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I often begin speaking engagements with a question. “What does innovation mean?” Typical answers include responses such as creativity, new products, profit, and customer satisfaction. I especially like when the training class or audience recognizes the connection between innovation and customers!
Rarely, however, does anyone respond with one of the definitions that I believe is important for innovation. Learning. We must constantly be aware of new opportunities in markets and technologies, but as innovation leaders, we also must be cognizant of new connections and unique relationships. Disruptive innovation is about these unusual interactions that lead to quality improvements for our customers in products, service, and delivery.
Opportunities for Learning
Having gone through the traditional American education system, many of us associate “learning” only with school. Since local and state governments have shuttered schools in 2020, a lot of families are presented with new opportunities for learning. We learn through curiosity of nature. We learn through observation of how equipment and machines work. We learn through interviews with our clients and customers.
New product development (NPD) practitioners and innovation leaders learn the most by understanding what problems face customers. It is the pain of dealing with an unpleasant task or situation that stimulates change. And, when we can create a product with special features and attributes to solve those problems, we deliver value to our customers! These opportunities for learning are all around us, every day.
Learning is Self-Awareness
Successful leaders, and especially successful innovation leaders, must have a high degree of self-awareness. What is self-awareness? I think when we begin to understand our motivation, our purpose, and our stress triggers, we become more aware of our internal emotional drivers. Emotion is what drives many decisions, despite our illusion of rational thought.
For instance, imagine two identical frying pans. You are shopping for a new frying pan because the nonstick coating has completely washed away over the years period forget about trying to cook an egg “over-easy”. Everything sticks to your pan, ruining breakfast and making clean-up a tough chore!
At the store, you see two pans for sale. Both are 10-inch with nonstick surfaces. The handles are sturdy, and both have a glass lid so you can see what’s cooking inside the pan. The prices are similar, within 10% of each other. Which do you choose?
Right now, your brain is telling you “I would, of course, choose the less expensive frying pan”. But your heart (your emotion) is telling you to choose the pan in the nice package that includes recipes – over the open stock pan – even though it’s more expensive. Having self-awareness allows you to investigate the decision by learning about your own motivators. Leaders, teams, and customers all balance brain vs. heart decisions in product design, development, and selection.
Innovation Leaders Embrace Uncertainty
Uncertainty appears to be the one unchanging standard of 2020 and for the near future. Our trust in institutions and processes of the past has been rattled. Many people are very unsure of the future from an economic standpoint. Innovation leaders recognize uncertainty for their customers and within their teams.
Embracing uncertainty does not mean accepting chaos and clutter. Instead, leaders must be flexible and adapt to changing conditions. It doesn’t mean we have to like it or even approve of the changes. But, as leaders, we have to set aside what’s important to us (ego) and adopt what’s best for the team, our customers, and our communities.
In the Wagile product development process, one of our guiding philosophies is to “understand risk”. Again, we go back to learning. As we probe different product solutions, we can take calculated risks and test whether our proposed solution will increase or decrease uncertainty for our customers. Eliminating innovation hurdles, like confusing instructions or circular web links, drives customer satisfaction.
How Do You Learn?
As a leader, I invite you to apply self-awareness by thinking about how you learn. Do you prefer reading or listening? Do you want to ask a lot of questions frequently or do you prefer to dig deep only if you make an error? How does your learning style impact the ability of your team to learn about customer needs to work together?
Certification as a Learning Pathway
As our society moves away from traditional educational institutions and away from in-person work, you need ways to demonstrate your skills and capabilities. Certification will become more important to validate your knowledge and experience. In 2021, you must take the steps to show your mastery as an innovation leader.
Start with the Innovation Health Assessment™ (free registration and assessment here). Then, get your New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification. Take a class or read a book – whatever method fits your learning style. Practice and appreciate self-awareness for you, your team and your customers. Contact me at info at globalnpsolutions.com or area code 281 phone 787-3979 for more information. I want you to learn success with innovation!
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced innovation professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 787-3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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Building Innovation Leaders