Being Awesome, Buy In, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

Two-Faced Prototypes

prettyEveryone has heard a tale or two of people with diverse, opposite appearances. The Frog Prince and the Beast can change form with true love, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde serve as faceted personalities of the same man, and Hulk smash when Dr. Banner gets mad. While the characters’ appearances serve as moral backgrounds for allegories and folk lore, there is a lesson to be learned here for innovators.

We’ve talked before about how prototyping should focus solely on the verifiable hypothesis.  And we’re not backing down from this stance. You should be out there making the “ugly” prototypes quickly to learn and iterate with your customers. However, is there value to a “pretty” version? A benefit from a Dr. Jekyll over a prototype Mr. Hyde?

You bet there is! If there wasn’t, this would be a boring post. “Nope no benefit. Just thought I’d throw that out there. Thank you and goodnight.” The benefit comes when you need to generate some buy in. You’ll have one version for testing and one for pitching.

Just like any good salesman, marketer, or presenter will tell you, you have to know your audience. When you are prototyping, your audience is there to give you feedback on functionality. When you are trying to generate buy in, your audience is there to judge, question, and poke holes in your idea. And I mean that in all the best possible ways. You are asking for their commitment to your idea so they need to be able to feel as comfortable as they can with it. They have their own set of lenses that they view this trough. Mostly the “Am I impressed enough to lend support or resources to this?” lens.

You need a pretty and shiny version to create a wow moment.

Generating buy in means that you are asking people to jump aboard your ship after it has already set sail. If they are sitting on the dock looking at your wireframes or paper prototypes, it may be hard to convince them to jump. This past weekend I saw part of a quick and dirty boat building competition and I can say that there were a few “boats” that I would wave to safely from the dock. These were literally prototype boats that were testing out new ideas by people who had minimal skill in sailing, and only some entry-level life experience in buoyancy.

You want people to jump on your boat? You have to make your boat a more attractive place to be than the dock.

This is why you build the Dr. Jekyll version of your solution. The classy and marketable iteration. While it may be tempting to throw all kinds of features and version 5 ideas on to it, I would caution against them. Stick with your validated functions, the stuff that has been user tested, analyzed, and solidified. You are taking large risks showing features that haven’t been tested yet because you haven’t proven that the customer wants or will use them. This could lead to a difficult conversation to have with a backer who was sold because of this shiny future feature. Don’t stray from validated mechanics.

Even if you don’t have the time or the resources to get it to the minimum marketable version (the smallest group of validated features with an appropriate user experience that can be sold) a prettier-than-prototype version can serve you well. You can find ways to “Wizard of Oz” your prettier-than-prototype version that makes it feel real. It is more like a mock-up, a scale model, an artist’s representation of awesome.

So when you need to generate some buy in, know your audience and encourage them to come aboard with Dr. Jekyll’s shiny schooner. No one is jumping on a cardboard clipper with Mr. Hyde.

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Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

Use New Lenses to See Past the Hammers

I mean really, what else could Geppetto have done?

He wanted and son so he looked around at the resources he had. Lathes, chisels, hammers, and wood. Geppetto leaned on his strengths to carve Pinocchio who would magically transform from wooden marionette to a real boy. You know, after he was done goofing off and finding his way.

Abraham Maslow said “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” That’s exactly what Geppetto did. He literally had hammers and built his “son” out of wood, a material he had decades of experience with but would require magical intervention to achieve his goal.

We often fall into the same trap as innovators. We apply the same thoughts to distinct and unique problems and we murmur befuddlement when our solutions look like solutions we had in the past for a different problem.

Well murmur no more! You just need more in your toolbox than hammers.

One of the best suppliers of new “tools” is the concept of lenses for brainstorming. Lenses have the ability to be an endless and infinite supply of inspiration… and you already know how to use them! The problem is that you and I default to the same lenses. Our default lenses are the place that we work, the go to inspiration we surround ourselves with. To apply new lenses, we need to think outside our comfort zone… we need to venture into problem adjacent areas.

Let’s say we’re working on solving a certain problem. To apply and adjacent lens, we need to whittle the problem down into its barebones mechanics. “Customers do this, they need it to do this, they feel this way” and so on. This is a great time to apply the five why method to get to the root mechanics. We’ll talk about that later but for now just think of it as an over-inquisitve toddler that just wont stop.

“I need to go to the store.” “Why?”

“Because we need food.” “Why?”

“Because without food we’ll go hungry.” “Why?”

You get the point. But take a look at what those three why’s did. Instead of the problem being “I need to go to the store”, the problem is boiled down to “we need food or we’ll go hungry”. That boiled down problem is more at the root and offers way more solution possibilities.

From the base mechanics of the problem, we need to venture into other solutions that exist for the base mechanic outside our given industry. You are looking for bright spot solutions outside your realm of dominance. Work in food service? Maybe you solution lies in the way health care solved a similar problem. The world is ripe with adjacent lenses. All you have to do is ask yourself “How would X solve this?” or “How did Y eliminate this problem?” Start there and start extrapolating ideas and making connections to your own industry.

Had Geppetto thought of using lenses, he might of said to himself “You know, I’d really like a son of my own. I wonder how the farmers solve the problem of wanting children?” He might not have started with a carved marionette.

And let’s face, we cant afford to wait for our solutions to magically solve the problem. We are the magic so get out there and make your awesomeness real!

EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS!!

As an added bonus, here are a couple other lenses I like to use during brainstorming.

  • How would I never solve this problem?
  • What is the worst way I can solve this problem?

Despite it being fun to think of anti-solutions, you’ll be surprised at how effective these are at finding hidden solutions!

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lean, Lenses

Charging Up the Wrong Hill

I was enjoying a morning run while listening to an excellent game design podcast, Ludology. In episode 113, Geoff Engelstein discussed the Sunk Cost Fallacy. It works like this:

You’ve played a boardgame for a little while with your friends when you realize no one is having any fun. You turn to your friends and say “Well, we’ve gone this far lads. Might as well see it to the end.” Then you proceed to spend an evening trudging through a less-than-enjoyable experience, just because you did not want to waste the time you had already sunk into it. Instead of stopping after wasting one hour on something, you decide to spend another hour on it just to finish it, essentially spending twice as much for no reward.

It seems silly here, but it happens often in innovation.

Ed Catmull uses a model of two hills in his book, Creativity, Inc.

“People need to be wrong as fast as they can. In a battle, if you’re faced with two hills and you’re unsure which one to attack, the right course of action is to hurry up and choose. If you find out it’s the wrong hill, turn around and attack the other one.” – Ed Catmull

He goes on to say that the only wrong attack, is to go between the hills. The Sunk Cost Fallacy would have your squad start attacking one hill, realize the enemy is on the other hill, but continue to charge up this hill because they already made it part of the way up. “We don’t want to waste that initial charge, sarge.”

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the enemy to innovation. To understand how to defeat it, well use the Lean Startup principle, the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, as a lens.

Build

This is the phase that lets you minimize your sunk cost. Keeping costs low helps you mitigate the opportunities for you to say “We’ve spent so much already on this… we should push forward.” A great way to minimize sunk cost is to prototype as minimally as possible. What are you testing? What’s the cheapest way to validate it? Maybe there is a way to build a Paper Prototype or to smokescreen your prototype? Do not splurge on additional features, functionality, or looks. You just need what is minimally viable.

Measure

Numbers never lie, but we tend to bend their truths from time to time. Set the success metrics for your prototype as early as you can. Do not budge on these numbers and be honest with yourself. If you set a goal of a 5% conversion rate, your test may be successful, but are you really reaching for where you need to go? Be wary of vanity metrics. Focus on the stuff that is going to matter.

For a great model of this, look to baseball and the rise of Sabermetrics. Some statistics are easy to calculate in baseball; like batting average or earned runs average. However, some people started to look at new statistics, ones that really highlighted the value of the player towards creating a winning team. Sabermetrics includes stats like runs created or wins above replacement. You need to find the mechanic or action that your prototype needs to accomplish now, and build a statistic tied directly to that, in its most simplistic form.

Learn

Charging up the wrong hill is ok, as long as when you realize it is the wrong hill, you don't keep charging up because that's what you've always done. Time to find the next hill.
Charging up the wrong hill is ok, as long as when you realize it is the wrong hill, you don’t keep charging up because that’s what you’ve always done. Time to find the next hill.

At this point you’ve tested your prototype, collected your success metric data, and your hypothesis has either succeeded (in which case, ignore me) or it has failed (read on, dear reader!). This is the exciting part. You’ve proven, with numbers, that you’ve charged up the wrong hill and it is time to face facts. Now you get to pivot! This might mean you need to spend more time understanding and building empathy for your customer. This might mean you need to evaluate the constraints of your test. Perhaps your solution has driven too far from the problem. There is a world of opportunity and learning at a pivot point… AS LONG AS YOU DONT KEEP CHARGING UP THE HILL!

But I mean, why would you? You kept your costs low by building a minimally functioning prototype, you set your success metrics early, and you failed/learned. This is a great moment! Celebrate as you get out your tactical map, cross the hill off with a red marker, and proclaim “Time to charge up that other hill!”

Challenge

Has there ever been a time when you charged up a hill even after you new it was the wrong hill?

How did the second half of that charge feel?

What are ways to minimize your sunk cost?

Empathy, Innovation, Lenses, Persona

Buckle Up for Empathy

Loading the family into our Swagger Wagon (ok… minivan) I asked my oldest son to help my youngest son buckle his seat belt. I want to recognize as many “I can do it myself” statements as I can, but not when were in a hurry. That’s when I lean on the buckling-up experts to lend a guiding hand. My oldest quickly assesses what I asked him to accomplish, grabs the buckle, and promptly drives it home with the satisfying click that means “all safe and secure”. However in doing so, my oldest had pulled the strap across the face of my youngest.

But, as they say in the American South, bless his heart. He did precisely what I had asked. “Please help your brother buckle up.”

  • Task? buckle brother’s seat belt
  • Status? accomplished
  • Brother’s feelings? not in the scope for this mission

I say this not because I want to tell a cute story about how goal-driven my oldest can be sometimes, or about how my youngest has the resilience and facial elasticity to bounce back from this. I want to highlight that this is a trap we all fall into as innovators.

We listen to our clients, our customers, our primary personas because we’re good innovators. That’s what we do. However sometimes when the customer says “I want a product that does X”, we head right into the prototype factory and make Product X. And then we are flabbergasted when Product X fails to capture the market.

What we need is more empathy.

Empathy is all about understanding the customer’s worldview. We can gain a better understanding by observing the customer in the situation and taking note of what they say, think, do, and feel. Check out Stanford d.school’s empathy map for more detail.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford (?)

We can not focus solely on the function of buckling or what the customer says they want. We must have empathy for the person in the seat and understand their potential pain points.
We can not focus solely on the function of buckling or what the customer says they want. We must have empathy for the person in the seat and understand their potential pain points.
Empathy keeps us from taking the customer at their word and let’s us get at the heart of the problem. Like the quote attributed to Henry Ford suggests, we don’t want to give them faster horses. We want to understand WHY customers say they need faster horses. What job is the horse doing and why does it need to happen faster? The more we drill down into the empathetic questioning, the more we can find the true cause of the problem and actual working solutions.

My oldest is a very caring person, but in this case he simply listened to what I said, and made that happen. He did not think “Why is dad asking me to buckle him in this time?” nor “What’s going on with my brother that I need to help?” He did not have to buckle innovatively. I wasn’t looking for a new way to secure my children in their car seats. However, with a little more empathy he would have noticed that an immediate solution was not going to be the most optimal.

It is not innovative to have a customer ask for a faster horse and just deliver a faster horse. What customers say is only one-fourth of the puzzle. In the Value Proposition Design framework, Innovation is when a customer asks for a faster horse, you dive into what jobs the horse was doing, what pain points the speed of the horse was causing, and what opportunities for gains existed in the current horse-driven model. Innovation is disrupting or challenging the flow of the current model with a solution that gets at the root of the pain felt by the customer. Delivering what a customer wants is not the job of the innovator. Our job is to find what they need.

Innovation ignites when empathy is your spark.

Challenge

  • What does your customer say they want?
  • Identify the pain points that are leading them to voice this need.
  • Find an opportunity to observe your customer and take notes.
Being Awesome, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

Paint the Fence as a Beginner

Daniel didn't balk at starting his own bonsai tree when Mr. Miyagi offered. Even though he was a beginner, the vision for the tree still lived in his mind.
Daniel didn’t balk at starting his own bonsai tree when Mr. Miyagi offered. Even though he was a beginner, the vision for the tree still lived in his mind.

The 1984 Columbia Pictures classic, Karate Kid, obscures an awesome tidbit that I had not caught before this week. The movie glosses over quickly the fact that Mr. Miyagi had never taught anyone karate. Not until Daniel needed to learn that the secret to karate is in the heart and mind, not in the hands. This is the movie’s most memorable character arcs, as Daniel learns karate while sanding the deck, waxing the cars, and painting the fence.

Mr. Miyagi does not have years of proven methods to train Daniel with. No, he thinks outside the box to give Daniel hours of practice developing strength and muscle memory. That’s because Mr. Miyagi, whether he knew it or not, was employing shoshin (the beginner’s mind).

The beginner’s mind is something we need to embrace as well. No matter if we are trying to convince an innovation from the caves of our minds to bask in the light of day, or if we are just looking to go forth and be awesome.

Try taking on a new skill and expanding what you can do. Broaden your T-shaped self. By venturing into new territory, you activate your student mindset. You look at items with fresh eyes. You are unburdened with years of “this is how we’ve always done it”. Of course those first few steps in your chosen new skill are awkward and unstable. But you get to revel in the fact that this is part of the learning process!

“Dude, suckin’ at somethin’ is the first step towards bein’ sorta good at somethin’.” – Jake the Dog, Adventure Time

Thinking differently is at the root of innovation. It happens in multiple ways. The traditional way is when someone gets so upset with the status quo that their thoughts break the boundaries of the typical box. They start to think of how everything can be better. These are the heretics that go against the rules. (Heretic in this sense meaning someone who goes against what is generally accepted)

Another road to innovation is when the tide of shoshin rises. Seeing things as a beginner means you don’t shy away from the boundaries. In fact you push on them to see if they give. This often leads beginners to solutions experts can’t see. Experts are weighed down by proven paths to success. To a beginner, all paths are viable from where they stand… so why not try a few?

So engage your shoshin, be a beginner at something. Then start applying that new viewpoint to your innovation. Who knows what solutions you’ll uncover?

Challenge:

  • What skill would help your innovation move forward?
  • What can you do to start learning that skill?
  • Early in your learning, look at your solution again. Are there new hypotheses to validate?