How did you define innovation at Kindred? How did you approach building the function and capability?
I find that the word innovation means so many different things to different people – from moonshots to product enhancements – and in some quarters it has become almost toxic. I actually try not to use it very much, to avoid the preconceptions that people may have, but it is still useful to define, perhaps just in order to avoid using the word. The definitions that focus on solving problems, creating new value and positive change are the ones that resonate with me most.
I introduced the concept of incremental/sustaining innovation at one end of a spectrum and strategic innovation at the other end. A small team (Kindred Futures) was created to look at strategic innovation, exploring trends and technologies that had the potential to impact the industry/company over something like a 2-5 year horizon and then to seek mutually beneficial partnerships, often start-ups, with whom to build exploratory prototypes to allow us to make more informed decisions about if and how to continue to explore the opportunity. The other end of the spectrum was devolved firmly to the ownership and responsibility of the product and business teams – formally giving them ownership of creating new value and positive change in their own spaces. We built some support mechanisms – processes and tools – to help identify and evaluate problems worth focusing upon and more creative or expansive ways of approaching them, and identified a network of 'champions', who became almost cheerleaders for innovation in different parts of the business. The champions were there to stop projects being shut down too early, before their potential was fully known.
What have been some of the challenges you've faced?
One of the biggest challenges at Kindred was probably the cultural challenge. Perhaps surprisingly for a gambling company, Kindred had quite a low appetite for risk and a low appetite for exploring new approaches and new concepts; this meant interesting or promising different approaches could be quickly shut down, before they had had a chance to develop or evolve. Changing the culture into one in which new ideas were celebrated and even expected, and resources would be devoted to further developing them, was no easy task – and is still very much a work in progress.
Tell us about your biggest success/achievement at Kindred.
I led work on a number of very exciting and challenging products and prototypes – from creating Virtual Reality poker games, to building Augmented Reality data visualisations, to conversational betting interfaces through Google Home, Alexa and Messenger and even biometric identity verification and open banking – but rather than any particular product launch or prototype build, I am probably proudest of the change in attitude and approach to creating new value I was able to initiate and nurture in the company as a whole. I certainly derive great satisfaction from seeing teams breaking free from 'corporate shackles' and embracing opportunities to approach problems and challenges in more expansive ways.