Yes. We do use lots of colored post-it notes and art materials in our workshops. And yes, you can hear people laughing loudly as they tell fantastic stories using their superpowers. And yes, in a matter of a few hours, the rooms are transformed from blank empty spaces into ones that are bursting with color, concept, and possibility. It’s all part of the process that we’ve learned to trust – and it’s a vital ingredient for innovation.
At the core of the design process is putting our users at the center of the exploration phase in order to create meaningful value for them. It’s a service that’s exploratory and empathic. It’s selfless and without pre-conception. We always have to ask ourselves the fundamental question: “Who we are designing for?” And this question is quite tricky because there are certain biases that can steer the framing of the initial challenge and the identification of the ‘real’ user.
For example, suppose that the CMO of a toy company wants to undertake a user-centered activation to explore opportunities related to a new product. The manner by which he frames the initial challenge question will shape the outcome drastically. He could focus on his strategic goals (design for strategy) or on generating a fast profit (design for quick revenue). He may choose to frame the question to address creating a new brand (design for marketing). But in all these cases, his own motivations are actually limiting the solution scope and potential commercial opportunities that exist. Let me clarify.
The reason that innovation requires us to ‘embrace ambiguity’ and demonstrate ‘creative confidence’ (IDEO) is that no one really knows what the outcome will be. The developers don’t know. Management doesn’t know. The coaches and trainers have no clue. And the users also don’t know. No one really knows what the fusion of technology and user-centric design will create. And no one is clear what the next big thing in the toy sector is either. But by bridging the gap between applied product design and insight-driven innovation, we can co-create solutions that we could not have imagined on our own. In this case, the sum is definitely greater than the parts.
And in the spirit of true adventure, we must have the courage and the humility to undertake the journey of innovation and confidently say that we don’t know where we are going. We shift our focus to the user and embark on a co-creative search – an exploration based on communication and collaboration. We ask them to talk about what they really want or need. We make an effort to be curious about their pain points and frustrations, in order to help contribute to solving their challenge. In the empathy phase, we find that there is a certain level of vulnerability and intimacy.
After this initial basic understanding, we can begin to synthesize the key insights from our interactions with our users. And the key word here is ‘insights’ because, from my experience, teams do not spend enough time in this stage. It requires the capacity to quickly converge and diverge to assimilate and re-imagine the data from the empathy phase to find non-obvious insights. It’s an integrative act of distillation and re-creation. It requires that you summarize your key findings in short statements that are authentic, actionable, and memorable. These insights are the fuel for innovation.
At this point that you can confidently say you know what the problem is.
Yes, and… you’re ready to move into solution mode.
The stage of ideation is where I see a lot of people flourish and also where a lot of people struggle. It’s not uncommon to see a flurry of countless ideas, hear the buzz of creative chatter and sense the excitement of potential and possibility. It is at this stage also where many are the most uncomfortable. Many are not used to express themselves freely. Many people judge themselves before they are judged. And many believe that they are ‘very uncreative.’ I totally disagree. Creativity is a natural skill that we all possess. We just have to remember how to unleash it.
The teams then collaborate to synthesize their ideas into one integrated solution and build a quick prototype to demonstrate the value proposition. It’s important to be able to bring our ideas to life to be able to validate our assumptions or hypotheses. These simple and seemingly unfinished prototypes are powerful tools to enable a conversation with our users. They act as channels to enable us to continue to refine and develop our solution, without investing unnecessary time and resources. They also enable the phase of testing and iteration with our users.
Time and time again, this process that we have learned to trust reveals that people experience their moments of insight at four common points during our workshops. The first is during the persona creation activity where we ask our participants to imagine a fictional character that represents their potential users. We explore the different aspects of the profile and ask them to empathize with them. Many participants recall that that experience cements the idea of user-centric design for them. The second is during the idea synthesis phase. After having gone through several rounds of ideation, we use a technique called dot-voting to force convergence. From there, we re-assimilate the chosen ideas and then ask the teams to imagine an integrated solution. Many participants find that the moment when it all comes together into one simple and well-articulated value proposition is their ‘Aha’ moment. The third common point is in the prototyping phase. This cooperative act of creating something tangible has a very powerful effect on the team. Seeing the conceptual come to life and being able to interact with, touch and demonstrate the idea is a profound moment for some. And of course, the final pitches are always a bold reminder and a testament of how far a team can journey in such a short time. Their own awareness that they were able to achieve such an innovative and creative outcome surprises them, excites them, and also makes them proud!
I’ve witnessed firsthand the creative energy and increased engagement of the participants.
I’ve seen pop-up teams quickly, efficiently and effectively work together to develop innovative products and solutions routinely and on-demand.
I’ve found that creativity is easy – and it’s the most natural of human expressions.
And, I’ve learned that co-creating positive experiences for people are paramount for the spirit of innovation to thrive.
And with regards to the next big thing? I really don’t know. But I’m sure that if we engage with empathy, craft insights, co-create, demonstrate our ideas, integrate feedback, stay positive and ‘trust the process’ – we may find out together.
Sharif Maghraby is the Lead Coach at SAP Innovate to Win. SAP Innovate to Win is an innovation enablement and coaching service that blends proven frameworks like Design Thinking and Business Modeling, powerful technology and a global network of expert coaches to help organizations and their teams solve complex problems and get the confidence to innovate. Get in touch and start your innovation journey email@example.com