Category Archives: Product Innovation

Associations – the Power behind Innovation

This is the third in the series focused on The Innovators DNA and how product leaders and others may acquire and develop their innovative DNA. It’s my goal to introduce concepts and ideas that will have product leaders of all types, think, act and engage differently. This post focuses on associations, their value and role in the innovation process.

Merriam-Websters online dictionary describes association as:

a) the act of associating.

b) something linked in memory or imagination with a thing or person.

Considering these two definitions, what do associations provide and why are they important?

In my last post The Courage to Innovate, I shared an innovation model from the authors. This model should be at the core of every product and marketing leader and drive our disruptive thoughts and actions. When you think about your role as a product leader, do you possess and use Questioning, Observation, Networking and Experimenting? If you do, then what’s missing?

Associations – “or the ability to make surprising connections across areas of knowledge, industries, even geographies– is an often-taken-for-granted skill among the innovators we studied” shared authors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen. “Innovators actively pursue diverse new information and ideas through questioning, observing, networking and experimenting– the key catalysts for creative associations.”

Associations aren’t new. Throughout history, they’ve been used and perhaps are the keystone of innovations. In his book, The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson shares. ” When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.”

Johansson calls this the Medici Effect named for the fifteenth-century banking family who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines.

Where does associating happen?  Today, we recognize Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Walt Disney and many others as innovators with the creativity to spark ideas in others.

While many organizations believe that innovation happens at home, I believe what Pragmatic Marketing teaches in, “Nothing Important Happens in the Office or NIHITO.” 

However, for innovators, I think we should change it to “No Innovation Happens in the Office.” 

While you’ll agree that you have to get out of the office to question, observe, network or experiment, how often should you get out and with whom and when?

“Innovation flourishes at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or our own” shares the authors. The DNA of an innovator is one that “intentionally maneuvers themselves into the intersection, where diverse experience flourish and foster the discovery of new insight.” How often should you get out and observe, experiment and build new associations? Everyday.

As an example, last year I met Brice Sloan, President of Sloan Security Technologies. Now, I know almost nothing about about the security market where they succeed, however, they do and the Sloan brothers bring vast experience in large scale perimeter and other kinds of high-end security that would require government clearance to talk about. Brice found me through an intersection and the network.

He intentionally found me. Why? He’s has an innovators DNA and was experimenting with new ideas. He sought a variety of people, background, experiences and those that could experiment with him.

Why does an innovator connect with a person that has spent a large majority of his career in software? Simple. To question, experiment and connect with others who may not question “why,” but are willing to say, “Why not.” Since our first meeting, Brice and I have gotten together several times. He’s invited me and others to experiment with his ideas and how it applies his world.

With a strong desire to seek out unique problems and to engage with others that have ideas and expertise, Brice has introduced a series of solar powered surveillance solutions not dependent on the grid. Basically, they’re smart video cameras that run on solar power and transmit video wirelessly to any location. Can you think of hundreds of applications and uses, I can.

Intersections – “Disruptive innovators shine best at associating when actively crossing all kinds of borders, (geographic, industry, company, profession, discipline, and so on) and engaging the other innovator’s DNA skills.”

Where can this happen? For product leaders, it can happen at BarCamps, Product Camps, wondering through a local retailer, a lawn and garden center or a child’s classroom. The intersections are limitless, but we have to be willing to step into them and not expect anything to happen but another idea or the unexpected.

You have to engage with your neighbors, friends, friends of friends, people who say, “You have to meet this person” and a thousand others. I’ve heard stories of people who give time to private investors, angel funds, and micro-lenders as well as volunteer in their communities with start-ups and small businesses to break into new intersections.

To grow your innovators DNA as a product leaders, we need to get out, get busy and extend ourselves. Please join me in taking the challenge this week to jump into some new intersections, collect ideas and experiment outside the office and leave your non-innovative comfort zone. As Edward de Bono author of Lateral Thinking shared, “You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.”

In my next post, we’ll discuss Innovation for the Risk Adverse. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, , Associations, the Power behind Innovation – a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-qj #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

The Courage to Innovate

This is the second in a series based on the book The Innovators DNA and how the research and principles support the discovery, growth and creativity of product leaders and their organizations. I acknowledge the research, content and messages of the authors and personally value the impact it may have on product leaders, especially those in product management and product marketing.

I’ve wondered and often been frustrated with why a company and its management team don’t seem to have an innovative mindset, appear to have an innovators DNA nor care to foster one with product leaders?

This attitude, realized or not, often squelch creativity and innovation in product management and promotes complacency or worse, a division in the teams and their creativity. This post explores why some senior executives don’t think differently, how it impacts product leaders and why courage is a critical step to innovation. We’ll also review a way to assess your innovative DNA.

Why Most Senior Executives Don’t Think Different – With eight years of interviewing scores of senior executives – mostly at large companies, Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen found that when they asked executives to describe the most novel or valuable strategic insights, they rarely mentioned an innovative business idea they had personally generated. “In contrast to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, products or process, most senior executives work hard to efficiently deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model. That is they work inside the box.

Innovating while working inside the box – What happens when you work in an organization where innovative thoughts and actions are not promoted, nor welcome. Usually you have limited choices. (You know what they are. Leave – Stay – or Suck it up.)

As an example, I worked with a company a number of years ago where innovation was often acquired. In that example, innovation was misunderstood and product management left in the shadows to figure it out. The authors share, “Innovators must consistently think different, to act different.” To maintain an innovative mindset, product management assumed the innovators role along with the Chief Technology Officer. Together, with engineering we discovered, experimented and innovated solutions while integrating with our buy, build, partner strategy. Product management stepped out of the shadows and began to infuse new ideas, conversations and associations. The importance of associations will be discussed in another post.

The Courage to Innovate – If you work in a delivery-centric organization, it may be difficult to consistently think and act differently. “In short, it takes courage to innovate– an active bias against the status quo and an unflinching willingness to take smart risks– to transform ideas into powerful impact.” Why? Most executives are focused in delivering and need someone to step out and make an impact.

So, I have the courage and I’m willing to step up, what’s next? The innovators DNA model illustrated by the authors is a great place to start.

Take time to review this and personally assess yourself and then your team to see if you have the behavioral skills required. If you’re not sure, ask yourself:

  • Do I understand how questioning influences innovation, ideas and creativity and do I question enough?
  • Do I observe outside the office and in native habitats where my customers and markets are? Do I observe in other habitats and learn from those environments?
  • Do I effectively network within and outside my comfort zone and am I willing to share my ideas with others?
  • Am I willing to experiment in areas that may not make sense to my organization or me and try not rationalize it away before I try?
  • Who do I know that excels in questioning, observing, networking and experimenting in my organization, team, circle of acquaintances and others outside my circle, and do I learn from them?

Next ask yourself the following:

  • Am I willing to risks on a regular basis?
  • Do I challenge the status quo in my organization?
  • Does my team challenge the status quo on a regular basis?
  • Does my organization handle challenging the status quo?

As we look at our innovative DNA, there will be vast differences in our ideas, answers, and how we build, acquire and obtain more. It’s a progressive process and starts with some level of personal or professional disruption and change.

In summary, as product leaders, we need to determine if we have the courage to innovate and where we lack key DNA to really impact our organizations, people or areas around us. I welcome your comments and ideas on how you’ve acquired and grown an innovative mindset, displayed the courage and any experiences you’re willing to share.

In my next post, we’ll discuss Associations, and how connecting these accelerate ideas. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, The Courage to Innovate, a new post in a series by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-pe #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

If you’d like to learn more about formal innovator assessments, check out the Innovators DNA site.

The Innovators DNA: the Core of Product Management

I recently finished the Innovators DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen for the second time. It’s highlighted, underlined and notes jammed into corners and sticky notes everywhere. As someone whose been a contributor, leader and consultant in product management and product marketing for over two decades, I found it to be the capstone to the Innovators Dilemma and Innovators Solution, although they stand on their own merits. It is a must read for product management, innovators and organizations of every kind.

I’d especially recommend it to those who work and contribute in organizations where innovation is misunderstood, misaligned and misfires and where senior management brushes it aside as a passing fad, a marketing gimmick or something to pacify investors or shareholders.

What’s so special about The Innovators DNA? The book is a culmination of research and a discovery process along with relevant stories and references that product innovators, entrepreneurs and organizations can use and apply to surface, validate and incite disruptive nature or innovation.

The Innovators DNA shares early on, “Everyone knows that (Steve) Jobs is an innovative guy, that he knows how to think different. But the question is, just how does he do it?” The common answer is that “the ability to think creatively is genetic. Most of us believe that some people, like Jobs are simply born with great genes.”

However, the book shares and explores five (5) discovery skills that may be used by product leaders and organization to incite and infuse innovation. The skills include:

  • Associating
  • Questioning
  • Observing
  • Networking
  • Experimenting

I believe each of these five skills must be present within each product team, product leader, product owner or those infusing innovation into new ventures, existing markets or uncharted territory where a product, service or solution may emerge. While we may believe that some executive has ownership for this, such as the founder, a CTO, an entrepreneurial executive or others, the DNA has to reside and be visible in product management and product marketing.

Too often product leaders find themselves believing they are innovators, when in fact as the book shares, “business schools teach people how to be deliverers, not innovators.”  While delivering is a key aspect and result of innovation, it is not innovation.

It’s my goal to write a series of post aligning the exceptional work of the book and bring product leadership new ways to think and act as you surface, obtain and refine an innovators DNA. So, stay tuned and look for more over the coming weeks. If you have thoughts or ideas on the topics, please send them too me. Please share this via Twitter New post, The Innovators DNA: the Core of Product Management by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-nz #prodmgmt  or via LinkedIn The Innovators DNA: the Core  of  Product Management http://wp.me/pqeWU-nz 

Congratulations! You’re in the Top 5, Now What?

There’s always a lot of buzz when a major publication ranks and supports your profession as one of the Top 5 for the next year. Recently, Keith Cline published The 5 Hardest Jobs to Fill in 2012. As an experienced recruiter for startups and high growth technology companies, Cline observed, “Hiring the best of the best is an absolute must if you are going to build a successful company.”

For over 20 years, most technology companies have relied on product management to be the face of the customer, a market instigator and someone creating, seeding or harvesting ideas and innovation and then proving that more than one company or person will buy.

Next year it won’t be any different or will it?

What Cline sees and most smart entrepreneurs value is handing the keys of product innovation and ownership to someone who can focus on it full-time. “It is always helpful for an early-stage company to hire someone who has very relevant and specific experience in your industry.  This is especially true for product management, since the person in this role will interface with customers and define the product strategy and use cases” confides Cline.

While I agree that early stage and any smart company should hire someone who has relevant and specific experience, each organization differs and specific experience versus adaptable experience applies.

As a case in point, my experience traverses a history in enterprise B2B technology. However, over the past 8 years I’ve found that my experience has adapted effectively in B2C companies, cloud-based technologies, consumer electronics, physical security solutions and others where I didn’t have the specific industry experience. Why?

When product management is grounded in sound product principles, has balance, thinks and acts with an agile mindset and is adaptable, industry experience isn’t as important. Now, I’m sure there are some people who will disagree, but that’s my opinion. Find me a product management professional with the attributes and DNA I mentioned, and I’ll take that over specific industry experience any day.

You’re in the Top 5, now what?

With the repeated visibility and recognition product management is enjoying, how can we capitalize on being in the top 5 of the most sought after positions in 2012? Below are a 5 things I believe we all have to do to build more credibility and value next year.

  1. Balanced accessibility – If you’re going to be the catalyst of your products and their direction, you need to balance your accessibility. Everybody wants or needs something from you when you’re in product management and their will always be pressures associated with managing product success. However, you can’t focus on the important things without managing your accessibility. Balancing internal access makes you more accessible externally to customers, markets, new insights and trends. Having this balance will give you a perspective that your executives will value and appreciate.
  2. Exploration and discovery – Is a way of life in product management. Steve Blank shared in The Four Steps to the Epiphany, “You need to leave guesswork behind and get outside the building in order to learn what high-value customer problems are.” Are you planning to explore and discover outside the office this year or just mine the same old internal information and support it with gut instinct? Create a simple exploration and discovery plan for the first quarter, socialize it, justify the expense and then pack. Don’t forget the information you’ll discover needs to be communicated when you return. Your executive team will find the fresh prospective and outside views enlightening if communicated in the language they know and understand.
  3. Innovative mentality – “Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or your own,” shared Jeffrey Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen and Clayton Christensen in The Innovators DNA. Having the mentality, desire and drive is one thing, but knowing where and how to build intersections is another. While innovation may originate from many sources, it best flourishes when you’re “sparking ideas within others and intersecting with others who can spark the same in you. Plan on introducing yourself to a local startup, give some time to a new entrepreneur and definitely plan to attend and participate in groups such as product management camps at least quarterly. The sparks and ideas that will surface will make you more valuable and diverse.
  4. Product starter/finisher – Product management isn’t a place for procrastination. If you are leading or will lead a new product, service or offering this year or have ideas that need market discovery or validation, create a simple plan, ask for help and  stick too it. Starting is easy, finishing is painful. Before you start, review your skills, the talents around you, your goals and requirements and what you need. Look for ways to involve others in the team or organization, then get busy, delegate frequently and take criticism with a smile. Remember, executives recognize and reward finishers.
  5. Communicator and collaborator – It goes without saying that collaboration and communication are product managements left and right arms. The two are analogous to a traffic policeman stopping, starting, guiding and directing traffic in multiple directions at the same time. Improving your communications upward (executives) and horizontally (with product team collaborators) builds cadence that leads to successful requirements, development, user experience and launch. Take some time to review how you communicate. Do you use all the organizational and personal assets you have access to? If you are directing traffic and communicating from all directions, the organization will recognize your capabilities and leadership.

It’s great to have the recognition of being in the Top 5. Let’s prove we deserve it by earning it and exceeding expectations. If you like the post, feel free to comment and share it. New post, “Congratulations, You’re in the Top 5, Now What?” http://wp.me/pqeWU-mV by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership

Poke the Box… Product Management

Well, the hiatus is over. While some of you may have recognized that I haven’t blogged in a while and Twitters performance improved without @jim_holland in your face, I’ve been listening, learning and watching the product management and product marketing community at large.

One of the things I’ve learned, is there’s a few of us out there that like to “Poke the Box.” If you haven’t read Seth Godin’s latest rant, I challenge you, like Seth, to pick up a copy and read it.

While on a recent trip, I attended and participated in the Minnesota Product Camp. I spent some time with Barry and Jennifer Doctor while in town and I stole (asked permission to read) a copy of Poke the Box.

It’s a great challenge, rant and manifesto meant for product management and those innovating. So what is poke the box? It’s about producing something that’s scare.

The concept originates from a buzzer box built by Seth’s uncle. It was metal, had lights and switches and begged to be poked and messed with by his young cousin. Seth confides, “Life is a buzzer box. Poke it.”

As I read and absorbed, here’s what I heard and thought.

The Initiator – Product management and innovators at large have to be the initiator and instigator. We know that if you’re not, someone else in your organization is. It may be a group that has clout like sales or an executive. Do you want some other group that has less market awareness and understanding to initiate something new? Are you the initiator in your organization or the person waiting for permission to move forward? As Seth describes, “We can’t wait for initiative to be handed to you, take it.” How does an initiator get started? Seth shares, “Excellence isn’t about working hard, it’s about initiative and deciding what’s worth doing.” Who’s better qualified than product professionals to decide what’s worth doing? Are you initiating or is your organization holding you back? Take Seth’s advice if the organization is the issue: “1) Ignore the book (for now) or 2) Start looking for a new gig. ASAP!”

If it’s not your organization, then what’s the problem?

Product Manager or Product Starter – Recently at PCampMN, John Mansour from Proficientz said, “Product management is not a factory, but you could be outsourced.” I’m sure you’re thinking, “Now hold on John!” Well it’s true and I agree. If you are managing products and not starting products, then you may be outsourced or replaced.

Product starters are the ones that poke the box. “Innovation is mysterious and inspiration is largely unpredictable” explains Seth. Most people think innovation is hard. It’s not. “While there are ideas all around us, we have to replace the fear of failure or rejection and replace it with initiative, innovation and starting. Along with starting comes, finishing.” This includes expressing a roadmap, articulating it, believing it can happen and have some passion about it as you share it. There’s some great post on releases, roadmaps and vision and product managers and innovation by Saeed Khan and Scott Sehlhorst respectively.

Poking the Box – means action. It means that you must “insist, push, create, cajole and launch” and  ask why in internal conversations, and get out of your seat and the office and get face-to-face with customers and others in markets that have the experience or can support the poking process. Using your product starting skills, you will discover, validate, refine and often park ideas. While discovery and validation are the actions that come from any insight and decisions, don’t get caught up in the “never ending” cycle of “have I discovered and validated enough?” It’s a product management trap and will consume your time, energy and damage your credibility if it lingers without a purpose. Once you begin poking the box, set goals, targets for when you’ll start, end and decide or not. “Poking requires tact. Without a why, without an explanation, it’s hard to give ideas the momentum they need to spread” comments Godin.

Product Starting – is a way of life in product management but won’t start without you. Why? You are the starter, owner and finisher. Without your guidance, innovation languishes or starves from lack of leadership. Why does innovation get stuck? Godin confides, “One reason organizations get stuck is that they stick with their A players so long that they lose their bench.”

If you lead product management, are you developing all your talent and utilizing everyone on the bench? Do you spend time expanding the team’s talents or limiting them? Do you use mentors to strengthen and grow your bench? If not, why?

If you’re in product management, are you the “A” player” thought of most often as someone who starts new products along with managing the ones you have? If not, what do you lack that keeps you from starting? Do you sit on the bench hoping the team wins for you or do you get involved and get some valuable playing time and experience?

A number of years ago, I was talking with another product manager about a new product he was leading. I recognized this product would satisfy a series of newly discovered problems in the market at that time if it was coupled with some existing products and we could use some technology from a partner. How did I know that? I had my innovation radar enabled and was willing to ask questions, go beyond my normal boundaries and willing to incite thoughts and actions to innovate a new solution.

As I think about Poke the Box, I recognize that to some extent, Seth is poking at us. Product management has to consistently poke, experiment and experience things to produce something scare. What’s scare? It’s not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of leadership and capabilities to “insist, push, create, cajole and launch.” How will you begin to poke the box? It happens with forward motion.

Thanks to Seth Godin for keeping it real and dishing out some for product professionals. I’d like to hear your ideas and what you do to innovate and start products. Please feel free to comment and share this via Twitter or LinkedIn. Poke the Box – Product Management: a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-md #prodmgmt #leadership