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Want Innovation? Create The Perception Of It

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Here’s The Context: My friend and mentor Luke Hohman, inventor of the Innovation Games technique, recently blogged the provocative idea that Agility is Making You Less Innovative. To summarize, he has observed that several Agile teams are busy plugging away at their short-term product backlogs and delivering software every few weeks, but are plagued by the strange sensation that incremental value delivery is not real, proper innovation.

Here’s the Deep Insight: The post offers the following:

Unfortunately, while customers often enjoy small, incremental improvements, what they really want are big chunky innovations.

He’s totally correct about the people’s expectations, but in order to manage those expectations, I will offer this additional corollary

The only difference between incremental innovation and break-through innovation is perception. Create the perception of innovation, and your increments will be received as break-through.

Here’s An Example from Apple: We love to talk up the rivalry between Apple vs. Google. But stop to consider their very different product management approaches. For many cultural and historical reasons, Apple is the closed-door super-secret product development shop. The market was never really sure about the iMac, iPod, iPhone, or iPad until the big release party. That gives you a lot to work with when creating the *perception* of break-through innovation. For example, the iPad 3 is merely a collection of several incremental improvements on the iPad 2. But, there are so many of these bundled into the product, and there is such a big bonanza around the new product, most critics were willing to say the new whole sum is much more than the sum of those incremental improvements. Yes, the secretiveness is their culture, but  it also serves as a great innovation strategy.

Here’s An Example from Google: On the other hand, with Google every nascent idea is thrown out to the market, as early and as soon as possible. A couple years ago, Google Apps launched as a way to offer a full suite of tools for businesses. It was such a simple idea, that barely anyone took notice: bundle Gmail, Google Docs, Google Groups, and offer it to businesses on their own domain name. It’s a great product offering, but because it was just a subtle, incremental step beyond what was already there, it got nowhere near the same mindshare or attention as the iPad 3.

Here’s how the Product Plan Achieves the Perception: Take a look at the Microsoft Product Roadmap below:

Note the following attributes, which you yourself can copy in your own roadmap:

  • Each milestone is forecast in quarters. If can shoot for the first month of the quarter, but then tack on another increment if you want to add wow factor
  • Each product line is broken into several milestones (e.g. Windows Embedded). This gives the marketing team time to prepare for creating the buzz.
  • Each milestone is labeled only at a high-level (e.g. Windows Embedded developer update). This allows you to be non-committal about the actual contents of the release, so you can exceed expectations or quietly defer something until the next milestone

You may be delivering great product by using an agile implementation approach. BUT if you want your product to be perceived as big chunky break-through innovation, whether by customers or employees, then a product roadmap is an absolute must-have for creating that perception.

This is the latest entry in my occasional series on Innovation. For other related items, click here: http://jessefewell.com/tag/innovation/

Want Innovation? Be a Follower and a Borrower

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Over the last month, I’ve seen a series of events related to innovation that given me new levels of insight into how creative breakthroughs happen. This is the first of three posts explaining the events, and the mind-altering, myth-breaking, insights that have crystalized the way I look at innovation and execution.

A full four weeks ago, I saw Malcolm Gladwell keynote the PMI Global Congress in Dallas. Here was his opening point:

The paradox of innovative organizations is that they are followers and borrowers, not leaders and innovators

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell offers provocative observations on innovation

He followed that point with an avalanche of examples:

  • During Bekaa air battle in 1982 (http://bit.ly/nee2Aa), Israel was the first to use drones, awax radar, and SAM missiles at the same time. These were technologies pioneered by the highly funded, innovation-oriented Soviets; then developed by the Americans with budget oversight and “get the job done” culture; finally utilized by a crisis-motivated Israel with no R&D budget at all. He found this example in the military innovation book by Adamsky
  • The mouse and the Graphical User Interface (GUI) were developed at the storied Xeroc Parc project in Palo Alto. Steve Jobs famously took that GUI and did what Xerox could not do: launch a commercial product with the technology (i.e. the Mac). It was a beautiful product and business success. But it was Microsoft who modified the technology into Windows, the most commercially successful operating system of all time.
  • Friendster is the one that lays claim to the first pure-play social media pioneer. MySpace matured Friendster’s breakthrough idea, and sold out to News Corp for a half-billion dollars. Now we all talk about Facebook as the king of social media and its multi-billion dollar valuation.

Here is the myth-breaker: being first to market with a fresh new idea, does NOT correlate to success.

Malcolm Gladwell presents at PMI Global Congress

Zen-PM takes a snapshot of Malcolm Gladwell’s innovation talk at PMI Global Congress

The pattern is that innovation is carried out by three successive parties:

  • First, The Inventors, who typify the innovative culture with big investments, and pioneer a new product, technology, or service.
  • Then, The Implementors, who have less to invest, and focus on how to operationalize, productize, and monetize that invention.
  • Finally, The Tweakers, who have very little resources, and make minor adjustments that transform the invention into a revolution.

Google is a company founded by tweakers of Lycos & Alta Vista. Sony ebooks were first, but Amazon dominates because they had the chance to see the impact of e-readers and then make adjustments. Finally, the iPad came along and introduce a tweaked tablet PC as a new challenge in the ebook space.

“Steve Jobs was always follower and borrower” The resurgence of Apple over the last 10 years, is based on his ability to tweak the PC, tweak the portable music player, tweak the blackberry, tweak the tablet PC, and now tweak the cloud.

…and if that wasn’t enough, he pressed further:

“Innovation at its best is a mass phenomenon, not an elite phenomenon.”

Gladwell’s asserts that the industrial revolution happened, because the West had an historical boom of dabblers and tweakers. James Watt was an implementor, only doubling steam efficiency; the anonymous tweakers increased it by another 500 times. Alexander Graham Bell’s voice-over-wire was only one of many contemporary tweaks of the telegraph’s signal-over-wire. Think of wikipedia. Think of crowd sourcing. Think of the old fashioned “suggestion box”.

It was a fascinating talk, and of course, wildly entertaining. Gladwell is a great story teller; memorizing an outline of his talk, offering just enough detail along the way, and adding energy throughout. Even his crazy hair helps amplify his enthusiasm.

But the talk would serve as the first in a personal series of innovation a-has. I’ll post those other reinforcing moments shortly. Until then, I leave you with this final quote and question: “Nimble adaptive organizations are mutually exclusive of innovative organizations.” Put another way, which kind of company do you work for? I’d like to hear if you think you are an ivory tower organization, or one that ruthlessly applies what already works?