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Lessons on innovation and product management from the pandemic
Dr. Joseph Michelli is a returning guest, having previously brought us insights for creating incredible customer experiences with products and services in episodes 147 and 251.
Much has changed in 2020. It is not the year we expected. The adversity has created a need for resilience. Some product managers have responded to the challenge, making pivots and finding value where it had not previously existed. Many organizational leaders have learned on the fly how to navigate the challenges. We can learn from the leaders who have been successful and that is what Joseph will help us with. He talked with over 140 global business leaders, includes leaders at Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Feeding America, United Way, Verizon, Southwest Airlines, and many more. He compiled the timely lessons-learned in a new book, Stronger Through Adversity.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:47] Tell us about the product journey of your newest book, Stronger Through Adversity.
In the beginning of 2020, I was scheduled to write a book about the success of the chocolate company Godiva, but COVID put that project on pause. Meanwhile, I was working with other clients on positioning their products for survival through the pandemic, and I asked leaders, “How are you even trying to approach this?” I realized a lot of people are struggling and doing their best, and maybe we can learn something from them. I decided to create a new book about how leaders are coping with adversity. We needed the book to come out in 2020 to be relevant, so I interviewed 140 leaders and expedited my process to write in six weeks what I would normally write in six months.
[8:58] What have you learned about managing uncertainty?
A lot of C-suite leaders weren’t used to dealing with uncertainty. For example, Marriott was trying to figure out how to deal with an environment in which no one was staying in hotels. Microsoft Teams had to figure out how to scale and service their product when its application was far greater than they had anticipated. Leaders tried to grab on to something they could rely on. Sometimes that was consumer data, which is part of the iterative design process product managers are already familiar with, but now they had to do it on warp speed. They were agile beyond agile, and for a lot of brands that’s just not part of their DNA.
These leaders had to follow the terrain. They had a roadmap they were used to following, but suddenly their roadmap and the terrain diverged. The changing environment made it so that they could no longer act on the timelines that the roadmap specified. When the roadmap and terrain diverge, you must watch the terrain vigilantly. We saw companies doing more sampling of teammates and consumers. They were very focused on the data in front of them and responded to the environment rather than thinking about the roadmap.
[14:53] What have you learned about rapid innovation?
Many organizations became myopic, just trying to hold on and not looking for opportunities. A few organizations invested in the opportunities they saw in adversity.
In the book, I talk about the leadership style in a wild horse herd, which has an alpha mare leading in the front, an alpha sire in the back, and some horses within the herd that shape its behavior. Sometimes leaders have to be out front; they have to be visionaries, lay out the strategy, and go beyond the boundaries. Other leaders stay in the back, encouraging and moving the pace of the pack; they don’t lead their team through the struggle, but they know their team can innovate solutions. Often the leaders in the middle of the herd make it happen; they roll up their sleeves and become part of the action teams, thinking through problems together.
[18:54] What’s an example of a personal transformation of a leader?
The CEO of Farmer’s Insurance, Jeff Dailey, shared with me that he has become more vulnerable and humble than he had ever been before COVID. He apologized to his entire organization for not listening to his team about an opportunity for innovation they could have taken. He would not have imagined publicly apologizing before COVID. His engagement scores among employees went up meteorically. People don’t like to follow perfect people. If you’re authentic and vulnerable, admit your mistakes, and show that you use reasonable judgement, most people will follow you because they know that you’ll permit them to be imperfect as well.
Similarly, the FTD Flowers CEO was appointed during COVID, and his message to his team was “No hiding bad news.” He was concerned that people didn’t know him well enough to know that it was okay to tell the truth about the good, the bad, and the ugly. How can we make things better if we don’t recognize where the problems are?
[25:21] How do we take care of ourselves when “normal” is rapidly changing?
- Put your mask on first. I don’t mean the controversial face mask. I mean follow the instructions of a flight attendant: take care of yourself first.
- Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to condition yourself to take care of yourself in the long run.
- Every day, choose what today is going to be about. If you want to focus on the negative news, you’re going to be completely miserable every day.
- Don’t live with a false narrative, but live with an honest lullaby that says it’s going to be difficult, but there’s great wonder in achieving and accomplishing and getting stronger through adversity.
- May the world be populated by innovators, because we need you right now more than ever.
Action Guide: Put the information Joseph shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Pre-order Stronger through Adversity on Joseph’s website or Amazon
- Learn more about Joseph on his website
- Connect with Joseph on LinkedIn
- Listen to the other interviews with Joseph, TEI 147 and TEI 251
“There’s a better way to do it. Find it. ” – Thomas Edison
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.