What Signal Does The Google-Motorola Marriage Send To Product Strategists?

It’s a couple of days after Google announced its intentions to jump headfirst into the hardware business. By now everyone — including my colleagues Charles Golvin and John McCarthy — have expressed their thoughts about what this means for Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and all of the Android-based smartphone manufacturers. This is not another one of those blog posts.

What I really want to highlight is something more profound, and more relevant to all of you out there who might classify your day job as “product strategy.” To you, the Google/Moto deal is just one signal — however faint — coming through the static noise of today’s M&As, IPOs, and new product launches. But if you tune in and listen carefully, two things become crystal clear:

  • The lines between entire industries are blurring. Google — and some of the other firms I mentioned above — are just high profile examples of companies that are diversifying their product portfolio, and the very industries in which they play. There are several instances of this over the past "digital decade." What's different now is the increased frequency of the occurrences.
  • The pace of product innovation and consumer adoption is accelerating — quickly. Think about the new products that launched in just the past couple of years: the iPad (19.5 million sold within the first year), the Kinect (8 million sold in the first 2 months), the Kindle, the Nook, Square . . . I could go on ad nauseam. But it’s not just about high-tech products. Have you had your Chobani yet today? Greek yogurt went from practically zero to $1.5B in the span of a year, knocking General Mills and Danone down a few notches.

So if you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging me as I traversed from Google to Greek yogurt. Now, here’s the punch line: If you’re a product strategistin any industryyour job has changed forever. The typical process of incremental product innovation won’t cut it anymore. You must fundamentally change the way you think about product innovation. It’ll be a long and strange journey, but here’s how to get started:

  1. Forget what you know about traditional competitors. If you think you have a rock-solid understanding of your biggest competitive threats — think again. You’re probably wrong.
  2. Learn as much as you can about adjacent innovations. Look around the fringe of your organization and your industry. There are likely to be several pockets of adjacent innovations all around you. If you can't see them, you're not looking hard enough. In fact, the next big disruption in your industry will be the result of the unexpected convergence and application of those adjacencies.
  3. Learn how to control the chaos of idea overload. If you calibrate your R&D spend to stay within your traditional industry guardrails, you will fail to see the big adjacent opportunities that may be staring you in the face from the outside. To be clear, this doesn't mean spend more on product development. It means spend differently, in otherwise unexpected ways.

Whether you believe me or not, I strongly encourage you to read James McQuivey’s blog and latest report called, “Innovating The Adjacent Possible.” After reading it, think again about the Google/Moto deal. Is it really just about smartphones and patents? Sure, those are the obvious plays, but I think it's also a strong offensive move in the war for control of the digital home — an adjacent space for the Android OS . I guess that's a topic for another day.

Thanks for checking in!


Google/Motorola Among M&As

At the start of 2011 I expected lots of M&A activity. Was just waiting to see it play out. I have seen enough of these over the years to know a high payment for a company, even if a bit undervalued or overvalued--can strengthen a company's position going forward. Apple and Amazon are stronger than they have ever been. Will Microsoft come out of the shadows and surprise us? I'm waiting. IBM seems content to move forward without grabbing headlines. And what of HP--smart move--will the cultures mesh? And where do the PCs land? China, Korea, Viet Nam, Russia, FSUs, Brazil, Chile, Africa, Spain? Can obsolescence be characterized as a place? Is mobile the only place to be?