Innovation and Product Management DNA

When you think of innovators, it may conjure different ideas, thoughts and names of people in industries recognized and at the forefront of great and interesting products. But, what makes an innovator and are you one of them or can you be? The authors of The Innovators DNA shared, “Creativity skills are not simply genetic traits endowed at birth, but they can be developed. Nurture trumps nature as far as creativity goes.”

Almost every product leader possesses some innovative DNA, but often we may not know it’s there. It may be under-nourished, undiscovered or under-valued at your company due to the organization, its maturity, personality, innovation practices or how it attracts, grows and rewards innovators.

Whether your background is technical, sales or marketing oriented, product management has to understand its innovative DNA and what we need to modify, learn or apply to lead products in our organizations. I’ve met some product leaders who think that everything they learned in business school qualifies them as an innovator. It doesn’t. “Business schools teach people how to be deliverers, not discoverers” and “Innovators must consistently act different  to think different.” This presents an interesting question for product leaders.

Do I possess a delivery or a discovery mentality and how does that impact me as a product leader? I shared the elements of good innovators from Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen previously. As a product leader, which of the DNA elements do you possess and which ones do you lack?

  • Questioning – “Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquiry. Their queries frequently challenge the status quo.”
  • Observing – “Innovators are also intense observers, They carefully watch the world around them including customers.”
  • Networking – “Innovators spend a lot of time and energy finding and testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals who vary wildly in their backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Experimenting – “Innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. Experiment unceasingly explore the work intellectually and experimentally, holding convictions at bay and testing hypothesis along the way.”
  • Associating – “Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others’ or our own.”

Thinking about the five attributes and considering a delivery or discovery mentality as a product leader, plot where your innovation DNA is based on what you possess. In the example below, you’ll note the networking skills are high and more aligned to the discovery and innovation side, while observing is middle of the road and could be an area of improvement. Are there areas where you need to improve or add? In areas where you excel, offer to work with a peer or better yet, volunteer to share this in a discussion internally or present at an upcoming product camp.

Now that you’ve considered where your DNA lies, how do you begin to build the DNA that a product leader needs to be successful? Consider the following questions as you look at areas where you have strengths and where you need to grow your innovative DNA;

  1. How often to do I challenge the status quo in my product leadership role?
  2. Do I have regular opportunities to question and discover in my role? Does our team?
  3. Do I know how to really observe without preconceived ideas and solutions in mind?
  4. Do I have a broad network outside of my market and industry and comfort zone?
  5. Do I experiment with an open mind and on a regular basis?
  6. Am I unafraid to pilot and sponsor new innovation with my company?
  7. Do I know how to articulate across and throughout my organization with authority and passion?
  8. How diverse is my experience and do I associate and learn from those who do?

While each of us will have different answers and have to consider the different organizations we work for and any constraints, product leaders have to add new DNA one conversation, observation,  experiment or association at a time.

In my next post we’ll discuss the unique ways to infuse innovative DNA into your product leadership and how to traverse through an organization that is innovation-free or limited in its ideas and execution. please comment on the post and feel free to share on LinkedIn or Twitter. New post, “Innovation and Product Management DNA” by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #innovation

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