TEI 234: 3-ways to grow your innovation capital for more product & career success – with Nathan Furr

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The three dimensions of skills needed to move your ideas forward.

When I started this podcast I created the Product Mastery Roadmap that describes the path from product manager to product master. I’ve used it as a guide to the topics we explore here. Recently I updated it to better reflect the journey I have seen many of you and your colleagues taking towards mastery, focusing more narrowly on what is most important so you can progress more quickly.

A pivotal element of this journey is the influence you have in your organization — influence to get others to support your ideas. Recently a fellow listener expressed this well when I asked him about how this podcast has helped him. He told me that “I have helped create a monster” because he now gets everything he asks his company for — that he has virtually zero barriers and almost no questions asked. That is influence.

Product Management Interview - Nathan Furr

My guest has a different term for it, which he calls Innovation Capital. It is a concept he deeply explores in the book he co-authored by the same title. Innovation Capital is what you can build up over time that makes it easy for others to support you when you want to do something new. It consists of three components:

  1. Who you are,
  2. Who you know, and
  3. What you’ve done.

In a sense, this is a personal brand building and is seen in the best innovators in all size organizations.

My guest is Nathan Furr, who also co-authored two other very important books, The Innovator’s DNA and The Innovator’s Method. He is a professor of strategy and innovation at INSEAD, which is recognized as one of the top business schools in the world. His Ph.D. is from Stanford University. In addition to studying how companies innovate, he helps each year to create the Forbes’ list of the world’s most innovative leaders and companies.

For Everyday Innovators on the path to being a product master, this is one of the most important discussions you need to hear. I hope you enjoy it.

Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers

[3:03] How did this book come about?

A lot of my work has been about where ideas come from and what’s the process to test ideas. If you’re in an established organization, how do you change the culture to allow innovation to happen and create the support to do something new? If you look at Tesla and Edison, both were incredible idea generators but Edison was really good at getting backing for his ideas and Tesla struggled to do that.

[7:02] What is innovation capital?

It’s an intangible thing that you build up over time. It facilitates your winning support and backing for ideas and change. We synthesized the research and created a way to score people based on their innovation capital. It comes from who you are, what you know, what you’ve done, and how you’ve used those things to amplify support for your idea. It sounds simple, but has a deep basis in academic research and management theory.

[11:45] How can someone build their innovation capital to win support for their ideas?

We found four top things that were associated with people who had success in building human capital. One is that they’re forward-thinking and not afraid to promote ideas that seem unpopular at the time if they believe that’s where the future will be. Another is that they are proactive problem solvers and are always looking for ways to solve problems. Persuasion and influence skills also matter, as does creativity and the ability to generate new ideas.

[16:47] How does who a person knows factor in?

What are your connections to other leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs? These are all people who can help you build intellectual capital. We tend to focus on strong ties or people we know well, but weak ties matter too. Everyone assumes that you get a job because you know someone really well, but most jobs actually come from people that we don’t know that well. Facebook was built on a network of weak ties. This is something you can improve upon by making a conscious effort to get to know your colleagues and the people in their networks.

[24:19] How should we think about what we’re known for?

The projects that tend to get funded at big companies are the projects led by people who are respected and have a reputation for delivering. What’s your personal brand and what are you known for? You can improve this by becoming a founder and taking on a side project or leading an internal project. You can also take on projects that are visibly hard and not be afraid to raise your hand. People will notice and look to you with increased respect. While you’re working on those projects, show that you can prioritize what’s important and make the most of the resources you have.

[30:29] Once you have support for your idea, how can you ensure that it’s a success?

Don’t promise more than you can realistically deliver and be honest about what’s working and what’s not. It’s easy to lose reputation and innovation capital by promising something that’s unrealistic and trying to cover up something that’s not going well.

Useful links:

Innovation Quote

“Product managers innovate, customers validate.” -Nathan Furr

Thanks!

Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social network.

330 episodes available. A new episode about every 6 days averaging 39 mins duration .