Develop This You the Product

Develop This, You the Product

Develop This, You the Product

Mark B. Mondry, NPDP, Phase M, LLP

Read time: 4 minutes

“To evade decline, we need to become intrinsically self-motivated about innovation, not just looking at innovation as something we do for an organization during the workday.”

You are attending an innovation conference following a full day of presentations and slowly traversing a sea of attendees in a reception hall as you hear various segments of conversation going on around you. Your attention focuses on a conversation just a few feet in front of you.

“I’m excited about developing our new technology, but we will probably lose our jobs before it gets launched,” says a mid-career man with a serious look on his face. His colleague, a slightly younger man intensely scanning the crowd for acquaintances, suddenly redirects his gaze, looking startled. “What do you mean?” the colleague asks. “Well, we have five open positions in our group that have been advertised for more than six months,” the man responds. “HR must have been told to delay hiring activity, because I reviewed some of the resumes a few months ago. There is no shortage of qualified candidates,” he says. After a short pause, he looks down to the drink in his hand and continues, “I’ve also heard rumors of another company downsizing this fall.”

Perhaps you have heard it, too. The nervous talk about the economy having become gloomy again and the uneasiness of those employed. Others who may be looking for new jobs are becoming increasingly frustrated, as companies appear excruciatingly slow in filling open positions.

Product development and product management professionals are not immune to this environment, of course. The apprehension makes people more cautious, less willing to take risks and more likely to adhere to the status quo. It increasingly permeates behavior in the workplace even at prosperous companies. Individuals seek out the path of least resistance, fearful of mistakes and too scared to think differently. Employees keep their heads down, unwilling to stir the pot that holds the presumptions behind current activities and disinclined to get involved in anything that might expose their career to the big risks that true innovation demands. At the same time, companies desperately want these same employees to be more innovative because it is a necessity for competitive survival.

When companies become entrenched and fail to innovate and change, there is little dispute that decline and outright destruction often follows. The same holds true for products. All of the new value generated in commerce is created through innovation in some form. We, as individuals, share the same reality in our professional lives. To evade decline, we need to become intrinsically self-motivated about innovation, not just looking at innovation as something we do for an organization during the workday. Innovation is not a career; it is a way of life. Increasing, our innovation aptitude is a crucial aspect of personal and professional success. Fortunately, there is a rich universe of innovation practices and tools that can be adapted from the organizational level and applied to the personal level. Here are some of my personal favorites that can make your career more successful and, perhaps, your life a touch more fulfilling.

Make Your Community Your Personal Studio

Designers and innovation firms know that creativity can be enhanced or suppressed by your physical environment and by the people you associate with in that environment. Creating comfortable yet energizing collaborative physical spaces where ideas can be freely ’’ ‘‘ To evade decline, we need to become intrinsically selfmotivated about innovation, not just looking at innovation as something we do for an organization during the workday. exchanged, fertilized and rapidly iterated is the essence of the innovation studio concept. Excellent examples include the practices of IDEO and Frog Design. A creative innovation studio is populated with diverse individuals having a variety of perspectives, open minds and an appetite to learn and grow. In a successful innovation studio, hierarchical power is usurped by the shared desire to perpetuate a horizontal learning environment.

On a personal level, you don’t need a fixed physical space to create a personal innovation studio. Make your professional and social community your own personal innovation studio by analogy. Let’s call it your studio community. This means mixing things up. To become a more innovative thinker, you must avoid the echo chamber of selective association with like-minded individuals. Rather, take the effort to associate with individuals and groups who don’t think like you; those who may openly disagree with your opinions on various issues but share a tolerance for opposing views. Choose those who have the intellectual vitality to view the world of ideas and solutions in colors and shades rather than black and white. Your studio community should be comfortable, so avoid people and groups that show signs of being homogenously close-minded and fortified by conflict. Your studio community should be inspiring. Learn to ask more questions and listen rather than succumbing to the inner pressure to always offer the right answer.

Your studio community should comprise both physical and digital attributes as well. Seek out professional associations that may compliment your career interests, become an active member and physically attend meetings and conferences. Look for Meetups (meetup. com) in your area that may be interesting and make the effort to show up. Digitally, exploit opportunities where you connect with others across time and space. Join LinkedIn interest groups, participate in blogs and seek out digital platforms where a variety of views are exchanged. Read something new outside of your professional domain every day. You may have to shop around a bit to build and sustain your studio community, but the resulting trial and error might open your mind that much more.

Train Yourself to Think More Holistically

Our knowledge and experiences culminate in a set of perspectives and beliefs on how the world works and of what is important. People with different backgrounds and education are likely to see the world from a different perspective. You must leverage these differences to make yourself a more innovative thinker. Forcing differing perspectives to collide often generates a spark of new insight. This is, of course, the essence of the studio community concept described above. Yet, successful innovation teams usually go much further in creating beneficial intersections. In addition to attracting divergent perspectives in the same conversation, teaching individuals to think more holistically can make the resulting sparks turn into fire.

Holistic, human-centered creative thinking is the essence of what is often referred to as design thinking. Although the concept of design thinking is expressed in many ways, I encourage you to research the concept if you are not familiar with it and seek out aspects of design thinking that you can apply to your own personal process of identifying and understanding problems and opportunities.

First, learn to observe more. Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not what you look at that matters, it is what you see.” Next time you are traveling for business, get off your smart phone and look around. Observe. Explore. Ask why? Take the time to initiate conversation with strangers. Travel is an excellent opportunity to see things more holistically and to develop a more creative, innovative way of thinking and seeing the world around you. To expand this opportunity, don’t just look at business travel in the traditional way. Business travel can be down the hall in your company, to the next floor in your building or to that service provider across town. Oh, and one more thing about that smart phone: Multitasking does not make you more innovative or observant. Get off the phone!

Innovate Your Career and Your Life

We already know that companies that stand still risk extinction. As a product manager or product developer, you strive to make product and service offerings more innovative and distinctive as well. Now, think of yourself as the product and ask: “How can I make myself more innovative?” You have access to the answers to this question. Just dig into your innovation toolbox and apply.

About the Author

Mark B. Mondry works in a variety of industries to identify and establish international collaboration opportunities around the creation and commercialization of innovation. He is an engineer, patent attorney and certified licensing professional (CLP) focusing on Asia-United States business transactions.

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