Interactive Innovation Exercises
10 effective activities that spark idea-creativity and build on existing knowledge to develop innovations
Before getting into the exercises, it’s best to know that they are experiential and interactive with focus on creative processes and outputs emergent from original ideas and interactions.
They are theoretically based in:
- Experiential Learning
- The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence
- Psychological Ownership
Experiential learning should be based on direct experience and involves a guided process of:
Participants should be actively engaged in the learning process with freedom to choose and experience any consequences.
According to David Kolb, experiential learning is a cyclical process including:
- Concrete experience (hands-on activity)
- Reflective observation (thinking, recording, discussing)
- Abstract conceptualization (thinking about why things work the way they did/do/will)
- Active experimentation (testing hypotheses that emerge)
Participants should be actively engaged for effective learning in these “bottom-up” approaches.
The Triarchic Model of Intelligence
According to R.J. Sternberg there are three types of intelligence:
- Analytical — the ability to solve a problem by looking at its components
- Creative — the ability to use new and ingenious ways to solve problems
- Practical — common sense or street smarts
As Sternberg points out, academic problems tend to be:
- Self-contained (all the needed information is available)
- Unembedded from ordinary experiences
- Well defined
- Characterized by a correct answer
- Characterized by a single method of solving the problem
In contrast, practical problems tend to be:
- Unformulated or in the need of reformulation
- Lacking information
- Related to everyday experiences
- Poorly defined
- Characterized by multiple correct or acceptable answers (each with pros and cons)
- Characterized by multiple methods for solving the problem
Experts have long advocated that psychological ownership or empowerment among groups can improve organizations.
By allowing participants to make choices about aspects of their work and encouraging their own ideas or materials, satisfaction increases.
When participants are given incrementally more control over their education, self-reported learning increases.
As Rebecca Duray and Glenn Milligan point out, increased ownership for product design and production have been shown to improve customer satisfaction.
As Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard show, participation and delegation are effective with mature group members, while selling and telling are more effective with immature groups.
As John Liechty, Venkatram Ramaswamy, and Steven Cohen point out, customers are increasingly becoming active collaborators in creating value. Services are often produced as they are consumed and customers can become involved in the design of the service product they purchase.
Exercises for Innovation
1. The Wall of Fame & Shame
Find real, everyday examples of innovation to briefly share among the group. Some of the best discussion comes from bad examples that participants don’t believe will succeed. Participants should share why they believe the innovation will succeed or fail.
This lesson shows that creativity does not equal innovation; it is the foundation for it. Innovations solve problems and add value in unique ways. When bad examples arise, try to find the potential. We know the flaws, but look for what might be promising about the idea. This keeps the environment positive and helps participants see the potential in even dubious new ideas.
2. Two Piles
Participants form teams of 3–5 and choose an index card from each of two piles. One pile of index cards has major brand names, the other has product categories. The groups are told that they now work for the company they chose and they must innovate a product for the category they chose. The groups have a set amount of time to develop the product’s target audience, features, and promotional ideas. One member from each team will then present their ideas to the rest of the groups.
This lesson forces association of often disparate ideas. It is helpful and practical to get ideas for potential innovations. It is also a skill that can be developed.
3. Your Innovation
Each person approaches innovation differently depending on their talents and strengths. To personalize and internalize innovation, participants should create a poster or presentation about themselves. This should include their favorite inspirational quote(s), photo(s), and a short bio of a person who inspires them. This should also include a description and photo of a skill, hobby, or field they know the most about (outside of family, work, and/or school). A Jung typology test is encouraged to be included and participants should choose which of three types of intelligence (shown above) fits them best. Uniqueness in the presentation of this work is highly encouraged.
4. 100 Uses
In 10 minutes, groups must come up with 100 uses for something (old newspapers, unused pizza boxes, etc.) This exercise warms up a group and lowers their inhibitions for sharing their ideas with others on their team.
This lesson encourages teams to use every conceivable idea members offer to reach the target number. This also teaches the value of building on other ideas.
Innovations need to solve a problem. Participants are asked to individually think of a problem or hassle they know people face. The individuals are then asked to form teams of 3–5 to discuss each of their ideas and decide on one that can best be solved with a phone app. The group is then asked to illustrate the app interface on a large (poster-sized) sketch of a phone to then share with the rest of the groups.
This lesson shows that ideas tend to be better if members work individually at first and then share with the team. It also shows that the best innovations solve real problems.
In many engineering industries, the technology comes first and then an application is sought. This is the reverse of the standard innovation process. Instead of starting with problems and developing innovations, for this exercise you will examine the latest technological developments and consider their application to problems.
This lesson shows that ideas for innovations can come as we scan outside publications about trends, technology, and R&D news.
The challenge for this exercise is to think of new programs to increase the reputation of the school or business. To start, the leader or instructor should create a positive fictional news story about the participants, school, or organization with a realistic-looking newspaper article generator. The article should be shared with the group and since it only shows the headline and part of the beginning text, the group should be asked to offer 3–5 ideas about what was done to deserve this “recognition.”
This lesson shows that sometimes a pull works better than a push for innovations.
IDEO often begins their ideation sessions by asking “How might we…?” For this exercise, put challenge questions at the top of large index cards, saying “How might we” as the start to a number of various problems you want the group to consider. Give a card to each participant and ask them to write an idea for solving that problem beneath the question. Each participant should then pass the card to the next person. Each time a participant receives a card, they should try to build on the ideas already written, if possible. After a few passes, ask participants to write a wild idea to then keep passing and building upon the written ideas. At the end, favorite cards should be shared with the group.
This lesson shows that when we consider other input and build together, we can get better outcomes.
9. Perceptual Maps
In teams of 3–5, groups should draw X-Y axes on paper. A product category should be chosen for the groups (e.g., restaurants, theaters, grocery items, etc.). The groups should identify two attributes that consumers consider important when buying that product. The axes should be labeled with the two attributes. Next, groups should plot all the competitors on their map according to how they are perceived by consumers. By looking at the open spaces or considering new attributes or axes, participants may see new possibilities for products and services.
This lesson shows that innovations can be viewed as filling gaps in the competitive landscape to better serve customers.
10. Innovation Challenges
Challenges often bring out the best in participants. This exercise is an innovation challenge using a specific material or materials. The instructions are to simply add value using the materials.
This lesson is an opportunity to reach out to other community circles and organizations. This lesson shows that innovation can be applied anywhere to anything.
These tools and activities work best if a flexible working space is available with plenty of tables, chairs, and whiteboards.