When I worked at the New York Times, from 2013 to 2015, my job was to lead a team in the creation, launch, and development of a new, revenue-driving product that would help restore growth to the company’s bottom line — which, like the bottom lines of all newspapers around the world, has been endangered by wave after wave of new technology.
During those two years, I got to see and be part of a great, mission-driven company’s effort to grapple with moving into the 21st century, trying — for the first time in its existence, really — to be innovative and find new paths to growth. As someone who had spent most of his career working in and cofounding startups, it was big, heady stuff.
It was also a resounding failure. By the end of my two years there, two of the three products the company had launched to drive new revenue had been repositioned as free offerings intended to drive engagement, and the third had been shut down entirely; there were no meaningful plans for new products underway.
But the exercise wasn’t a complete failure. Those three products fit into a bigger story: how one company was trying, desperately, to discover the ingredients it needed to become truly innovative.