Understanding the Art of Innovation
When I meet people active in the sector of the art of innovation, I always find that innovation in itself is hard to understand because of the multiple working approaches that are coexisting. Being in this business myself, I often wonder why, how and what I’m doing. What is innovation or creativity? How can you describe creativity without lapsing into psychobabble or semantics? How do you explain people how to make a breakthrough or get an awesome idea? How to perform inception?
In order to clarify this way of working, I think it’s best to start to define the common patterns, that make up the art of innovation breakthrough. According to me, the basics are observation, ideation and prototyping. These three steps are the pillars of any innovation or creative process. Let’s take a more refined, concise look at these three so you can fine tune your own innovation process:
Three big words on innovation
When you start an innovation process always immerse yourself in your subject and observe it carefully. You can for example meet your users in order to collect insights and see their world as you’ve never seen it before. This sort of observation is a great source of inspiration that you can bring into your innovation process. Here are some tips to follow for an effective observation:
- Observe without judging
- Try to understand people. How they live, what they feel, taste, listen…
- Divide your customer journey in small step/moments in order to understand them. Before, during and after their customer experience.
- Keeping your eye open and be curious. Use your five senses.
- Don’t focus on the goal or the problem you are working on because it’s not part of this step.
- Invite/meet new people. Don’t let your team become a closed system. Meet new people, colleagues and topic experts. Invite them in your workshops to collect their insights.
- Use technology to discover new experiences and trends.
It’s simple to describe. After all, ideation it’s just a group of people sitting together and throwing ideas around. But it’s very hard to perform a good brainstorming session and it’s often an uphill task. It’s good to generate a lot of ideas, but what do you do after that? How do you select them? How do you inspire people when there are no ideas? What are the tools to use to create a global picture? How do you transform an idea into a concept? How do you make people interact with each other? You see it’s more complex that just throwing ideas around.
To make your ideation journey easier, here are some great tips:
- Focus on the task. It’s very easy to get distracted or segued in a brainstorming session. The art of innovation comes in when you can focus your efforts on the problem at hand.
- No idea is too wild. Although you’ve identified the need or problem specifically, let your imagination run wild when thinking of solutions. Funny suggestions keep the rapport and energy within the group high and possibly open more avenues for ideas.
- Set a benchmark. Call for an exact number ideas. It gives a good structure to an otherwise free-for-all imagination-fest. At least you can move on to feasibility and importance much easier when the number is reached.
- Transition the discussions smoothly. To keep everyone’s brain ticking, use a different ideation approach at each phase but know how to make the shift.
- Warm-ups are not corny or overrated. Singing funny songs, small mental exercises and icebreakers really help especially if you’re working with a newly-formed group. Never underestimate the power of a warm-up session.
- Use physical objects in aiding thinking. Building blocks, draw your ideas on a paper, try to visualise the ideas, use magazine, picture, boxes and other 3D materials that stimulate the brain .
- Supply people with pertinent information. Share information and insights for the observation phase.
- Reward risk-takers and rule-breakers even if they fail. The point of this tip is that you have to encourage people to think beyond the traditional boundaries.
This is one of the most iterative part of an innovation process. Some organizations might skip this step but it’s important to master the art of innovation. The point of the prototype is not to make your concept work perfectly but to make the innovation process go much faster.
How to do it?
Try a lot of prototypes, you will learn from the failures and start all over again. You don’t need high tech materials for your prototypes. I for example use Lego’s, toys, paper, wood or even things I’ve taken from the trash. A great place to build your products is a fab lab.
What can you expect from prototyping?
- Ideas. The objective of prototyping is to shape your ideas in order to improve them.
- Get direct feedback. When you use fast prototyping it helps you to have a direct feedback from your users. They will provide you new insights to improve your products or services.
- Taking chances. Second-guessing yourself doesn’t work with a prototype. Implementing something out of curiosity is perfectly acceptable.
- Failing is part of the process. When the prototype fails, you gain knowledge on what not to do. This is a great leap in the creative process.
- Inspiration occurs more when you work with your hands. When your mind and body work together on an idea, it’s easier to gain breakthroughs.
In the end, the art of innovation involves a lot of practices that do not sit well with traditional leadership and management paradigms. It’s up to you to implement observation, ideation and prototyping workshop attitudes in a way that’s both beneficial for your team and your innovation projects.
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