Design-Based Innovation

Integrating Design for Success in Innovation

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Innovating In Secret

By Guest Contributor, Rebecca Cochran, Cochran Creative Group

I saw the new film, The Imitation Game a few days ago. Superbly acted, this historical thriller tells the story of how pioneering British analyst, Alan Turing and his MI6 team, cracked Nazi Germany’s naval ‘Enigma’ code, ultimately helping the allies win the Second World War.

Though set in the middle of the 20th century, the film brought out many ideas and concepts that exemplify skills needed for innovation to occur today. For instance:

Noticing Patterns

Alan Turing, expertly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was portrayed as having a knack for noticing patterns or connections among random things. One of the many flashback scenes showed a very young Turing seated at his family dinner table attempting to arrange, by pattern, the food on his plate. Should they be arranged by color? Or shape? By food type? Or some other pattern? It was a humorous, yet telling moment in the film.

Innovation Is a Team Sport

The story stressed the importance of working as a team. Though a loner by nature, Turing knew he couldn’t succeed alone. He hired a crackpot team by requiring job applicants to complete a series of puzzles to demonstrate their analytical skills.

Importance of Assembling a Diverse Team

During the hiring process, Turing was thrown a curve ball. As an elite round of job applicants was filing into the interview room, a young woman named Joan (played by Keira Knightley) was among them. The door monitor told her, “The secretarial applicants are to report to another room down the hall.” She looked up and proclaimed that she wasn’t applying for a secretarial position; she was applying for an analyst position. Turing allowed her the chance to compete and, of course, she aced the puzzle in record time. Despite Joan’s obvious brilliance and problem-solving capabilities, Turing was unable to hire her as part of the otherwise all-male team. (This was 1939, after all.) The two did manage to work together clandestinely, however. Obviously, Turing knew the importance of assembling a diverse team.

Networking / Observing / Associating

Turing and his team’s innovation skills were brought out several times. The most exciting example occurred when he and several co-workers were gathered in a pub, socializing at the end of a long day. A remark by one of the secretaries caused Turing to jump up and exclaim, “That’s it!” He was referring to the woman’s nonchalant comment about how the Germans redundantly included the Nazi salute at the close of each and every communiqué. Her observing skills, coupled with Turing’s associating skills, worked to dramatically shorten the amount of code that needed to be broken, resulting in a major turning point in the project.

Innovation Killers

Other interesting points that the film brought out were around innovation killers, both financial and non-financial. Innovation killers waged by Turing’s immediate superior were a lack of confidence in Turing and his team to deliver on time, his overall undervaluing of innovation (the code was considered unbreakable) and, yes, funding constraints. For the team, however, the time constraints acted as innovation enablers. The world was at war and each day that passed meant more lives lost. For these reasons and more, tension in the lab was at a constant high.

Experimenting / Failure

Other innovation-related highlights were around failure. Innovators have to fail to succeed. They have to experiment, adjust, learn and experiment some more, because maybe, just maybe, what seems impossible or unbreakable, isn’t after all.

Innovating In Secret

The existence of MI6 was not officially acknowledged until 1994. (Sometimes, we might even have to innovate in secret.)

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An Airline Without Pain Points

by Guest Contributor, Uri Hess, Hess L&D Inc.

Even your typical gold frequent flyers will tell you about their difficulties with airports and airlines. These “pain points” can begin the moment you enter the airport, and can continue throughout your flight all the way to your destination.

Companies that have subscribed to Design Thinking approaches aim at the removal of pain points as part of a continual innovation process. Design-Based Innovation incorporates the search for customer problems as a means of stimulating potential for new breakthroughs.

Design-Based Innovation includes the early steps of observing, questioning and networking, followed by divergent and convergent thinking exercises that can lead to new insights. Airports make for interesting settings to practice the first skill of observing customer behaviours because pain points are quite evident and easily recognized there.

One way of developing an understanding of customer pain points is to appreciate the opposite and recognize airlines that have seemingly found ways of removing them. Rewarded as one of today’s leading airlines, Air New Zealand demonstrates unique approaches that eliminate typical customer pain points where they commonly occur with other airlines.

Having recently experienced Air New Zealand on several flights, I personally observed these pain-free check-in and take-off procedures:

  • Air New Zealand’s check-in kiosks are heavily staffed to assist passengers with a quick and efficient starting point.
  • Lines to check luggage and obtain boarding passes are few or non-existent (the result of an efficient kiosk process). This can eliminate the typical pre-check-in and printing of boarding passes before arriving at the airport — another pain point removed.
  • Gate agents use a systematic method of maintaining a clear gate area with a simple, row-by-row boarding procedure that actually works, likely because it begins much earlier than on most other airlines. The result is a calm, smooth boarding experience.
  • On board, Air New Zealand grabs your attention with a humorous, yet serious, safety video. It features the popular New Zealand actor, Bear Gryllis, known for his outdoor survivor TV programs. The outcome is clearly greater attention of passengers to the importance of safety.
  • Air New Zealand even offers an “Economy Skycouch” for relaxing during long hauls. Economy Skycouch consists of a row of three economy seats that convert into a couch-like space, allowing you to stretch out and relax.

By providing something different that has a positive impact, Air New Zealand defines innovation. And, Design-Based Innovation provides the processes that lead to this type of outcome.

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Design Thinking – The New Selling Skill

by Guest Contributor, Uri Hess, Hess L&D Inc.

Ever wonder about the fact that we’ve more or less had the same selling skills training for the last 30 years? Oh sure, they’ve improved, especially with all the technical advances for teaching these skills. But, think about it: people are still trained to ask the right questions (open, closed benefit tags, etc.) to adapt discovered needs to the features and benefits of whatever they are selling. We are still reminded to listen and communicate effectively and, of course, to remember to ask for the order. We are so caught up in the demand to sell a particular solution that we fail to recognize the importance of focusing on the problem.

The newest selling skill being advocated takes into account Design Thinking (DT). This new focus encourages astute sales people to take more time for exploring. DT suggests that we need to increase the allotment of time to observe, network and question to reveal customer problems (not so much on needs at this early juncture). The customer may not even know or realize that there is a problem at hand. This form of effective interfacing is an important segment of Design-Based Innovation. It will reveal those opportunities for solving feasible, viable and desirable problems. Roger Martin, in his book, The Design of Business, advocates the importance of taking the time to search out those wicked problems that can reveal an entirely new and valuable direction. Roger states, “DT is a form of thought that enables movement along the knowledge funnel, and those that master it will gain a nearly inexhaustible long-term business advantage.”

Even if you believe that you are sitting on the advantages of a new wonder product, unique service or exciting new program that customers may want now, try stepping back. Stop and observe for problems that could interfere or could open the door to additional attributes that will provide a greater sustainability for your initiative. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have we exhausted every opportunity to scope out the problem(s)?
  • Have we taken the time to thoroughly prototype, test and assess our product, program or service?
  • How can these important steps for a complete innovation occur without understanding the problem first?
  • How many times have you said, “I wish I would have discovered this interfering issue before our launch?”

Incorporating DT interface practices into your selling skills program will provide the basis of newfound growth opportunities.

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Learning Design-Based Innovation From Our Children

by Bill Knowles

A few days ago, I was having a discussion in my office with one of our corporate attorneys. The topics we discussed varied and, at one point, I mentioned Design-Based Innovation. The usual reaction I receive is “Interesting…tell me more…I am not familiar with that topic.” Instead, he said, “Yes, my 4th grade daughter is in a Design Thinking Club at her school.”

While trying to recover from my amazement, I asked for details. In 2013, at this particular private school, the Lower School Director and the 4th grade teacher initiated a volunteer Design Thinking program for 4th and 5th grade students. The students apply a Design Thinking process to address problems they see around the school that are meaningful to them. Once an issue is identified, they practice empathy by interviewing peers, staff and faculty to obtain multiple perspectives. They prototype early and often and have already identified solutions to issues concerning the cafeteria, water fountains, laptops and locker space.

This is a superb example of a program where business leaders can really learn from their children.

Are you are aware of other such programs for children in grade schools? If so, please share your comments.

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Innovation Is Easier Said Than Done

by Guest Contributor, Uri Hess, Hess L&D Inc.

Have you ever noticed how companies describe themselves as innovative? Or, refer to the fact that innovation is one of the core values of their strategic agenda? The intent is good, but it may simply be in vogue to include the word innovation as jargon. Without a capability strategy, how can we be expected to actually activate innovation?

Experience proves that to initiate a true culture of innovation, the company, organization or team must dedicate itself to a strategy which allows them to live innovation. This is a willingness to define and discover innovation capability development, and to agree on process which can impact the way we think and work to be more innovative. This does not suggest a heavy-duty training program which must become part of a long-term framework for the entire population of the company. It does not suggest that the learning and development needs must be part of a detailed long-term strategic plan. Quite the contrary, innovation capability development is an ongoing experience.

The word itself has almost become a cliché. Therefore, innovation capability development can be triggered by simply asking a group or team to define innovation. To quote Scott Anthony, author and managing partner of Innosight, the consulting firm founded by Clayton Christensen, “Innovation: something different that has impact” is both more important and more accessible than ever before. Consensus around the definition creates an initial understanding of the ‘WHAT’ of innovation. This, in turn, creates the necessary curiosity to learn about the ‘HOWs’ of innovation.

To maintain the innovation capability development as an experience, there is an ongoing expectation to practice what we preach as part of a training process. It is usually a segmented process which incorporates interesting guidelines and techniques that guide us from the discovery of a difficult problem through to the new ideas, and then, through to implementation. It’s an experience because of the immediate application options that are needed to activate innovation progressively. It’s a process that recognizes several aspects of innovation, such as design thinking, disruptive innovation, prototyping, ideation and other innovation programs as part and parcel of a complete process. With a capability strategy in-hand, you will have the opportunity to bring innovation to life.

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Triad Design Leadershop: April 22-23

CCE-logoOn April 22 – 23 there will be an event in Winston-Salem, NC hosted by the Center for Creative Economy. This Triad Design Leadershop will feature Ryan Jacoby as the keynote speaker. Ryan was the founding member and location head for the IDEO New York office and is the founder of Machine, a strategy and innovation company that helps businesses conceive and design new business opportunities, services and products.ryan-head

Ryan will speak Tuesday evening from 6:00 – 7:00 on the topic “Ugly is Not Profitable” concerning the importance of Design Thinking to improve business performance. Wednesday from 9:00 – 3:30 will be an experiential workshop to learn and practice the skills of Design-Based Innovation.

Click here to view complete details and register for this event.


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The Design-Based Journey

Using your imagination to interpret the graphic image above, what do you see? I see a variety of colored lines heading in the same direction and then all changing direction. Each line looks a little tattered and scuffed, signaling a well-used path.

In a well-executed design-based innovation process, whether the project concerns a product, service, process redesign or a new way of working, the movement from problem analysis, through opportunity identification to solution implementation may involve multiple paths. At the starting point, these paths usually head in the same direction, as the problem requires. During the journey, however, I rarely see any path continuing in a straight line. Instead, paths will re-vector as learnings take place.

An emerging strategy has learnings that may appear as bumps in the path or changes in direction. Although the lines in the image above look fairly solid, they have scrapes and marks that represent the surprises experienced as a result of gained insights. These insights will lead to opportunities. And, one or more opportunities will eventually become a viable solution.

What path do you see in the above graphic? How does it compare to your innovation journey?

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What is the TRUE Problem?

In Design-Based Innovation the upfront focus on the problem is extremely important. An estimated 90% of the time the pursuit of a solution is not directed at the true issue.

In business we are so quick to start thinking “solution” and to take actions that implement the way forward to solving the stated issue. From a Design-Based Innovation approach the initial activity should always be to execute a divergent/convergent thinking process around the first statement of the problem. The solution focus is still way down the road.

A diverse group, working together to hear each other’s comments when possible, should expand the problem statement in as many ways imaginable. Once the first view of the issue has many restatements and many varied associations, it is then time to look for patterns and converge the list to one or two high impact root causes. This revised view of the original problem statement would be the true issue to engage.

The team will then have the ability to create insights and eventually opportunities that may lead to a solution of the true problem.

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Innovation is Design. Design is Innovation.

by Bill Knowles

The complexities of moving innovation from an espoused value in a company to being part of normal operating procedures can be overwhelming. Combining concepts of design thinking with a company’s support of innovation offers individuals and teams greater opportunities for success in shaping solutions to significant problems. The powerful vocabulary, tools and processes companies use to pursue innovation can eventually lead to new outcomes, especially in the presence of strong cultural support.

It is my opinion, however, that blending a design thinking approach with innovation efforts can ensure faster and more targeted results. Over many years of delivering separate workshops on innovation and on design thinking, I have learned that these concepts should not be considered individually, but in a single, unified approach. Innovation requires design thinking and design thinking implies innovation.

The creation of an executable model connecting design and innovation allows us to own a process to not only step through the necessary fields, but to lead us to solutions more quickly and more soundly. It guides us to our customer’s real needs, promotes risk taking, rewards us for using failures to re-vector, asks us What can be?, focuses us on the exact problem, has us quickly prototyping multiple times and shapes a successful solution to a previously unaddressed significant problem.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.