Will Scott Of Pragmatic Institute: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Upskill and Re-skill in AI and Data Analytics: Gain a foundational understanding of AI, machine learning, and data analytics. This doesn’t mean you need to become a data scientist, but having a solid grasp of the basics and understanding how AI can be applied to marketing strategies and product management will be invaluable. Consider online courses, workshops, or certifications that focus on AI applications in business.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Will Scott.

Will is a seasoned executive with over 25 years of international experience leading product marketing and management teams across hardware, software, services, and SaaS B2B companies. Originally an engineer by training, Will held senior positions with Cisco, Navisite and Capgemini, along with a range of full-time and fractional CMO positions through his own B2B product management and marketing consulting business. In addition, Will was also previously a partner at the premier product marketing agency, Aventi Group, and an instructor at the Kellogg School of Management in their executive digital marketing and product strategy programs.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Yes, and thank you for including me in your series! Origin wise — I was born in the Republic of Ireland, grew up in the UK, spent some time living around Europe and, about 25 years ago, moved to the US. Sometimes I myself wonder what nationality I am. My journey into the world of product management and marketing was not something I dreamt of as a child, rather a career I found myself in. I am the story familiar to many product and marketing professionals.

A Naval Architect and Offshore Engineer by education, my initial career path was in sales and business development, but I found a consistent theme in my roles, and this was my natural inclination to bridge complex concepts and simplify them for diverse audiences, a skill that led me ultimately to product management and marketing.

My career has spanned both B2B and B2C for big companies, small companies and startups. Along the way I have had experience in hardware, software, services and SaaS products. After several stints as a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or Chief Product Officer (CPO) I set up my own fractional CMO/CPO business for about 5 years, then spent some time as a partner in a Product Marketing agency. Along the way I occasionally found myself training and educating Product Professionals including a stint with the Kellogg School of Management. In the latter stages of my career, I felt drawn to this field and am now an instructor with the Pragmatic Institute. I took my first Pragmatic certification over 20 years ago — and throughout my career I have implemented its tenants and concepts in the companies I have worked for and with and so it was a very natural fit for me and I am thrilled to be with such a world renown organization. It’s a privilege to be working for an organization that is seen as a gold standard when it comes to training and certification of product managers and marketers.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For me there are three things that make the Pragmatic Institute special;

Comprehensive Certification Paths: The Institute has three main curricula in Product, Data and Design. For Product training specifically we offer a range of certifications including a Product Management Certification, Product Marketing Certification, and Product Master Certification. These certifications are designed to equip product professionals with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in their roles, addressing various aspects of product development from design and build to market launch and pricing strategies.

Extensive Course Offerings: Beyond certifications, Pragmatic Institute provides a wide array of courses and workshops tailored to product professionals. These cover critical areas such as AI training for product professionals, mastering product roadmaps, demystifying finance for product managers, and strategies to accelerate subscription businesses, among others. And we continue to launch new workshops and courses. This diverse educational suite is aimed at both honing specific skills and broadening the overall understanding of product management and marketing.

Rigorous Instructor Qualifications: I have been to a couple of rodeos in my time — but to become a Pragmatic Institute instructor I underwent the most rigorous interview process I have ever experienced in my career, followed by the 6-month training period. Many try, few make it. Instructors must not only possess a deep understanding of the Pragmatic Framework but also have extensive C level real-world experience in implementing its principles, concepts, and tenets. Our instructors are full-time professionals who have led teams at a senior level and have applied the Pragmatic methodologies in various contexts over the years. This experience ensures that the training delivered is not only theoretically sound but also rich with practical insights and strategies that have been tested and proven in the field.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Adaptability: In my experience, in the world of product management and marketing, the only constant is change. Early in my career, I faced a significant pivot when a product I was leading was suddenly deemed non-viable due to emerging market trends. Instead of viewing this as a setback, I adapted our strategy, leveraging the existing technology to address a different, more pressing market need. This experience taught me the value of flexibility and the importance of being prepared to shift directions swiftly and strategically. It was a pivotal moment that not only salvaged our efforts but also led to a successful product launch in a new market.

Curiosity: What I have found is that product professionals generally are built to have this innate desire to understand the “why” behind user needs and buyer behavior. So, for me, this has been a guiding force as my career progressed. For example, noticing a trend where users bypassed certain features of our software, I initiated a deep dive into user experience research. This curiosity led to uncovering a gap between our assumptions and user needs, driving a redesign that significantly improved user usage and satisfaction. It reinforced my belief that curiosity is the bedrock of innovation, and I try to always push myself to continually question and explore.

Empathy: To truly understand and connect with both the buyers and users of products has been a key skill I have looked to nurture over my career. Extending beyond merely understanding user needs, empathy is pivotal in shaping product messaging that resonates on a deeper level. This concept became especially clear to me during the many startups and early-stage companies I worked with during my consulting years. The common oversight I found so often: the reliance on logical appeal (logos) at the expense of ethical (ethos) and emotional appeal (pathos). Many companies meticulously craft their market messages with a focus on logical reasons such as why their product is the superior choice, often overlooking the power of ethos and pathos. This narrow approach misses the opportunity to connect with potential buyers on an emotional level — addressing the full spectrum of human decision-making factors — logical, emotional, and ethical.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

Working closely with product managers and marketers, I’ve observed the transformative role of AI in reshaping our industry. The advent of generative AI, both in its general form, such as ChatGPT, and through specialized applications that incorporate generative AI capabilities.

Generative AI’s influence can be broadly categorized into two main applications for product professionals: its integration into their daily workflows and its incorporation into the products they are developing.

These generative AI tools have capabilities that span from new content generation to pattern recognition.

The challenge for the product professional is to assess how capabilities might apply to their job to the products they manage. At the Institute we have specific educational and workshop offerings on the application of AI for product professionals where we guide students through this complex terrain.

Harnessed correctly, these technologies can simultaneously increase revenue opportunity and reduce costs — both contributing towards that bottom line.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Generative AI Tools such as Open AIs ChatGPT, Claude from Anthropic, Google’s Gemini, and Microsoft’s Copilot. For product professionals — in all cases these technologies offer the following capabilities.

Generation: The ability to create new, original content or data from scratch, based on learned patterns and inputs.

Exploration: Exploration of vast datasets or complex subjects, uncovering insights or generating new ideas or by navigating through or experimenting with the data.

Iteration: Creating multiple versions or refinements of content, designs, or solutions, enabling rapid prototyping and optimization.

Transformation: Adapting existing content, data, or designs into new formats, styles, or conceptual frameworks

Pattern Recognition: The capability to identify and understand patterns, trends, or regularities within large datasets, facilitating insights and predictions.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

The moment when I truly grasped the profound impact of generative AI on our profession occurred about a year ago, during a personal project. I was in the early stages of drafting a new article and I encountered a creative block. Progress was sluggish, and I found myself ensnared in a quagmire of stalled thoughts. Typically, my next step would involve gathering a team of respected colleagues for a brainstorming session or seeking one on one sessions, a process that could stretch over days, or even weeks, to refine my ideas.

However, this time I decided to experiment with ChatGPT. I was amazed how engaging with it I felt, akin to conversing with another human, bouncing ideas back and forth, refining thoughts, and restructuring the article’s narrative. By the evening, to my astonishment, the article was complete. This experience was a revelation, showcasing the capability of AI, particularly for product managers and marketers, to streamline cognitive tasks. It offered a glimpse into a future where creative and intellectual endeavors could be accomplished more efficiently, effectively, and with higher quality than the traditionally fragmented and interruption-laden processes we had grown accustomed to.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you

Understanding AI Mechanics: It’s crucial for product professionals to grasp the basics of how generative AI operates. This foundational knowledge is the first step in effectively leveraging AI technologies, whether integrated into products or utilized in their roles. In our AI workshops we always begin with Generative AI 101.

Know what you are looking for: I have found that crafting the optimal prompts for generative AI requires a deep and nuanced understanding of the desired outcome; it is an exercise in precision and clarity where every contextual detail matters. Unlike human interactions, where nuances and unsaid words can be interpreted, generative AI lacks the ability to “read between the lines” or infer from what is left unsaid. Therefore, achieving the best results with AI demands that product managers first thoroughly comprehend their objectives for themselves before engaging these technologies.

Recognizing AI’s Strengths and Weaknesses: It’s crucial for product professionals to grasp both the capabilities and limitations of AI. While AI shines in areas like data analysis and content generation, it may falter in tasks that require emotional intelligence or a nuanced understanding of context. This knowledge guides a more strategic use of AI, ensuring its application where it offers the greatest benefit and acknowledging the importance of human oversight. Additionally, a unique challenge posed by AI is the phenomenon of “hallucinations,” where AI might generate incorrect or misleading information confidently. AI will always answer your questions, the product professionals’ key role is in questioning the answers.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

Generative AI is not an easy button: A significant challenge for product professionals lies in the misconception that integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into their workflow is a straightforward solution that can automate complex decision-making processes. This belief, combined with a basic, often shallow, understanding of AI’s capabilities, constitutes a considerable obstacle. Furthermore, there’s a critical oversight in assuming that outputs from generative AI can be directly applied to product plans, strategies, and designs without thorough evaluation. Product professionals must recognize that AI tools, while powerful, require a sophisticated level of oversight. They cannot simply accept AI-generated content at face value but must critically assess its relevance, accuracy, and alignment with their objectives.

Market-Driven AI Use: When it comes to utilizing artificial intelligence in product, I have spoken with many product professionals who said they received the mandate from their company to “do something with artificial intelligence.” At the Pragmatic Institute we are adamant that everything begins with a marker problem, an actual challenge that someone in the market is facing. The approach we would take is to ask the question “how could artificial intelligence better solve the problem or solve new problems that are markets facing?” That way product professionals can be assured that whatever enhancement they are making to their product using artificial intelligence is attached to addressing a problem the market cares about.

AI Learning Curve: A critical challenge for product professionals gearing up for an AI-driven future is underestimating the effort required to master these technologies. Casual engagement with AI tools for personal projects does not equate to the comprehensive understanding needed for professional application. This learning curve is steep, and superficial interactions with AI will not suffice for the depth of knowledge required in a professional setting. As AI continues to permeate various aspects of product development and marketing, employers increasingly seek candidates with more than just a passing acquaintance with these technologies. They expect product professionals to possess a substantive grasp of AI capabilities, limitations, and applications relevant to their field. This expectation underscores the need for dedicated learning and skill development to stay competitive and effective in utilizing AI within the product landscape.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

For me ethical considerations in the realm of AI, particularly within product management and marketing, present complex challenges that are yet to be fully resolved. One primary concern revolves around the ownership and rights related to the data being input into large language models, as well as the content these models generate in response to prompts. Different AI service providers have varying policies regarding the rights to data inputs, often influenced by the specific service tier a user subscribes to.

Moreover, the question of who holds the ownership and rights to the outputs generated by these large language models remains a contentious issue. As these models are trained on vast amounts of existing material, disputes have arisen regarding the rights of the original creators of the training data. Legal battles are currently unfolding as we navigate these uncharted waters, highlighting the need for clear regulations and ethical guidelines in the AI domain.

Before charging off and using these technologies, product professionals must carefully consider the ethical challenges related to data ownership, rights concerning the input and output of large language models, and the varying policies of AI service providers. These considerations are essential in navigating the complexities of AI integration responsibly.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

In my view AI will materially impact the product management and marketing professions, so adapting to these changes is crucial for professionals to remain relevant and effective.

Here are five key actions that product professionals should consider:

  1. Upskill and Re-skill in AI and Data Analytics: Gain a foundational understanding of AI, machine learning, and data analytics. This doesn’t mean you need to become a data scientist, but having a solid grasp of the basics and understanding how AI can be applied to marketing strategies and product management will be invaluable. Consider online courses, workshops, or certifications that focus on AI applications in business.
  2. Embrace Data-Driven Decision Making: AI thrives on data, and so should modern product managers and marketers. Adopt a data-driven mindset for making decisions, from product development to targeting marketing campaigns. This involves not just looking at traditional metrics but also exploring new data sources and analytics tools powered by AI to glean insights that were previously inaccessible.
  3. Focus on Strategic Creativity and Human Insight: While AI can handle a lot of data analysis and even automate some decisions, it cannot replicate human creativity and empathy. Professionals should focus on leveraging AI for data-driven insights but use their human judgment for creative strategy, emotional appeals in marketing, and understanding nuanced customer needs and behaviors that AI might overlook.
  4. Adapt to Agile and Continuous Learning Cultures: Product professionals need to be agile, ready to pivot strategies based on new AI insights or changes in the market. Cultivate a culture of continuous learning within your team on these technologies and their applications and keep up with the latest AI technologies and methodologies.
  5. Ethical Consideration and Bias Mitigation: As you integrate AI into your strategies, be mindful of ethical considerations and the potential for bias in AI algorithms. Ensure transparency in how AI is used, work to understand and mitigate any biases in AI models, and consider the broader impact of AI-driven decisions on customers and society. Ethical use of AI can also become a unique selling proposition in an increasingly privacy-conscious market.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

The misconceptions I see regularly include:

AI Can Fully Automate Product Management and Marketing: There’s a belief that AI can automate the entire product management process, from ideation to launch. However, AI is a tool to assist product managers, not replace them, as it lacks the human insight and creativity needed for strategic decision-making.

AI Eliminates the Need for Human Input: Some think that once AI is implemented, it can run without much human intervention. In reality, AI systems require continuous monitoring, training, and adjustment by humans to ensure they are aligned with business goals and ethical standards.

AI Is Always Objective and Unbiased: A common misconception is that AI decisions are purely objective, free from human biases. Yet, AI algorithms are designed by humans and trained on historical data, which can perpetuate existing biases if not carefully managed.

Implementing AI Guarantees Better Products: Simply integrating AI into product development doesn’t automatically result in superior products. Success depends on how well AI is applied, the quality of data it uses, and whether its capabilities are aligned with user needs and business objectives.

AI Is Too Complex for Non-Technical Teams: There’s a belief that AI is only accessible to those with deep technical expertise. While AI can be complex, there are increasingly user-friendly tools and platforms that allow non-technical teams to leverage AI for product management and development.

The key to overcoming these misconceptions lies in focused and purposeful learning, coupled with hands-on usage of AI technologies. By immersing themselves in the practical applications of AI and continuously educating themselves about its evolving landscape, product managers and marketers can effectively harness AI’s capabilities while mitigating its limitations and ethical concerns.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my most cherished life lesson quotes is by Friedrich Nietzsche: “Man’s maturity is to regain the seriousness that he had as a child at play.” For me this quote encapsulates a profound truth about growth and perspective that has deeply influenced my life.

There was a period when I found myself caught in the whirlwind of professional life, where every decision felt monumental and every mistake seemed like a catastrophe. The joy I once found in my work had diminished, replaced by a mechanical approach to tasks and responsibilities. It was during this time that Nietzsche’s words struck a chord with me, reminding me of the anticipation and joy with which I approached play as a child. This realization was a turning point.

Maturity doesn’t mean losing one’s passion or curiosity but channeling the unbridled enthusiasm of childhood into our adult lives. This lesson has been a guiding principle for me, encouraging a balance between playfulness and seriousness in my personal and professional development.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

Not necessarily something that keeps me up at night, but certainly something I think that we all need to brace ourselves for. This digital era, where information is at everyone’s fingertips, has significantly transformed how people interact with information, often seeking out content that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs. My worry is that as generative AI becomes more sophisticated, its ability to create hyper-realistic but fake content not just could, but will, exacerbate these biases, leading to an increasingly polarized society.

This potential for AI-generated content to be used maliciously — to deceive, manipulate, or exploit — is something I take very seriously. It’s not just about the technology’s capability to generate realistic images, videos, or texts; it’s about the impact these creations can have on society’s collective understanding of truth and reality. For me, the ease with which individuals can find and disseminate information that confirms what they want to be true, without the need for critical evaluation or verification, poses a significant challenge to the fabric of democratic discourse and decision-making.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I had the opportunity to start a movement that could benefit a vast number of people, it would focus on “Global Digital Literacy and Access.” This movement would aim to ensure that everyone, regardless of their location, socioeconomic status, or age, has access to the internet and can acquire digital skills.

Digital literacy is as fundamental as reading, writing, and arithmetic in the 21st century. With the world becoming increasingly digital, being digitally literate is crucial for individuals to access information, services, education, and job opportunities. Moreover, it enables people to participate actively in the digital economy, contribute to their communities, and engage with global issues.

By democratizing access to digital tools and knowledge, we can unlock enormous potential for innovation, education, and economic growth, thereby reducing inequalities and improving the quality of life for people around the world. This movement has the power to transform societies, bridge the digital divide, and create a more informed, connected, and empowered global community.

How can our readers further follow you online?

People can connect with me on LinkedIn. www.linkedin.com/in/will-scott-5b6542

When I have the time, I like to write about the product management and marketing profession and will publish on my LinkedIn as well.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.