Andrew Solmssen, Executive Director CourtAvenue

Breaking Through ‘The Wall of the New’: How to Create a Culture of Innovation

Working in the agency world, it can be hard to get clients to embrace innovation. Many years ago, some colleagues and I were bemoaning this, and my then Chief Creative Officer gave it a name - “the wall of the new.“

The “wall of the new” is a metaphorical barrier that companies often face when it comes to embracing innovation. Even when you knowthat transformative success always comes from trying a new approach, fear of failure gets in the way of opportunities to really move the ball forward.

The best known version of this concept is The Innovator's Dilemma, a theory proposed by Clayton Christensen in his 1997 book by the same name. The Innovator's Dilemma suggests that successful companies often fail to innovate because they focus too much on their existing products and customers. They worry they will disrupt their own business models, leading to missed opportunities. Christensen's work on disruptive innovation is foundational. He emphasized that disruptive technologies often emerge in insignificant markets and initially offer lower margins.

At CourtAvenue, we’re a small team that’s regularly brought in by the world’s biggest businesses - even though those companies have massive agency teams that are bigger than our entire company. Why? Because clients get stuck - there is so much focus on getting the short-term work done to run the business that it doesn’t feel like there is time to actually change the business. But true to Christensen’s principles, if you don’t make time to change your business, it will get changed for you. And like the metaphorical frog in boiling water (a myth; they actually just jump out when it gets hot), before you notice it, you’ve lost massive revenue share. Just ask taxi companies about Uber or hotels about AirBnB.

Our role is often to take on the critical challenges that clients have been struggling to solve. We’re the fresh thinking that tries to challenge norms and helps the client teams focus on new business ideas without distractions. With the mandate of “help me figure this out fast”we act as a force accelerator to help internal teams try new strategies with a light investment in time and money, get small tests in the field, and optimize.

We want to go beyond only executing on digital change and help organizations become truly digital in how they think and act. In addition, because we’ve all worked for the world’s biggest agencies before making the choice for something smaller, we act as a bridge between existing agencies and client teams.

I’m lucky to have been part of many groundbreaking innovations. In almost every case, we hopedwhat we tried would really change things, but the innovation began as a fairly humble test. Two great examples stand out – one from a few months ago, and one more than a decade in the past-show how willingness to try something new can truly change a business.

CourtAvenue is digital AOR for Kia Motors. Like every business, Kia was looking to use AI strategically, but had concerns about the overhead of a massive rollout. At the same time, Kia is always looking to improve - and potentially revolutionize the dealer experience.

We began by adding an advanced website feature to individual dealers, using our Genjo.aiproduct to create customized conversational commerce. We harnessed the power of Kia’s manufacturing data to create a kind of “super salesperson” who was knowledgeable about every detail from the tiniest feature to real-time used and new inventory on the lot - and it totally changed the way digital tools have helped customers learn about cars and help dealerships get sales leads.

Although it was deployed in weeks instead of months, it included the critical guardrails and security that have plagued similar efforts. Check it out! But for it to succeed, Kia had to be forward-thinking, ambitious, and bold - and they are.

Earlier in my career, I was part of the team that created the UI and service design for Playstation 4 in close collaboration with Sony. The overall experience design of PS4 was incredibly successful, but one idea that came up in the ideation process, though it seemed small, had a massive impact.

A “share” button was added to the UI and the remote at a time where sharing video game play was not really a “thing.” But it was based on strong insights, and Sony backed it. The timing was right (with Twitch growing in a similar moment), and when PS4 launched, sharing became wildly popular. As The Verge declared in 2019, “The Playstation 4’s share button changed the way we play together.” And it helped sell over 75 million consoles.

Steve Jobs was perhaps the most dogmatic about breaking down the “wall of the new.” Stating that "innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower," he understood that staying ahead required constant innovation and the courage to go beyond the familiar. So let’s keep his legacy alive. We’ve got this, people. Follow what Francis McDormand said in Almost Famous: “Now go do your best. Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.”