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Viewing Innovation as a Philosophy (INTERVIEW)

Jason Brahms, Innovation VP at Sony Media
Jonathon Brown
June 4th, 2013
Sony is one of few brands synonymous with innovation. As far back as when the Sony Walkman debuted, the brand has created disruptive technology and consumer products to change the way people do business and enjoy themselves.

In 2013, one of Sony's newest products is aimed at video production teams, using cloud media storage systems to make sharing projects between stakeholders and collaborators easier than ever before. Jason Brahms is the Vice President of Innovation and Advanced Solutions at Sony Media Cloud Services, but also moonlights as a record producer and studio engineer, which provides him with added insights into harnessing the creativity of the Sony innovation team.

4 Questions with Jason Brahms

1. Does the long history of innovation at Sony intimidate or inspire innovation now?

The company is based on innovation. The core foundation and fundamental philosophy of Sony is around innovation, so it's inspiring. If you look back, there's been so many iconic things created. I think it's really cool to be exposed to all these different facets of what's going on. There are a lot of great minds and teams throughout the Sony family. There's just a lot of magic happening -- it's part of the Sony DNA.

I think it's unique in our business where we're so close every step of the way. We have an entertainment division, but we also create the acquisition devices. We also have the devices that play the finished product. Sony is involved in all aspects, from content to consumer distribution. A movie can be shot on a Sony camera by Sony Pictures and then be played back on a Sony TV, and that's what sets Sony apart from anyone else out there. And that's why I think what we're doing is exciting.

2. What is the biggest obstacle you face when innovating?

We're kind of a start up within a multi-national corporation. What can be challenging is this whole concept of creating a different culture [that's] a little less corporate and more creative. It's like fighting the status quo, but honestly, we're on the right track.

Our leadership has a deep commitment to promoting innovation through the company. The obstacles are just around overall timing. When you're in a position where you have new things and are building solutions that change the way people work, change the tools they use, you're able to do things that took ten hours in ten minutes. These things are disruptive. Being that change agent, some of the obstacles are how quickly can you evangelize the idea in ways that people will be comfortable. A lot of people are very set in their ways; production people are used to doing it their way. People are getting more comfortable with putting material in the cloud. One thing we have going for us is [that] the solution that we've gone to market with was incubated at Sony Pictures by the people who work in production and post production at a media company. The platform is for media professionals, by media professionals. Our messaging is around "We are you." We understand you and your needs because we have them too. Why do people innovate to begin with? For self preservation. A lot of the tools built are built because people doing things think there must be a better way.

3. How do you motivate your team to come up with good ideas?

It's about creating an environment in which the ideas keep coming, and this notion of failing is accepted as something of a necessity. It's part of the day, and we talk about failing fast. That idea that it's a lot of trial and error just like life, and we have to accept and acknowledge that. Motivating them is more about providing an environment where we can increase the chances of catching that lightning in a bottle.

Outside of my job here, I also work as a record producer. And in that realm, you can get into a studio with a band and maybe the first few days you don't even record. Nothing is happening, and it can be stale. It's part of the process and then one thing happens and boom it's magic. What we're trying to do is create an environment where we increase our chances of having those "a-ha" moments.

4. How would you describe innovation at your company?

I view innovation as a philosophy. It's more something that needs to be baked into the DNA of the organization. It's kind of like, can you schedule innovation? No. Can we do things that increase our chances of creating situations where magic happens? Yes. It's an ongoing thing. There are techniques and things we're doing to promote the kind of day-to-day environment where innovation is part of things. It should be completely transparent, it should be happening. We do have teams in specific expertise, they are doing R&D and rapid prototyping, things where they are encouraged to come up with things and show those ideas. We don't have a defined 20% rule like Google, but conceptually, we have people working on R&D and innovation.
References: linkedin, sony.net