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Navigating uncertainty in product strategy and development

Kathleen Held  Sr. Project Manager and Producer, Thomson Reuters Labs

Kathleen Held  Sr. Project Manager and Producer, Thomson Reuters Labs

The Knowledge Worker Innovations series launched the New Year with continued momentum and was surrounded by explosive growth in Boston’s Innovation District. Big data has found a home in Boston and our Data Innovation Lab is delighted to be a part of that ecosystem.

Our first guest in 2015 was Keith Hopper, a Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at Olin College of Engineering. Keith advises companies on early stage agile product strategy and he is Mentor-in-Residence at Techstars, a global startup accelerator. Keith is also a Founding Trustee of the revolutionary micro-philanthropy, The Awesome Foundation, which forwards the interest of awesome in the universe through 106 chapters in 25 countries. Prior to this, Keith was the Director of Product Strategy and Development for National Public Radio.

Mona Vernon, VP Data Innovation Lab, lead a conversation with Keith around “Navigating Uncertainty” in launching new products and services.

View the full talk (45:06)

Six steps to navigate uncertainty

At NPR, Keith Hopper asked teams to work on new initiatives the same way they had with other, more proven products. Turns out this was a mistake, and one he had to make a couple times before learning that working on brand new ideas is just different. It requires different goals, a different mindset, different processes, and maybe even different people. Creating and introducing new products and services into the world is hard enough. Why make it harder by behaving like we know exactly what we’re doing?

The first step is to articulate a clear problem statement – know your purpose. The purpose is then agreed upon and the risks need to be identified. He noted that “risks hide inside bad assumptions.” Prioritizing and testing assumptions is a critical part of the process. Keith identified “mindset” – are you a builder or explorer, to help define next appropriate actions. Planning and allowing for course correction is the next step. He supports using a learning framework and knowing yourself. “When the team knows itself, anything is possible” as Keith pointed out with the example of the Olympic winning bob sled team from Jamaica. His concluding step was “knowing how to fail, which ensures you get back up.”

Keith closed by saying that the group’s ability to talk effectively and become good storytellers helps to navigate uncertainty for the future.

Learn more

Visit Innovation @ to learn more about how we are pairing technology with human expertise and how you can get involved.

About the series

Inspired by a neighborhood of innovators and entrepreneurs, the Knowledge Worker Innovation Series consists of events that bring in thought leaders from industry and academia to discuss, dissect and explore technology topics and trends.

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