I love to travel. I enjoy seeing new places and trying different foods. It is fun for me to learn what is unique about a city or town. I also enjoy visiting familiar places – in Seattle, I have a favorite coffee shop and in Phoenix, I must go to a special place for tacos!
Travel incorporates the lessons of creative leadership. As innovation professionals we trial, test, and enjoy both the new and the familiar. The three common themes between travel and innovation are: vision, learning, and decision.
When you visit a new place, you see it differently than if it is familiar. You may notice that street names change every few blocks or that the city has a lot of billboards. When you are familiar with the town, these elements fade into the background.
As an innovation leader, you must envision your products and services with fresh eyes. Imagine that you have never considered buying your own product. Does the packaging strike you as interesting or is it boring? Does the product name describe what it does? Is the product unique or are there lots of competitors?
A drawback of working within one brand or category is that we become too familiar with our products and services. We need to see features and benefits as if we’ve never seen the product before. One way to get a fresh vision for your products and services is through a focus group or lead user group. Real customers provide the feedback that an internal new product development (NPD) team may miss.
And with vision comes learning. When I first visit a new place, I like to get a road map. I’m old fashioned and like to have a paper street map. It gives me the whole view of a town or city instead of turn-by-turn directions. I get a sense of what is to the north or east, as well as how far away different attractions are.
But as I walk around for a few hours (or days), I find that I don’t need the map anymore. I have learned where to turn and how long it takes to get somewhere.
Innovation leaders also focus on learning – not simply to transfer a vision into the boring and familiar. Yet, learning as a method of transforming customer needs into features and attributes brings satisfaction to consumers and profits to companies.
Learning, in innovation, is crucial. They say that whoever is not innovating is dying. A harsh statement. What it means is that successful leaders are constantly identifying needs and pain points while working to resolve them. It is easier and quicker to navigate without a street map – when the route is familiar. Our job, as innovation leaders, is to make product selection and use as quick and as easy as possible for our customers.
Vision and learning are important, yet without action you don’t go anywhere. I often daydream about where I want to go on vacation. I research places on the internet and buy travel books to learn about parks and attractions in a new area. But, until I buy an airline ticket, I have not committed to the travel. When I book my air travel, I demonstrate a decision to visit one place over another. Effective decisions are crucial for innovation leadership. One arena in which I see a lot of failure in NPD is a failure to make a decision. Many, low-value projects linger on the books. These projects consume valuable (and scarce) resources. Worst, ho-hum projects do not invigorate your customers or your team members.
The best way to make new product decisions is through portfolio management. Join me in 2021 for a special hands-on, interactive course to streamline your product innovation portfolio – 100 Days to PPM. You will learn to make the critically important decisions necessary to compete effectively. Join as an individual leader or bring your whole team!
The Traveling Innovator
Whether you love to travel (like me), or you’d rather be a hermit, innovation professionals must practice the three critical skills: vision, learning, and decision. With vision, you view a product or service from your customer’s perspective. You learn what is easy, or difficult, for consumers so you can improve new product designs. And, finally, you act by making prudent and efficient decisions with product portfolio management.
Don’t forget to register here for 100 Days to Effective Product Portfolio Management. Space is limited.
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced innovation professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 787-3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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