7 steps to changing team mindsets to encourage product innovation

By Jodie Hopperton

INMA

Los Angeles, California, United States

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Hi there. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking with product leaders about how to harness innovation and which innovations we should be focusing on. Below is a framework that’s been developed with a number of industry leaders. I hope you find it helpful.  

Busy at the moment? Take a look at my chart for a good summary of the steps and considerations for the innovation process to run smoothly (well, at least as smoothly as experimenting can be!).

On a personal note, I’m going to be off for a short while. A product I’ve been developing over the last nine months — in the shape of a baby human — is due to arrive. The INMA Product Initiative will continue to go strong, and we have some fantastic content lined up from product leaders around the world so please stay tuned. All being well, you’ll see me start to resurface in June. In the meantime, please reach out to INMA CEO Earl WIlkinson with any queries or ideas. 

Best, Jodie

Changing mindsets to encourage innovation

A while ago — in the days when we were able to meet face to face — I found myself in a room full of extremely intelligent and experienced news people moderating a workshop that posed the question: How can we change mindsets to encourage innovation and collaboration? 

Every person in the room had, at some point in time, tried to get a new idea or initiative off the ground and found themselves up against a blockage of some kind, often people related. These lessons are very much relevant to the product work I have been doing and the conversations I have been having lately.

Talking these issues through and using the collective grey matter and experience in the room, we found a framework for changing mindsets to bring in the new:

  1. Mission: A core set of objectives is essential for people to pull in the same direction. What exactly is the tribe that they belong to? And what, specifically, is this tribe attempting to achieve? This isn’t a lofty statement. It’s actual, practical objectives. Having this agreed — and understood — enables departments to align, bringing their expertise together to achieve this goal.

  2. Articulate the problem being solved: Why does it matter? And how does it align to the company mission? Some people will need help to build and tell this story, as well as back it up with data. Consider a set of questions, a framework, or even a mentor to help them do this. And remember that for people to come forward, there must be a safe space where they feel comfortable talking openly. There are two groups that are highlighted as excellent resources to talk about things that could be done differently: newcomers to the business understand the mission but have a fresh perspective to the operations; and those exiting the business are doing so for a reason. What are their frustrations? What would they do differently?

  3. Permission: Senior buy-in is essential for anything to get off the ground. It doesn’t need to be the CEO, but it should be a senior executive. They should understand the value of the problem being sold and make sure the tools needed for it to succeed are accessible.

  4. Validate the idea: Gather customer research from sources available such as audience data, a survey, or interviews to test the hypothesis of the problem and the proposed solution. 

  5. Create an MVP (minimum viable product): A fairly rough/basic version of the project is usually enough to give first results for use. Allow enough time, but too much can make it too complex. Consider whether a mentor would be helpful.

  6. Share results: Spread the data and the knowledge, with transparency, through the organisation. Show people what has been worked on and the most basic, easy-to-understand results. Choose the right person to share within the organisation — someone with good communication skills that can navigate different views (not necessarily the project leader). Be sure to praise the innovators to encourage others to come forward. 

  7. Create the desire to learn more: People want to be part of a successful project, especially when it benefits their team/department. Encourage continuous feedback and sharing.

Changing mindsets starts with a mission and continues through creating a desire to learn more.
Changing mindsets starts with a mission and continues through creating a desire to learn more.

In the real life scenarios discussed in the room, we found the framework above consistently created a desire to learn more from other parts of the organisation. Once they saw results, colleagues often saw practical uses within their own areas and asked to be included in developments: cross department collaboration. With more people buying in and contributing, products get better and meet more needs. This feedback has been accentuated by Marcel Semmler at Bauer, who has spent a great deal of time working on transformation (an insightful article of his here).

If you enjoyed this and found it helpful, be sure to join the next Product Initiative Meet-Up on May 26 with the author of award winning “The Really Good Idea Test,” which will expand more on this. More info 👇.

Date for the Diary: “The Really Good Idea Test with the Product Doctor,” May 26 at 10:00 am ET.

Coming up with ideas isn’t the hard part. Knowing which to prioritise is! According to Neilson, 90% of new ideas fail because of misunderstood consumer needs and desires. Be one of the successful 10% by creating an innovation culture that empowers employees to “test before they invest.” During this INMA members-only Meet-Up, Julia Shalet, aka The Product Doctor, will be discussing tactics to help decision-makers get the evidence they need to answer the right questions at the right time. 

Julia is an award-winning innovator, product mentor, qualitative researcher, university tutor, and corporate trainer. Her book, “The Really Good Idea Test,” was published by Pearson and has just won an Axiom Business Book Award.

This is free for INMA members. Sign up here

Tweet of the week: Finding the *right* problem

Following the discussion about Amazon v Apple design (here), I received an e-mail from INMA member Anup Gupta in India, who has been a “conventional design guy” for over 30 years. 

“The definition of ‘DESIGN’ that I have come to practice, and encourage my colleagues to follow is — DESIGN = CREATIVE SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM. So whether it be the branding of a publication, or the reworking of a process, or the floor plan of a newsroom/shop floor, or the lighting or sound management of an area, or the ergonomic design of a chair as we sit long hours ‘working from home,’ as long as the ‘problem’ is accurately and competently defined, ‘a creative solution can always be developed. 

“But there lies the challenge, as most do not invest in identifying the ‘problem.’ Amazon makes ‘buying’ simple, as that was the problem they had to crack … Apple ‘challenges’ the status quo to create an ecosystem and create path breaking products which they incidentally also sell ...  just as the Wright Brothers did with human flight.” 

He summarised by saying: “DESIGN, I believe, is a very misinterpreted word. The problem, more often than not, is not identified. The resultant DESIGN of the GOALS is therefore flawed, and objectives not met.”

This touched on something else that I have been thinking about: True product is solving a customer problem. So within designing to meet company goals, this should also primarily be solving a customer problem (we can get into why they should be the same thing another day.) 

With this in mind, there was an excellent summary of a common rabbit hole: solving for problems that customers actually care about. This was written by Shreyas Doshi, who has built products at Stripe, Yahoo, Google, and Twitter. I’m over-summarising this for brevity, however encourage you to read the full thread here. Artwork is by Shaun Miller. It was shared by INMA member Sonali Verma at The Globe and Mail in Canada.

The first part starts off very much as expected and broadly follows the first steps above:

In this case, after several interactions over a period of time, customers do not adopt the product and this is what happens (recognise it?!):

So what did they learn?

And what can we learn from this? We can be much more effective is we focus on the *right* problems. Using customer problems stack rank (CPSR) is one way of doing that.

Not on Twitter or want the TL;DR version? Here it is:

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About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at jodie.hopperton@inma.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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