In the children’s book, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, a boy explains that you should not give a mouse a cookie because the two will go far beyond what the mouse or the boy could have ever imagined.
This works for media innovation too, “If you give a mouse [problem solver] a cookie[resources], he is going to want X, and then…” so you have no idea where you will end up.
The Cookie Model is a milestone based innovation funding model that is ideal for local and regional media companies to fund internal innovation projects. Give a couple of people with an interesting idea some prototype money, then when they solve that problem, give them some more money and you have no idea where it will lead.
I was working with a highly-respected businessman and investor on a project we both thought was of great importance. He had the means to write me a check for whatever I asked for and at the time, I wanted him to do just that. However, due to his wisdom and experience in creating and selling three major-brand companies, he asked, “What would it take in both time and budget for me to see a functional prototype in action?” Based on my answer, he wrote me a check for $10k and we scheduled a meeting for 30 days later.
A month later, I sat in his New York apartment and he marveled at the simple but working prototype. After a lot of discussion, he asked the question, “What would it take to be able to walk into an office and sell just one of these?” I answered 3-months and $50k. He said, “Here is $25k. Let me see where you can get in 45 days.”
Our product grew slower than I would have liked, but in a healthy way. We are efficient in our design, focused on the core features and driven by specific users, not a mass market we would need to reach had he invested millions. This also helps us to make the important decision of “should we keep going with this?” without the pressure of feeling we need to move forward because of the money.
Have one basic milestone and don’t manage innovation like a typical project. You don’t need a project manager because he/she has no idea what tasks need to be completed. If they do, it is not innovative enough.
Start with a very simple budget and give them only what is needed. Most of our second-stage projects in the Reese News Lab get between $10k and $30k after the idea has been vetted and is ready to have a testable prototype go into the market. This money is mostly used to hire developers and run servers.
Hold the team accountable, but with grace. Remember, innovation is difficult. They will run into problems, so be understanding. At the same time, the fear of impending doom is a great motivator so make sure you meet on the deadline day, even if you don’t think the prototype will be ready.
Assess at each stage and ask, three questions:
- What have you learned?
- Should we continue the project and why?
- What will it take to get to the next milestone?
If you think they should go forward, and you agree the product is viable, then continue to invest with a few cookies but don’t create a new department or give them a bunch of money. Make them work for the adventure.
If you are looking for way to integrate innovation into your newsroom contact Steven King