When Jane Kewin saw a call-out to take part in a program within the technology division of the ABC, she jumped at the opportunity. The postgraduate student in public relations had little idea of what an "experimental learning program" entailed and no idea that it might change her approach to work.
“To be honest,” she said, “I just saw it as an opportunity to work with the ABC.” As director of communication for a boutique law firm, having the chance to experience working behind the scenes at the national broadcaster was exciting enough.
But Kewin soon found herself sitting among staff in the ABC’s technology division learning about the key tenets of entrepreneurial thinking. “I wasn't familiar with the startup methodology of lean canvas, pivoting or agile. It was actually quite new to me.”
The project came about when ABC Technology Director Ken Gallacher asked entrepreneur-in-residence Claudia Barriga-Larriviere what she would do to have ABC staff thinking like the team members of a lean startup and implementing innovative ideas. “I told him I’d take them on a journey that challenges their entire way of thinking,” said Barriga-Larriviere.
Gallacher, Barriga-Larriviere and Deputy Director of Technology Margaret Cassidy put their heads together to make it happen. “It’s quite an undertaking and investment,” said Cassidy, “to plan to give the entire workforce of a division of such a large organisation time away from their day to day work in groups to develop these skills. All the staff will be given the opportunity over about two years.”
As the program was being developed Barriga-Larriviere had the idea of asking students to take part .
“The students,” said Cassidy, “have really provided fresh thinking and different perspectives. Like any large organisation that’s been operating for some time, there are views about why change might not be possible. The students were able to challenge that.”
Kewin found herself faced with this issue with the team she was placed in. Their job was to look at streamlining the news production process. The first step was to go into the newsroom and talk to the journalists to get a feeling for the issues they faced. Kewin found interviewing journalists invaluable, not only for the team project, but also for understanding the process of getting broadcast news to air.
“Entrepreneurial thinking,” says Barriga-Larriviere, is as much about empathy and putting yourself in the shoes of the people you are trying to solve a problem for, as anything else. Talking to people is crucial.”
When Kewin’s team observed the chief-of-staff scrawling down stories on a whiteboard in the newsroom, they knew they’d found their project. They developed a technology solution whereby stories could be displayed on an electronic board and also give a GPS location of where journalists covering a story were. Their idea included a mobile phone app to be used by news crews out in the field.
Their research extended to interviewing journalists in the newsrooms of other major TV stations and found that only one was still using a whiteboard. “This really validated our idea,” said Kewin. “I learnt that next to developing a solution to a problem that comes from a place of empathy, validating that idea is also key.”
Kewin’s team was one of three winning the people’s choice award for their cohort. While this was a boon, the real take out for her came a week after the program finished when an email popped into her inbox. It was about a startup in the Fintech/HR benefits space looking to partner with the law firm she works for.
“Their proposition challenged the way we think about marketing legal services,” said Kewin. “They are a company looking to disrupt the superannuation sector.” Had she received the email before doing the ABC program, Kewin says she would have been interested but may not have had the same understanding of disruption, innovation and technology solutions. The program enabled her to confidently persuade her senior management team of the benefits. The firm she works for formed an agreement with the startup and they are now working side by side.
Kewin, who began the ABC Experiential Learning program with no knowledge of the language around entrepreneurial thinking, says she now approaches everything with the principles of lean startup practices in mind. “While I have no desire to be an entrepreneur, I believe everyone can benefit from entrepreneurial thinking.”