A friend asked me “is now a good time to be a product developer with the economy in a recession”. I answered “Yes, now is a great time”.

Here’s why. As large companies reduce spending and staffing in R&D, there are fewer people to come up with new ideas. The people working in these companies are more concerned with keeping their jobs rather than sticking their necks out to propose a new idea that may fail and cost the company money. Smaller companies may not even have a R&D group and they certainly are not hiring a new R&D staff anytime soon.

It’s really a numbers game; a matter of percentages. As you probably heard, only a fraction of ideas actually make it to market. To increase your odds, you need more ideas.
The famous chemist Lines Pauling said.

The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

What does that mean for companies? Just having a bunch of ideas is not enough.

  • You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince
  • You need to mine a lot of ore to find a gem
  • You have to shovel through a lot of $#!T to find a good idea

If your are a product manager in a large corporation, you need to kiss those frogs, dig the mine and shovel through the stuff. When I worked at Motorola we had systems to do just that. Gather the ideas and sort through them. I was on two very interesting committees. One was the patent review board and the other was called the “Think Tank”.

Employees from all over the corporation/world would submit patent disclosure to an on-line system. These were descriptions for inventions that the submitter hoped would become patents. The criterion for these submissions was fairly stringent. You could not just submit some hair brained idea. The submissions needed to meet the novel, non-obvious, and useful criteria for a patent.

The Motorola Think Tank was a bit broader and employees could submit ideas for new businesses or new products. The ideas did not have to be patentable. It could be a simply a new feature for a cell phone that we did not currently offer or as way to tap into new markets by integrating cell phone into a child’s toy.

The goal of both of these mechanisms is to tap into the collective mind power of 50,000+ employees. The odds of getting a good idea from this large and diverse population is much greater than getting a good idea from 12 middle aged white guys in a board room trying to think of what is the next big thing for teenagers. Nothing against middle-aged white guys, I’m one of them. But those folks are out of touch with the market and really have no clue about the most recent social trends.

I remember being in a meeting and someone talked about “You Tube” and “Podcasting”. I said “Who Tube” and “What Casting”. I thought I was pretty in touch with technology and trends. That’s what I thought!

Today companies are looking outside their walls for ideas. Who’s better to know the ins and outs of doing laundry? A mom with five kids or a 20 something engineer fresh out of college who brought his laundry home from school every two weeks. Companies have focus groups after the product is designed to validate the product. They need to go to the source to find out what people really need. What are the challenges facing everyday people.

Furthermore, smaller companies don’t have this internal corporate brain trust to tap into. More and more companies are looking to open innovation as a way to gain competitive advantage. An extreme of this phenomenon is crowd sourcing is Quirky.com. Quirky.com is a community or users submit product ideas, vote on them and contribute to the design. The contributors get a percentage of the profits and their names are printed on the packaging of the finished product.

Don’t let the gloom and doom of the weak economy discourage you. If your idea gets going now you will be ahead of the wave of increased consumer spending when the economy recovers.

A friend asked me “is now a good time to be a product developer with the economy in a recession”. I answered “Yes, now is a great time”.

Here’s why. As large companies reduce spending and staffing in R&D, there are fewer people to come up with new ideas. The people working in these companies are more concerned with keeping their jobs rather than sticking their necks out to propose a new idea that may fail and cost the company money. Smaller companies may not even have a R&D group and they certainly are not hiring a new R&D staff anytime soon.

It’s really a numbers game; a matter of percentages. As you probably heard, only a fraction of ideas actually make it to market. To increase your odds, you need more ideas.

The famous chemist Lines Pauling said. “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

What does that mean for companies? Just having a bunch of ideas is not enough.

You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince

You need to mine a lot of ore to find a gem

You have to shovel through a lot of $#!T to find a good idea

If your are a product manager in a large corporation, you need to kiss those frogs, dig the mine and shovel through the stuff. When I worked at Motorola we had systems to do just that. Gather the ideas and sort through them. I was on two very interesting committees. One was the patent review board and the other was called the “Think Tank”.

Employees from all over the corporation/world would submit patent disclosure to an on-line system. These were descriptions for inventions that the submitter hoped would become patents. The criterion for these submissions was fairly stringent. You could not just submit some hair brained idea. The submissions needed to meet the novel, non-obvious, and useful criteria for a patent.

The think tank was a bit broader and employees could submit ideas for new businesses or new products. The ideas did not have to be patentable. It could be a simply a new feature for a cell phone that we did not currently offer or as way to tap into new markets by integrating cell phone into a child’s toy.

The goal of both of these mechanisms is to tap into the collective mind power of 50,000+ employees. The odds of getting a good idea from this large and diverse population is much greater than getting a good idea from 12 middle aged white guys in a board room trying to think of what is the next big thing for teenagers. Nothing against middle-aged white guys, I’m one of them. But those folks are out of touch with the market and really have no clue about the most recent social trends.

I remember being in a meeting and someone talked about “You Tube” and “Podcasting”. I said “Who Tube” and “What Casting”. I thought I was pretty in touch with technology and trends. That’s what I thought!

Furthermore, smaller companies don’t have this brain trust to tap into. Today companies are looking outside their walls for ideas. Who’s better to know the ins and outs of doing laundry? A mom with five kids or a 20 something engineer fresh out of college who brought his laundry home from school every two weeks. Companies have focus groups after the product is designed to validate the product. They need to go to the source to find out what people really need. What are the challenges facing everyday people.

Furthermore, smaller companies don’t have this internal corporate brain trust to tap into. More and more companies are looking to open innovation as a way to gain competitive advantage. An extreme of this phenomenon is crowd sourcing is Quirky.com. Quirky.com is a community or users submit product ideas, vote on them and contribute to the design. The contributors get a percentage of the profits and their names are printed on the packaging of the finished product.

Don’t let the gloom and doom of the weak economy discourage you. If your idea gets going now you will be ahead of the wave of increased consumer spending when the economy recovers.

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