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Julia Shalet says ‘If we don’t embrace innovation at the corporate level, then we are not going to keep hold of our innovative people’

Julia Shalet, award-winning innovator, product consultant.

An outstanding line-up of speakers from both sides of the Atlantic gave their tips on staying ahead of the game in product development. VPs, MDs, and a Product Doctor laid out their strategies for keeping one step ahead of the relentless cycle of change.

Julia Shalet, Product Doctor, UK

Julia Shalet, award-winning innovator, product consultant, qualitative researcher, trainer and university tutor kicked off proceedings with the simple mantra “test before you invest”. As she puts it; “I like it not just because it rhymes, but because it is how innovators can avoid wasting time, money and effort!” 



Julia emphasised that innovation is not simply about new products & services, features and campaigns, but also about an organisation’s culture. She has seen so many talented, innovative product & marketing people leave their jobs because the culture did not enable them to quickly test out hypotheses, learn by doing and they don’t have the discipline of making decisions based on evidence.

“If we don’t embrace innovation at the corporate level, then we are not going to keep hold of our innovative people.”

Julia Shalet, Product Doctor

She talked about three factors to success: “Firstly, is the idea viable? Does it make a profit? It needs to make business sense. Secondly, can you actually deliver it? Is it technically feasible? And thirdly, is it desirable? Do people need it and want it?”

Quoting a 90% failure rate statistic from Nielsen, she says that it is that third one, desirability, where projects most often go wrong, so this is the place to start.

The answer to which, says Shalet, comes from being honest with yourself and admitting where you are making assumptions. She encourages us to first start with asking ourselves whether people really do have the problems, needs and desires that we think they do. Then to go and speak with those potential customers and users and check all of our hypotheses around their feelings and behaviours. This is getting real evidence so that we can then make decisions to move forward.

“The point is this. There’s stuff that you think, you know, you might feel quite confident of. But the mindset is that you need to question what you think you know. That’s the first layer. The second layer is that there are things that you don’t know. You’ve got to learn those things you don’t know. And that’s classically, where most people are quite good. They know what they don’t know, but they forget to question what they think they know. The next layer is where gold dust is – it is only by talking with customers that you will discover this next layer. It is the things that you didn’t even know that you didn’t know. This is where you find that there might be an even bigger problem to solve, or that you have imagined entirely the wrong customer segment or that their needs are already being perfectly well met!”

The good doctor also explained this approach to testing new ideas is continuous; “of course you can innovate at all stages of the journey throughout the product lifecycle” and that it can be applied to a big new product or business launch right through to an internal process change. We need continually measure and improve our customer experience throughout the product and customers’ life cycle.”

At which point a question to the other panellists about innovation killers quickly brought up the conclusion that the command to “show me the money” ranked as one of the biggest.

“This is a big problem” agreed Shalet, noting that instead of asking for a business case early on it would be better to “make sure a problem exists; a problem without existing solutions that are good enough to solve the problem. There is a common risk adversity and fear of failure in organizations, but we need to change the culture and understand that we need to be testing out and learning what works what doesn’t, it is not failure, it is learning.”

Rather than that being a green flag to reckless experimentation Shalet endorsed “a longer- term view of empowerment combined with her seven-step approach to the thorny issue of “is it a good idea.”

“If we ask the right questions to the right people and measure the responses we get, we actually get some quantitative objective data. And we don’t make decisions unless we have evidence on which to base it.”

Surgery with the Product Doctor returns on …with the next NWE Webinar; Innovation Mindset