How product managers can break through the barriers that are keeping them from taking action
Product managers are doers. We make change happen. We are mini-CEOs after all, right? Here is the big difference between being a product manager and a CEO; CEOs actually can make change happen. They have the authority to do so. Us product managers, no so much, and yet we are doers and we still bring about change. We have to sell our ideas, overcome roadblocks, and get others to join our cause. It helps if we love the work we do.
Our guest is going to help us accomplish these things. She is a doer herself, with a history of helping organizations create technology products to solve problems, including being a Product Manager Director at IDEO, Senior Director of Innovation at Autodesk, and a Mentor at Stanford Latino Entrepreneur Leaders Program.
Most recently, she has codified the steps for being a doer in an organization in her book, Start Within: How to sell your idea, overcome roadblocks, and love your job. Her name is Karen Holst and she’ll share some of these steps in this discussion to help you excel as a product manager.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[3:32] What was a key takeaway from your time at IDEO?
The people there are humble and eager to learn, even though they have many accomplishments. IDEO intentionally hires people like this because they contribute to the culture.
[4:53] What was a key takeaway from your time at Autodesk?
Innovation doesn’t look the same in every company, and it’s important to allow time to figure out how things work, where you’ll fit in, and how you can effect change.
[6:17] What have you learned about dealing with barriers when you’re trying to create something new?
You may be the smartest person in the room, and you may know the right solution, but it’s not enough to just be right. You also have to sell your idea. If others don’t buy-in, it’s going to fall flat.
[8:31] Who is the audience of the book you wrote with Douglas Ferguson, Start Within: How to sell your idea, overcome roadblocks, and love your job?
I wrote the book for myself and people like me. It’s for doers—people who want to get started innovating within their organizations.
[10:36] How can we take action internally?
The more you fill your brain with new ideas and diverse thinking, the more value you’ll have later. Bringing naysayers into your conversation can help you think differently. If you’re feeling pessimistic, talking with optimistic, enthusiastic people can help you balance. If we don’t find edges where we allow uncomfortableness, we get stuck in a rut of the same way of doing and thinking.
[15:03] What is getting in the way of doers not taking action?
One reason is exclusivity around the terms we use to talk about innovation. Innovation can seem difficult to achieve. In reality, innovation is anytime we’re launching new ideas, whether revolutionary or incremental.
Another roadblock is not knowing where to start. Innovation can take the form of many different processes, and it’s not linear. Start Within is a playbook—innovation is about knowing the different plays or processes and knowing when to get stakeholder alignment.
[18:12] What are some skills that enable doers to be more effective?
Being a doer does not require a charismatic, extroverted personality. Doers’ skills can be learned and practiced.
Start with small ideas. Recognize small steps and experiments that can lead to your bigger goals.
Embrace the beginner’s mindset. It’s difficult to approach the work that you’re an expert in with this mindset, but it’s important to listen and allow others to learn. Also, explore areas where you are a beginner—new industries, new roles. This is where you can really grow and find purpose. If you know you’re too close to an idea, ask someone else to lead so that you can listen and learn as an outsider. After you pitch an idea, be quiet and listen instead of continuing to explain. If nothing else, you’ll learn how to improve your pitching skills.
Prototyping ourselves is part of prototyping innovation.
Recognize that you will hear “no” at every step. That doesn’t mean you have to pause. Maybe there’s a different approach. A useful tool is mapping out your nos on post-it notes. On the first post-it note, write, “I’m hearing no because…” and fill in the reason. On the next post-it note, write, “Maybe if…” and fill in a way you could think about it differently. On the last post-it note, write, “Then…” and fill in what you could do differently.
You could create the opportunity for people who normally say no, like the legal compliance team, to switch roles and imagine that they’re innovators. Try to bend your thinking and bring in different perspectives.
Bonus Question: What are some tips for product managers to craft a job that they love?
Start with self-reflection. Identify what you don’t love about your job. If it’s too mundane, find growth edges where you can go beyond. If it evolved into a new job you didn’t want it to become, consider how you can redirect it.
Think about parts of the day you do love and parts you don’t love. We’re wired to be excited about challenges that are just hard enough to be solvable. Being a little uncomfortable stretches us and keeps it exciting.
Each day, reflect on what felt good about your day and what didn’t. Consider how you can adjust your work.
Action Guide: Put the information Karen shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Karen Holst and Douglas Ferguson’s book, Start Within: How to sell your idea, overcome roadblocks, and love your job
- Buy Start Within on Amazon
- Connect with Karen on LinkedIn
- Karen’s LinkedIn Learning Course, Product Innovation for Product Managers
- Karen’s LinkedIn Learning Course, Product Management: Launching Your Product
- TEI 269 with Douglas Ferguson
“A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.” – Mark Twain
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.