Innovation Perspectives – Fighting our Stereotypes
This is the second of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on “What roles do engineers and marketers play in an innovation setting, and what conflicts can arise based on their perspectives and approaches?” Here is the next perspective in the series:
by Mark Roser
People interested in the topic of new product development and innovation are likely already familiar with many aspects of bringing technologists together with marketers. There is no shortage of opportunities for both groups to take credit for success but lay the blame for product problems with the other group.
Having studied marketing at Wharton while getting my engineering degree at the University of Pennsylvania, I was fortunate to start my career seeing how both types speak about the other.
Engineers can caricaturize marketers as talkative, image-sensitive, fashionistas who are more interested in socializing than in working. Marketers can caricaturize engineers as dull, narrow-minded techies who buy generic shampoo and could use a change in wardrobe.
These age-old stereotypes are quick to point out the whimsical notions of our varied personalities, but rarely speak to the value of what each of us can truly contribute.
Innovation programs can only succeed when a diverse set of skills, ideas and capabilities are brought together. If two people think the same way on a team, one of them is redundant. Yet, though we all logically know this, we often find it a challenge to feel comfortable working with people who are different from us.
If these assumptions are true, then we see that the success of innovation is related to a team’s capacity to endure discomfort.
Discomfort can arise from many points of difference:
- Ownership of the product – Who gets to prioritize the specifications?
- Organizational boundaries – Who holds more turf?
- Ego structure – Where do we find self-worth?
- View of the client – Am I able to see the world through others’ eyes?
- Language – Do I speak the same language? (Jargon, idioms, private jokes)
- View of technology – What features are possible, are required?
- Sense of urgency – When do we need results?
- View of success – Is success measured by revenue, by engineering marvel?
Solving these differences is not something that can be addressed in a one-page article. But, the solutions to each of these challenges requires three foundational elements:
- A willingness to accept a level of discomfort, knowing that it is a required part of the game of innovation (New ideas, new people, new personalities, new thinking)
- A willingness to be a model of tolerance for others’ thinking, knowing that if we are open to others, they will be more likely to be open to us (and conversely if we step on others ideas or solutions, they will step on ours)
- A willingness to be stewards of the customer’s best interest and to hold the customer’s needs as a higher priority than any conflict between us and others on the team
Through these three fundamental steps, teams grant each other a safe place where differences can become strengths and not just irritants.
You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on “What roles do engineers and marketers play in an innovation setting, and what conflicts can arise based on their perspectives and approaches?” by clicking the link in this sentence.
Mark Roser has been working with companies internationally for over 12 years to identify new markets, clarify product & service growth opportunities and lead exploratory development programs. He can be reached at mark.roser*at*openinnovators.com
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