Lessons for product managers from the story of The Everyday Innovator.
This was an extra fun discussion to have because it gave me an opportunity to share some important insights from f2f interviews I have done but have not talked about much or ever on this podcast.
It is also a special interview, as a leadership coach and friend, Russel Verhey, interviewed me for his podcast, Advance Leadership Conversations. Please check that out using your favorite podcast app by searching for Advance Leadership Conversations.
In the discussion, you will learn:
- How this podcast started – it’s a great story if you haven’t heard it.
- Why Bob Tiffin of Tiffin Motorhomes focuses on customer service.
- How a software company flipper learned to build great teams.
- The most unusual McDonalds I have visited that puts customers first.
- Tips for talking with anyone.
- Tips for finding motivation.
- Tips for entrepreneurs with a product idea and what they should do first.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:35] How did you get the idea of starting a podcast on product innovation?
On a RV trip around the US with my wife and two kids for one year and two weeks, I felt like after training product managers for years I was losing touch with what leaders were thinking about innovation and product management. One of the purposes of the RV trip was to have interesting conversations with people leading innovation and product management. After the trip, I missed those conversations and started the podcast to continue having those great talks.
On a side note, the thought of recording my voice for a podcast made me super nervous because I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my voice. But I overcame that because I wanted to have interesting discussions, and I share those conversations so other product managers can grow. I also built confidence by taking some training on doing interviews and doing voice coaching, but I realized that the bigger picture was that I just had to get out of my own way. I’m here to help other people, and if I occasionally pronounce a word wrong, it doesn’t really matter because other people are going to find value.
[9:57] What were some meaningful conversations from your road trip?
The very first one was with Bob Tiffin, the CEO of Tiffin Motorhomes. Bob is extremely customer-centric. He spends much of his days talking directly with customers. While we were talking, his phone buzzed every few minutes with customers calling. His focus was on how to serve his customers.
Another time in the tiny town of Townsend, Tennessee, I interviewed the owner of a laundromat, John Allen Weller. He grew up in Townsend, comes back three weeks out of the year to see his family, and bought the laundromat to help out the town, but his real business is buying struggling software companies, building them up, and selling them. I asked him, what are you most proud of? He said, I’ve made a lot of the people that work for me millionaires, and I’m really, really proud that I am able to help so many people. Another thing that stood out was that he started his career as a guard in a prison. He said that out of that experience, he learned how to read people, and now in building companies, he knows how to find the right person for the right role and motivate them.
One last story is from Oro Valley, Arizona. I went to a McDonald’s to do some work, and there was a man behind the counter welcoming people in by name. This was so unlike any of my other experiences in McDonald’s, so I talked to this man. His name is Mike Yontz, and he was the owner-operator. For Mike, putting all the attention on the customer to create a good customer service experience was an essential part of operating a McDonald’s.
[20:53] What are some tips to kick off conversations?
I don’t want to undervalue the influence of prayer; I was praying on this trip to have really interesting discussions. Some were certainly purposeful, other seemed like coincidences. I’m naturally observant and curious, and I love hearing people’s backstories and finding out what is important to them. Likewise, it’s important to find out about our employees. Ask them why they like working for you or what’s keeping them from liking it. Especially Millennials won’t engage unless they feel connected to something bigger than themselves. You can engage people through honest discussions about your bigger vision, why what you’re doing really matters.
[24:05] What keeps us from observing interesting differences about people that open the door to deep conversations?
As leaders, it’s easy to focus on accomplishing tasks and forget about the relationships we’re impacting. By taking time for relationships, we can improve employee engagement. Leaders also need to be aware of the power imbalance among their employees. They need to communicate and frequently reiterate that they care about each individual employee as a person. Otherwise, people will disengage because they feel like they can’t be open with the leader.
[26:10] What helped you keep going with your podcast when you wanted to give up?
Early on, someone I respect in the product management industry told me that the podcasts for product managers that win are the ones that outlast everyone else. That gave me some competitive fuel. But more than anything, I would miss the discussions personally if I stopped. I get to talk to amazing people that otherwise I would not have access to. Still, I wouldn’t be able to sustain this just for me. It means a lot to me to know that I’m really helping a lot of people.
[29:55] What parallels are there between your journey on your RV trip and the product launch roadmap?
For the first few months of our RV trip, our roadmap was very scripted, but then we got more comfortable with playing it by ear, just seeing where we ended up, and that flexibility was good. In product management, if your plan is too scripted, you’ll miss opportunities for learning from your customer. You need to stay flexible and engaged in order to adapt to your customer needs.
[32:27] What’s the first step to taking an entrepreneurial product idea to market?
You can’t keep your idea private. Innovation happens when people share their ideas. You have to interact with potential customers, get their feedback, and find out what is valuable to them.
“Minds are like parachutes; they work best when open.” -T. Dewar
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.