Yelling out ideas in a crockpot of group-think fails, yet we keep brainstorming. Jake Knapp suggests that perhaps “brainstorming” lingers because of its “catchy name”. So I made some other weather-related portmanteau.
Empathy and journey mapping create a swell of idea; the thunderstanding comes before the brainstorms.
Structured time to work solo and think up some big ideas. Let everyone find their own Aha’s.
Swirling, rapid, and picks up and throws hypothesis into the world, and it isn’t always pretty.
Observe focus groups interact with your prototypes. Watch their emotions, see how they accomplish tasks.
Once upon a time, there was a donkey. This donkey, with all other conditions being the same, would eat from the hay closest to him. Kind of an easy win strategy. Well one day the donkey was walking down the road and his hunger grew immensely. There was a bail of hay up ahead, and an equal sized bail of hay, the exact same distance behind him. With neither being closer, the donkey stood still, not choosing one nor the other until he died.
This heartwarming tale is called Buridan’s donkey and it is a paradox about free will. Often, we become the donkey. There are disruptive ideas out there to follow, but we sit in the middle, too afraid to give up one for the other.
Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, says that “when some systems become stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness can unlock them and set them free.” The donkey just needs a little push; just one fly to land on its ear and nudge it towards one hay pile.
Organizations, teams, and people need that dose of random, unexpected, and different to get ideas moving.
These little nudges can feel scary, but there are ways to minimize the risk and fear. Start by breaking down the problem you want to solve into its core pieces; boil it down to its base essence. Then start looking for small things to move the needle. If you were to solve this problem, what’s the first thing you need to figure out? Find a way to prototype and test that thing. Prototyping is great for keeping cost low and risks at a minimum (especially when it is with paper).
“Prototyping is one of the most effective ways to both jump-start our thinking and to guide, inspire, and discipline an experimental approach.” – Peter Sims, Little Bets
Regularly we will need to unstick ourselves. Each idea we naturally think of is a byproduct of your point of view, past experiences, skill set, and what you had for lunch. That’s why I am going to give you a tool to help, a tool forged in process-driven chaos. It’s called…
The rules here are very simple. In fact, there’s only three:
CARD: On a notecard, write down six lenses and number them.
Things like “How would WordPress do it?”, “How would I never solve this?”, or use a random word. (Random words should be generated before each use of Donkey Dice.)
ROLL: Roll 1 six-sided die and identify lens selected
THINK: Generate ideas with lens
It’s simple, but effective. As you get good at Donkey Dice, expand your card up to 12 lenses and use two six-sided dice. You can unlock the extreme level and list 20 lenses and roll a twenty-sided die. Soon your donkey will be making his way towards relief, instead of stuck in the muck of status quo.
“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” -Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care
I think we can all agree that Disney Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out, doesn’t merely tug at your heartstrings. Rather it grabs hold with a death grip and shakes them with a vigor that would make the Grinch weep, even prior to his heart enlargement. If you’ve not seen it yet, prepare your “It’s dusty in here” and “I got something in my eye” crying cover stories and go.
As you shed tears for Bing Bong (and you will) think of one simple fact… At one point, this story sucked.
One key takeaway here is that we, as innovators, must start our creative idea somewhere, tell the story, and figure out how to get it “from suck to not-suck”. In fact, the faster we do this, the better. We don’t want to spend needless hours putting all kinds of sheen, gloss, and functionality into that first prototype because we will likely fail and need to pivot. That is why we need to prototype on paper.
I’ve prototyped a few games just as a means to get an idea down, get it moderately functional, and to give the game idea some quick playtesting. I do not want to spend time or money in making beautiful, final quality game pieces because there are still many aspects that will need developing, balancing, or discarding. In order to prototype quickly, I keep a large stack of 3 by 5 notecards nearby (along with shiny glass beads, sparkly sticker books, and a plethora of dice). These become my makeshift game pieces. The best part is, they aren’t limited to prototyping games. A notecard could represent an app’s splash screen, an email template, or whatever you are innovating. There is always a way.
One quick note: Paper prototyping is a method, a way of making your ideas tangible in a quick, low-cost manner so that your innovative hypothesis can be validated. It does not HAVE to be paper, but whatever material you use should have the same inexpensive and recyclable nature.
Let’s take a look at some reasons why you should prototype of paper early, and often.
YOU CAN PROTOTYPE CHEAP
Notecards can be bought for several on the dollar. This definitely beats the time and effort that would go into developing a digital or physical first version of your innovation. Imagine spending resources to have a first iteration of your innovation built, only to put it in front of some customers and find out that your solution needs some big time overhauling. Instead, if you had paper prototyped that primary version, you might be out a couple dollars. That’s a pretty decent Return on Investment for all the learning you can do with a first prototype.
YOU CAN PROTOTYPE FAST
There you are, sitting with a target customer, showing them your idea. You watch them interact with your prototype and you notice a huge flaw that needs to be addressed. If you’ve built a more elaborate prototype, this pivot can be costly and put a huge delay in your deliverable timelines. All those items in your kanban or development pipeline now have to sit and wait for this first one to be addressed. If you prototyped on paper (and remembered to bring notecards and pencils to your focus group) you can mock up the new screen or feature within seconds! Remember that you are just telling your innovation’s story so these don’t have to be marketable graphics. They just need to be enough for the customer to see how it works and for you to watch them “interact”. Plus this reduces your iteration time to something very minimal.
YOU CAN BE DARING
When you aren’t worried about cost of developing a prototype, and you aren’t worried about the time it takes to pivot and persevere into iteration two and beyond, then you can be as adventurous with your prototype as you want to be. You aren’t risking a ton of resources so put those ugly ideas out there! Be disruptive, do things the way no one in your industry does them. If your “out-there” idea crashes and burns, all you are out is a handful of notecards.
YOU CAN PUT THE FLOW IN THE CUSTOMER’S HANDS SOONER
The best time to learn about your solution’s fit with your customers is when they are holding it in their hands. When your prototype only lives internally, it will always appear perfect. You need to kick it out of the nest and see if your idea can fly on its own. The faster you can do this, the less time you spend on bad ideas. Even if you don’t have it all figured out yet, get your core mechanics on paper and start asking your customers to look at it. It opens up new idea avenues for you to explore and it helps paint a better picture of what jobs the customer needs your innovation to do. We can all work on understanding our customer better, because they are always changing. Opportunities to learn and grow are valuable, especially when your innovation is in the very formative stages of its lifespan.
Later, we’ll go into some methods on “how” to prototype with paper… but for now, grab your notecards and start iterating!
For this challenge, you will need 10 notecards.
Take 6 notecards and prototype the flow your customer will experience with your prototype.
Show it to someone and have them “pretend” its the real deal.
Iterate right then and there on any pain points they experience. Use your remaining 4 notecards for any additional or replacement steps in the flow.
Identify places you need to pivot and persevere and use more notecards to craft the next version!
What materials do you use to prototype with? I’d love to see what is in your bag of tricks down in the comment section.