In "The Ten Faces of Innovation," Thomas Kelley identifies ten personalities that help drive innovation forward in organizations, particularly within the design firm IDEO. He uses examples from IDEO's client work to show how they came up with ideas, both big and small, and created initial, groundbreaking prototypes.
But what happens after an idea is generated, demos completed, and the consultants go home? This isn't the end of the project; in fact, it's only the beginning. The initial phase is a fragile time, when a team has to take a proof of concept and keep pushing, gathering time and resources and manpower and taking an idea all the way to execution and marketability.
So we set out to identify the personalities and roles within a team that are crucial in driving a great idea all the way to realization.
The Champion is a true believer. Someone who fights for the cause within the organization, keeping things moving when inertia and internal disputes threaten to bog down the project indefinitely. All too often, projects fail, not because they launched unsuccessfully, but because they never see the light of day at all.
The Champion may have a fair amount of official clout, but more importantly, they're persuasive and able to garner the respect and trust of people throughout the company. The best work is done by people excited about what they're doing and motivated to push that extra mile, and the Champion can make that happen.
You can see the effects of a missing Champion when a startup is sold to a large company, like eBay or Yahoo, only to stagnate and fall into obscurity. In rare cases, the original founders' belief in the product is so strong that they pull together the resources to buy the company back, as was the case in 2009 when StumbleUpon founder Garrett Camp and a consortium of investors bought back the company from eBay in 2009.
So where do you find a Champion? Since the relationships between the Champion and the rest of the company are so important, you can't just hire one fully-formed. Instead, look within your organization (and it might not be who you expect). Look for energetic, motivated people who work well with others. Start giving them more responsibility and see what happens - the right people jump at the chance to have ownership of a product.
Thomas Kelley suggests that the ten roles he outlines serve as a way to beat the devil's advocate. But dismissing negative feedback out of hand can be dangerous. Positive reinforcement is great to hear, but if we get too caught up patting ourselves on the back, we'll end up blind to flaws in our product or roadblocks in our path. The answer isn't to become disheartened and give up, but instead to use that feedback to push yourself to be better.
Josh Liu of MinuteBox recently described how a negative review from TechCrunch forced him to rethink his product from the ground up, and ultimately was better off for it.
Finding someone who'll criticize your ideas isn't difficult (well, maybe unless you're a billionaire CEO), but finding the right kind of Critic can be. You don't want unfocused pessimism, you want the educated opinions of smart people who have been in the trenches. Seek out people who have experience in your space - even (or especially) if they were unsuccessful. They'll have war stories, as well as strong opinions about what not to do.
The Marathon Runner
As much of a battle as it might be to get out the door, the initial release isn't the time to sit back and relax. Responding to user feedback and continuing to improve the product is crucial to gain and retain loyal users. Products that don't change will gradually feel more and more out of date as technology improves and styles evolve.
That's when having a person on the team who sees the big picture and the potential of the product is key. This person can sometimes be the Champion, but often these roles require different personalities. The Champion pushes to create the next big thing, while the Marathon Runner helps the product reach its full potential.
Most "overnight successes" have been toiling away for years before hitting it big, and the best ones keep pushing even after they've become breakout successes. Facebook has continued to push the envelope ever since their 2004 inception (and 2007 boom), and Zazzle has continued to evolve and respond to their market over a ten year period.
So who's a Marathon Runner? You'll want people who see the big picture as well as have an eye for detail - those small moments can make or break a product. Look for people who have experience maintaining and expanding products over a (relatively) long period of time; avoid people who like to launch a product and move on.
Who Are You?
Of course, there are many more people who work to make a product a success: these are just a few key roles we've noticed over our time working with teams. What roles do you play in your team?