How product managers can succeed in innovation leadership
Welcome to the Product Mastery Now podcast. You may know it as The Everyday Innovator, but after seven years of interviews, I have changed the name to better reflect our mission, which is to help you become a Product Master, creating products customers love.
Our guest today is a 30+ year innovation and technology journalist. He has authored several books on innovation and is the CEO and co-founder of Innovation Leader, which helps changemakers at large organizations deliver real impact.
He’ll share the challenges innovation leaders are facing and how to overcome them.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:37] What are the biggest obstacles to innovation in organizations?
Big companies are designed to be like aircraft carriers—everything is supposed be perfect, safe, and reliable. If you, as a product manager, are trying to make something new that’s not yet perfect, safe, and reliable, you face obstacles like:
- Politics and turf wars: people don’t want you getting in their way
- Cultural issues: changing the culture is challenging
- Inability to act: people know what signals are crucial to the future of your company but can’t act on them
[6:52] How can organizations overcome those obstacles?
One option is skunkworks—innovating in secret. There are successful examples of this, like the Apple Macintosh and Lockheed’s skunkworks that developed some of the fastest planes of the 20th century, but often skunkworks don’t get enough support from headquarters and are not attuned to the overall strategy.
Innovation networks are more successful. People from organizations all over the world work together to build innovation capability. These networks are much harder to switch off than skunkworks.
[10:19] What is the role of an innovation leader?
Innovation leader is an incredibly challenging role. Innovation leaders work in established companies and are responsible for thinking about the future, talking to customers about the future, and understanding how technology is going to change. It’s a hard role because of the obstacles I already mentioned—people know how to do their jobs and they have numbers to hit, and innovators feel like agitators because they’re disturbing the status quo.
[19:24] What actions do successful innovation leaders take, and how do you see innovation leadership changing in the future?
First, innovation leaders need to find out what kind of innovation the organization wants them to be doing. There are three categories:
- Product/service innovation: innovating what you’re offering to customers
- Cultural innovation: changing the way it feels to work here and potentially attracting new talent
- Process innovation: internally-focused
Successful innovation leaders know you can’t work on all three of those categories at once. Choose one or two and don’t spread yourself too thin.
Successful innovation leaders create value for the organization in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term. Today, they might be hiring new talent, testing new technology, or finding new solutions for customer research in a remote world. Meanwhile, they’re balancing those activities with a mid-term and long-term approach to innovation.
Innovation leadership is a job about people—understanding organizational politics and influencing people.
[24:00] What are the biggest enablers of success for innovation?
The top three are:
- Leadership support
- Ability to test, learn, and iterate
- Right strategy and vision
Do you have a vision that is thinking about today, next year, and the next five years? Successful founders have a vision for the next five or ten years and know what they need to get there.
Too often, companies collect ideas from their employees but don’t have a plan for doing anything with them, so people stop giving ideas. These companies are doing innovation theater, not true innovation. You need to think through the unintended consequences ahead of time and making sure you have a plan for managing any innovation processes you put in place.
Action Guide: Put the information Scott shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Check out Innovation Leader
- Listen to the Innovation Answered podcast
- Connect with Scott and Innovation Leader on LinkedIn
- Connect with Scott on Twitter
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” – John Cage
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.