For a Fresh Start, Start with a Clean Slate

April is a month of rebirtClean Slateh, renewal, and fresh starts (although as the snow continues to fall in Nova Scotia, it seems that including “spring” in that list may be an overstatement). The first quarter has come and gone, and now you’re either evaluating those great ideas you came up with in January, or you’ve given up hope that they will come to pass. Is it too late for a fresh start?

It’s never too late for a reboot, but for new ideas to take hold, it’s important that they not be crowded out by the same old, same old. That calls for a clean slate. Clean slate thinking allows you to ask the question, “what if we were building this new thing from the ground up, without any of the constraints we experience in our current business?” One technique we like to use is one we apply regularly in our own business. It’s an Innovation Game called Remember the Future. In our adaptation of this game, we imagine the new offering, or activity, or expansion at the height of its success. Then we look back, figuring out all the steps we took to get there, without considering the impacts or effects of what we’re doing now. That lets us really see the possibilities. Then, and only then, do we explore what we would have to change or not do, to make it happen.

This kind of thinking is only possible with an attitude of abundance. Scarcity thinking forces us to hang on to what we have, and to fear what we might have. So clear off your slate, imagine what your business or product could be, and kick that reboot you’ve been toying with into high gear.

Thinking clearly,

Megann and Steve

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An Invention is Not a Synonym of Innovation

Inventors are always coming up with ideas. One thing we’ve noticed in our work with entrepreneurs, is that they sometimes believe an invention is an innovation. But in our view, an innovation is a bit like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If it doesn’t solve someone’s problem, it’s probably not really an innovation at all. Just an invention in search of a home.

Why does this matter? It matters because of the effort required to convince someone to buy it, or to use it. Convincing someone to buy a product or service they don’t want is push marketing. And push marketing is the hardest kind of marketing there is. It’s that telemarketer that calls you during dinner to convince you that you want to buy auto insurance, when you don’t even own a car. It’s trying to convince someone that they want something they haven’t even been looking for.

On the other hand, pull marketing is creating something that the buyer or user already wants. Something that solves a problem. Something that makes their life easier. Something that they’ve been wishing for, hoping for, or dreaming of. It’s an invention that answers the question, “If only I had a… [Enter Solution Here]”.

How can you know if your invention is really an innovation? Don’t ask your mom (she’ll either lavish you with unfounded praise, or tell you to ‘smarten up’.) Instead, validate with customers. Real ones. Not your friends. Do this before you build the thing. Target carefully, ask people who are your identified and intended audience, and see what they have to say. Accept their advice, and you’ll know whether you have an innovation on your hands, or just an invention.

This weekend we’ll be judging entrepreneurs’ pitches at Canada’s Business Model Competition – an event specifically built around separating inventions from innovations using Osterwalder & Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas. It’s a tool you can use, too. So before you call yourself an innovator, go out and validate, validate, validate – and make sure you’re not just an inventor. And if you need help asking hard questions, let us know. We can help.

Public judging of the finals takes place Saturday afternoon. Hope to see you there!

Megann and Steve

Remember the 80’s? These Opportunities for Innovation Still Hold Up

DruckerMegann has been re-reading Peter Drucker’s classic, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It’s interesting to see the predictions (hmm…in the 80’s, innovation and entrepreneurship were the future that would save the economy – sound familiar?) What Drucker stressed was that innovation and entrepreneurship were not just about new technology, but about a revolution in thinking, in doing, and in performing. In short, innovative would be demanded of every organization. Fast-forward to today, and Drucker’s work really does look like a seminal work – with many of the same messages in “new” (dare we say “innovative”) treatises on innovation and entrepreneurship theory. So it seems worthwhile to revisit Drucker’s Seven Opportunities for Innovation. (For more inspiration, check out the Drucker Institute).

We help our clients explore opportunities to find out which are right for them and their organization. Which one resonates with you?

  1. The unexpected (What happened in your business that surprised you in 2014?)
  2. The incongruity (Is there a gap in your market or your business between the “on paper” reality – and the “real” reality?)
  3. Innovation based on process need (Have you found a new way of doing things that makes you say, “Wow, why didn’t we try this sooner?”)
  4. Changes in industry structure or market structure that catch everyone unawares (How could we have been ready for that tsunami?)
  5. Demographics – (Is your traditional buyer outgrowing your product? Or is someone unusual buying it all of a sudden?)
  6. Changes in Perception – (Do you have customers who are suddenly ready to buy, who weren’t before? Or just the opposite?)
  7. New Knowledge – (Has your team had an aha moment that makes them see a whole new way to offer your service or product?)

All of these opportunities are still valid. If you need a hand exploring them in your business, we’re ready.

Looking at all the angles,

Megann and Steve

It’s Not Too Late – Join us at ProductCamp Atlantic!

productcampatlantic logo medium     Wow, we’re really excited at the response we’re getting to our ProductCamp initiative. Along with our co-organizers, we’ve been hearing great things, and registrations continue to grow. This Saturday, product management enthusiasts from our region will gather to share ideas, solve problems, and get energized and inspired. If this is like any of the other ProductCamps we’ve attended, healthy debates might even ensue. Interested in getting involved with ProductCamp? There are lots of ways you or your connections can participate:

Sponsor – we’re looking for sponsors large and small who will assist with things like coffee and lunch. Innovacorp and Nautel were our first sponsors to sign on, and you can see others at the website. It is strictly a not-for-profit event, so sponsorship dollars go to cover travel costs for speakers, food, or other conference costs.

Send or Attend – we’d love to see you there, or alternatively product managers, developers, or other contacts that you think could benefit. Anyone who is interested in product management and product development (including suppliers) is welcome.

Share your Time – volunteers are welcome and appreciated – helping manage check-in, setting up and tearing down on the day, checking on guest speakers to be sure they have everything they need. Many hands make light work, as they say!

Speak or Suggest – if you have topics you’d like to see covered, let us know. If you have a topic you might consider presenting, even better – just let us know. The community will vote and their selections will become part of the program.

Spread the word – if you would be so kind as to communicate to your networks, it would be fantastic. www.productcampatlantic.ca @PCampAtlantic or on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=8177776

We hope to see you there!

Megann and Steve

Build a Community and Grow your Confidence

Are you a product manager who’s experienced conflict, confusion, or even a lack of confidence that you’re going in the right direction? Do you have the title, but you’re not sure what a product manager does (and everyone at your company wants to badge you with a different job description)? These are not uncommon problems. As we’ve been continuing our “repatriation” to the east coast, we’ve made some discoveries in our growing network. One of these is watching how the confidence of individual players grows, as they build their community or ecosystem. It’s like they are learning their habitat, trying what works, and finding out whose ideas and input they can, and should, trust. We’ve seen tremendous momentum in the east coast startup movement, and if these startups are going to become stayups, we need to continue the community-building at the next level.

Our work has always been about helping people or organizations to get a better understanding of customers, and how those customers interact with their products. This means that product managers are often our clients, and just as frequently, our friends. Depending on the location, the product management community may be very well developed and interconnected, or it may barely exist. But our observation is that once the community begins to take shape, product managers become a lot more confident. They reach a point where:

  • They’re ready to take a stand for what their definition of product management is
  • They know where to find other product managers whose learning and solutions are relevant to their context
  • The solutions they recommend are well-grounded in evidence, from a customer-centric perspective
  • Their skills at customer discovery, user experience management, and advocacy on behalf of the client are continuously improving.

Atlantic Canada is full of bright young (and young-at-heart) product managers (whether that’s by title, or by function) who want to change the landscape for the products they’re building and the customers they serve. If you’re interested in growing your community and building your product management toolkit, join us at ProductCamp Atlantic October 25th. 

Look forward to seeing you there,

Megann and Steve

Megann and Steve Willson Medium

We Need Collaboration, AND Collision!

We’ve been working with our colleagues from The Mentor Group and Invest Atlantic on some projects, mostly aimed at growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlantic Canada. There’s been a lot of talk about collaboration, and there are certainly some great partnerships and alliances that have been developing around the region. There are cross-border conversations happening between provinces. More sharing is definitely happening. For all the talk about collaboration, though, we’ve observed occasional sensitivities, hackles being raised, even (dare we say) protectionist comments in certain communities and circles throughout the region. We really need to get past this.

The One NS Report (or colloquially, the Ivany Report) challenged us to pull up our socks, pull together, and to open the door to a brighter economic future. This is possible. Truly. But every idea, offering, and invention needs to stand up to a challenge now and then. Let’s switch our mindset from one where we live in a land of scarcity, to one where we live in a land of abundance. So what if someone else wants to do what we want to do, or build what we want to build? Where would Pepsi be without Coke to spur them on? Or McDonald’s and Burger King? Collisions or confrontations don’t need to be the order of the day. But they can be the driver of new ideas, new approaches, or an impetus for us to dig deeper and come up with something even more creative and inventive than what we were doing before. How about it, folks? Let’s get out there and stretch ourselves. Meet with strangers. Collaborate with new partners. Challenge our long-held axioms and check our assumptions.

We’re game, are you?

Megann and Steve

If you’d like to discuss this or any of our ideas in person, we’re happy to hear from you. We’ll also be attending a number of upcoming events, including Invest Atlantic and Product Camp Atlantic

Switch it Up for a Richer Product Story

This week we’ve been using metaphors and serious games to tackle a host of business problems, and we’d like to help your organization to do that, too. We’d love to hear from you.

We were back at Dalhousie University’s Norman Newman Centre’s Starting Lean Initiative yesterday, working with the participants in their special Summ’erUp program. It’s great to see these young entrepreneurs progressing – some getting ready to beta their products, others still in development – but all of them needing to find the best way to tell their stories. We’d like to give a shout out to Peanut, Bootstrap, and Applicable Labs, especially, for the work they put in on their Product Boxes.

Product Box is a great, fun tool created by our friend Luke Hohmann – originally introduced in his book, Innovation Games®, and which has evolved into a whole suite of solutions available from Conteneo®. We’ve adapted it to use in all kinds of situations, from creation of new products, to re-inventing brand stories, to simply getting customers to relax and have fun before engaging in a strategic conversation. Look at some of the great examples from our friends at Bootstrap – the pictures really do tell the story of what they have in mind for helping young Nova Scotians stay here in this beautiful province while re-inventing the economy:

Bootstrap Product Box 4Bootstrap Product Box 1

Bootstrap Product Box 6Bootstrap Product Box 5

Bootstrap Product Box 2Bootstrap Product Box 3

See how the metaphor of Product Box really tells the story? Bootstrap, we’re really proud of you and your colleagues at Summ’rUp. Keep up the great work. 

If you and your team would like to use these and other serious games to solve problems, build strategy, or work more closely with your customers, just let us know.

We’d love to play our games with you,

Megann and Steve