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Capturing Innovation Balance (INTERVIEW)

Paul Osborne, Director of Product Management, GoPro
Michael Hemsworth
January 13th, 2014
The digital imaging company that’s growing faster in the United States than any other, GoPro, has been welcomed into the lives of professional and amateur athletes around the world as a must-have for capturing extreme sporting endeavors. Director of Product Management Paul Osborne lends his nearly 20 years of experience in the consumer electronics industry to the innovative brand that’s looking forward while still keeping close tabs on its core vision. Osborne works closely with Nick Woodman (CEO) and his team to help foster a brand-wide synergy from the idea and brainstorming level all the way up to development. Close ties to the key functional leads within the company means assurance that GoPro is only delivering exceptional products that are at the forefront of innovation.

Five Questions with Paul Osborne:

1. How does your team generate new ideas?

It’s a fun and exciting process here at GoPro. It all starts with strong leadership from an amazing visionary figure who’s very mindful of where he has come from and what he wants to accomplish. He has laid out some very high level goals for us. We’ll do brainstorming sessions with Nick and the more advanced side of product design and engineering teams. We go through a number of different meetings to lay out the key options, [determining] what are the core promises that we want to deliver as part of the company vision and the strategies we want to go forward with. It’s a sense of bringing people together. We’re an aggressive company, so we try to put ourselves into typical development guidelines, but we often end up on the outside edge of that because we’re pushing so hard and so fast. A product development life cycle is a guide for us, but we don’t take it literally, and we try to bring everybody together to accomplish our goals. Occasionally, we have to deviate and recheck our assumptions and investigations until we’ve gotten it right. We really like to see proof of things before we do them. We’re at a point where we just want to feel confident and remain true to the vision. Sometimes we’ve had to move in a different direction late in the game because the idea wasn’t yet at a point where it was going to work for us; other priorities or other trade offs were just too much.

2. Do you have specific rituals for re-setting your team to be creative?

We get to work with some amazing people in our business. Whether it’s Ken Block in the car arena, surfers like Kelly Slater or some of the Olympic athletes we have in snow sports, it’s fun because the creative side is kind of taking yourself out every once in a while to participate in some of the events and activities we put our product in the middle of. For myself, I’ve got a family and kids, so I’m not as active as I used to be. So aside from creatively capturing my family, I try to participate and at least go out to follow the flow of what our own media team does, following professional athletes, musicians, zoologists, etc. To rekindle the creative juices and experience the soup to nuts product use, I needed to put myself into what the rest of the company was doing, and there was a definite encouragement to engage more of the workforce in the actual things that were being done. I personally spend a lot of time here at the office, but once in a while, it’s great to just stop and go do something completely different, like go to any of our major events to see the true core of GoPro at work. We encourage all of the GoPro team to participate when they can. We don’t have to ask a lot though; many people here use the products and then tell stories about it every Monday.

3. How do you identify trends? What resources does your team use to spot trends and consumer insights?

We’re doing more research on how customers are using our products; what they like and don’t like about it. For market trends, we’re doing more work to understand the flow of the purchase process for when someone starts looking for a product like this. GoPro aside, we’ll look at other things that they’re doing with regard to buying behavior to the general awareness and experiences they have. We have some advanced teams that are looking further out in a longer-term perspective in technologies, and looking for things that are starting to brew. There are actually lots of pockets of creative products that are coming about that are addressing some of the issues, so we’re watching those kinds of things from a trend perspective to see how people are using them.

4. What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?

There are different ways to tackle this; different directions we can go. It’s kind of putting enough filter on the innovation to harness it in a way that you realize what your priorities are. To sit down as a team and discuss what ideas are the ones that are to the core of the company and important from a customer experience perspective, getting us to our vision, but also are they important to the future and direction of the brand. We sometimes have painful discussions around some of these things because we have a lot of good ideas and a lot of passionate people, and it can be hard to let go of an idea. The challenge is putting everybody together to stay aligned as a group while we move so fast.

5. Looking to the future, how is GoPro going to be a leader in innovation?

We’re carefully watching what’s really important to GoPro; what it’s about and staying true to our vision. At the same time, being flexible and able to adapt when new things come about. We have this connection to the core of where we came from and a promise around what we want to deliver. We want to solve problems in our category, to move this segment forward. We need to be careful about growing in a way that’s not so fast, but that allows us to keep pushing ourselves healthily. You can go over the edge and burn people out, which is not what we want to do. It’s about having a proper balance for what we’re capable of, staying true to what we want to do and really trying to keep people engaged in conversations.
References: trendreports, gopro