"The time has come. . . to talk of many things. . . . And why the sea is boiling hot - and whether pigs have wings."
"The Walrus," from Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
I teach marketing management to executives. I also teach them how to manage product lines and technology over time.
As we discuss case studies drawn from various businesses, participants invariably ask the same kinds of questions: "What is the product?" "How, where, and when is the product consumed?" and "What is the product's value?" As times change, product managers and others in the organization must figure out how the answers to these questions change. But often, that can be difficult: We find ourselves unable to perceive familiar products in new ways.
Arguably, the most important question I end up teaching my students to ask and answer is this: "How can I set aside familiar answers and learn to think differently about essential questions of business - and, for that matter, of life?"
Many of us find that question deeply threatening; if we act on it, we might turn our long-standing view of the world topsy turvy.
For some time, I have been asking myself those same questions about my own product, which I define as "the education of people who are executives." And I have been reflecting on how I might change it.
Consider the basic components of executive-education programs. Most programs stress basic business functions (such as the marketing-management course that I teach) and business methods (for example, market-research techniques). Most programs include but do not emphasize problem-solving and process-management skills. My course on managing product lines over time would fall into that category.
If I were to design an executive-education program, I would rank the priorities differently. I would drop methods courses or offer them as electives. I would spend some time on functional courses. And I would spend the most time on courses …