A frequent question lately has been what tools are used by product managers and innovators. In this episode, we are addressing some tools for innovation. I’ll cover product management tools in a future episode. To discuss innovation tools, I talked to the one person who has literally written the book on innovation tools, which appropriately is also titled, Innovation Tools.
My guest and bestselling author is Even Shellshear. Evan’s focus is on industry transforming technologies and methodologies, from software to consulting. His background is in economics and game theory. He is also the founder of Simultek, a company that leverages game theory to elicit people’s true preferences.
In our discussion, product managers and innovators will learn:
- using crowdsourcing as a catalyst for innovation and avoiding crowd slap,
- tools for early prototyping,
- using and avoiding problems with behavioral innovation, and
- business model innovation.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of some questions discussed:
- Why did you write Innovation Tools? When people think of innovation, Lean Startup often comes to mind. There is a gap between the theory of Lean Startup and other such methodologies and actual execution. When people express the gap, they understand the methodology but are missing a concrete set of low-risk tools to make innovation a reality. The Lean Startup is really about managing risk. It’s a risk management methodology and framework to help people launch new ideas and companies in a low-risk fashion. What was missing was not just a set of tools to implement that but a set of tools that were centered around low-risk activities and risk-minimizing execution strategies. I set out to fill that gap and help people find risk-minimizing tools out there to help you implement something like Lean Startup. The impetus for the book was many conversations with people saying, “Yeah, look, I get it but I need to do something, to get my hands dirty. What’s out there?” That was the reason why I wrote that book, to help people with this important piece.
- Let’s talk through some of the tools. Tell us about Crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is important because it’s been a massive catalyst for driving innovation. We know that the crowd has a huge number of perspectives and great expertise. What you’re doing with crowdsourcing is you’re tapping into that expertise, that desire for people who know something special, to give you that something special. That’s really the challenge and the benefit of crowdsourcing. The other part of crowdsourcing is where you flip it. Instead of reaching out to the crowd and asking for solutions or ideas, you reach out to the crowd and ask for funding to launch a solution to a problem.
- What are the pros and cons of Crowdsourcing? There’s a thing called the crowd slap, which is where some companies like Chevrolet have tried to source the crowd for ad campaigns or other ideas and because of the company’s image in society, instead of people taking it seriously, they ridiculed the company. However, the biggest challenge around crowdsourcing is managing the crowd and having the right expectations from the beginning. As an example, in 2006, IBM ran their Innovation Jam. They received 46,000 contributions, which they then reduced down to 31 ideas for further refinement. That’s less than 0.1 % of all ideas contributed. If we say that it took someone five minutes to consider every idea, 160 24-hour days would be required to go through all those ideas, or about 480 work days, or roughly two years of one person’s time. This is the challenge with crowdsourcing. It’s understanding what you’re going to get out of it, what the work requirement is, and what the other options could be for less effort. To run a successful crowdfunding campaign is actually a big challenge. You need to do a lot of things well and sometimes it just simply could be better taking that money and developing what you want and testing the outcomes. People need to understand the amount of work involved in managing and successfully running a crowdsourcing campaign as well as the appropriate relationship between the person doing the crowdsourcing and the people providing the ideas, which involves intellectual property and remuneration for their efforts.
- What are tools for developing an early prototype of a product? This is a conceptual use of “tools” and is a very low-cost approach and that’s hackerspaces, makerspaces, tech shops, fab labs, etc. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars buying a machine to produce prototypes or even spend that money outsourcing the work to someone else who has prototyping machines. Instead, use hackerspaces and makerspaces that offer a collection of prototyping machines and high-quality software to design your prototype. For less than $100/month, you’re able to go to a hackerspace or a makerspace and prototype your idea for merely the cost of your time and the resources and materials that you need. The other big part that people often overlook is the expertise that exists in these facilities. You’ll find a community where you can tap into the people around you and get design help. You can get a lot of that fantastic feedback as well.
- You introduce the concept of behavioral innovation in the book — what is that about? It looks at how we make our choices around innovation and how they are influenced by our biases and preconceptions. I think this is something that is too often overlooked in product management. It’s the decisions we make and how good they are. Behavioral innovation is an amalgamation of behavior economics and innovation. It looks at combining the two to understand better how our biases and heuristics affect our decision making when it comes to innovation. The specific focus I take is around funding and investing time and resources into the innovative activities. It’s an extremely important tool for us to drive better decisions, to lower risk, and to make sure more of our products are successful simply because we’re choosing the right ones.
- What about business model innovation? As product managers, we tend to focus on developing new products and services. However, what we often need to consider is the business model these products and services are embedded in. Is that business model innovative and is that business model going to produce something better than competitors are providing? Exploring your product in terms of a pure service can lead to more effective business models.
Useful links for product managers:
- Innovation Tools book and related information
- Innovation Tools Facebook site
- Evan’s profile at LinkedIn
- Follow Evan on Twitter
- Evan’s company, Simultek
“There’s no need to innovate innovation. There exists enough disruptive innovations just waiting to be assembled.” -Evan Shellshear
Listen Now to the Interview
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.