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Listening For The Sounds Of Innovation

Posted: 09/14/2011 11:40 am

This is the third instalment of a five part series: Reflections from WPP Digital's unconference Stream.

Today we hear from SoundCloud about how to get out of the media echo-chamber and into the real world; where sound means business.

If you were at Stream, you'll know me as the Bat Sex Lady.

Playing the sounds of bats mating might have seemed like a cheap ploy to get people to a discussion session (bat sex sells!), but my demonstration had a serious point. Sound is surprising, exciting and just as engaging as a picture or video. We can use sound to tell people stories rather than forcing them to reach for the mute button.

As a discussion leader at this unique "unconference" I explored and discovered a spectrum of topics from choice architecture, to public data for good, to the state of the publishing industry. I took part in a discussion where journalists from Wired, TechCrunch and The Guardian answered the questions instead of asking them.

From these disparate conversations with many fascinating people, I took away a single thought: innovation happens when we find solutions to simple, human problems.

Right now tech is hot. Blogs are bursting with stories from the latest start-ups, new companies that are so bleeding edge you'll need a transfusion after beta testing their product. But what is it they actually do? What problem do they solve? And is it a problem that actually needs a solution? In my view, something is only truly innovative if it makes people's lives better. Period.

I'm part of a start-up that's growing at break-neck speed. We spend long days trying to solve the simple, human problem we have set ourselves: how can we find better ways to help people share the sounds they've created with one another?

We constantly build, test and iterate to find unique ways to tackle this problem. Our developers create tiny, explosively beautiful solutions deep in the lines of code that make our platform faster and more stable. Our "undevelopers" find new ways to mold the platform to the needs of our community of more than seven million sound creators, to solve their problems.

Our product is the aggregate of these solutions, both digital and emotional, bound together by a single idea: we believe sound is social and that it has the potential to be as important as video or photos both on the web and in our lives.

Right now we're inventing ways to share sound across the web that weren't possible even a moment ago. We constantly have to keep our ever-growing community happy. For us, case studies are anathema; what was true yesterday isn't always the case today.

I've worked in other industries before tech and truly believe the start-up approach could benefit companies in every sector. How do you do it? Here's a few tenets I work by:

• Hire smart, kind people who understand their domain better than you: we can't all be a master of everything

• Constantly make small things -- experiment, experiment, experiment

• Test... and if it doesn't work make sure you understand why it didn't

• Take a step back and assess the wider context. Focus on the idea first before moving to execution

• Make sure the implementation is sharp, cohesive and legible -- great ideas mean nothing without a sure-fire delivery

• Don't get caught up by the novelty of newness. Innovation isn't about doing what's possible, it's about doing what's useful.


A final takeaway for me came from listening to Sir Martin Sorrell talk about macro-economic issues at Stream. I was reminded that in the tech world we need to avoid getting trapped in the echo-chamber of our own discipline. Only by understanding the world around us and taking immediate action can we solve simple, human problems. And listening to the sound of bats having sex every once in a while.

Caroline Drucker is the Partnership Marketing Manager at SoundCloud, the leading social sound platform on the web.

 
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