Observing – The Innovator’s DNA

In a previous post, I recommended The Innovator’s DNA by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen. Their five skills of innovators are critical for both individuals and organizations to be successful at innovating. While the book lists “Observing” as the third skill, in my view this is the number one trait to worry about when it comes to setting up an R&D team for success.

Simply put, Observing is the ability to watch the world and learn from it. In the context of R&D, it is the ability to learn from consumers, customers, and the retail environment; to learn about the opportunities for innovation. When setting an innovation strategy, it is vitally important to reinforce the need for product developers to be out in the market, learning from it. Too many firms delegate this activity to marketing, when it is important for both groups to be better connected with the end user of the product, and the environment where it is sold. As an Innovation Leader, some key questions to ask are:

1) How often are product developers interacting with consumers and customers?

2) Are your employees skilled at learning from these interactions? (It is important to have the right approach and to ask the right kinds of questions. People must have curiosity and a desire to learn, but the approach can be taught.)

3) Does your strategy reinforce the need to be out in the field?

4) Is there regular time allocated to ensure that Product Developers are able to interact with consumers at a minimum on a monthly basis?

5) Do you have a way for employees to bring their insights back into the rest of the organization so that other employees can benefit from it?

As a Product Developer, it is important to challenge yourself to make these interactions with the marketplace happen. It will make you a better developer and a more successful innovator.