates regularity that reduces your attention costs.

Setting Up Your Subscription Model

Here’s what a subscription model to innovation might look like using these principles:

  • A brand. A ‘branded’ experience that provides and delivers a consistent product in terms of quality. Whether it’s sports team’s badges, colours, and cheers or a magazine’s masthead, there are examples where the best subscriptions offer something consistent even if the actual content changes. Our favourite team might have a bad game or a certain issue might have fewer articles of immediate relevance. It’s the brand that keeps the experience consistent in its feel and quality. This is viewing innovation through the aesthetic lens.
  • Regularity. A regular cycle — a season, a time, a discernable pattern — of engagement is necessary. A monthly magazine arrives every 4-5 weeks. A ‘regular season’ in sports is called that because there is some regularity to it. An annual festival happens at consistent times of year, etc.
  • Contrast. What makes the best subscription experiences work well is that they marry the idea of an event with consistency and persistence. It’s the reason software subscriptions or your Netflix ‘subscription’ doesn’t feel the same as getting your monthly wine club selection. There is no contrast involved with something that is always on.
  • Surprise. Contrast can also lead to the changes in experience. You should find some surprises. Food box subscriptions are great for this because you might not know what’s inside for any given week. Surprises can feel good and are deeply human experiences. They draw our attention and they disrupt our regular ways of being, which is at the crux of what innovation requires at different points along the journey.
  • Direction. We invest in sports teams because they are consistent week-to-week with some exceptions (even if that changes sometimes season-to-season). A sporting season is like a story being told in 30, 40, 60 chapters. We want to see where things are going and that there is a destination even if that isn’t where we end up. To quote Bruce Lee “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at” . Useful subscriptions focus our aim.
  • Structure. A structure — a reliable mechanism for delivery — such as a program, a delivery schedule, or some dependable form of delivery is key. The home team stadium, the mailbox, the theatre, the box — these are all markers or affordances — that signify the brand and even the rituals we build around innovation.
  • Flexibility. Appropriate flexibility allows for adaptation, development, and growth of the innovation process itself. Consistent with the other principles of this subscription model, the best subscription will keep the focus, brand consistency, and promise through changes. It is about avoiding rigidity while maintaining persistence of delivery.

Taking a principled-approach to innovation creates a culture, ritual, and habit of innovation activities. It leverages lessons on methods, tools, material sources, and strategies and creates a means of engaging innovation consistently and that is what distinguishes real innovation impact. You can subscribe to that.

Dan Pink

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash and Davide Baraldi on Unsplash (and Dan Pink, too)

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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