When problems arise there are great tools to attack them, specifically root-cause analysis and DMAIC. There are also excellent tools to stimulate creativity to develop new products, improve current products, and build innovative solutions. An excellent technique to help solve tough problems is Reverse Brainstorming.
A past article in the Wall Street Journal by John Gapper, “Norway’s oil wealth swamps innovation” provides an excellent example of how complacency can kill innovation. Gapper outlined how oil wealth has created a country that has lacked true national crisis. Due to affluence from oil, Norway has a gross domestic product per individual of $75,000, just behind Switzerland (the top GDP country in the world). The oil-funded wealth has resulted in limited shocks to the Norwegian economy and a strong social buffer for citizens. These “soft” times are shaky as oil prices have declined from record highs.
Some leaders and academics feel that R&D is currently much more difficult than in the past – most good ideas are already developed and the increase in additional scientists have diminished returns (more scientists, less innovations). Accurate or not, Knott (and myself) feel that another argument that explains the decline of innovation (if it exists) is that companies are just not very good at innovation. Knott studied publicly traded company financials and found that industry innovation had declined; however, corporate innovation was strong, as new industries were created.
Blue-collar jobs have typically been defined as those requiring physical labor; non-office jobs. The argument throughout the 2016 US presidential campaign was blue-collar jobs have moved overseas, decimating the middle class. What were not discussed were the new blue-collar workers that are changing the middle-class landscape.
An excellent tool for decision-making, problem solving, new idea generation, or effective meetings is The Six Thinking Hats (Hats). Developed by Dr. Edward de Bono, the Hats are the cornerstone of de Bono’s parallel thinking theory: separate thinking to ensure participants work in parallel (together) to achieve the optimal solution.
New ideas are often the combination of ideas from the past. It is extremely rare to uncover a truly new idea. We hear this over and over again, but how often do we believe it? Electric cars were developed over 100 years ago. Smartphones are the amalgamation of previous technology. With tidal waves of information surrounding us every day, it is tough to realize most products are not really new.
Is your organization on auto-pilot? Does your company do the same thing year after year? Does your company announce new products at the same time, attend the same trade shows, use the same marketing tactics, engage with customers the same way you did in 1998, or use the same software that you bought from the 1990s? If your answer is yes to these questions, you need to wake up!
Product managers need to interact with multiple departments and work with cross-functional teams. We are required to understand a multitude of skills, tools, and techniques to successfully perform day-to-day job requirements. Our skill-set balances marketing, engineering, information technology (IT), and manufacturing. We move from understanding nuances of customer insights to ensuring products are equipped with features that deliver high-valued benefits. Then, our winning features and benefits need to be clearly communicated to customers.
A great method to drive innovation throughout the organization is to constantly search for alternative ways of doing business. A key part of the de Bono Thinking Systems is the use of alternatives. Creativity is about finding alternatives, different ways of doing things. Too often we are satisfied with the current state and avoid any effort for improvement. Before we realize it, our sales are declining and customers are moving to our competitors. We should always be looking for new ways to improve a product, process, or business operation. Not just when problems occur or during special situations, but always, every day!