Fast Company

Has Innovation Lost Its Meaning? Percolate's Noah Brier On Its True Definition

"For better or worse, the word 'innovation' has come to represent so much that it seems to have lost most of its meaning," says Noah Brier, cofounder of Percolate, a company that helps brands create content on a social scale.

So a few years ago, Brier decided to read some of the early writings of Josef Schumpter, the first person to really talk about innovation in the field.

"Reading his stuff really opened my eyes, as he had a very specific definition of innovation: The commercialization of an invention," says Brier. "In that way, he saw the act of innovation as totally separate from the act of invention, and in my interpretation, defined innovation as successfully finding a market for a new idea. Innovation is part of a process that involves creating something new (invention), figuring out how to commercialize it (innovation) and then actually getting to adopt it (marketing)."

Brier is one of the participants in Fast Company's upcoming Innovation Uncensored event on Wednesday, April 18, in New York City. The goal of the event is to provide you with meaningful business insights, to help you understand what's coming next, and connect you with creative leaders like Brier. Fast Company sat down with Brier to get a taste for what's to come and to hear more of his ideas about innovation, creativity, and how companies are using them in social media today. 

FAST COMPANY: Tell me more about Percolate.

NOAH BRIER: Over the last few years, brands have been collecting fans and followers across social channels, and now they're starting to realize they don't know what to say. I see the big shift in marketing as being the move from campaigns to a sustained communications strategy, and we're trying to help brands get there by building technology to manage and support their content creation on the web.

Creativity, to me, is about being open to ideas and observant of the ideas, experiences, and products that don't work quite right in the world (because those are the ones that need fixing).

How do you go about creating a culture of innovation? 

If you buy my definition above (which I do) then creating that culture involves both committing to inventing (or at least watching the market very closely) and then having a group of people in place with a keen understanding of the market dynamics and the ability to understand how to take an idea that is often half-baked and turn it into something the market will buy into.

What is the most important trait in a leader?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as I'm now leading a company. I think there are two and they're equally important: Vision and action. If you've just got vision, it's hard to have the respect of those acting, and if you are just acting it's hard to lead others with a path towards the future. I think when I think about the role of James [Gross, my cofounder] and I in the organization it's to lead by example in the action category and continually build and embed the vision throughout the organization.

If you could share only one thing about starting a company, what would it be? 

Other than "It's really hard," I would say, choose your cofounder wisely. Lots of people say that, but I don't think many people give specific criteria. In the year of Percolate's existence I think the single most important thing has been the ability of James and myself to have constructive arguments. We can go at it about the product or company and come out on the other end with a solution we both completely believe in. I don't think the company would still be around if we weren't able to do that or if one of us left the conversation in a tizzy and didn't speak for the next week. You can't take these things personally, we are both arguing from a place of passion and deep desire for the company to succeed. We have the same purpose and vision, and like any two people we disagree on occasion about the specific details of execution. That's healthy and normal and actually very positive. If you don't think you can argue with your cofounder you shouldn't start a company together.

What do you think is the biggest blind spot in leaders today, and how do you correct it?

I'm not sure I'm the best person to answer this, but I think there's always a danger in leadership that you lose touch with the organization. We're a small company (around 15 people) and I need to make an active effort to stay on top of what's going on. I've just recently taken to having no-meeting Wednesdays for myself where I just hang out in the office and catch up with people and on different tasks. I can imagine as the organization grows this will become more and more difficult and take more and more work on my part.

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Over the next few weeks, Fast Company is giving readers a sneak peek at some of the speakers and the ideas we'll be discussing at the conference. Brier will be speaking on our Brands as Content Creators panel at the event.

Here's a quick look at some of the other speakers featured at Innovation Uncensored.

  • Sarah Robb O'Hagan, President, Gatorade, a division of PepsiCo
  • Bob Bowman, President & CEO, MLB Advanced Media
  • Bob Lord, Global CEO, Razorfish
  • General (Ret.) Stanley A. McChrystal, U.S. Army; Cofounder, The McChrystal Group
  • Carol Cone, Global Chairman Business + Social Purpose, Edelman
  • Mark Crumpacker, Chief Marketing Officer, Chipotle Mexican Grill
  • Scott Roen, VP Digital Marketing & Innovation, American Express
  • Stefan Olander, VP. Digital Sport, Nike
  • Kate Brodock, CMO, Girls in Tech; Executive Director of Digital & Social Media, Syracuse University
  • Ajaz Ahmed, Founder and Chairman, AKQA

If you haven't registered yet, there's still time! Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

We invite you to share your own thoughts on innovation in the comments below or in our Innovation Uncensored LinkedIn Group. Join the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #IU12.

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1 Comments

  • Tom Grasty

    There must be something in the water on this one... I just posted @HuffPo my own thoughts on the difference between innovation and invention. Anyone who's interested: bit.ly/HhZWlz