For corporate America, innovation is a buzzword. For the un-corporate thinkers, it is a craft.

This article is a recap of the 3 days event organized by Design at Business in which the main topic was around innovation as a practice.

Last week, I got a chance to take part for my first time in Design at Business. DatB is an intimate group of Design Thinking practitioners in the context of large organizations. Individuals and teams share their stories and solutions to overcome their most pressing challenges. Stronger together.

1 — Rapid prototyping

In our group, most of the organizations represented are using rapid prototyping. The levels of maturity are different. From basic wireframes to full on usability testing, there are different practices of rapid prototyping. The places where rapid prototypes fit within the design process are also different. The recurring challenge is about explaining the value of rapid prototyping to product teams and business leaders. While a majority uses rapid prototypes to show a vision (roadshow/funding pitch), only a minority communicates the value of de-risking innovations and iterating towards a refined product and value proposition.

2 — Innovation process

The overarching theme of the meetup was about sharing stories around the 8 practices of innovations based on the book “the innovators way”. It was a substrate for our conversations. By hearing war stories, we were able to extract tactical nuggets and best practices to take home to our own teams. Sharing is caring!

The Innovator’s Way — Essential Practices for Successful Innovation By Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham

Sensing

Leaders greatest ideas, gut feelings and opinions can be good hunches or intuitions. But, they never replace validation from the market and your users. The group consensus was around documenting your sources and flagging the ones that are gut feelings. For the gut feelings, do not speculate and commit to no action until you confirm your problem or solution.

Envisioning

The lack of stories that show value or highlight the promise of solving a problem are legion. They prevent thinkers and doers to align and commit to that change. The group consensus was around telling simple stories that show the value in a very tangible context. Thinking about your audience is often the first step to get people onboard. This is true whereas you need support of your leadership or the best engineers to join your product team.

Bob Ross paints a picture and tell you how to do it so simply everyone think they can be a great artist.

Offering

Coming up with a solution that is not feasible, delivering it too late or over budget are some of the reasons why new offers never meet the people they are designed to help. Group consensus formed around accepting failure in your organization. Then iterate upon initial ideas using customer feedback to move forward.

Adopting

Forcing adoption using the stick instead of the carrot or completely avoiding the barriers to change are reasons why your innovation might not succeed. The group agreed around understanding the challenges and barriers to adoption in the network of people you are trying to get adoption from. That also means leveraging influencers in that network to spread adoption. Last, measuring your adoption is key to iterating and assessing your success (or lack of).

Sustaining

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Becoming irrelevant through time can sink the smallest products or the biggest companies. The group consensus was around creating a mindset of ownership and measurements. It allows to assess the level of trust between your users and your innovation. Trust is something intangible that is measurable through time (think cohorts / churn).

Executing

Executing is all about fulfilling that promise that you made to your customers. Lack of alignment on the problem at hand or lack or clear metrics can prevent an innovation from launching to market. The group unanimity was around having conversations to align on context and possibilities. It meant having conversations focused on action with a plan geared towards execution.

Leading

Leaders regard power as a capacity to persuade and influence people to commit to a new practice. Not listening to your customers/team or losing your focus can cause a breakdown for your innovation. The group consensus focused on a clear distinction between a senior manager and a leader. Leaders give directions, influence and ask questions. While managers remind you of your P&L, offer minimum support and give you the answers / tasks.

Embodying

Embodying is to create a strong emotional connection between your innovation and your end user. The ultimate goal for your user community is to absorb the new practice, product, or idea. When embodying, the innovation is adopted and blends into the community. We achieve rapport and mitigate resistance. Our group focused on achieving a deep level of empathy and agreed toward the use of conventional (i.e. contextual interview) and non-conventional techniques to do so (i.e. meditation).

3 — Acquiring & Retaining Design Talent:

In wrapping up on Day 3, our conversation focused in on how we retain design talents. Highlights from that conversation are below:

💼 Loan talent from the business and transform them as advocates

🎯 Hire for fit, not skills

😍 Allow for the freedom to bring employee’s passion into their work, not checking things off the backlog

🔍 Provide transparency around an employee’s career path and potential with the organization

🛠 Bring the right tools and enablers to avoid frustration

🔦 Be transparent about the day to day work at recruiting, not after to avoid wasted investment in training


Finally I would like to thank all the individuals who attended the meetup and my colleague Sarah Konstantino who helped me polish this article.

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