Being Awesome, Diffusion of Innovation, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Systems, Tool, Uncategorized

Beyond the Right Tool for the Job

Today I did a few odd errands around the house. A typical Sunday afternoon. I finally went to hang the new tiles with our house number on them. For 30 minutes I bore into the front of my house. I switched screw types and drill bits. The sad truth was I had barely made a dent. The tiles lay on the front lawn mocking me.

powertools
Notice the state of the art powerdrill I was using. And Jebediah was no help at all.

I decided to do some research online and found just what I needed. And thus the standard pilgrimage to the local home improvement store rewarded me with some concrete screws. The tiles went up almost instantly.

I had chosen the correct power tool, my handy dandy drill with screwdriver bits, but I failed to be detailed in how to apply the tool. I was using the wrong screws and all that got me were unhung tiles and two shallow, but noticeable holes in the front of my house.

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhn

This can be the bane of the innovator as well. Powerful tools within their grasp, but the details about the application and the context evade them. This has two potentially disastrous outcomes:

  1. Problems remain out of reach, still unsolved.

2. You can cause new problems, like holes in your house.

It is important to invest time in identifying the details behind the tools you use. Even if your innovation toolbox is stocked with the best tools around, it’s the details and the context that can throw you off.

“Stop. Hammer time.” – MC Hammer

The following places have excellent tools for your innovation toolbox, and some supporting details to help you know when to use them.

Stratgeyzer by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, and Alan Smith- Value Proposition Design is always within grasp. I may keep a spare in my glovebox. From learning cards, to testing matrices, Strategyzer’s VPD is a solid foundation for any innovator.

Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie – This fantastic book has tools and details around the full innovation timeline. From “What is?” to “What if?” to “What wows?” to “What works?” No matter what your question is, Designing for Growth has something for you.

Joe Greaser has a post over on his blog about some tools for detecting weak arguments.

Also, we’ve got stuff right here at Go Forth And Be Awesome!tools

  • New Lenses for finding new ways to look at the world around you.
  • Donkey Dice for rapidly going through lenses with a little bit of chaos.
  • Premortems help you prepare for failure before you test a prototype.

Avoid the frustration and embarrassment of drilling all afternoon with nothing to show for it. Even if you’ve got the right tool, pay attention to the little details too.

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Being Awesome, Diffusion of Innovation, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lean, Like a Startup

Your Turn Signal is on… Still

indecisionI’m in the middle lane of a three lane road, on the last leg of my school drop-off delivery. Just one of my kids left to go. A car in front of me has their right turn signal on. Flashing their intention to the world adjacent and slightly behind them. They kept going straight; no merging, no lane changing.

The car immediately next to them was unaware of their directional desires and held their ground. The car in front of me never sped up nor slowed down. Never made any other display of their intention. They just kept their speed, blinker blinking, until at the very last moment they slammed on their brakes in order to slide behind the next-door car and into the lane they wanted.

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu

Too often companies use their turn signal towards innovation, yet never adjust their business plans to make it happen. “We want to be innovative industry leaders in X” is heard in more boardrooms than not. But their SUV of a company moves on unfaltering, in the lane they’ve always been in, while still signaling. It’s all about walking the talk.

In order to be innovative, there has to be some change in your current velocity. Physics tells us that acceleration is a change in an object’s speed OR direction. It would make sense that in order to accelerate towards market-leading ideas, an organization (or individual) would have to speed up, slow down, or start fading into the new lane.

  • Speed up the generation, prototyping, and validation of disruptive ideas.
  • Slow down the status quo and start preparing for some change management.
  • Merge into new procedures, culture, and atmospheres.

“Remember: It’s not innovation until it gets built.” Garry Tan

The business superhighway is littered with cars that never managed the merge to innovation. Blockbuster watched Netflix fly by in the fast lane. Xerox had the ability to change lanes thanks to PARC, but never made the move. Borders tried to let Amazon signal the lane change for them, but still kept their steady trajectory.

And as the driver ahead of me was able to finally get in the lane they needed, it wasn’t without last minute, emergency maneuvers. Often, even those are unsuccessful. Because change and innovation aren’t just things you can say you want to do. It takes commitment and dedication, adjustment and planning. You can’t just signal that you’re going to turn and magically end up in the correct lane.

You’ve got to find a space and turn the wheel.

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Diffusion of Innovation, Ideation, Innovation, Understanding the Customer

Innovating with the Uninterested

My kids send me strong signals all the time. For example, when we have broccoli or sweet potatoes, they respond with very strong signals. Unfortunately their signals are strong AND negative. One way we’ve tried limit these anti-veggie reactions is to get them involved in the meal planning.

Like in meal planning, we should be looking for strong signals with prototype tests. Strong signals validate that solutions are worthy of digging into deeper. Sometimes, you will get responses of “I don’t like this” or “I’m not sure this will work.” These are great strong signals, just not the ones you may have been looking for. Their value though can be immense.

diffusionOfInnovationLooking at the Diffusion of Innovation, these types of strong signals would be achieved from folks in the “Late majority” category. That accounts for 34% of the market, and yet we design by relying on “Early Adopters” or the “Early Majority”. How can we move their timeline of adoption up? How can we use their strong signals, and their personas, to help make our prototype better?

We can design with them!

Wrangle up some of those “This will never work” naysayers and get them in an ideation session. You can often get them to agree by just being honest. No need for trickery or bribes. Just tell them that you’re sorry your one idea didn’t fit for them but you’d like to understand their view better.

“Great! Now I have all the people who hated my prototype in one room. What do I do now?”

It is simple, just understand these three guidelines.
  1. Let the customer drive the conversation
    Strong signals, like kids rebelling over the inclusion of broccoli, can indicate the presence of the "Late Majority". Instead of taking a hit to your momentum, use their energy to design a new, better solution!
    Strong signals, like kids rebelling over the inclusion of broccoli, can indicate the presence of the “Late Majority”. Instead of taking a hit to your momentum, use their energy to design a new, better solution!
    • You must aim for a 80-20 ratio of listening to talking.
    • Listen to understand, not to react.
      • This is a personal pet peeve, but too often we listen with the intent of reacting to what someone says. Especially here where you’ve already show the customer a solution. They will say “Well I need it to do X.” and you’ll want to say “Well what I showed you will already do X, you may have missed it.” AVOID THIS! Internalize that thought but come back to them with something like “Interesting. When it does X, what does that look like to you?”
    • Reiterate what they say if you are unclear.
      • Remove any uncertainty.
    • You may need to set up the ideation session with some easy wins up front to grease the gears of innovation.
  2. Keep their options limited
    • Too many options and they will freeze up. It’s a cousin of the “blank page” syndrome.
    • Constraints can also help people be creative.
      • It’s like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Applying pressure, with the constraints of the rest of the tube, pushes the paste onto the brush.
  3. Nothing needs to be pretty
    • An “ugly” prototype or a napkin sketch keeps the customer from thinking the idea is set in stone.
    • Thinking everything is “up for change” frees them up to make more suggestions.
    • Encourage them to take a crack at some wireframes.
      • You will hear “I’m not good at drawing” but we’re not looking for art here, just ideas. You can offer to draw for them if this is a sticking point.

I’m not saying you’ll end this process with a market-capturing design. But you will have a better understanding of the needs, the pain points, and the potential gains for your innovation with the Late Majority. Imagine if you can inspire the Late Majority to adopt sooner!

Diffusion of Innovation, Going Forth, Grand Canyon, Innovation, Micro-Patterns, Persona, Understanding the Customer

Where did I leave that Grand Canyon?

My great friend, Joseph Greaser, posted an excellent write up about understanding your audience. Especially when it comes to innovation. You can read all about his case study and data that illustrate this point clearly. Read his post, follow his blog, and then come right back.

Flat, average desert
The Grand Canyon after averaging out with the rest of the land.

The next time you are stuck needing some small talk, here’s a little trivia for you. The average elevation for the state of Arizona is roughly 4,100 feet. Yet that fact covers up a big hole in the data. Actually, one of the biggest holes. The Grand Canyon is also in Arizona. Its elevation bottoms out at only 70 feet in the canyon. Now you’re saying “Of course it glosses over the Grand Canyon. That’s what an average does. It smoothes over the really high peaks and really low valleys.”

So then why do we use the average when trying to understand your customer?

The whole point of understanding your customer is to understand their pain points, their usage, and what innovations they would gain from. But if we keep just looking at average data to “get a feel” for how the whole group is using your prototype, then you could be missing grand canyons of opportunity.

Let’s change the lens for this. Imagine you are a teacher and you are looking at the grades for your students at the end of the year. Half of your class ended with a grade of 100%, the other half ended with a grade of 50%. Would you just average them out and say that your class earned a 75%? You wouldn’t unless you wanted to be looking for a different line of work in the fall. No, you would see two distinct “user-groups” in your classroom. Regardless of grade, both user-groups need your attention.

You would work hard to understand why it wasn’t working for your 50-percenters. You would try new things, different strategies, and observe to identify their pain points. Even your 100-percenters need you. You need to observe them as well to find what is working, try to push them to new territory, and give them some challenges. You would be doing so much to understand your students.

Similarly in innovation, we must journey to the bottom of data canyon to understand our customers.

Let’s look at what the average leads us to. Based on analytics, a website was tracking an average of 5 minutes per session duration. Remembering what we can about averages from freshman year, we imagine the graph to look like this beauty.

averageExpected

Yet, through the magic of mathematics, this graph is also equally likely and just as valid.

averageUnexpected

Whoa! Talk about two completely different use cases for this website. Let’s put the graphs together to get the whole picture.

averageCombined

Only in some cases would innovating for the average actually provide some benefit to our customers. There are other valid cases where innovating for the average wouldn’t benefit the customers at all. Talk about wasted time, development, and effort.

Public Domain Image Rogers Everett - Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA.
Public Domain Image
Rogers Everett – Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA.

Another great example of this is to look at the Diffusion of Innovations curve. Ignore the extremes for now and look at what aiming for the average would get you. You would be nestled between the Early Majority and the Late Majority of customers. Your innovation would be targeting a user-group that is torn between being scared and skeptical of change. They would be wanting to get something out of your innovation, but at the same time they just don’t want to get left behind.

So what is a good innovator to do? One thing that we are always fond of is looking for micro-patterns instead of macro-solutions. Macro-solutions are the golden bullet, “this will work for everyone” type of product. These have their benefit in some instances but not when you are trying to understand your customers. Remember that averages smooth out the mountains and canyons that customers experience. Macro-solutions need averages to survive.

Micro-patterns help shed light on your customer personas. Go back to the classroom scenario, even though it is simplistic. Just looking at the grade data beyond the average shows us that their are at least two distinct customer personas in the class. It is ok to have multiple personas as long as you understand that they have different needs and desires from your product. The students with 100% grades have different demands from the classroom than the students with 50% grades. Your job as the innovator is to decide which group to innovate for.

The more complex your data is, the more micro-patterns there may be… and this is ok. Complex is neither good nor bad, it just is. As an innovator you aren’t here to judge numbers, you’re here to listen to their stories. And stories can be as deep as the Grand Canyon sometimes, but you have to make the trek to the bottom via mule to truly understand the customers there. Don’t let the shiny averages distract you with their homogenous targets for innovation.

Challenge:
Take a look at some data for your innovation.

  • What are some of the shiny, yet deceiving, averages that exist?
  • Dive deeper into your data. Are your averages glossing over some of the customer stories?
  • Try to identify the different, distinct user-groups for your innovation. List their pain points.