The past week I attended the annual Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) annual conference. This year’s conference was held in Chicago at the Swissotel and was a great opportunity to meet fellow product geeks and get a taste of what’s happening in the “real world”.

With several hundred attendees from a wide variety of industries, academic institutions, and countries, the event was an excellent opportunity to engage with the global product community. I had the pleasure of presenting a seminar on creating an innovative ecosystem titled, Strategic Agility: Building an Innovative Organizational Ecosystem. This title is a mouthful, but the concept is very straightforward. To create an innovative organization that can properly adapt to the changing business environment requires four key areas of focus.


The audience was a great mix of practitioners and academics. And from the lack of hands raised to my questions, “Who considers their organization innovative?” and “Who knows their organization’s strategic plan?” there is a lot of work (and opportunities) ahead of us. The four main concepts for an innovative organization are:

  1. Strategic agility – composed of three meta-capabilities (collective commitment, strategic sensitivity, and resource fluidity)
  2. Cognitive skills – creative thinking, critical thinking, decision making, problem solving, etc.
  3. Strategic roadmap – a clear understanding of where you are and where you plan to go
  4. Culture – encourages experimentation, accepts failure as a key aspect of learning, and most importantly has a high-level of trust between senior management and employees at every level

Too many organizations are not focused on innovation and out-maneuvering the competition. Business leaders are content with the status quo (or what worked in the past will continue to work in the future), offering consumers me-too products, and overseeing a demoralized workforce. Executives must take the lead to build an organization of capable thinkers who have a strong understanding of the market, and leverage evidence-based management to encourage data-driven decision making and problem solving. Skills, knowledge, and ongoing experimentation are vital to stay ahead of current and future competition.


It is critical to “rub elbows” with individuals outside your industry. Understanding how a variety of individuals, organizations, and industries practice product management is vital to leveraging best practices and uncovering new methodologies to stimulate the organization. Product managers need to get out of the office and interact with practitioners from different industries. The more your network, the more you learn.

Meeting new people and learning new ways to excel at product management will help you develop innovative and interesting ways to create exciting products and allow you to position your portfolio for competitive advantages. To become a master product manager you must become a life-long learner. Reading, research, and roaming the Internet are all good ways to learn; however, it is also vital to interact with different people and groups to expand your world knowledge. A key element of creativity is connecting unrelated dots. The way to build a large supply of “dots” is traveling, meeting new people, and applying your new learnings to work.


An innovative organizational ecosystem is critical for sustained, positive growth. The ability to continually surprise competitors and keep them off balance while wowing customers with new and exciting products and services ensures long-term success. Leaders need to stop outsourcing their basic business needs. They need to create a skilled and innovative organization for long-term success. An innovative ecosystem founded on empowered and highly skilled employees, clear and effective strategic development and execution, and a corporate culture based on trust, learning, and strategic agility, is critical within the increasingly turbulent and disruptive global business environment. Now get out there, attend some conferences, meet new people, and change the world.