Innovators make the world go around – and other principles for product managers
Do you like proverbs? I do. Proverbs are short general truths or pieces of advice. They can be a source of wisdom, which is why I read from the Bible book, Proverbs, most nights while I was in college. I was seeking wisdom. Proverbs come from many sources and some become common sayings, such as “measure twice, cut once” — wisdom for carpenters. Or, “look before you leap,” which is something many parents have shared with an impetuous child. I may have heard that one a few times myself.
I also love innovation proverbs, and I found a book full of them. It’s titled, The Innovator’s Book: Rules for Rebels, Mavericks and Innovators. The author is Dr. Max Mckeown, an award-winning author and artist who seeks to make complex ideas practical for the real world. His research focuses on how to increase the successful adaptability of individuals, teams and organizations.
We discuss a few favorite proverbs from the book.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:34] How do you describe innovation?
Innovation is about making new ideas useful. It’s practical creativity focused on making a new idea valuable. The work of an innovator is to make something that’s not just new or beautiful, but that has a purpose and solves a problem.
[4:05] How do you feel about the interaction between art and innovation?
The interaction is creativity. Every product starts as a drawing. A picture can capture much more than words can. I’ve embedded pictures in my book because they stick with people. When I teach, I draw beautiful cartoon artwork as I speak, and when I invite the audience to draw too, their creativity explodes. Visual information captures attention better and can be understood quicker and at greater depth than textual information. Sketching ideas can also help you focus on creativity and making the ideas useful.
[11:00] Why do you say that innovators make the world go round?
The core human ability is imagining ideas as images in our minds. The start of history is humans imagining, storing, swapping, discussing, considering, and remembering ideas. Every change that is worth talking about–printing, writing, democracy–is an idea. People consume and fight for ideas. Ideas, and therefore innovation, make the world go round.
[7:23] Will you highlight a few proverbs from your book?
Make your ideas easier to swallow. We designed the book itself to be dipped in and out of or to be read start-to-finish, with short sections so that even people who don’t read books will finish it.
Even useless can be useful. If you spot a product that seems useless, that’s innovation gold because you can improve on the useless work and build something better.
Beautiful ideas are never perfect. Ask yourself how you can make imperfect ideas better.
All these principles are about noticing ideas in your world and doing something better with them.
[21:08] How can you make an idea easier to swallow?
You have to make it likeable. Come at your idea from the position of the person you’re sharing it with. I represent ideas as babies. Their parents are curiosity and necessity, which both have to come together for an idea to be born. Our ideas are often ugly to other people before they’re finished. For an idea to grow, people must use it, so you must become a salesperson and market your ideas. As an innovator, your job is to help people see how your idea fits into their lives.
[23:54] Let’s talk about another proverb: What you know can hurt.
We tend to think what we don’t know will hurt us, but what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Knowledge you think you have can hurt you. Something you think is a fact that’s not really a fact can become a prison that you can’t see outside of. When change comes, you don’t see it coming, but it can still hurt you. Recognize that you might be wrong.
Another principle is: Hire people for how they learn, not what they know. A lot of company turnarounds have occurred when someone outside brings in a new way of doing things. Someone may not have experience in the job they are applying for, but they do have some experience. When hiring, it’s important to ask, how do you think and how do you learn? When applying, even without experience, you can highlight your ability to learn quickly and adapt.
Bonus Question: Innovation means change and change can mean fear. How can we as innovators overcome or make use of fear?
New ideas cause pain. You can overcome some of the fear by knowing which pain is necessary and which isn’t. There’s customer pain, which is the unavoidable change you have to deal with. Unnecessary pain comes from doing something badly, but sometimes pain is necessary because it’s the only way through.
Understanding where change is coming from before making change is also helpful. Some change comes from the opposing view of an argument. Other change is unavoidable because it is the next step in a general evolution.
People are much more afraid of vague fears than specific fears. You will feel more confident if you think through a time when you overcame change in the past and imagine yourself making the new change. Don’t hide from change. Learn more about the change a little at a time until you clearly see what you used to be afraid of and it becomes a source of energy.
Get help from other people. Innovators have three jobs: make your idea useful, build a bigger brain, and help your innovation win. Job two, build a bigger brain, means bringing other people around your idea. You can’t keep your idea going without other people. Voice your fears to your community and create a failure strategy. Most things fail in this world, so having a strategy to avoid and overcome failure will help you overcome fear related to change.
You can make failures work for you by selling your ideas. For example, present three ideas and communicate that even if two fail, it’s still a win if one succeeds. You can remove your fear by giving other people expectations.
- Dr. Max Mckeown’s website
- The Innovator’s Book: Rules for Rebels, Mavericks and Innovators
- Connect with Max via his LinkedIn profile
“Optimism, pessimism, screw that. We are just going to make it work.” – Elon Musck
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.