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What Is Innovation, Anyway?

What Is Innovation, Anyway?

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

July 24, 2018

“Innovation is nothing without creativity and storytelling,” says Thomas Jorion. He gives us a simple definition of the term and explains how it’s inextricably tied to our imaginations.

"But the key challenge now is changing mindsets—a much bigger task than merely connecting startups."

Thomas Jorion, head of Havas X’s Los Angeles unit, explains his love-hate relationship with the word “innovation.”

 

So, tell us your story.

Do you know how centralized and elitist business schools in France are? I like to believe I have an amazing story in opposition to this environment. It be might be supported by my internet- fame generation. LOL.

I am from Bordeaux, and I went to university to study economics and finance. My charismatic financial analysis professor, my first boss in finance in Paris, and a couple of key people at Havas made this funky journey of mine possible.

The last major jump was leaving the European investment banking industry five years ago to open an innovation unit in Los Angeles for Havas. Havas, in addition to other agency holdings, was actually under my purview in financial analysis, and I spent quite a lot of time advising investors (equity funds, hedge funds, private bankers) on this specific changing industry.

How do you describe what you do for a living to others who are not in the industry?

It’s difficult enough to explain it to someone who is in the industry. The main reason for this is that the media industry is so focused on the distribution side that if your job description does not include video, social, etcetera, it doesn’t fit the existing structure.

But basically, my job is to understand the communication ecosystem in order to anticipate where the market will be in an actionable midterm. So, I collaborate with academics and entrepreneurs to understand and engage in new business areas for Havas, its clients, and now Vivendi businesses. People tend to stop listening at “I scout and work with startups,” which is the tip of the iceberg.

Tell us about 18 Havas.

18 Havas, now part of the larger global innovation unit Havas X, provides thought leadership and actionable insights for brands, beyond buzzwords, to adapt to the upcoming market structure.

I think there is one thing to understand regarding 18 Havas: our mindset. We are not experts; we are not vertically focused on a specific business or technology; and we basically don’t have the answer. But at the same time, I’ve not had the right answer so many times in my life if I think back to my previous life in finance. I believe this is true because our analysis is based on an ecosystemic convergence. The market tells us where it’s going. Don’t ask a large retailer or a global bank where its industry or business is going. Look instead at all the signals, the vectors of change, how they converge, and where they converge. You’ll get a pretty good picture of what’s going to happen, with a good dose of skepticism. Our approach has been strongly reinforced by our collaboration with Alex McDowell, the production designer famous for building 2054 Washington, D.C. for Steven Spielberg in Minority Report, and the most inspiring, brilliant, and still humble, person I’ve interacted with.

How are you changing the industry?

Four years ago, I would have focused on the startups that we scouted and connected to Havas for business. But the key challenge now is changing mindsets—a much bigger task than merely connecting startups.

Advertising agencies, as much as their clients, are facing their first major disruption. We are quickly moving beyond screen. Technologies such as AR and voice are making the homepage obsolete. All AI developments to make human-machine interactions smarter are converging in the same direction. Digital and physical environments are blending. Content is moving from one platform to another, from one form to another, based on consumer interactions. We have to rebuild brand ecosystems that had their success 50 years ago.

What, exactly, is innovation?

I definitely have a love-hate relationship with this word. To me, innovation is strategy—it’s business strategy. Most of the time we just need to flip the equation, no need for major tech innovation. You can take the same assets and change the way you perceive the business, its monetization, and consumer behaviors. “Price the consumer and not the product,” as people say.

But overall I think there is a value gap in this word “innovation.” Since we’ve all heard that innovation is everywhere and decentralized, it has lost its meaning. It is now perceived as a commodity because the access to information has been drastically opened up. It does, however, demand specific transversal economic skills.

 

"Creativity needs a platform. It needs a system to hack, to evolve in, and to expand in."

Why is it so important?

We tend to talk about the importance of innovation because the perceived normal state of things is stillness, but it doesn’t make any sense. The normal state of things is movement. And the more the volume, the velocity, and the variety of information increases, the faster the acceleration and the speed and scale of change. I like to believe that the greatest challenge today is to help a 20,000-employee company adapt and not to launch a 20-person startup.

How do you promote innovation?

We promote market change, so I have two answers to that. The first is to find whatever format is relevant so that your diverse audience to engage with what you have to say. For some, it’s a thick, 100-page report, and for others, it’s a few slides or even a 10-minute, face-to-face meeting.

The second point is the need to provide a story. Innovation needs storytelling. We have leveraged different assets over the last few years, from bringing a highly successful social media celebrities in front of some of our teams to developing a brand new story around smart cities involving several cultural references. Like everyone, we face a saturated market with too much information. We have to stand out.

How do you convince hesitant clients to innovate and try something new?

You show the whole picture. You demonstrate that it’s not playing with a useless new buzzword, but it’s changing mindsets. Innovation to me is like climate change. You know it’s important, but you can’t touch it because it’s not concrete; it’s a macro term that may not seem related to you and your daily life—even though it is.

As with the fight against climate change, you have to make people touch it, connect it to divergent local events, and translate it to culture. So, we have had much better success impacting organizations when we brought them closer to a more tangible form of innovation, such as through our own learning expeditions that we organize in Los Angeles and throughout California for our clients.

How are creativity and innovation connected?

Creativity needs a platform. It needs a system to hack, to evolve in, and to expand in. This links back to my reference to Alex McDowell and how he built the world for Minority Report. There was no script to kick it off, but he built a world where stories could emerge and expand. There could have been tons of stories in this same world. The relationship works both ways, as described. Innovation is nothing without creativity and storytelling. You need creativity to redefine the rules. If you keep marginally iterating on an existing system without creativity, it’s not innovation to me.

What do you wish that you knew when you started out in the industry?

Educating people is 80% of the job. Ideas and storytelling are everything, and the whole communication industry will be challenged soon, if not already, by its heavy focus on distribution.

What’s your must-see in Los Angeles?

I am a big fan of the Venice Beach Boardwalk. I know it’s a sketchy, weird, postcard-type place, but I really appreciate the great mix of people you can see there: locals, tourists, skaters, surfers, the new entrepreneur and geek community. But you can also see the escalating homeless community, which is an important challenge in L.A. I spend time photographing the place, and it just amazes me every time.

"But the key challenge now is changing mindsets—a much bigger task than merely connecting startups."

Thomas Jorion, head of Havas X’s Los Angeles unit, explains his love-hate relationship with the word “innovation.”

 

So, tell us your story.

Do you know how centralized and elitist business schools in France are? I like to believe I have an amazing story in opposition to this environment. It be might be supported by my internet- fame generation. LOL.

I am from Bordeaux, and I went to university to study economics and finance. My charismatic financial analysis professor, my first boss in finance in Paris, and a couple of key people at Havas made this funky journey of mine possible.

The last major jump was leaving the European investment banking industry five years ago to open an innovation unit in Los Angeles for Havas. Havas, in addition to other agency holdings, was actually under my purview in financial analysis, and I spent quite a lot of time advising investors (equity funds, hedge funds, private bankers) on this specific changing industry.

How do you describe what you do for a living to others who are not in the industry?

It’s difficult enough to explain it to someone who is in the industry. The main reason for this is that the media industry is so focused on the distribution side that if your job description does not include video, social, etcetera, it doesn’t fit the existing structure.

But basically, my job is to understand the communication ecosystem in order to anticipate where the market will be in an actionable midterm. So, I collaborate with academics and entrepreneurs to understand and engage in new business areas for Havas, its clients, and now Vivendi businesses. People tend to stop listening at “I scout and work with startups,” which is the tip of the iceberg.

Tell us about 18 Havas.

18 Havas, now part of the larger global innovation unit Havas X, provides thought leadership and actionable insights for brands, beyond buzzwords, to adapt to the upcoming market structure.

I think there is one thing to understand regarding 18 Havas: our mindset. We are not experts; we are not vertically focused on a specific business or technology; and we basically don’t have the answer. But at the same time, I’ve not had the right answer so many times in my life if I think back to my previous life in finance. I believe this is true because our analysis is based on an ecosystemic convergence. The market tells us where it’s going. Don’t ask a large retailer or a global bank where its industry or business is going. Look instead at all the signals, the vectors of change, how they converge, and where they converge. You’ll get a pretty good picture of what’s going to happen, with a good dose of skepticism. Our approach has been strongly reinforced by our collaboration with Alex McDowell, the production designer famous for building 2054 Washington, D.C. for Steven Spielberg in Minority Report, and the most inspiring, brilliant, and still humble, person I’ve interacted with.

How are you changing the industry?

Four years ago, I would have focused on the startups that we scouted and connected to Havas for business. But the key challenge now is changing mindsets—a much bigger task than merely connecting startups.

Advertising agencies, as much as their clients, are facing their first major disruption. We are quickly moving beyond screen. Technologies such as AR and voice are making the homepage obsolete. All AI developments to make human-machine interactions smarter are converging in the same direction. Digital and physical environments are blending. Content is moving from one platform to another, from one form to another, based on consumer interactions. We have to rebuild brand ecosystems that had their success 50 years ago.

What, exactly, is innovation?

I definitely have a love-hate relationship with this word. To me, innovation is strategy—it’s business strategy. Most of the time we just need to flip the equation, no need for major tech innovation. You can take the same assets and change the way you perceive the business, its monetization, and consumer behaviors. “Price the consumer and not the product,” as people say.

But overall I think there is a value gap in this word “innovation.” Since we’ve all heard that innovation is everywhere and decentralized, it has lost its meaning. It is now perceived as a commodity because the access to information has been drastically opened up. It does, however, demand specific transversal economic skills.

 

"Creativity needs a platform. It needs a system to hack, to evolve in, and to expand in."

Why is it so important?

We tend to talk about the importance of innovation because the perceived normal state of things is stillness, but it doesn’t make any sense. The normal state of things is movement. And the more the volume, the velocity, and the variety of information increases, the faster the acceleration and the speed and scale of change. I like to believe that the greatest challenge today is to help a 20,000-employee company adapt and not to launch a 20-person startup.

How do you promote innovation?

We promote market change, so I have two answers to that. The first is to find whatever format is relevant so that your diverse audience to engage with what you have to say. For some, it’s a thick, 100-page report, and for others, it’s a few slides or even a 10-minute, face-to-face meeting.

The second point is the need to provide a story. Innovation needs storytelling. We have leveraged different assets over the last few years, from bringing a highly successful social media celebrities in front of some of our teams to developing a brand new story around smart cities involving several cultural references. Like everyone, we face a saturated market with too much information. We have to stand out.

How do you convince hesitant clients to innovate and try something new?

You show the whole picture. You demonstrate that it’s not playing with a useless new buzzword, but it’s changing mindsets. Innovation to me is like climate change. You know it’s important, but you can’t touch it because it’s not concrete; it’s a macro term that may not seem related to you and your daily life—even though it is.

As with the fight against climate change, you have to make people touch it, connect it to divergent local events, and translate it to culture. So, we have had much better success impacting organizations when we brought them closer to a more tangible form of innovation, such as through our own learning expeditions that we organize in Los Angeles and throughout California for our clients.

How are creativity and innovation connected?

Creativity needs a platform. It needs a system to hack, to evolve in, and to expand in. This links back to my reference to Alex McDowell and how he built the world for Minority Report. There was no script to kick it off, but he built a world where stories could emerge and expand. There could have been tons of stories in this same world. The relationship works both ways, as described. Innovation is nothing without creativity and storytelling. You need creativity to redefine the rules. If you keep marginally iterating on an existing system without creativity, it’s not innovation to me.

What do you wish that you knew when you started out in the industry?

Educating people is 80% of the job. Ideas and storytelling are everything, and the whole communication industry will be challenged soon, if not already, by its heavy focus on distribution.

What’s your must-see in Los Angeles?

I am a big fan of the Venice Beach Boardwalk. I know it’s a sketchy, weird, postcard-type place, but I really appreciate the great mix of people you can see there: locals, tourists, skaters, surfers, the new entrepreneur and geek community. But you can also see the escalating homeless community, which is an important challenge in L.A. I spend time photographing the place, and it just amazes me every time.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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