What is Innovation Design?
That's a great question. I’ve spent much of my career using design as a vehicle to create new outcomes and then as a change agent to shape and influence the delivery of those outcomes. Innovation Design uses design methods and divergent thinking approaches to conceptualize new possibilities by modelling and crafting experiences to reflect an intentional point of view.
Innovation (like Design Thinking) has penetrated the corporate board room as a solution to transform organization’s and respond to rapid market changes. Innovation is “happening everywhere”- from Innovation Labs to Digital Factories.
The opposing force of Innovation: Evolution
Innovation and Evolution are opposing forces - as they they serve different purposes and use different techniques to affect the outcome.
Innovation is invention + market value. Creating a new product or service, gives you an edge over your competition.
Evolution is incrementally refining your product based on usage, observation, and data. It is carefully adding new features and services without bloat, or debt.
Not every part of your organization needs to innovate. The first step is to understand these counter forces, and when to apply each.
Converting Opportunities to Innovations
We know innovation activities have a high risk of failure (and they should be structured as such) but is there a way to control the effort to repeatedly create long term value? I believe there is.
The Innovation Design Stack
After looking at all of the programs I’ve been involved with, I’ve outlined what I think works best as a framework for Innovation. I call this the Innovation Design Stack. Its a way to not only conceive of new innovations, but to shape them into commercialization. This transformational approach is geared towards getting innovations into market.
00 - Opportunity - Identifying the Opportunity - What opportunity is being addressed? Where is the Innovation being rooted?
01 - Idea - Generating Ideas - This is the most interesting part of the project. Ask yourself, "Can we generate narrow beam ideas based on the Opportunity?"
"Ideas are overhead, tame them early. Narrow beam ideation should be rooted in the opportunity. Save brainstorm cycles for intuition-sketching."
02 - Invention - Converting Ideas to Inventions. The secret to Invention, is abstracting yourself away from the known. Re-frameing your vantage point, and striking on "How Might We" discourse.
03 - Craft - Crafting Exceptional Experiences. Put love into your craft.
04 - Value - Identifying value propositions. Which market will you innovate in?
05 - Story - Using Storytelling to capture the imagination. How will you tell the world about your grand adventure?
At a high level the Innovation Design Stack captures successive force multipliers as you move up from Level 01 through Level 05. Each level is a function which needs to be performed with dedicated teams and processes. As one moves up the stack, greater clarity of the innovation is captured. Each successive level can influence levels below and above.
Where do I find the Opportunity?
Your business is overflowing with opportunities.
It goes without saying that any business must align all of their design activity across each functional area. Each element of design must be intentional. Nothing should be left to chance.
So how do you find opportunity? Challenge the norm.
What are you doing today, that you have assumed needed to be that way? How might you change the approach to something your customers have to do, but they don't want to. How do you build loyalty in a utility?
Have you spoken to your customer support workers? Have you asked them what they would change if they could? You can only learn so much from reports (i.e. call logs), but have you asked the most vocal in your organization, what they think?
To innovate is to change attitudes, first in your employees, and then in your customers.
Diverge/Converge - The Heart of the Innovation Design Stack
Ok make sure no ones looking when you read this.
If there is one 'secret' that I can tell teams about making innovation happen, it is to employ the Diverge/Converge design method - whenever they have a chance to.
The art of Diverging (Creating Choices) is a neglected process that many innovation/startup methods tend to overlook. It is an intentional moment where you suspend your belief and challenge everything - and create new choices (as silly as they may seem).
This phase isn't always easy, and can quickly become overwhelming. Skeptics will question its merits, and the faithless will wonder if they are done, or if they have done it right. The natural tendency is to pick a path and go.
The simple act of doing informs our thinking, giving us the experience to build a path forward.
The transition from Diverge to Converge is also a neglected moment. How do you evaluate the world of choices, to pick a path forward? Most times you don't pick a single path. You continue to drive forward with multiple concurrent choices.
Doing, making, breaking, shaping gives you experience with each choice, and in that experience you gain new insights, that will guide you on the path forward.
Show Don't Tell
The Innovation Design Stack, and the movement between levels, is all about creating artifacts that can envision a new possibility. Show your results!
Now this may seem all very pedestrian. You've read it before, you seen it across Medium. But I firmly believe that through these design methods we can shift our perspectives and question existing burned in assumptions to challenge the norm and to make a new future.
I also believe in the role of a central Design Composer/Conductor who knows which plates to spin, and which ones should be left to fall.
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