Lately, I have been reading about the practice of ‘mindfulness’ and its benefits. The art of living in the present, honing in to achieve positivity, attention and focus is all so astonishing. It is true that mindfulness influences our emotional well-being and brings us to a state of harmony. Broadly speaking, mindfulness can be defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
According to a study published in the journal Emotion, there are three specific dimensions of mindfulness. The researchers found that these dimensions of mindfulness were linked to different benefits.
Nonjudgmental acceptance: The ability to withhold judgment on your experiences, sensations, thoughts, behaviors, and emotional states. Nonjudgmental acceptance is the strongest predictor for decreased negative emotions—the more people reported nonjudgmental acceptance in their lives, the less negative emotion they reported experiencing. Adopting a nonjudgmental stance also seemed to protect their positive feelings.
This got me thinking to how we as product managers bring our own prejudices and thoughts when a new idea is brought to us. Our experience, which is our best tool and is widely used to help create better products; also subjects us to the downside which we know as bias, hesitation, negative thoughts (e.g. this concept will never work because… or customers would never buy because... or it will take too much time to build... or competition is too thick... or just the fear that we are not skilled enough); there are countless reasons which fill our heads to justify why a certain concept won't work. We almost kill the idea even before the its fully presented. Sounds familiar?
Now imagine this: next time an idea comes knocking: what if we give it a shot by using the art of being in the present, focusing on what's happening (the idea), being fully attentive and positive, and hearing the concept out? Using positivity as a tool to think about how the idea can work based on the potential it has as against to why it won’t. Would it work?
Putting it through the second test. Practicing non-judgmental acceptance. If you separate your negative feelings from past failures or incidents, could you look into how it could flourish? Would you be more accepting of the new idea or would you call it a lost cause?
Putting it through the last dimension, if you focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t, do you think your thoughts would be positive and constructive?
A Blast from Past
Early in my career, I was heading up my firms product management and development group, responsible for $300 million in P&L and growing. Our CEO thought it might be a good idea for me to lead yet another highly skilled team of innovative minds which we affectionately called “the Garage”. The goal for this group of exceptional individuals was to develop new out-of-the-box creative solutions which would disrupt the industry and continue to create solution dominance in the market place. I was thrilled. After several months of leading the two groups, one day my CEO threw a contest challenge across the entire company and asked for 5-6 sub-groups to be formed. These groups were to think of new ideas, build a mini business case around each and present to the leadership team the most attractive of them all; for a prize trip to Puerto Rico. To my surprise, I was not only in any of the groups, I was kept away from the entire process. This puzzled me deeply.
I decided to ask why?
After initial pleasantries, my CEO told me that while he trusted me in my capabilities, he was worried that I would kill the ideas even before they surfaced. Why? Because I would bring in (and rightly so) my years of experience, understanding, process know-how, customer needs, competitive landscape, intuition etc. and candidly explain to the group why a certain idea won't work, as against, how it just might. Had I followed the rules above, not only would I be participating in, but would be heading the whole exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I was still the leader, headed many new creations, took the company to new heights and was still the one responsible for making it all happen...just that I was not part of that one exercise.
Full disclosure: the idea which won the contest was, indeed the one I would have dismissed; but that’s all in the past now!
While experience is the compass which provides the wisdom, and guides us away from pitfalls, it can be overprotective. I am not encouraging going into ideation meetings blindfolded or ignoring the past. What I am saying is, look into the idea, look into the possibilities and use experience as a guard rail but not the only tool. Use your creativity, positivity, non-judgmental acceptance and awareness to fuel your product creations.
Looking back, I am happy that this happened to me. The set-back in my past made me learn and eventually contribute to my career going forward in a positive way. I used these lessons to lead and build many successful, B2B, B2C, domestic and global, multi-industry, innovative and commercially-viable products since. I chose mindfulness.
My hope now is that these learnings help you just as much as they did to me as you continue down your journey of product creation.
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[Many thanks to Aparna Gupta and Jill Helmer for their help as an advisor and editor ]
[About Guidunz: We are a full-service product management consulting firm who focuses on developing a needs based sustainable growth plan for their clients. We are dynamic results-oriented executives skilled in growing revenue and obtaining productivities across Healthcare, Financial, Telecom, SaaS, Cloud based Industries. Our strength is providing strategic leadership while developing and managing growth solutions in highly competitive and dynamic B2B and B2C markets. In our 17 years, we have built and managed over 50 cloud based technology products, generating recurring and top line revenue while bringing cost efficiency via process improvement.]