Innovation Tips from a Travel Guru | Automation.com

Innovation Tips from a Travel Guru

June 022009
Innovation Tips from a Travel Guru
June 2, 2009 by Rick Zabel

As an engineer, you may not think you could learn anything about innovation from a former travel agent. But this former travel agent was the founder of Travelocity.com, one of the few profitable dotcoms during the dotcom bust. Terry Jones, founder and previous President and CEO of Travelocity.com, was the keynote speaker at the recent Yokogawa Technology Fair and User Conference in Houston, TX.

Jones began his presentation by calling himself a .COMmunist, which he then defined as someone who revolutionizes business by making the old world obsolete…overnight. Innovative use of the Internet drastically changed the travel industry. Jones referred to Wikipedia's definition of the word innovation - a new way of doing something that ultimately creates value to a producer or customer. Today, 60% of travel is booked online.

As you know, not all dotcoms were as successful. More than 500 of them failed within two years. During that period, 100,000 jobs were created then destroyed. Jones introduced the "Dopeler Effect" when explaining the demise of so many dotcoms as "the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly."

One of Jones' biggest challenges was creating a robust, user-friendly interface for an old system, which is not unlike the situation with many automation systems today. According to Jones, "technique follows technology." Most inventors of new technology probably had some idea in their mind of how their technology would be used. However, none of them could likely anticipate the multitude of new techniques that would be developed for the applications of their technology. Jones says, "The key is escaping old ideas."

Jones goes on to say, "It’s not just about an idea - it’s about the willingness to try again and again, learning from mistakes, measuring (multiple times), funding, and politics." Jones says, "Ideas can come from anywhere in the company, but the best ideas usually come from the bottom of the organization." The challenge is overcoming the "Bozone Layer," which Jones defines as the "Layer of middle managers that stop good ideas from moving upward."

To innovate, Jones suggests creating small teams, no larger than what two pizzas would feed. Create an environment that breeds innovation. Since innovation requires fresh thinking, it requires new blood. "Today's graduates are tomorrow's employees...and technology is central to their world," says Jones. You need a balance of views - create teams made up of both fresh young minds and experienced veterans. Create a casual environment that breeds innovation. Based on Jones' experience, he recommends separating your organization structure so your innovative team reports directly to the CEO. The CEO carries the necessary clout, can approve projects quickly, can provide substantial air cover, and can support risk taking and failure. If the team fails, not one gets fired, but rather asked what they would like to do next.

Jones ended his presentation with a thoughtful quote from Arthur C. Clarke, a British science fiction author, inventor and futurist, "The future is a foreign country, they do things differently there."
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