Time flies when you’re innovating, and doing so at the intersection of user (customer) experience, business and (emerging) technology. Integrating into the system of product management is more than processes, data and advanced technologies, it’s the people that essentially ensure that there’s strategy for elimination decisions, de-risking and development for new products. And I’ve been fortunate to do this in an environment that is, as we’ve termed in the Labs, “inno-positive” for all this innovation to take place.
I joined the company as a contractor, specifically in the innovation and enterprise space. When I came on board, I did so as a project manager, the first one being the Land Hackathon that looked at how we can use emerging technology to create transparency with land administration and digitization of processes. The successful outcome of this project lead me to take on one of the biggest projects I’ve ever done, which was to lead the launch of the Thomson Reuters Labs™ - Cape Town in October 2016 with an incredible team and the support from our other global network of Labs. With the growth of the Labs, meant that so did the work, relationships, content and responsibility, and so did my role.
I then transitioned into the role of Innovation Programme Manager which leveraged on my experience in working with startups, being a dot connector with the network of the business to the data and innovation Labs and ensuring that we have a community that we can collaborate with when a particular customer-led opportunity came along, this across sub-Sahara Africa.
My expansive role now as Ecosystem Manager requires me to manage and build relationships that we have with customers, partners, ecosystem stakeholders and startups; being the connective tissue in engaging the business with Africa’s startup and technology and innovation ecosystem. With these relationships, comes the architecture of business innovation strategies that'll engage the work that we do, this externally and internally. Once these relationships are forged and the excitement of kickstarting to build a new product gets underway, it’s at times easy to get lost in the enthusiasm of it all.
Scope and Defining at High Level
Coming up with an idea can take a few minutes, days or hours of light bulb moments, connecting opportunities and challenges to existing products or product development is where product management begins. From the conversations, the idea needs to be defined, and usually organisations want a high level overview of the deliverables without scoping the project’s life cycle, but understandably, because cost and schedule for stakeholders involved is on the line. To work from this point of perspective (high level to granular) has usually worked in most cases, but each case is as unique as the innovation.
With the unique positioning of the Labs being to develop products that are customer led, engaging and gathering the voice of the customer is part and parcel of what drives impactful and creative business solutions. Corporate innovation requires a high frequency of customer centricity so as to experience and determining the feasibility of the product being worked on. Once the right customer representative is brought into the conversation and ideas are birthed, engaging them in (every) step of the process is ideal to having a successful proof-of-concepts proven.
Evangelise within the Company
The one thing that I’ve learnt with corporate innovation and working inside a large company, is that you cannot do it alone, especially in a network that’s over 45000 strong, globally. You need to know which departments, executive sponsors and in my case, Labs buddies (connecting with someone in other Thomson Reuters Labs across the work) to network and connect to. You cannot do it alone!
Product management is a team effort. It takes a corporate innovation village in order to ensure that we’re connected to the right markets, holding conversations with the right customer departments, partnering with the right internal teams, and so much more. It’s been an awesome year in product management, one with a couple of successes paired with failures that you learn to do very fast and pick yourself up again.
Here’s another year of innovation!
Before I had decided to have a sit down with my former employer and pen my resignation, I had had many dress rehearsals with myself before I decided to go ahead with the decision. The rehearsals were not to change my mind about deciding to leave the company; it was trying to figure out a timetable of when I’d do it, and how. I had decided.
“You want to feel that you have the power to bring your full, spirited self to the situation, stripped of the fears and inhibitions that might typically hold you back.” - Amy Cuddy
Prior to joining Thomson Reuters, in 2014 had been introduced to the startup and enterprise development world via The Hookup Dinner. This is where I learnt to be a dot connector with the tools of knowledge sharing, networking and being able to find the business in the value proposition between startup and the entity that the entrepreneur is trying to build with.
In 2015, because of wanting to return back to school, I decided to halt any employment and focus my efforts on school 100% to obtain my Higher Certificate in Brand Building Practice, this because I wanted to be a dot connector to who could build and develop brands. With about 4 months of school left, I received an opportunity to work at a small Public Relations (PR) firm, which enabled me to understand, that being in PR was not the only way to build brands, and that it was a field that was unfortunately not my cup of tea. I needed to return to startup and enterprise development, that’s where my passion lied - and I couldn’t let the fear of an unknown tomorrow or the lack of a Plan B deny me the opportunity to return to an environment that created value for me as I did it.
Back to dress rehearsals.
It was during this season of my life that I needed to return to what I like to call my personal board of directors, and have more dress rehearsals, this time, with them. I needed to find value in my reasons, and to be carried by their wisdom.
Align Passion(s) with your Paycheck(s)
I believe that I attracted and retained my mentors (and sponsors) because at every opportunity I could, I gave them a reason to see value to my work by adding to it with either their time or network - which ever currency they deemed my work laudatory to be. My passion and hard work got me to where I was eventually, with the value that other people saw in my work.
Converge and Create Career
I’m quite passionate about the diversification and inclusion of technology and innovating on a global perspective with a key focus on Africa, doing this at the intersection of product management and emerging technology. I find it quite irksome when people are ministered to only do one thing and not diversify their skills and interests. We’re living in a Workforce 2.0 era where the convergence of skills is leading to the over 60% of future jobs (which do not exist right now) are being created now, through employment or entrepreneurship. You can be both, I am both, a master of one trade and jack of many others.
Mentorship is a Transaction of Trust
It was after these conversations and consultations that on the 15th of February 2016, I braved what seemed to be one of the most difficult things I had to do, and resign. I had decided.
Being a mentee is not about being taken to a restaurant to have coffee with your mentor, or name dropping because of an accolade they achieved, it’s the dress rehearsals (they have with you, themselves and/or their peers) that prepare and carry you to the life-changing decisions that will create many turning points in your life. And more than anything, mentorship is a transaction of trust beyond networks, as a mentee, you have one of the most valuable currencies given to you by someone whose work and character you admire, their trust.
Clichés have maintained their reputation because of the baked truths that lie in them. The lexicon meaning of what a cliché is, is described as “an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.” Operative keywords from this definition are “effect and “meaningful”, with the common denominators as evident in this definition being time and relevance of these factors to a person’s circumstance. A cliché that’s quite meaningful to me is: “Your Network is your Net worth”. Do you still consider this cliché meaningful, or has it lost its original meaning?
Allow me to recall my introduction to the startup ecosystem, how I got my feet wet in the industry. It was in 2013 and I had accompanied a friend of mine to this social enterprise that he wouldn’t stop talking about and where he was running his business from, which was Hubspace Khayelitsha . In his humble swag, then Managing Partner of the Hubspace, Melilizwe Gqobo introduced himself to me and continued to facilitate introductions to me with the entrepreneurs and organisations within the Khayelitsha (and greater parts of Cape Town ecosystem). He intrinsically became my first dot connector. I became a Hubspace regular almost every Mondays (I was interning at Live Magazine from Tuesdays – Fridays at the time) and that was how the relationship building began. And, what had made the relationship valuable was that I made it my business for him to know as much as I do about and of him as he did about me, so that when the moment came for a chance to be introduced to an opportunity, I was someone on top of his head that he could connect the dots to.
In essence, I had to build my relationships before I could use them.
No one likes to be used, everyone appreciates leverage. This is how you build value around the relationships that you’re desiring to get something out of.
It’s cool to know people and be a business card hoarder, the true measure of your network is not how many people you know, but in turn how many of them know you and your product offering. Because, at the end of the day, the net worth in your network is in how many people you’re able to be connected to with the intention of growing capital – social or monetary. Therein lies networking 101.
I get the frustration or the exhaustive expectation of the “Your Network is your Net worth” to be an agile prototype of how fast you’ll get somewhere or to someone, but everything need nurturing before it comes into fruition – this including relationships, professional and personal. In order for someone to invest themselves, their vision and power to pursue the alignment of your objective(s) to their resources, you need to prove yourself worthy. In order for this phrase to have the meaningful impact, effect and mileage in your networking and network, validate what net worth means to you and in which capacity of capital you regard to be of value to you with a particular contact and circumstance. It’ll be in your best interest to manage and expect expectations.Your network goes beyond a Twitter following, email threads or a business card that’s collected dust in your room or office. It’s the “Hey, here’s an article and I thought you’d be interested in this piece especially since …” reach out, an honest and sincere “Let’s do lunch/coffee and catch up” with no ulterior motives or a “I would like to apologise for my radio silence and let you know I/we are still very excited about the prospect of working together…” email.
People change and updates happen in their lives and their companies (employed by or owning), how you nurture your relationships is up to you, because at the end of the day, that’ll gauge the value that someone is able to bring into your business and/or personal life. Do it with kindness, do it with tact. Think about it like this, ever downloaded that application from Playstore of Apple store and agreed to have them push notifications because you thought it in your best interest to be kept up to date about the app? And then the spamming works on your nerves because the notifications are never relevant? Wouldn’t you like more tailored notifications that can enhance your experience with the app and knowledge sharing? This is the same application with networking. How?
Use the engagement engine that’s data at your disposable about your network to retain and convert, be it to drive purchases, revenue or however you measure net worth for that particular network.