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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Adobe KickStart Innovation Workshop

I have attended the Adobe KickStart Innovation Workshop, which is the latest Adobe attempt to increase innovation in the corporation. You see, having a pyramidal structure where the top instructs the bottom, stifles initiative and sucks the life out of people was not working for them anymore. In all likelihood the move was sparked by Adobe not being in the list of top 100 most innovative companies and they took that to heart.

That being said (in a mean spirited, ranty and spiteful way, of course) I really liked Mark Randall, the guy that introduced the concept. You see, he is a rather brilliant entrepreneur, almost hugely successful several times and certainly above most business people I know of, who uses the ideas of Lean startups to create companies that "change the world". He is also kind of funny, in that personally distant way that Americans often display, but still funny and smart. He is as far away from the classical corporate vision as he could be, as he advocated structures that self organize under the scrutiny, but lack of involvement of the management. In a sort of "If you build it, he will come" sort of way, he thinks that if you create a system that allows for everybody to win, then people will automatically use it, improve on it and make it work, without the need for suffocating oversight. And that is what the KickStart project entails.

There is a lot to say about this, including my ongoing efforts in it (the two day presentation was just the preparation for the actual work, which I must do for myself), but I will keep this to a minimum. It could be enough to say that I really liked the idea, even if I completely disliked the presentation video, with all the diversely ethnic people excited about the opportunity to rise from the dirt by the all enabling Adobe. In truth, I opened my big mouth again asked Mark why the video sucked so much and he said that it was made in a day with only the people that could come on short notice. So I guess the excited people were actually the excited ones.

Anyway, let me summarize the concept of KickStart. You go to this two day preparatory presentation with Mark Randal where he gives everybody a red box containing the blueprint for a business. He lists the six steps that one must take in order to get the blue box, which I guess is the symbol of success. One of the most important ideas that can be taken from this process is that you do not need to do any actual development of the idea in order to validate its success. You get the idea, you share it with people, ask for feedback of the people that would use and/or buy your product, improve the idea, prototype something fast, without anything in the background, and iterate through this until you have some sort of metric of success: is your idea good? Would people use it? Would they pay for it? After you have changed the idea to conform to the realities of business and the clients needs and after you have gained support behind the idea, only then you get to make the actual development. In other words: gather data as fast as you can on the interest people have in your idea before you actually get to work. It's based on science: gather data, make a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, iterate.

Now, what does KickStart mean in the context of the corporation? It means they give you 1000$ (on a card that is valid only for the duration of the workshop - one and a half months) that you can use to further your business (like buying a domain and hosting, advertising, research, etc) and they want you to do the work that validates the idea. The sixth step is convincing the Adobe executives that your idea is good and not only that, but in sync with Adobe's strategy and values. What strategy and values, you ask? I could not answer that, neither could Mark Randall. The example business plan that won the blue box in another workshop was some kind of online challenge based on photos that where connected by their GPS location. And even if this really aligns with the Photoshop+mobile+creativity Adobe thematic, he still got to change the idea until it became something more marketable. You also have to fight out of the blue concepts like "Adobe doesn't do hardware" or "Adobe doesn't do games". Who comes up with these? Executives. They don't have an anti-porn charter, but they assume it's common sense not to pitch your newest Creative Sexuality idea.

And here is the kicker (pun intended): if your idea does not pass, you have gained invaluable knowledge as an innovator and a possible entrepreneur. If your idea does pass, you gain more support to expand on it, under the corporation protective umbrella (insert Resident Evil jibe here). In fact, if you are hugely successful, the business belongs to Adobe, not to you. It only makes sense, since they supported you from the beginning. And if it works, who else to run it and earn the big bucks but you? so I don't see it as a big problem, but you have to be aware of it.

Last but not least is the question: Who the hell is Mark Randall? He is the guy that in the 90's could have revolutionized the video and photo industries with little gadgets that they did with heart and a lot of work. He and his best friend Paul worked their ass off for five years (and here I mean off! They lived in their offices, even if they had rented apartments to live in) until they reached from a garage shop the size of a company that was going to go public for 650 million $. I won't spoil the story that Mark himself tells during the initial presentation, but enough to say that the feeling and vibe of those days he is trying to kindle into others, to make them live the same wonder - if they chose to.

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