Three HatsThere are many reasons why small companies are known for out innovating larger companies.  This post is about one of those reasons, the fact that small companies understand hats and big companies don’t.

Close your eyes and picture everyone in your organization wearing a hat that reflects their role. Looking good?  Seeing 10 Skippers and 1 Sailor? Maybe you need to try on our hats and get more things done in your meetings.

At LiquidPlanner everyone is on the product team and everyone wears multiple hats routinely.  Recently we wrote down the descriptions of the hats we wear when making product decisions.

The Observer Hat

This critical role never quite gets the attention it deserves. Great observers are your eyes and ears to the world and your customers. Observers ultimately serve as a reality check. Everyone at LP participates in the overall design process and it’s critical that they do because each person – whether they’re on the marketing or software side of our business – offers up a valuable perspective because they interact with our customers and product in different ways.  A developer who is tracking the latest updates to our open source code components is wearing the Observer hat. Likewise, a sales manager who listens to customer experiences can translate that feedback back to our product team. Good Observers detect trends and identify important nuggets that help everyone keep broader awareness through smarter communication.

The Champion Hat

Ideas, investments, projects and priorities need champions. It takes a lot of energy to pull things together, anticipate issues, and drive the process. Personally, this is my favorite hat. But I don’t wear it all the time. For instance, when I’m working with Liz, our VP of Marketing, she typically wears the Champion hat while I grab my Challenger cap. With software engineering issues I tend to be an Observer. The Champion needs to lead the team to decisions. Obviously, it is not a great idea to try and wear multiple hats at once – and it’s especially difficult to be both a Champion and a Challenger at the same time.

The Challenger Hat

This is a tricky one because being a great Challenger requires some effort; it’s more than poking holes. The role of the Challenger is to help the Champion improve the initiative and to facilitate smarter, more informed decisions.  It doesn’t need to be a confrontational role because your goals should (hopefully) be well aligned. When we uncover unresolved disagreements at LP, we may in fact have discovered competing ideas which may require that the Challenger switch to the Champion hat and we debate the merits of two completing ideas.

The key thing is to put on the right hat for the job and be transparent and responsible with it. If your goal is to bring a competing idea forward, don’t be shy: put on the red hat, paint a target on yourself and pitch your idea!

The Three Hats of Innovation was last modified: September 28th, 2010 by Charles Seybold