Innovation is a miracle , Really?

“Innovation is a miracle when a special person raises their hands to God, the Red Sea is parted or the iPhone is born” said Dr. Jeanne Liedtka , author of “Designing for Growth” and strategy professor at the Darden School of Business,  presumably in reference to Moses.

VUCA Environment is where we live in, is the term, I am sure we all have heard from our respective business leaders. To sustain or even increase the growth of any organization in such an environment, we must have a strong idea engine, isn’t it?

“Of course, there are creative geniuses, no one would want to deny that truly extraordinary minds, like Steve Jobs, exist. But genius is not the only way to produce ideas.” Liedtka says.

If we look at the top 5 strategies or goals of any organization, one of them would definitely be around Digital Transformation and one of the sub-strategies is undoubtedly UX. Having said that one might argue what is the connection between UX & Innovation. Today, there is a lot of focus on innovation lab, hackathons, idea generation workshops and many such things.

Well, this is one of the best ways to accelerate the innovation. Is there any other way? Or we still believe in the Moses Myth, rather than waiting for Moses to show up or finding some extraordinary minds, like Steve Jobs, can we figure out a reliable way to manufacture our own miracles?

Liedtka in her book has offered a reliable yet simple way to reach the goal of innovation through a systematic series of questions. Before we look at the first question let’s look at some of my favorite quotes

“Solving problems means listening.” – Richard Branson

“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” – Naoto Kan

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.” Margaret Heffernan

“You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability.” – Michael J. Gelb

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

“Running away from a problem only increases the distance from the solution.” – Anonymous

All of the above quotes are trying to answer the question “WHAT IS?”. It explores current reality. All successful innovation begins with an accurate assessment of what is going on today. This is possible only when we get out of our comfort zones, confront the problem, identify where it exists and whom the solution benefits. Quite often than not, we immediately want to spring to a solution with the knowledge that we have at hand. We are reluctant to spend enough time in understanding the ground realities, empathizing with the people for whom the solution is being built.

Time invested in answering “WHAT IS? going to pay off in every single step that we would take until the solution is delivered. It is going to broaden our knowledge of the problem. There could be scenarios/questions that are not articulated enough, as neither end user has thought of it as necessary to provide nor the observer to have grasped. There are many techniques that are going to help us. One such technique is “ethnographic research“.

“WHAT IS saves us from having to rely entirely on our own imagination as we move into idea development and it gives us solid and ideally deep insight into what our stakeholders truly want and need. Which reduces the risk of failure with a new idea.” Liedtka says.

Having the insights of the true wants, we would now be in a much better position to pour ideas using the next logical question “WHAT IF?” and explore possible solutions. This is a place of brainstorming, a place of ideas generation, a place of all possible alternatives.

With the whole set of ideas in hand, how then can one be assured of the best? We can’t build every alternative that has been identified. We are now interested in systematically evaluating each of these ideas against its value to end user. In fact, we are looking for an idea that hits ‘the’ sweet spot, with our next logical question “WHAT WOWS?

The ideas that pass through the “WHAT WOWS?”, are the candidates for evaluating with the end users. This is a phase of wire-framing, low-fidelity prototypes,  or something that the end users can interact with.

Finally, we are ready to ask the last question “WHAT WORKS?”. Use numerous techniques to test the solutions that we created using WHAT WOWS. This is a phase of interaction, the phase of feedback, and most importantly an iterative one.

“As we move through what works. It’s important to keep in mind some of the principles behind this learning in the action stage. Work in fast feedback cycles. Minimize the cost of conducting experiments. Fail early to succeed sooner and test for key trade-offs and assumptions early on.” Liedtka says.

Ten Design Tools (Liedtka, 2011)

Long story short, do you still believe in the Moses Myth? Is Innovation miracle? That reminds me of another great quote

“Inside of every problem lies an opportunity.” – Robert Kiposaki

So grab the problem you have, ask these four questions, find the opportunity within and innovate.

I cannot conclude this without thanking Dr. Jeanne Liedtka, most of the material is from her book and a course on Design Thinking for Innovation


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