Tracking Changes…for Innovation

In our recent podcast interview, Shawn Graham (author of Courting Your Career) and I talked about the editing process.  We speculated that it is a lot like the innovation process, when it is done right.

One example we discussed was tracking changes in a document, especially when more than one person is involved in the the editing process.  It gives you a record of what changes you’ve made and an opportunity to document why.

It becomes a record of the versions of your document and how it has evolved.

The document is built and tested–it’s prototyped.

Shawn talked about the concepts that led to Courting Your Career.  Hie premise is that finding the right career was a lot like dating.  You are trying to find a great match.    

He actually tested a couple of the chapters with focus groups to test if the topic was interesting enough and if he was approaching it in the right way.  He prototyped his book.

In that same way, when we have a product or service concept, we want to get it in front of people as early and often as we can.  Making the customer a constant advisor.

Who are you?

One question we discussed was ‘Who are you when you are editing.’  It is important to recognize why the editor and the writer are frequently different people.  It is very hard to judge your own work.  A sentence or idea that works in your head might not have the same clarity once you have committed it to the written word.

In the same way, it is very difficult for the person or team that conceived a product to judge how effective it is.  Too often writers fall in love with their own words and innovators fall for their own ideas.

We should love our work, but falling in love with individual ideas is very dangerous.

Luckily editors are the good friend who can tell us when love is a really bad idea.  In a similar way, users who don’t have a stake in your idea can provide you with the honest feedback you need to refine and edit your innovation.

Celebrity Tweeters Aren’t the Answer

Our conversation led to social media and trying to predict and gauge reaction to what we write.  You really can’t know ahead of time.

Shawn talked about how what people will react to is very hard to predict.  It can often be a moving target.  That makes putting ideas in front of people even more critical.

Celebrity tweeters with millions of followers can reach a lot of people, but how strong is that connection.  Even now, with a variety of channels for reaching people, personal connections are the best way to create meaningful dialogue.  (I lifted this quote directly from Shawn in the interview because I think it is a great point.)  Even with someone you have never actually met, you can share great ideas and form valuable connections.

These personal connections are similar to how we try to get in front of users and see what they really do.  If we can get our ideas and prototypes in front of the people they are supposed to help we can learn much more than if we are busy rereading our own ideas over and over and trying to figure in our own minds how they connect.

Still, it is very possible to be too close.  It is nearly impossible for us to give ourselves good feedback.  Even friends and co-workers aren’t very good sources for real criticism.  They’re too close to us.  They may not be able to separate their opinion of the work from their opinion of us.

If the boss asks the team for feedback on his idea, how can he know he is getting appropriate thoughts on this particular idea?

It can be like asking your mom what she thinks of your painting or poem or song.  She loves you too much to tell you if it stinks.   There are too many layers of relationship to unravel.

So get outside opinions on your product.  And, call your mom.  Just don’t ask her for her opinion on your latest innovation.

Listen to the interview with Shawn here.

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