TEI 038: Product Managers Take Note: Changing a Culture for Innovation ' with Poet Michael Graber
met my guest at Innovation Excellence, the online home of the global
innovation community, where we both contribute innovation insights
regularly. Truth be told, I was giving in to my vanity and checking out
the top-20 posts for the month. My record is three posts in the top-20
in one month. For the month I was checking, Michael Graber's name took
the spotlight, and of course, I immediately thought he would be a great
person to interview. When I did, I was not disappointed. Michael has
more than twenty years of experience leading marketing and innovation
efforts. As an expert in marketing and user interface, he has become an
accomplished brand strategist. And, this is what really made me curious
to talk with him ' he is also a published poet and musician ' creative
forces that compliment his analytical side. Even when he is talking
about innovation and brand strategy, he does so poetically and
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators
- Michael has a firm grasp on the connection between his artistic
pursuits and innovation development. Story propels brands and God
created the universe for stories. Further, poets are the original
systems thinkers. The root of the word 'poet' means 'to make.'
- The heart of storytelling is motivation and getting people to think new thoughts ' the connection with brand development.
- Storytelling also requires knowing your audience and speaking in
terms that your audience will understand and appreciate. Product
managers and brand managers must do the same thing.
- When preparing a story to tell, creating a persona for the group
you're telling the story to will allow you to make a better connection
and make a more persuasive argument.
- To understand your audience, apply empathy and walk in their shoes.
- An odd dynamic is taking place among the C-suite of many companies.
They are demanding more innovation from the organization without really
knowing what that means and the implications it has for the
organization. Innovation requires a change in the organization but
leaders are too often unwilling to do what is required to make the
- When the organization needs more innovation, start with innovation
exercises, such as meeting with customers, practicing empathy,
conducting interviews, etc.
- The second element is working on the culture. Without working on the
organizational culture, a new innovation team can do ideation work with
customers and be excited about the new product opportunities, but the
existing culture can stifle these efforts. It is like antibodies
attacking an unknown element in the organization.
- To begin considering a change in culture, one activity asks the
senior leadership team to examine new models of revenue. This helps to
push the team in new directions and can also identify revenue
opportunities that are easily attainable.
- Another cultural change tool is examining existing orthodoxies. Once
these are understood, then conduct a mindset change exercise by
introducing a completely new direction for the organization. For
example, if the company was purchased by a competitor, how would that
- To become more innovative as a company, you first have to decide what you want to become.
- These cultural change activities help the organization to understand
what exists, what can be changed, and what is essential. Organizations
frequently find that what they thought was impossible is actually within
- Organizations seeking to improve their innovation culture need three things:
- The full support and backing of the executive team in ways that are visible to the organization.
- Building multidisciplinary innovation teams that understand how to lead innovation efforts.
- These teams then help others in the organization, being Sherpas to
show methods, teach, and walk alongside those learning the new
- Michael defines brand in exactly the same way as culture ' what we
do and what we don't do. Culture is the actions we take and don't take
and brand expresses what we stand for and what we don't stand for. Your
brand is your culture.