Technology Innovation Insights ™

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How Nielsen Company has Institutionalized an Innovation Mindset

by Alex Jarett

Summary of a presentation delivered by Patrick Holly, Technology Director & Innovation Lead

When you think of an Innovation process, I believe the most common thought is one of idea generators and trackers, idea incubators and such. It’s also common to think of “innovators” as Steve Jobs or Einstein types that scribble formulas and ideas on the whiteboard and then somehow get it done through constant all-nighters. While it’s true that these types do Innovate, Patrick Holly, Technology Director & Innovation Lead gave an insightful and thought-expanding presentation on how the Nielsen Company has actually institutionalized the Innovation process. Gunjan Khera, also a Director at Nielsen, assisted in the presentation.

Patrick leads the Innovation Practice for the “Buy” practice at Nielsen, which is the biggest part of the Nielsen business. The Buy practice focuses on Consumer measurement. Patrick spoke at our 3rd annual Technology Leadership & Innovation Summit. He gave a very detailed presentation of his view of Innovation and what they do at Nielsen.

In today’s article, I’ll summarize a few of his key insights.

First – the theme of the presentation was how you can create a culture and process for innovation so it doesn’t just happen by accident. You can actually institutionalize innovation, and make it a regular part of your business.

Why innovate? Patrick mentioned four main reasons to innovate.

1. To find the next big thing.

An idea we can all relate to, finding the next disruptive innovation or next big product or service is something that innovation can help you create.

2. Continuous improvement

Patrick refers to the Japanese term Kaizen, which in business terms means continuous improvement. Always be fixing and making it better. Make your current products and services better, or as Pat puts it, “Make the box in front of you better.”

3. Planning Preparedness

Patrick refers compares this to “Ready Golf.” In golf you’ll prepare for your next shot while the other players are shooting. Innovation can help you prepare for your next move, prior to making it. It can help you plan and be better organized.

4. Proactive-Organization

By watching other, smaller, innovative players in their market, Nielsen has learned to think like these smaller players and innovate in smaller groups. The results have ranged from minor changes to acquisitions to new service offerings.

The Three Practices of Innovation

I think one of the key insights that Patrick brought to the presentation was the thought that there are actually three Practices of Innovation.

1. People / Organization

A new insight for many at the conference, Patrick referenced that the way that you organize and the way that you manage your people can foster innovation. Key strategies in this practice include constantly adapting organizational structure (spans and layers) based upon your objectives, organizational optimization, identifying top talent and talent nurturing.

2. Research & Development

This is the area that people commonly think of when you reference innovation. Key strategies for this practice include: Idea Incubators, Leveraging New Technologies, Failing Fast and Proof of Concept (PoBC) versus Proof of Business Concept (PoBC).

While the first two strategies are consistent with other presentations we’ve seen, I believe the two strategies of Failing Fast and PoC versus PoBC are important contributions. Failing fast is the concept that it’s both only okay and desired to fail. Just make sure you fail fast. Failure is required to learn and for continuous testing of concepts. Just be sure to structure your process to fail fast. At Nielsen, they don’t just study the idea as a proof of the concept; they want to make sure that there is a business model that goes with the idea and look for proof of that concept as well.

3. Process

The final practice is concept. I love the fact that Patrick included this area, as it would be easy to gloss over the tremendous body of work done to date in this area. At Nielsen, the strategies of Six Sigma /BPI, Scheduling/Timing and Efficiency are embraced. For the latter two strategies, Nielsen has people assigned to help make sure projects, etc. are scheduled effectively, etc. They continually allow for “thinking time” to analyze how processes and projects are accomplished for increased efficiency.

A few examples of Nielsen’s Innovation Practice

Pat then went on to share how Nielsen works in each of these practice areas. I’ll highlight a few of these examples.

1. Internal Expos or Innovation events

Nielsen organizes a variety of internal events that allow people from different areas of the company to share their ideas. These events include an “I am PE (product engineering)” and “Data Science” days. Product Engineering and Data Scientists shares their ideas in the building with a booth and everyone in the building can come see the ideas in progress. Innovation Expo. During the company’s annual executive meeting top ideas are presented via booths by the people who created the ideas and different parts of the companies have a way to “pick up the products or services.” Real products and services are launched through this process.

2. Contests and Programs

Nielsen has an “Accelerator Awards,” where ideas are submitted, and a judging process takes ideas from phase to phase (like an American Idol). The winners are given a prize and are able to see it through to execution! This past year, over 250 ideas were submitted! Now they have a library of ideas for the future. Nielsen also embraces Hackathons and Whitepapers for new ideas.

3. BPI and Organizational Structure

Nielsen has integrated innovation into their structure. They use BPI, they have specific departments and titles specific to innovation that make an impact, and they have an Essentials training program designed to help participants learn how to innovate through case study methodology.


Patrick concluded the presentation with a series of Tips. Rather than just list his tips, I’ll share Patrick’s concluding thought, which I believe to be both insightful and a contribution.

Make Innovation part of your culture and your mindset. Patrick demonstrated by sharing their methodology that innovation is more than just a few people coming up with new ideas. By integrating a variety of practices, in a long term, methodical basis, you can truly institutionalize innovation and assure that your company will have a stream of new ideas and success for the future.
Thanks to Patrick (and Gunjan) for terrific presentation!

To watch the full presentation, please go here.

About Patrick Holly

Patrick Holly, Technology Director and Innovation Lead at The Nielsen Company , a leading global information and measurement company that provides insights and data about what people watch, listen to and buy. He has been a Software & Data Warehouse implementation Program Director, a Software & Data Warehouse requirements and design analyst, and Client Relationship Owner / Manager throughout his 16+ year career in the Technology space. Patrick is married with two children, ages 10 and 6, and enjoys playing golf and fantasy sports (baseball and football). He is also a fan of science fiction and resides in Bartlett, IL.

Updated: April 12, 2016 — 6:21 pm

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