Innovation Roadtrips

What the Innovation Roadtrips are all about

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One of the things we (as in: people in the media business) are really good at is thinking that we are special. That it is only our business being disrupted; that no other industry feels the pains and faces the challenges we do.
That often leads us to watching our immediate competitors closely and copying their moves, but rarely venturing out to see how other countries, cultures and industries are coping with change and are embracing innovation. We become competitor-focused instead of customer-focused, a move that makes us slow and complacent. And we miss the chance to learn from other industries and people who recently faced similar challenges.

Since we came back from our year in the US in 2012, a question became dominant in our lives: What people, infrastructure and circumstances does innovation need? How can creativity and “out of the box”-thinking be fostered in existing or new entities? How do we change our perspectives to adapt to new conditions, and how might we help our teams or others to do the same?
We both took a different approach to these issues: Working to change organizations from the inside (Anita), trying the same from the outside (Klaus). We both learned a lot in those years. We succeeded with many things, but we also failed with others.

Innovation needs dedicated people

And we became convinced that there is a part in the innovation discourse that is often left out, but really important: The part about the people involved. You can buy the newest gadget and software for your company, but if you don’t help the people who are supposed to use it change their ways, it won’t be money well spent. You can get consultants and advisors on board, but they will be bound to fail if you are not willing to redesign your organizational structure and habit. You can talk about innovation, but it won ‘t have impact unless you as a leader are willing to change yourself and give people freedom for creativity. This goes for cities as well as companies, for start ups as well as corporations, for universities as well as other communities.

So what is our plan for the next three months?

We will do Innovation Roadtrips that take us to places we feel we (and our readers/followers) can learn from. We like to call it: The search for the DNA of innovation. We will talk to people who managed to change their point of view on the business they are doing, to organizations who drive change in their community, to change makers and designers, managers and city councils, leaders and founders. We will be industry-agnostic, meaning that the focus on innovation and change is the path that will guide us, not a single cluster of the economy. (But given our personal interest, you can expect some media related posts, too).
We will use this blog to write about our findings, and we hope to get as many hints und suggestions from the social media community as well.

The trip and how you can be part of it

Our first trip starts on February 10th, and it will take us to:
Malmö, Sweden – Copenhagen, Denmark – Amsterdam, The Netherlands – San Francisco, California – Austin, Texas. If you are from one of those places, or know an innovator we have to meet there, please be in touch – we’d love to hear from you! During our trip, we will also show you the places we visit on a map.
Until then, we will publish some blogposts about our view on change and innovation and elaborate on some of the questions we ask ourselves. We are going to search for the DNA of innovation, and we are excited if you want to be part of that search.


  1. Saleem Khan

    February 1, 2015 at 1:34 PM

    This is a welcome effort, and I hope it yields lessons that we can — and do — apply to journalism.

    In 2005, I came to the same conclusion as you, and abandoned seeking answers within media. Instead, I started spending time with startup founders, designers, developers, business professionals, artists, and anyone else who would have a conversation with me. I learned a lot. I did this all with the goal of bringing what I had learned back to journalism.

    I also learned that most news organizations were unwilling to take even small risks to try new things, even when they know they need to change. When I said we need to do things differently, try new approaches, and experiment, people literally laughed at, dismissed or ignored me.

    Now, many of the things I advocated or proposed are starting to happen. But resistance remains.

    It took over 25 years for what we now call “data journalism” to become a mainstream practice. I hope that our urgent need to change journalism is a challenge we meet much faster, and that what you discover on your trips is given due attention and adoption.

    Safe, productive travels — I’m looking forward to following along!

  2. Robert Franken

    February 1, 2015 at 4:02 PM

    What a fantastic outset for a journey towards the true parameters for innovation across different industries! As you put it: It’s not about your vertical’s peers, but about the customer. Or, as the Nike CEO Mark Parker elaborates: “I always like to say that we focus on our potential and the distance between where we are and our potential, not the distance between us and our competition.”

    I am really looking forward to reading about your insights, stories and findings. Have a safe trip!

  3. Michelle Holmes

    February 1, 2015 at 7:51 PM

    Fantastic journey. Can’t wait to hear the answers. So happy ya’ll are stepping beyond journalism. We need to end this insularity if we are going to survive in the modern world.

  4. Anita Zielina

    February 2, 2015 at 10:19 AM

    Thank you for you helpful and supporting comments! Klaus and me appreciate it, and look forward to your continuing feedback.

  5. Tom Mandel

    February 2, 2015 at 5:37 PM

    Anita — Terrific project! I look forward to what you come up with. Do you know Howard Becker’s book Art Worlds ( It would make a very interesting companion on these journeys. About “cooperative networks” of creativity (i.e. more generally than the specific “innovation” meme), but I think it’d be very interesting for you. Hope to see you some time this Spring!

  6. Jochen

    February 2, 2015 at 5:51 PM

    Congratulations – an exciting mission and a promising start.

    Based on my own observations, I have a thesis that you may want to examine during your travels: Innovation does not emerge from “Think Tanks”.

    Many corporates — Deutsche Bank, for example — take pride in relatively thorough “innovation management” — experiments with Design Thinking, Prototyping, crowdsourcing, startup relations; smart people, no doubt, doing smart things. Across the hallway, however, in the lines of business, the experience is more like what you’d expect: cost containment, a calculus based on hierarchy and status, silo egoisms, councils delegating responsibility backwards, risk aversion. Often heard: “A good idea, yes, but…”. Over time, the trench grows deeper, innovators are branded as theorists, and in practice, nothing much changes. It’s my belief that labs and “think tanks” produce, at best, ideas; true innovation, however, can only be found where the day-to-day decisions are made, where product ownership is, where daily operations are run.

    The question, of course, remains: How do we inject the spirit of innovation where it really matters? Is it only about the character and charisma of the individual, or what can be done systemically? I’ll keep spinning these questions and I’m looking forward to your take on any answers.

    Good luck!

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