Wrapping up Canvas

Vulnerability.  If there’s one big theme I’ve taken from this year’s Canvas, it was a reminder in the power of being open, being brave and confronting failure.  And that’s the beauty of the event itself.  No sales spiel, No promotions, nothing too technical - just insider stories from product people that inspire and make us all feel we’re on the right track.

I’ve had 24 hours to reflect on everything and its impossible to distill it all, but I’ve got a top ten straight off the bat to run with…

1] It's the stories around a product that really matter.  Candi Williams from Bumble was clear this was going to be the focus of the day, “No frameworks, no methodologies” was the early statement, and it demonstrated the Canvas team’s commitment to accessibility.  This genuinely is a conference for everyone and you won’t feel out of your depth.  

2] The hierarchy of a physical product’s needs.  Anyone else a big fan of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?  Me too!  Vuokko Aro of Monzo , simplified how you should approach product design.  No further words necessary here, our pic sums it all up.  

3] Discover the future 60-70% of the time.”  This was a real truth bomb from Stu Jones at ITV Hub on where a product manager’s focus needs to be.  If you’re spending all your time on delivery, you’re doing a different job and not creating value.  There was a noticeable silence in the room at this; probably a good sense check to get many of us back on track with what’s important.  

4] The message that stuck with me the most through the day was Flora Devlin telling us to have “curiosity over passion.”  You can spend a lifetime trying to find the dream role at the dream company, but if we’re curious with what’s in front if us, you never know where it might lead you.  

5] Diversity and Inclusion - It was always going to play a central role in this year’s conference.  And the panel on the Future of Product Teams didn’t hold back when tackling inclusive product design.  “If we want to have products that are better, invest in apprenticeships and mentorship schemes to give access to those who have barriers.”  This was the message from Jo Wickremasinghe at Zoopla. We’re talking a long play here, but investing at the source paints a brighter future for everyone.    

6] There’s always a worry with the energy in a conference room after lunch. Will the audience engage?  Will everyone slip into a food coma?  Viv Taylor of Olio sobered everyone up very quickly.  “Earth overshoot day - this year is 31 July, the date when everything we’ve consumed this year doesn’t get replenished.”  Well that was a shock, and the harsh reality of the climate we’re now living in.  The work that Olio are doing to reduce senseless wastage is so vital, and of all the talks, this was the one I was being asked about the most during the networking breaks.  What a way to wake everyone up!

7] “How cool would it be to make a website that transacts.”  That one idea at the age of 19 saw Ben Francis build his unicorn with Gymshark.  Building on Flora Devlin’s theme of curiosity earlier in the day, Ben went on to talk about his journey to recently becoming CEO of the company, as he took the opportunity to move around the business and learn in lots of different departments.  Staying humble and investing in yourself can lead to great things, you just have to be curious.   

8] Bit of a step change in the afternoon as we heard from Ksenia Barton at Lego, and how heritage brands stay relevant in an age of disruption.  It's easy to just keep doing what you’ve always done, and ramping up marketing spend year on year but the lesson shared here was to "keep at least 10% of your budget for innovation, testing and learning."  This bought home the importance of Stu Jones earlier point about spending your time discovering the future.  If you’re not innovating, you’re not creating value.  And if you’re not creating value, you’re nowhere.    

9] We’d seen Jo Wickremasinghe of Zoopla earlier in the day on the panel, and I had the sense she would bring the house down.  I mentioned vulnerability right at the start of this post and Jo was able to play on our emotions by comparing the journey of her eleven year old son to that of a product leader.  “Kids just test and test and test as they go.”  We need to channel the growth mindset of a child to create extraordinary products.  Sounds obvious, but we can learn so much from children.

10] Closing the day, it felt like Canvas had challenged us all to confront a few home truths.  Are we spending enough time being creative?  Are we being brave enough to fail?  Are we being curious enough?  It was a day full of squirm moments, but enough to make us feel vulnerable, take away some good advice, and come back to work tomorrow energised and ready to lay down a new marker.

So that’s the IRIS take on this year's conference.  We’ve loved being a partner with Canvas this year, and when they come back bigger and better in 2022, you can be sure we’ll be along for the ride.  Keep your eyes peeled on our social channels, and we’ll be sharing news on next year as soon as we have it.

What's inspired me recently...

I spoke about the wonder of finding context in the bumps in the road with a colleague earlier today.  Sometimes the big disappointments or failures we have professionally often don’t have meaning until we look back on them many years down the line.  Today’s happiness being a result of tough moment in the past, or this week’s catastrophe being the catalyst for future ecstasy.  I try and remind myself of this whenever I’m having a difficult time.  I’m sharing this well loved Stanford commencement address from Steve Jobs to elaborate, I think he explains the concept far better than I’ll ever be able to…

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Glen Duncan

29th October