We loved Janet George’s extra submission for our book. See below the fold!
Rule 44: Focus on breakthrough innovation for products
Janet George; Director of Research Engineering, Yahoo! Research
Product Managers focusing on breakthrough innovation will change the game in a major way, the worst scenario would be failure which would provide a stepping stone to the next breakthrough, much like the acquisition of the 99% negative knowledge which leads to 1% positive knowledge and hence the invention of the light bulb
Focus and work on breakthrough innovation for products as opposed to incremental innovation.
Innovation by nature is high risk, pushing the boundaries beyond the limits and chalking out a path where previous products simply stopped, lacked innovation, functionality and vision. The best product managers have a clear vision and a passion to pursue the vision to make it a reality. In the real business world, with multiple stakeholders dictating the terms of engagement and diluting the vision with their strong opinions and experiences this is a particularly hard challenge to stay the course and keep the line of focus, executing on the vision.
That said adaptability is key, vision must be adapted to actual findings in the product marketplace, experimentation must adapt and change course as learning from the results set must take precedence over what was originally staked out as plan and grand vision, including design for the product. I believe this takes a completely different kind of mindset and skill set that a product manager must posses in order to drive the success of breakthrough product innovation and the impact and results can provide a rare kind of deep joy not to mention abundant financial benefits for the entire team.
My belief is that this group of product managers falls squarely under the category of a “completely different breed” and they are as hard to find as a needle in a haystack, but there is plenty of needles buried in haystacks, finding them is the hard part, when you do and you know it, be sure to do everything in your power to have them on your team and you will be part of the winning formula. Apple was full of these extraordinary people and I had the great privilege of working along side them, learning at lightening speeds and experiencing with them, wonderful breakthrough innovations that came to life. This extraordinary privilege was extended to me a second time, working in my current job, with the most talented and skilled group of people all accumulated under one roof in Yahoo Research and Yahoo Labs.
Why is this important privilege? When you are among excellent innovative product breeders, your ability to breed breakthrough innovation rises with the cumulative growth and learning and your ability to create and excel multiplies, unbeknownst to you in a rapid pace. Breakthrough innovation is never easy, the job comes with untold challenges and the product managers built to survive the ups and downs, comes forth victorious, changing the game for everyone involved, leaving their mark on the world and leaving the world just a little bit better than before.
While working in Intuit I learned the paramount importance of having unequivocal management and stakeholder support when developing products with breakthrough innovation, without it the product innovator has an uphill battle; you cannot work on breakthrough innovation tackling the numerous challenges of the emerging product marketplace, with revolutionary vision and adoption, without internal support; its like trying to climb Mount Everest without the right tools and the right company; your mindset, skill set and knowledge will not get you to the top, you could easily die on the way up there and its not worth giving up your life for; turn around at base camp when your realize this and it will be well worth your time and your life. Breakthrough product innovation is a team sport, make sure you are on the right team and have the right team support.
In conclusion be the breed of product innovators and managers that focus on breakthrough innovation; Adapt, cultivate and acquire the mindset, skill set and knowledge base required for it, hang out with other similar innovators and breeders, even slightly better than you, be on the right team; make sure you are supported internally and externally, let your environment propel you forward and not drag you down and you will have some of the key ingredients to the formula, science and magic of repeatable breakthrough innovative products.