The Innovator has arrived.
It can be a lonely place in product, especially in organisations starting on the agile journey. Although we are in the digital golden age, priorities are at an all time high, budgets are being stretched and goals are being moved with every click towards success. That makes innovation and exploration 2 sides of a coin that is becoming a rare currency. Everyone knows we should be going after that “20%” and companies put on a good front with friendly messages like “feel free to email the CEO any thoughts on how we can be better at what we do”. But in truth, few companies actually practice what they preach. When it comes to sign off on said innovation (especially something that is completely new) we are met with “We will only do this if we can sell it” or “What is the return on investment from the offset?” Wise questions to ask and why not? If you can’t justify the cost of development then why should your idea become a reality? That, and there is usually such a blame culture on failure that there is a layer of fear before anyone will raise a hand in the first place. Although not ideal, this is the world we live in. You can go to as many creative workshop courses all you want but if you can’t overcome this you will not explore, you will not learn anything new, and you will not create anything above basic expectations.
So how can you actually go looking for that thing that’s going to change your world but survive in the real world?
Answer: you can’t on your own.
The days of the lone innovator coming in with the “things are going to be different round ’ere” attitude and disrupting everything, are gone (if they ever existed in the first place). If you want to bring change and exploration in an established culture you’ve got to have champions, believers in what you are trying to do, and you’ve got to change a culture. Innovation isn’t done in isolation, nor done in silos: it’s done as a rhythm, a movement, and a mindset change within cross functional teams. The best ideas I have ever had, have been in a group focused on a common goal where we thought about the end user on every detail. And I am 99.9% sure if you ask any product person worth their crust they would agree (well, to an extent anyway). How do we focus and know our user? I hear you ask. Data, sweet sweet data. Listen to it, talk to it, and name your children after it. Data is your yay or nay of how successful a potential idea can be. Data gives creditability to an idea and it helps build champions of your vision. If you can use more of a logistical method to explain how your idea could work, you will get buy in from your stakeholders. If you get more people collaborating on the potential solution, you get buy in from the business. You build up a momentum where people not only want to do this, they actually want to see it succeed.
Be warned, as I have mentioned countless times in previous blogs, data is nothing without analysis. Make sure you know what you are looking at is accurate and coordinated with a data expert. II often get people say to me “Why have web analysis’? I can use this tool”, well, these people don’t get paid big bucks just for being able to use a tool, and the clue is in their title… ANALYSIST! These people are the lifeblood of decision making, they can tell us if we are looking at apples or oranges (sorry to use THAT analogy) so we can make an informed decision. Yes by all means pull some data yourself, I do everyday! But for when it matters, for when you are about to have a “What we are going to do” moment, just sense it with a data expert. It has helped/saved me countless times. The last thing you want is to make a decision on a false positive.
Then there are the Ney Sayers: the people who have survived every round of change, the people who always say “We did that before…didn’t work” they usually don’t offer any alternatives. You can spot them a mile off, when something goes well they will usually say something along the lines of “I asked for that years ago”. I call them the snipers: they throw comments from a safe distance usually after the fact.
I encourage you to find out who your snippers are, find out what lessons you can learn, and try to get them to buy into your vision, your ideals, and kill them with kindness. Snippers tend to be bitter, so you have to work a little harder than with most people. If that doesn’t work, kill them with data, facts, and collaboration.
Failing all of that, remove them from as many decision making capacities as you can. Snippers don’t tend to change and to be honest you have a job to do, being pulled into politics is not one of them. Let the snippers snipe at each other, we only have a finite amount of time to get stuff done and you don’t want to spend it on fighting battles that wont enable you to do your job.
So. If I were to wrap this blog up in a nice little bow for the world to see my thoughts, it would be this:
- Collaborate and share your vision to all that will hear
- Find your champions and get them on-board with everything and anything
- Start small, the smaller it is the quicker you will move
- Make sure you can prove what you are doing is worth it
- Build that unstoppable argument with real proof your thing works
- Try to win over your snippers, failing that, remove them