Innovating At Scale Does Not Have To Be An Oxymoron

Adam Berk gives his perspective on the Product Innovation Summit


I attended the Product Innovation Summit in Boston last month to talk about some of the work we have been doing with the Global Product Lifecycle at Pearson, as well as to see what other brilliant people were doing in the same space.

They say that misery loves company - and I have to say it was invigorating to meet such smart people, sharing the same challenges and addressing them in creative ways.

It was no coincidence that many of the common themes of the conference—culture, long development cycles, big bets, high risk and lack of customer immersion (especially in overseas markets)—were the same problems that the Lifecycle was created to solve.

In addition to being able to share our story about the PLC (for which we are a Corporate Entrepreneurship Awards finalist), the highlights for me were:

  1. The conference itself was extremely well run; it was the right size— large enough to represent some incredible stories, meet someone new at every break etc... but small enough to have an in depth conversation with people.
  2. The MC, Ken Kring was cool as heck, and he facilitated a no nonsense approach to the issues we were discussing, allowing a great deal of mutual learnings throughout the conference. In other words, he kept it real!
  3. The organic focus was not just lean and agile buzzwords - but the philosophy that they represent: customer centricity, data-based decisions, fail fast, learn fast and repeat.
  4. The focus on customers as the main driver of innovation and solutions. I particularly liked James Keighley’s story of the Gillette Guard. I found it particularly relevant to some of the work we are doing at Pearson, noting how important it is for the proposed solution to adapt to the new market rather than forcing an existing solution on that market.
  5. In another customer-centric talk, Josh Kruter shared an ad “just because it was cool.” It was indeed one of the coolest videos I have ever seen.
  6. Nate Fink from Microsoft talked about how they run experiments and test things at Yammer and his desire to help scale that type of thinking and process to the whole company. He acknowledged the challenges inherent in scaling through the rest of the organization, but also the excitement of accomplishing it. His experience resonated with me, as we too have validated the PLC with a small group of early adopters (VUE and HE) and are now in the process of crossing the chasm and scaling to the rest of the organization. This is why we go to conferences like this: to meet people like Nate, who’s both confident and realistic, to learn from each other, and through experimentation, work through those challenges collectively.
  7. Finally, nothing beats Boston Clam Chowder at lunch on a rainy September after a long flight from NYC!

I am honored I was able to represent the Pearson and the Global Product Lifecycle at this conference. The innovator’s dilemma is very much a real thing and it was helpful to talk about it in Clayton Christensen's home town. When smart people continue to get together --not just for group therapy or for cheerleading buzzwords-- but to break down problems, analyze them and dialogue on how to solve these problems, corporate entrepreneurship does not have to be an oxymoron. When done correctly, the world's biggest problems can be solved with the world's smartest people sharing best practices, running experiments, and thinking of the customer or learner first, and that’s exactly what we are doing at the PLC. This year, I talked about how we are in the validation stage of our own Lifecycle - we look forward to talking about how the PLC has grown throughout the 44,000 people at Pearson and the impact it has had on learners as well as profits, NEXT YEAR at the conference. See you there:)


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