Recently I was the keynote speaker for the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Symposium at University of Washington (go huskies!). I am so honored that my alumni university asked me to share my career journey with smart and ambitious students. Of course, I wondered “What on earth can I talk about?” since my usual presentations are more technical and geared toward product, project, and engineering managers
So, I decided to present what I wish I could have told my younger self knowing what I know today. I also realized that my own career has had (so far) three periods of time that roughly correlate with what I wish I had known earlier. I’ll share these three items with you and I hope that you can apply these to your creative endeavors.
Being expectant means to be ready for surprises. It means everything will not stay as it is today. In my early career, I thought every job was stable and routines would not change. Of course this was a naïve view of jobs and careers.
Product innovation managers also must be expectant. Fads, trends, markets, and technologies change constantly. Effective new product development (NPD) requires expecting changes. Successful NPD means you plan for changes in advance and can introduce product solutions that solve customer problems when they occur. Expectancy means planning to deliver value for your customers and your firm regardless of market turmoil.
In my mid-career, I was completely taken off-guard by corporate politics. I had no idea that peak engineering and managerial performance mattered little to folks centered on personal ego and greed. A hard lesson, but it taught me to be open to new possibilities and to think broadly about alternatives.
As product innovation professionals, we always need open minds. I love Carol Dweck’s book on mindsets – she teaches us that if we think we can, we can. The concepts of fixed and growth mindsets help us to recognize barriers and opportunities.
This positive and open mindset helps us recognize true problems facing customers. We can then develop the best set of features and attributes through co-creation. It is not enough to put a band-aid on a product and hope for the best. Nor is it our job as innovators to simply add features whether or not our paying customers need or want these functions. Being open to all possibilities makes us more creative and better problem solvers.
In a master mind group on Design Thinking a few years ago, I asked participants to select values that meant the most to them personally and for their work life. I commented that I wasn’t even sure what “bold” as a value meant. A friend and very smart colleague in ITs said, “You are bold. You just did a triathlon.” Okay, I’m a nerd, and the triathlon was a big goal for me, stretching me to uncomfortable physical limits (literally). And in Full disclosure, it was a sprint triathlon – a baby step for true athletes.
As product innovation professionals, we must be bold. We must take calculated risks in the design and development of new products and services. We have to ask tough questions of our customers, suppliers, and partners. And to be bold, we must be expectant and open.
Be Expectant, Be Open, Be Bold
As a chemical engineer, I agree that society categorizes me as a nerd. I certainly do have some nerdy habits and traits. But engineers are also excellent at trouble-shooting and problem-solving. We are creative in that sense. We can build the solutions needed for successful product innovation.
How can you be expectant, open, and bold? I encourage you to amp up your creativity, to tap into new possibilities, view the world from new perspectives, and to try new things on a journey of a lifelong learning. Your first step is to join me in the Special Creativity Workshop on Friday, 1 October 2021 from 10 am to 12 pm CDT. Register here.
Also be sure to stop by and say “hi” at my booth! Global NP Solutions is sponsoring the PDMA Annual Conference in Baltimore on 13-16 November.
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[…] on my presentation to the University of Washington graduate students earlier this year (read more here). We gain wisdom with years and (hopefully) would advise our younger selves against stupid […]