The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™

by Happykamping (& I/M/D Students)


Today, any process to change and transform is agile, lean, liquid, adaptive, learning, responsive, iterative, incremental — allowing to make it up as we go along, while in the process delivering tangible, working, concrete results and prototypes in co-creation with specialists and end-users, to create space to make better informed decisions that lead to better, meaningful products, services and experiences.

Next to that, we are living in exciting times. Where the online and offline worlds are merging more and more into a seamless blend, allowing everybody to be users, makers, entrepeneurs. People think, imagine, experiment, prototype independently, but now also have learned and have the tools to share collectively. Starting businesses from attics, selling their goods all over the world. We have access to a staggering, almost infinite amount of knowledge, instantly and anywhere, of which we’re trying make make sense.

When everything is becoming more and more complex, there is a need for clarity, guidance, grip. That’s why models and methods are so powerful. Like the popular Golden Circle by Simon Sinek, the Business Model Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder (which has been an inspiration for many, many other versions for other purposes), scrum (a framework for developing and sustaining complex products) and a whole lot more (check, for example, this nice overview of design methods by MediaLab Amsterdam or the Hyper Island Toolbox) that help to create clarity and structure in ideas and processes. Or all the wonderful stuff leading creative agencies link Ideo provide. They all, in their own way, help to make the complex clearer, support a process, to create better understanding, to come to ideas, to tangible results. Good, powerful stuff. Dan Nessler also wrote a great post about methods, approaches and models mixing them into an interesting new model, what he calls the ‘Double Diamond’. See link below.

The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™

Nevertheless, there is always room for another different approach. Let me introduce you to the The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™. Developed when I was the head of the department Interactive/Media/Design at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague. Well, we did not really developed it, but had it as a conclusion after working with several models and approaches over time. Most of them, not really fitting to our purpose or needs. The results of all those adjustments turned out to be a good modus operandi within our department, and possibly beyond, so I decided to name it the Interactive/Media/Design The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™, in short: The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™.

Why

Most models guide you through several steps. From a fuzzy start to clarity, from clarity to choices, from choices to decisions, from decisions to results — what that ‘Double Diamond’ also illustrates. But what they mostly lack is the recognition of the fact that you learn along the way. That these processes are learning journeys where all participants, will also learn from each other along the way, meanwhile widening and deepening each other’s knowledge, a fertile ground for cross-contaminating ideas and connections.

And what they often lack too, is that the participants mostly don’t have the crucial knowledge which might limit their thinking space. And often too, true cross-pollination from other seemingly unrelated subjects and solutions. In the end, most models and approaches guide you towards a result, from the context of the risen issue, problem, challenge or question. The space it lives in. Which makes it more difficult to have the so called out of the box ideas or to be out of your comfort zone, probably the most oftenused phrases in creative or innovation sessions. But how big is your box? And what’s the size of your comfort zone?

What we learned was, that there was a need for grip. Structure, something to hold on to. But also space to pivot, to manoeuvre, to go back and forth, to have seconds thoughts, to procrastinate, to try out, to play, to be inspired from different disciplines, to travel, to walk in the woods, to get a deep understanding, etc. To be able to have fresh thoughts and ideas. But not only just in the idea space, but also from a better ‘material understanding’.

Ideas are easy. Realising ideas is the difficult bit. That requires skills on several levels, of different materials: leadership, crafts, patience, network, etc. It is difficult to come up with an idea for a thermostat that senses if you are at home, if you don’t know anything about sensors. It’s difficult to share a ground breaking idea to a board, your management, if you don’t take into account what their culture is, what they are used to, or how a decision process flows. It is difficult to be patient, complete, and considerate when you are full of your great idea. Just as that it is difficult to bring ideas into the world if you don’t know what the quality of the connections in your network is, if you already have a network that fits to your ideas.

This requires that people are more than ‘T-shaped’ people, which are people that have a deep expertise in a single field, and have the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own). But as ‘Square-shaped’ people, as Mike Arauz named it for the field of digital strategy, but I think that the idea applies to any field, not only to digital strategy. To me, square-shaped people are people that have both deep knowledge and skills in a broad variety of fields, and have the ability to collaborate across disciplines with anyone in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own. Square-shaped people are people who can rapidly accommodate or anticipate to changing contexts. And they know, when they are collaborating with others, which role they fulfil in the mix of people, but can also help and support in others in their roles. This can make a collaboration of these people tremendously powerful, because of their flexibility and ability to deal with complexity while they also activily feed their curiosity in different fields. They are willing and able to start working on the life-long practice of learning a lot about a lot.

So, how do you get that breadth and depth in a project, with structure, creating the opportunity for people to come to new ideas that truly matter? This is where the Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™ comes into play.


The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™

Figure 01. The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™ in its starting position. Illustration by Stang.

The model comes in the best possible Lycra and a colour you prefer. We chose for the most basic skin-tone version. Just kidding — obviously it is mindset over model, but to unlock people with a set mind, a visualisation always helps. Like the most models, also the Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™ (SPIM) has for main stages. We have named them Clarify, Explore, Shape and Amplify, but you can also choose your own preferred four— see figure #01. I will describe the four stages below. They all happen in constant co-creation with all necessary stakeholders. Nothing to unfamiliar I think, but the magic happens where the stretch comes into play. First the stages, then more about the magic stretch.

Clarify

The Clarify stage is all about getting a better understanding, obtain a grip on the subject matter. The stage for questions like: ‘What is it?’. ‘What does it mean?’, ‘How does it work?’, ‘What does already exist?’, ‘Do I understand what it is?’, ‘Why does or doesn’t it work?’, ‘How do I know that the information is correct?’, ‘What other things are involved too?’, ‘How would I think about it, from an another person’s perspective?’, ‘What is my relationship with the subject matter?’, ‘Is it important at all?’, and so on. It is the stage where thoroughly you shed light on the issue at hand, from all angles to fully grasp in what space the question or the challenge lives. This step involves a lot of desk research, analysing, interviews, examinations, try-outs, and meticulous documentation.

Explore

The Explore stage is all about one question: ‘What else?’. But in all possible ways. ‘What else is involved?’ ‘What else could we also try out?’, ‘Are there useful ideas, solutions in other disciplines, industries, countries, cities, etc. that might be useful here too?’ ‘What strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats do you see?’, ‘What is also important?’. When you have clarified, you can go on a journey to discover possibilities from somewhere else. You know what to consider that might be of value because you have zoomed into the matter. Your findings lead to playful explorations, not to directly find answers or solutions, but to find new relations, dependencies, to enter new spaces, new fields, new dimensions beyond what you might be familiar with. Making these ‘mind-doodles’ tangible by verbalising them in drawings, pictures, moods, texts, 10-minute-prototypes, helps to be able to share it with others and getting your thoughts out of your head into the world.

Shape

The Shape stage makes everything concrete. All the input from Clarify and Explore lead to clear possibility spaces. By now you already have explored and played a lot, talked with a whole lot of people. This is where, like Hannibal Smith used to say in The A-team, the place where you love that your plan comes together. Your work will come to live, so it needs a name. And a clear description for other people to understand. Note that you by now became quite a specialist on the subject, so make sure that you share it with others that haven’t been in the process at all. Everything that totaly makes sense to you, won’t make any sense at all to others. Don’t worry, that always happens. Make visualisations, working prototypes, whatever that is needed to make it as real as it can be. No more assumptions, no more dark horses, no surprises. By now it has become exactly what it is supposed to be.

Amplify

In the Amplify stage, you do all the work to bring your work into the world. From continuous testing to adjusting and finetuning, to create the PR and communication to create a safe landing. And of course, when it is eventually out there, this proces starts all over again, as a continuous learning loop.

Stretch

Like anything in life, a path never follows these lineair steps. And we also learned that having one challenge at hand, did not really satisfy the students — no matter how challenging or aspirational it was. So, we always started with two, and works alongside of each other of both challenges. However, we started off collectively. This gave the students the opportunity to get acquainted with both challenges and their contexts. Hence the upper part of the pantyhose. Here students still were free to choose their preferred challenge, while already being inspired from both challenges. What we also learned was, that some students already had lingering ideas that were activated through the proposed challenges. So we encouraged them not to follow all stages, but to directly stretch the pantyhose to a next stage. Because learning from doing when you already have an idea, helps to test and learn more than anything else. I think everybody walks around, carrying ideas for things, but sometimes those ideas just need a trigger, a welcoming context, to further explore, shape and test them. Then you should be free to do so, to take the short-cut — see figure #02.

Figure 02. The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™, stretching one stage to a next. Illustration by Stang.

In some cases, those lingering ideas turned out to be actual answers or solutions. But in most cases, students learned that they overestimated their ideas — and by turning them into reality, reality learned them to start again. So, they simply stretched back — see figure #03. But they took with them the learning experiences of trying out. Like material research, feedback from experts, feedback from users, peers, etc. All this real-world feedback helped them to make better informed decisions, to ask better questions and to share their learnings with others.

Figure 03. The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™, stretching back a stage. Illustration by Stang.

Following the for main phases, we invited experts working in the fields of both challenges. We organised moments where students had the opportunity to share and learn from them, following the phasing steps. While some students already jumped from hip to knee or toe, others really needed to follow the step-by-step phases from hip to toe. However, to guarantee an interdisciplinary exchange, at certain moments in time, we created sharing moments where teams in one leg, shared with the other— see figure #04.

Figure 04. The Stretched Pantyhose Innovation Model™, stretching legs for cross-pollination. Illustration by Stang.

Learning here was, that in most cases, a lot of things overlapped. No matter how diverse and unrelated the challenges were. When you are ‘living’ within a specific subject matter, it narrows your view. Reviewing work of others working on something totally different turned out to be a great source of inspiration. In a lot of situations, there was also an overlap in ideas, in required knowledge, etc.

Learnings

  • Two legs are better than one. Being able to choose helps to motivate people better. One of the two is always closer to one’s interest than another.
  • More fun, more dedication and better conversations. When more people have different adventures they have more to share with each other.
  • Acknowledging that within a group, everyone is different, requires a flexible approach. Some people learn better through directly start doing, some do not have the creative confidence yet and need more information, structure. Like Jan Pieter van Lieshout, the dance master says: ‘There are no mistakes, there are only variations’. Different people require different ways. That’s okay.
  • Allowing ‘flexing’ helps to get to results or learnings sooner. It helped to not waste time and motivation and created a learning-by-doing environment, with a safety net: when going to fast, there is always the possibility to think and start over.
  • Sharing is multiplying, no matter how different subjects are. Most often the most valuable inspiration is found where you weren’t looking. Cross-pollination makes better work.
  • The model creates both a sense of freedom as well as structure. You cannot force creativity into a fixed model. Creativity is fluid. But it helps to have a bit of guidance and structure to keep the flow going.

Try it. Make it better!