The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Three Great Quora Reads On Product Innovation

I have yet to integrate Quora in any regular or habitual way into my daily professional life. But from time to time, I dip back into the site and am delighted by the interesting insights I find buried among the snarky retorts and unanswered questions.

Here are three of my favorite recent reads on product innovation.

How does Apple keep secrets so well?

A former colleague from my time at the Apple Online store wrote, "In the end, it works because the employees want it to... They want to be part of the magic trick, and the most important part of magic is not revealing the secret."

Robert Scoble added these thoughts: "Because they are a hardware company they knew that letting details out about new products would kill sales of existing products, so they built that into their culture early on...Everything is on a need to know basis." In this world of agile software development, I would agree it is often hard for technologists to remember that hardware product lifecycles are not so short or very nimble. Manufacturing lines have to be set up, tooling has to be done and re-done, chipsets must be assembled, durability tested.

Scoble continued, "This [need to know]  extends even into meetings. If you are in a meeting and you aren't on the disclosure list for something you'll be asked to leave. Generally people don't bring up stuff in meetings they aren't allowed to discuss with the group." This, too was my own personal experience. If you don't believe security is a part of a company's culture, you haven't been asked to sign an NDA when you enter a meeting with your own colleagues in your own office building.

Why has Microsoft seemingly stopped innovating?

My former CEO at RealNetworks, (and once again Real's current CEO), Rob Glaser wrote in a "rather lengthy (War and Peace like) note" that "most of the action in technology innovation nowadays is taking place in areas where (i) PC software strength by itself is not sufficient, and (ii) the business models that lead to success are very different that the model that Microsoft was build on and is still at the core of Microsoft's DNA."

Glaser cites three value creating innovations in the past five years that Microsoft failed to nail: "(a) Search delivered to consumers/end users on the Web for free, supported by extremely valuable targeted ads (Google)  (b) Integrated Hardware/Software/Service device plays monetized both by selling the device and then selling services on top of the device (Apple, RIM) (c) Social Network Platforms that are free to consumers, based on user-generated information put into highly integrated and extensible structured frameworks, monetized a few different ways (Facebook)"

Scott Berkun, the author of the Myths of Innovation, pointed out, "The real tragedy is it takes  great products to be labeled an innovator by the mass media and consumer culture. Edison did not invent the lightbulb, but he made one that  worked well enough to be used by most people, that's why he gets all the  credit. Same for Ford. Microsoft has never been led as a products company - It's a  technology and platforms company. With that kind of strategy  middle-management and design-by-committee dominates, making the kind of  design vision and clarity of focus required to make a great product (or a  great user experience) very difficult culturally. The result is products that are often mediocre to experience, but have secondary value that enterprise and corporate customers respond to. This doesn't work as well for consumers, and consumer drive the perception of who is innovative and cool and who isn't."

What distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%?

Former Yahoo exec, Henry Sohn, commented, "I would argue that the best product managers are the ones who can connect to the very best creators and help bring about the best products, and communicate that to the outside world.  

The most popular answer to this question, written by an Amazon senior manager, stresses the value of simplicity to the top echelon of product managers.  "A 1% PM knows how to get 80% of the value out of any feature or project with 20% of the effort. They do so repeatedly, launching more and achieving compounding effects for the product or business. "

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