As we approach the end of the year, I – like many others – began to measure and evaluate the time that has passed. While 2021 was somewhat less turbulent than 2020, strange politics still seem to be influencing our day-to-day activities and business decisions. Of course, our individual control over external factors is limited to our responses to these issues.
Watch the short summary below (< 30 seconds) and then read on for details!
Every year I choose a word to guide me – personally and professionally. In 2019, my word of the year was outreach (read more here). In 2020, it was economical and in 2021 it is willingness (read more here). Willingness helped me (I hope) to be more accepting and patient (not my strong suit), but also more daring and risk-taking.
How can product innovation leaders use willingness to guide their work?
Product Innovation Acceptance
I’ve learned willingness means to accept some things as unchangeable. Many of the environmental factors and externalities are out of our control. For example, inflation was virtually non-existent for much of my adult life but has suddenly skyrocketed in 2021. We cannot change the fact that high inflation is affecting new product development, but as product innovation leaders we can change our response to higher costs.
For example, we often choose to add more features and fancy technologies to create next generation products. With inflation threatening sales volumes of consumer goods, product innovation professionals might remove extraneous features to create basic, but essential, products. Removing features can give “breathing room” to product design, opening up a sense of freedom in the utility of the product for customers
Eliminating features is one of the tools we use in Design Thinking to creatively solve problems (read more here). With the acronym SCAMPER, your product innovation team can apply several different verbs to creative and collaborative problem-solving. SCAMPER stands for substitute, combined, adopt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, and reverse.
For instance, in addressing the problem of inflation causing raw material costs to soar, we can eliminate unnecessary features. Addressing the same problem, we might be able to substitute a less expensive material or modify the product to use fewer parts and pieces. We also might be able to adapt the product for another use and open up sales in a new market.
SCAMPER gives us a willingness to look at our products from different perspectives and viewpoints.
Daring to Take Risks
Willingness also means taking risks, a daring to try new things. With 2020 turning the world upside down, many small business owners, workers, and product development professionals have had to take risks we would not have otherwise done. Innovations sometimes forces us to be daring, to take risks, and to simply have faith in the outcome.
In the year 2021, organizations moved from the cost-savings and survival modes of 2020 into really thinking about how to serve customers in a radically different world. Willingness to try new markets and new technologies have opened up new opportunities. Yet, some of these new opportunities were short-lived or don’t match our strategies. Taking risks means accepting failure – as long as we learn from those mistakes and don’t repeat them.
True “daredevils” don’t attempt their fantastic feats without practice and without safety nets. So, as you take risks to address externalities affecting product innovation, be aware of limitations and boundaries. Test a small market. Generate simple prototypes. Manufacture small batches. These activities allow you to take risks, but they will not leave you without a safety net.
Word of the Year
I hope that I have grown both personally and professionally in 2021 by being more willing to accept change and to take risks. I can measure the success (or failure) of things I have tried in new markets and with product offerings.
I encourage you to do the same – take stock of what is worked in 2021 as you plan for 2022. In the world of new product development, we can apply Design Thinking tools (like SCAMPER) to adjust individual product offerings. Use a tool like Product Portfolio Management (PPM) to measure the success of your overall approach to innovation. Not every idea is a good one (despite our willingness to try it). PPM helps us to see “the big picture” and can help us weather unexpected external storms facing innovation.
Join me for PPM in 100 Days starting 7 February 2022. This deep dive course is only offered once per year. You will learn to sort, prioritize, and advance the most important product development projects for 2022. Register here!
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