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Four case studies in innovation for product managers (Podcast)

I enjoy learning about innovation and product management from companies that have been successful with it. I have investigated some success case studies in the past about LEGO, Wikipedia, IKEA, TripAdvisor, and Dyson. These and others are also used by our guest to describe Fearless Innovation, which is also the title of his new book.

He is a repeat guest, having shared in episode 219 how Cisco innovates. He is also the Managing Director of Innovation Strategy and Programs for Cisco. I expect you’ll find the insights from the case studies helpful.

Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers

[01:11] How do you define innovation?

Innovation is an overused buzzword that’s almost lost its meeting. I define innovation as the ability to notice the environment and create and/or respond to change. It’s our ability to execute with others and move our organizations forward.

[4:04] Let’s walk through some case studies from your book Fearless Innovation, starting with Lego.

Lego is a quality product because the company keeps evolving with the times. Their product is versatile. Innovation requires a diverse team. Lego uses open innovation by partnering with others, listening to others, and having a childlike curiosity.

[11:14] What can we learn about Wikipedia’s approach to innovation?

Wikipedia is a great example of crowd-sourcing. Many companies think that strategy is created by very smart people in the boardroom, but that’s not necessarily true. Through Wikipedia, the community consumes knowledge and contributes knowledge. At one point, Wikipedia’s demand for articles and the number of new articles both dropped. Wikipedia told their active users and writers that they had a problem, and they figured it out together. Listening to insights from customers, employees, and partners can transform your business.

[15:17] What can you tell us about the sequence of innovation?

Innovation is not something you can plan for. It just keeps happening constantly. To capitalize on the constant need for innovation, leadership is essential. Knowing metrics allows you to innovate with a clear sense of purpose. Ask yourself, “Why innovate?” Answering that question allows you to innovate pragmatically.

[18:35] What can we learn from TripAdvisor?

Innovation itself is not a metric. It’s a way to move other metrics and must be applied toward a particular effort. While developing their product, TripAdvisor was very focused on the metrics they wanted to move. They executed in small, measurable milestones.

[21:31] What can we learn from Dyson?

Dyson drives the future of many industries. They took many years and hundreds of iterations to build their product. Carpeting warranties are voided if Dyson is used on them because the suction is so strong. Dyson not only revolutionized the vacuum industry, but also the household supply and carpet industries. Despite the feedback that a bagless vacuum was impossible, they created their product, using many iterations. They executed small, measurable milestones, stayed focused, and listened intensely to the market feedback, but didn’t take no for an answer.

Companies often try to come up with a billion dollar idea that will disrupt the market. Thinking disruptively is counterproductive. First come up with a $10 idea, a $100 dollar idea, and execute reasonable milestones, working up to a billion dollar idea. Innovation is also about process improvement, which can save companies money.

[32:44] What is the key issue holding back organizations from being better at innovation?

It’s stagnation. It’s the denial that something will change, that the future will occur. It’s getting too comfortable and being disengaged from reality. Organizations can be disengaged from reality by thinking that the world will remain the same, by thinking that they’ll always be the king of the mountain, or by not paying attention to what’s going on. If you let employees innovate, the company will be engaged and successful.

At Cisco, we encourage innovation by living the company values. Our three values are: Connect Everything, Innovate Everywhere, and Benefit Everybody. Innovation is at the heart of our company values. We’re very transparent, by giving every employee a voice and listening to our customers. We encourage curiosity and provide employees with practical tools to implement their ideas. We encourage employees to volunteer in accelerators and startups. All this gives us a clear sense of direction and encourages people to work cross-functionally in an inclusive and diverse culture. We’re very clear with our employees that we’re there to support them in what they’re doing. Our leaders share their innovation ambitions and priorities with their employees. We provide guidance and expectations, and our employees can always go outside the box.

Useful links:

  • More resources from Alex including his book, Fearless Innovation.

  • Connect with Alex via his LinkedIn profile

Innovation Quote

“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” – Andy Grove


This podcast originally appeared in Product Mastery Now on March 2, 2020

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