Design Thinking: 11 Ways to Open Your Innovation Lens!

Here are my suggestions on how to come up with some great new ideas and build your new lens:

1. Think when you are not thinking. For example, going on a run or a walk, cooking at home, cleaning the house, doing the yard work, etc. Asking questions to stimulate curiosity and creativity has proven helpful for all kinds of endeavors, whether problem solving, product development, inventing, or communication. Begin by The Journalistic Six:

1.1 Who? (Actor or Agent) Who is involved? What are the people aspects of the problem? Who did it, will do it? Who uses it, wants it? Who will benefit, will be injured, will be included, or will be excluded?

1.2 What? (Act) What should happen? What is it? What was done, ought to be done, and was not done? What will be done if X happens? What went or could go wrong? What resulted in success?

1.3 When? (Time or Timing) When will, did, should this occur or be performed? Can it be hurried or delayed? Is a sooner or later time preferable? When should the time be if X happens?

1.4 Where? (Scene or Source) Where did, will, should this occur or be performed? Where else is a possibility? Where else did the same thing happen, should the same thing happen? Are other places affected, endangered, protected, and aided by this location? Effect of this location on actors, actions?

1.5 Why? (Purpose) Why was or is this done, avoided, permitted? Why should it be done, avoided, permitted? Why did or should the actor do it? Different for another actor, act, time, place? Why that particular action, rule, idea, solution, problem, disaster, and not another? Why that actor, time, location, and not another?

1.6 How? (Agency or Method) How was it, could it be, should it be done, prevented, destroyed, made, improved, altered? How can it be described, understood? How did the beginning lead to this conclusion?

2. Listen to classical music. Go to a concert or a play or sit quietly in the park to daydream. Scientists at Stanford University, in California, have recently revealed a molecular basis for the “Mozart Effect”, but not other music. Dr. Rauscher and her colleague H. Li, a geneticist, have discovered that humans perform better on learning and memory tests after listening to a specific Mozart’s sonata. Recently, a new book called The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell, has condensed the world’s research on all the beneficial effects of certain types of music.  According to the research outlined in the book, musical pieces, such as those of Mozart, can relieve stress, improve communication and increase efficiency. Creativity scores soar when listening to Mozart. In 1996, the College Entrance Exam Board Service conducted a study on all students taking their SAT exams. Students who sang or played a musical instrument scored 51 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and an average of 39 points higher on math.

3. Read periodicals you would not typically read – a scientific magazine, for example, if you are more interested in business; or books outside your typical genre. In order to generate Diverse Thinking. Diverse Thinking has proven to be a critical competency in the creative process. Howard Gardner notes in Creating Minds (1993): “In contrast [to convergent thinkers], when given a stimulus or a puzzle, creative people tend to come up with many different associations, at least some of which are idiosyncratic and possibly unique. Prototypical items on a creativity test ask for as many uses as possible for a brick, a range of titles for a story, or a slew of possible interpretations of an abstract line drawing: a psychometrically creative individual can habitually issue a spectrum of divergent responses to each item, at least some of which are rarely encountered in the responses of others.” If you really want to be inspired, here are top 50 inspirational website.

4. Attend a conference or a meeting outside your field. By learning about other fields, you will develop some knowledge that eventually connects to other ‘dots’ in your life. Every sector is changing at a great pace. Be open to learning about how another industry works. Conferences and networking groups are the perfect forum to help you accelerate in a new subject. There are countless stories of how someone invented something because they were in a totally neutral environment. Being ‘away’ from your daily routine is a sure bet to help find creative solutions for your existing challenges. One of my favorites learning venue is the TED Conferences, along with the Discovery Channel when I cannot travel but still want to get away.

5. Surround yourself with creative thinkers. Most organizations do not hire creative people. They hire for skill and “fit for task”. The hiring process is designed to improve predictability, reliability, and conforming to organizational culture. So, the chances are there are more ‘alike’ people in your area than there are ‘different’. This does not mean people are not creative. It means most working people do not practice tapping in to their natural creativity. According to Wall Street Journal, Mr. Marc Parker, current CEO of Nike, loves to look for that creative edge in unusual places and with unusual people, a perfect example of how to do this. So, it is up to you to bring out your own because others are not likely to help you, especially your manger. So, find some creative thinkers who are comfortable looking at things through a different lens, or are not afraid to challenge assumptions, or who naturally love to explore ‘newness’ in everything. Find people who love to doodle, draw often, or who are exceptional storytellers.

6. Immerse yourself in a ‘real’ problem. Ask questions, investigate possible outcomes. Nothing really can be explored without asking great questions. Most of us have never attended a course on ‘how to ask questions’. But, we know, without questions, there can be no new answers. Many people focus on results first and not enough on understanding the problem first. In our training workshops, we often teach a technique called State-Restate. In this exercise, the student starts with writing a current challenge they are working on; in an open-ended question format.  We then teach them to restate the questions in eight different ways. By the time they are done with the entire exercise, 100% of the people experience much greater clarity of their ‘problem statement’ than before. This exercise clearly illustrates how people often attempt to solve something that really was not the actual problem needing a solution. Once the problem is clear and concise, then dive in. Most likely, you will want to jump to a solution fast. Don’t. Follow these ‘innovation process’ steps instead:

  1. First, find a small team (3-5 people) to work with you on this problem for an hour.
  2. Second, diverge – without judgment, without limitation, without constraints. Do not converge or select ideas yet. Look at your problem from 360 degrees (we call this Lensing); from everyone’s perspective – your boss, your colleagues, customers, suppliers, intra-company stakeholders, etc. Do not be ‘biased’ by your own thinking. Keep diverging until you are exhausted. If it is a small challenge, you should have at least 20 ideas to consider. If it is medium or a large challenge, you should have at least 100 ideas to pick from. We have generated over 400 ideas in 15 minutes when we have worked with groups of 30 or more.
  3. Finally, converge and select the few best ideas needing further nurturing. There are many voting techniques you can use. Contact us, and we can send you some ideas.

7. Keep an idea journal. Find your strong hour of the day and have your journal ready (maybe AM). What is an Idea Journal? An idea journal is accomplished when we take the time to commit our ideas to paper. It makes no difference whether it’s done with a notepad or a fancy journal. The effect is the same. All your ideas need to be recorded. Why is it important? Throughout the course of any given day countless ideas come and go our way — even though many of them may appear to be unrealistic to us at the time. For most of us, we simply discard them as a passing thought. The problem with this is that what we previously believed to be unachievable can change drastically as our minds are expanded with each new success that comes our way.

My best hour is from about 5:00am-6:00am. Some days it extends through the 30 minute car commute to the office. That is the time I have the most coherent concepts and feel a flow of what next actions are ready to get done. If you have a smart phone such as BlackBerry, iPhone, or Droid, you can use one of many ‘idea’ recording applications, such as from Dragon Software, where you speak your idea into the phone and it will transcribe as text. Then email it back to yourself or to someone else, to record into your journal. This is an excellent way to use technology to capture any ideas, anywhere, anytime.

8. Take a course to learn a new language or some other skill outside your expertise. Across the world, the emphasis these days is on a multicultural working environment. If you are in the US or in India the chances of you getting a job in Europe has increased, if you speak at least one European language. Companies place premium on communication globally and if you are able to communicate in the local language of the company, you already have a lead. It is also proven that people who speak and write in multiple languages seem to score better in life. In the US, The College Board, the primary testing authority for college admissions, calculated correlations between length of study of certain subjects, including English, math, biological sciences, physical sciences, and social studies, and Scholastic Aptitude Test(SAT) scores, and found that in almost all cases the longer a student studied one of these subjects, the higher were the scores. However, the verbal scores of students who had taken four or five years of a foreign language were higher than verbal scores of students who had studied any other subject for an equal length of time. Similar results have been obtained by other researchers who have examined foreign language study and SAT scores.

9. Be curious and experiment. Curiosity leading to innovation has been a hallmark of American society and was provided for in Article 1 of the Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” President Obama reminded us in his inaugural speech by saying “upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism…” In today’s no-nonsense environment, where everything is on a ‘machine-like’ pace, those who can stand out will rise to the top faster. Those who demonstrate curiosity and tenacity to experiment will become visible.

In our experience, we have noticed that leaders value people who display a never-ending curiosity for the many facets of the business. Similarly, successful employees as intrapreneurs display a never-ending curiosity that emerges as “passion” in a meeting room filled with people. What better measure of passion than curiosity? You can see its presence or absence in interviews, meetings, telephone conversations, or luncheon chatter. You can display it and you can discern it. Be curious about everything with everyone, and in every part of your life. If anything seems ‘boring’ to you, you have not been curious about it.

10. Articulate your idea, seek feedback from co-creative’s, or other people you trust. Put structure on it, harvest it. Everyone thinks they have the next big idea, just ask a venture capitalist. Over 95% of new small businesses fail because the owner had an idea that he thought was great. The problem was no one else thought it was great. Since the early days of modern commerce, there have been plenty of ideas to exploit in every sector across the globe. According to the TRIZ theory, there is no such thing as a ‘new’ idea. TRIZ says, all ideas and innovations follow one of 36 patterns of possibilities. So practically speaking, real innovation ideas are those that solve an unmet need in the market. So it is not about having new ideas or not, but it is about getting them out there first and fast. If you have an idea, quickly test it within your network, especially with those who have no affiliation with your idea. Testing an idea with your coworker is one thing, but testing it with your customer or with people who are not current customers will give you the best insights on the applicability of the idea. You will get more precise feedback about the need and impact of your idea without too much effort. If you keep finding ideas and testing them with the same people every time, you will get the same results you get today. Seek feedback from collaborators and creative’s.

11. Create a Greenhouse for your ideas. Young ideas need a Greenhouse for protection. In most cases, environmental forces within an organization will kill the idea before it becomes real in the explicit world. Locate who or what brings down your energy level. There are four primary negative forces designed to kill your ideas immediately. The first is time, the second is money, the third is people around you, and the fourth is yourself. For each, identify how to reduce the negative influence on the fresh ideas that desperately need ‘Greenhousing’; some attention, protection, nurturing, and growing. Greenhousing means keeping the ideas safe, then growing them naturally by being more curious, researching the elements and finding possibilities for impact. Don’t force them to sprout too early; that is, don’t tell others or discard them. Give these early ideas timely attention in the Greenhouse until they have some viability. Once you have confidence in the idea, share it with others for further discovery and testing.

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