“Innovation” must be the most overused word in any software product description or company brand aspiration, and yet we still put it at the top of our product wish list. Whether we are talking about time-saving features, “ergonomic” workflow, or making the impossible a reality, we are all addicted to clever. While we all want the label, not every product can truly earn this distinction.

Big companies drool over startups' ability to fail fast, pivot, and try another tack without first having to sell the concept to the stock market or board members. Startups wish they had more resources, could hire more talent, and/or improve their odds of success by reaching a bigger audience before big companies gobble up their ideas. We’re stumbling over ourselves to be unique and to chase the dream of innovation.

So how do companies actually achieve the mythical i-word?

Is there a process or approach that can fuel a team to take on a fresh customer-focused perspective and test the path along the way?

There are a lot of compromises that are made in product design and product management, and sometimes for good reason. We may have an ideal picture of what we think a customer is going to want but there are costs to manage, technical limitations, deadlines to hit, and so on. Most conflicts arise between PM and marketing when marketing says, “This is the ideal thing we should be making," and product management says, “Well, we can’t.” “So why can’t you, are you incompetent?” Often the ideal product is not even remotely feasible.

On the one hand, it’s great that marketing challenges PM but at some point, it becomes unproductive. If marketing takes the time to learn more about why the decisions were made, they can become a part of the solution and even propose another option that they think might work better for the story or for the customer.

Every day that goes by, I want more customers involved in the process. I don’t think you’ll ever actually end up with too many customers hanging around while you’re developing a product for them. You can always get reactions and feedback to what’s going on and what you’re working on. Even if it’s something a customer has never seen before, your team may still feel really bullish about what you’re building. Customer reactions could be a huge help to the marketing team and how they’re going to sell and explain the story.

Work hard, play hard, no assholes!

Last week, I heard a fantastic addition to this mantra – and I'm not sure how public this knowledge is, so I won't reveal the company name. Their mantra is:

Work hard, play hard, no assholes

They have a culture that embraces a positive work/life balance, because they know that this is key to creating successful, happy employees who will drive the company to great successes. But they also acknowledge that a company's culture can be spoiled and tainted by a few bad apples, and I absolutely love a company that, at its core, wants to reject assholes. I've seen over and over again how infectious and damaging just 1 asshole can be on a team's morale and productivity.

Love the Customer, not the Problem (nor your Solution)

When you love your customers, you will want to solve the biggest problems they have. 

When you love your customers, you will know the next problem they want solved after you've solved their current problem.  

When you love your customers, you understand who they are and how their world is changing around them, allowing you to adapt and change with them.

Love the Customer, not the Solution

Your survey data is bullshit – trash it and take these 5 steps

...While I took the survey, the three women sat there politely, talked amongst themselves and fiddled with their tablets. I finished, got my gift card and walked away.

Then I noticed another person going over to the table to fill out the survey.  I looked around the space and I realized the only people that were filling out this survey were glassy-eyed engineering-types who were stretching their legs and getting some coffee.  

What do each of these folks know about their employer's data security needs?

I can save this data security company a ton of money right now – please go ahead and drag your survey results over to the Trash.  There, I have just saved you tens of thousands of dollars that you would have spent designing products, services and campaigns that were destined to fail because they were based on meaningless data contributed by people who are not your customers!

Here's a better idea – listen to your customers!

Here are the five steps I would have followed at this data security company to learn more about my customers in this workspace.