Setting Strategy for "Insanely Great" Product Development

Never underestimate the value of talent for creating insanely great anything.

In the story of Steve Jobs’ obsession with “insanely great products,” we may be struck by the unusual insistence he applied to “getting it right.” There was the account of Jobs’ father, who showed the formative young Steve that work quality and integrity counts, and it is important that the back of the fence be finished as smartly as the visible side.

Later, there was the time when Apple Inc. was on the brink of failure, and the unremarkable call would have been to cut back and milk the existing products. Instead of draining prevailing products or hastily bringing new products to market, Jobs defined core product lines, eliminated the misfits, and insisted on product design that was truly and remarkably distinguishing.

Jobs did everything possible to assure the new products would merit robust referrals in the marketplace, and he did not take the cheap route. He intended to create insanely great products, and so there was an obsession with getting it right.

Today, there is an attitude infecting some new product development thinking that assures mediocrity rather than excellence. This thinking seeks an easy way out of the hard work of innovation and design, and the end in mind is blind, contracted and selfish. It is not limited to fat cats and dopers. Today even clean-cut, well-intentioned entrepreneurs who are foolishly naive are practicing it. It is a form of entitlement mentality – moral blindness – and it robs innovation of elevation in the marketplace.

Here are secrets that can help you avoid this trap:

  • Set your new product development sights on creating insanely great knock-your-socks-off service, and jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring customer experiences. Aim high and work hard; if you fall short you will probably eclipse the result of mediocre thinking.
  • Be willing to make a significant new product development investment to get it right. It generally goes very badly when the authority financing new product development does not understand the implications of insanely great. 
  • Set new product development budgets based on insanely great rather than insanely shallow. Found money may be directed to new product development, but the venture will fail if the easy money is insufficient to develop the product’s potential. It is far more business-like to conscientiously budget the resources needed to reach the insanely great goal. To illustrate, if the upside potential for an insanely great product is over, say, $3,500,000, it may be non-sense (i.e., short-sighted or greed biased) to limit the new product development budget to the $50,000 a customer is willing to pay for a pilot.
  • Make a fair estimate of the budget required to get the product up to the insanely great level, and be willing to augment found money with additional cash investments to get it right.
  • Be very alert to the insightful brilliance, vision, and tenacity of the product development talent needed to successfully reach insanely great. In my experience, this is not a training problem: so it is in their DNA, or it is not. If not, you have a talent-recruitment problem. Alternatively, if so (blessedly), you will have a talent-retention problem after the Champagne and confetti are cleaned up. Always opt for a talent retention problem.
  • Never forget this: Being cheap, disrespectful, ungrateful or abusive with talent that is capable of insanely great is the most foolish and convincing way to learn the inevitability of karma – whether you scoffed at it previously or not.

Leadership is about worthy goals and being of service. Practice makes permanent. If you cheap out on innovation of all kinds – and new product development, specifically – you will set the cultural auto-pilot to “Mediocrity.” 

How do you lead your culture on the trajectory to insanely great? What’s your speed and bearing?