By Drew Ianni
March 24, 2021
At the recent CDX Accelerate conference, serial disruptor and innovator Jarrod Dicker, head of commercial & innovation at The Washington Post joined CDX’s Drew Ianni to talk about The Post’s digital transformation and how to “beautifully blow things up”.
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Dicker is what he calls a “rebound” Post employee. During his first tour at the Post, which ended in 2013, he helped build what is called the RED group – an internal innovation R&D unit. “We were focused on R&D and we were influencing a lot of different areas. And I did want to do more, and I felt somewhat constrained.” When Dicker returned in 2018 as Head of Commercial and Innovation he remarked that “we found so much success in that setup with RED that we created the commercial group to effectively take that setup across the entire company–not just thinking about R&D in a more siloed environment. How does this group reach across all of our businesses and disciplines?”
The result is the newly-introduced commercial unit Dicker helped architect. It has an unusual but forward-thinking mix of disciplines and functions. “AI, data science, and emerging engineering are within this group,” Dicker explained. “We have the R&D team, programmatic business, and business intelligence that reaches across the group. We have sales teams. We have business development teams. We have product teams. So it’s like a company within a company with the remit of trying to continue to push every element of what we do forward.”
Beautifully Blowing Things Up
Dicker remarked that media companies have struggled with embracing innovation and healthy self-destruction: “Many media companies, especially legacy media companies, operate by consensus.” And when Dicker was thinking about designing the new commercial group when he returned for his second tour at The Post, he found that his experiences creating the RED R&D team during his first go-around helped give him a blueprint for how to break down silos. “What is really liberating in…breaking down silos is identifying something that you yourself can control,” Dicker said. “It’s really hard to blow things up when you’re asking for permission to blow things up.”
So how did Dicker do it and what’s his advice for others? “In larger organizations…a lot of people prefer to stay in their lane…So if you have the personality and willingness to step into new terrain, there are a lot of new opportunities you can control…And then everyone around you is like, wow, that was great! Then others want to get involved and you start to build a reputation for not just wanting to change things, but actually effectively changing things.”
The Blurring of The Edges
Techonomy Editor-in-Chief David Kirkpatrick asked Dicker about the future of the media business. Kirkpatrick recalled his days at Fortune when he felt that it was eventually going to end up competing with television networks, since it looked like everyone would publish video. He asked Dicker about emerging platforms such as Clubhouse, and the “blurring of the edges” in the media business. Dicker replied that he finds Clubhouse in particular of great interest: “We set up our group to identify and have a point of view on these sort of things… and my focus is definitely to understand trends. I am excited about the creator economy right now. And I’m looking at companies like Stir and I look at what’s happening with Substack and I ask are these areas where we, as the Washington Post, can start to inject ourselves?”
So does Dicker still consider The Post a newspaper company? “I realized quickly that our identity of being a newspaper with a 100-plus year old is actually our secret sauce,” he said. “And I think it’s important for us to stick to our identity and what we do for society and democracy.”
View the full interview below. Dicker also talks about spotting great talent, the value of “horizontal laddering” and working in a culture dominated by Jeff Bezos.