For better or for worse I admit it - I am an addict. I am a addicted to making data driven decisions, with that out in the open, why I am I filled with fear of pending foolish decisions when presented with research from focus groups and surveys?

The learnings from focus groups and surveys can be very valuable, it is the management decisions that follow which really scare me. 

Survey and focus group findings are normally surface level. The findings should be seen as signals which provide direction to explore and learn. Instead management take the surface level signals as hard fact and react immediately resulting in, often terrible, at best worthless activity.

To illustrate, consider the common research finding, “customers feel your product is too expensive”. Unimaginative management get hooked on this surface level price problem and decide on unimaginative action, such as adjusting the price strategy, or launching a marketing campaign to compare their low price to their competitors expensive price. Both activities are really dumb, the first is likely to reduce yields while pissing off existing customer and the second positions your product as bargain basement cheap and may well ignite a pricing war.

In the price example there is a need to explore and learn what the weakness is with the value proposition or product positioning. Through iterative experimentation we can derive learnings to inspire innovation that will transform the products fortunes. Unfortunately exploration typically does not take place, management display little or no curiosity.

The lack of management curiosity is coupled with an obsession with finding quick solutions instead of quality solution. Most managers are fire fighting against a never ending bombardment of incoming tasks (email, meetings, customers, staff, etc) that requires more attention than they have bandwidth. Time is finite and many tasks get missed or rushed, company culture conditions managers to reduce their attention span. This is counter productive for product managers who need to use focus as a tool to create time to be curious. 

Given the context of the never ending "todo list" and challenge to achieve “inbox zero” it is understandable why so many managers lack motivation to explore their curiosity and eagerly latch on to the first loosely justifiable solution. 

The outlook, skills and tools I am passionate about such as lean, agile and gtd methodologies can empower managers to achieve high focus and afford time to be curious. Through rapid low cost experimentation we can fail and learn fast to shape successful innovation. These frameworks are not silver bullets, the companies that use them to create world leading products and achieve hockey stick growth have to cultivate an environment to reap the biggest rewards from lean and agile.

Company culture will accelerate or kill innovation. 

Explore and learn requires curiosity, too many managers are reluctant ask “why” enough times to obtain a deep understanding. The typical organisational culture has killed off managerial curiosity. 

As technology continues to challenge established business models across all industries those that survive and grow will be the companies that have cultures that encourage innovation.  The rest will ignore what is happening around them and miss out.

AuthorDave Martin