Even the most routine activities have ties to innovation, product development

There is little to nothing innovative about fantasy English Premier League soccer, unless you count the creativity of finding and engaging in a little-known, trivial pursuit. In fact, there is a swath of other routine activities that are not inherently innovative. Yet some of them actually provide takeaways that can make us better product developers.

I play in two fantasy soccer leagues, a fantasy NASCAR league and have two fantasy football teams. My obsession has even spilled over into fantasy Tour de France and even fantasy professional
bass fishing. Skeet Reese was a disappointment at Lake Havasu last spring, in case you missed it.

Fantasy soccer is a very strategic game, requiring management of a number of variables that reveal the power of analysis. The best fantasy players know which teams have difficult or easier
fixtures coming up, which players may be hurt or fatigued, which defenders offer attacking threats, and which teams play better home and away.

Building a team is an educated guess based on analysis in the same way that building a prototype is a best guess at unlocking a new technology. As the season unfolds, my fantasy team is
tweaked and honed to bring in the best balance of players, just as prototypes are continually refined until they work flawlessly.

Like a fantasy team, prototypes evolve and change until fully optimized.

Grocery, bar takeaways

Consider the grocery store experience. If you think about it, it is the ultimate proving ground for the power of branding.

Every aisle has name-brand products just inches from their generic equivalent that are at least 20 percent less expensive. I may find a suitable substitute for Dr. Pepper, but there is no way
it is coming home with me. Conversely, there is no room for name-brand buttery spread in my fridge.

There is a lot to be learned about how to sell a product by which brand-name products make it home in your grocery bag. It shows how good products with inferior branding can be
passed over by consumers. It is a lesson for all product developers that the road to success does not end when the prototypes are done.

If going to the grocery seems, at first thought, to have a tenuous link to innovation, going to the bar seems even more of a reach. There is something about the relaxed atmosphere that
makes it a perfect environment for innovation. Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemmingway, James Joyce and Cézanne were all known to be regulars at their local pubs.

Many notable products got their starts in a bar. The ‘70s sensation the Pet Rock spawned from a conversation at a bar; more recently, the idea for Warby Parker eyewear was born over a few
pints of Yuengling. The new beer dispenser, Fizzics, that recently was funded on “Shark Tank” and is crushing it on Kickstarter was the result of a conversation at the Brooklyn Brewery about why
beer doesn’t taste as good when it does not come from the tap.


Education via TV

I have a penchant for garbage television, from “Jersey Shore” to “Buckwild.” I have tried to tell myself that I was learning something about the human condition and the architecture of friend
groups while watching these shows, but in retrospect, that is akin to saying I learned about gravity from a Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

Still, there are a few shows that offer some educational value for product developers. “Shark Tank,” an obvious choice, highlights many product entrepreneurs and their innovations. It teaches about the art of the pitch and the importance of knowing your market and numbers.

However, “Shark Tank” and shows like it are curated for entertainment and only show a glamorous few moments—rarely any of the hard work or sacrifice it takes to bring a product to market. “Everyday Edisons,” which ran for four seasons and was filmed in the Edison Nation offices, is perhaps one of the only shows to provide an accurate account of how to design products and build prototypes. You can find old episodes on the Edison Nation YouTube channel.