How To Use Imagine If to Innovate Better



I wanted a simple way to help people share more ideas better, faster, and easier, and to practice their innovation skills.

So I created a simple card-based approach for innovation, that I call “Imagine If Cards”.

An “Imagine If  Card” is a simple way to help people dream big ideas, but share them in a simple way.

You can think of them as “ideas at a glance”.

The Power of Cards for Capturing and Sharing Ideas

I am a fan of simple cards, like flash cards, to capture and share ideas.  A card forces you to distill something down into the essence.

When you write the seed of your idea down, in a simple, narrative way, it’s easier to share your ideas, even if it’s just yourself.

Imagine if you had the seeds of lots of great ideas at your fingertips in the form of simple cards.

Imagine if you had decks of ideas that you could flip through to inspire your imagination or to drive your next big idea.

The Power of “Imagine If…” to Practice Your Innovation Skills

Innovation is a skill that gets better with practice.  Anyone can practice innovation each day, by taking a look at the world around them and challenging their mind with a simple phrase:

“Imagine If…”

You have ideas about how things could be better.  Don’t just dwell on how things suck.  Practice telling simple stories of how things could be better using “Imagine If” (Imagine if you could use your everyday experiences to come up with novel and new inventions for the future).

I believe more people can innovate if they just learn to harness and direct their creativity.

Really, innovation is exploiting new ideas to create new experiences, or new things, or new ways of doing things.  You can innovate in your process or your products.  And sometimes it’s innovating in your process that sets the stage that leads to innovating in your products and experiences.

Imagine if you saw yourself as an innovator, how much more interesting your job, your life, your world could be.

How To Create an “Imagine If” Card

You can create an “Imagine If’ card using your tool of choice.  For example, you can use paper or sticky notes, or you can go digital and use PowerPoint, email, or whatever.

What’s important is how you structure the idea.

Here is the structure of an “Imagine If” card:

  • Name of the Idea (something simple and sticky)
  • Imagine If Statement
  • Current State Story
  • Future State Story

That’s it.

The whole point is to keep capturing your idea simple, but make it easy to understand the value.  So many ideas don’t go anywhere because people describe their ideas in weird or abstract or unappealing ways.  By using a narrative approach, you make it real by telling a simple story of pains, needs, and desired outcomes.

By putting your idea on a simple card, you capture the heart of an idea and the value of an idea at a glance.


Example “Imagine If” Card for Immersive Collaboration for Employees

Here is an example of an “Imagine If” for immersive collaboration for employees:

Name of Idea Immersive Virtual Collaboration
Imagine If… Imagine if you could provide your employees with an immersive and interactive collaboration platform where physical and virtual worlds co-exist to provide a 3D digital experience.
Current State Story Our employees around the world face challenges collaborating and sharing ideas, and are unable to effectively work together from anywhere, anytime.
Employees can’t view and analyze the same digital artifacts in complex scenarios.
For training and skill-building, our in-person classes and on-line training lack the presence and immersive quality we need to prepare our employees.
Without effective, global, immersive collaboration, our product design process is very time consuming, and cost control is challenging.
Future State Story Employees using Mixed Reality interfaces can interact together in shared virtual spaces, while viewing the real world at the same time, enhancing sales, product development, and service.
Employees throughout our business share ideas and knowledge, and effectively collaborate regardless of location, language, or business function.
By delivering our training using Mixed Reality, we have reduced costs and improved training outcomes.
Our design teams around the world can collaborate and optimize the product development process, using Mixed Reality to efficiently create and improve products.

Here is an example of how you could structure your card visually:


Example “Imagine If” Card for Digital Shopping Assistant

Here is an example of an “Imagine If” card for digital shopping assistants:

Name of Idea Digital Shopping Assistant
Imagine If… Imagine if there was a Digital Shopping Assistant, which can guide a customer inside a retail store.
Current State Story The customer visiting a retail store relies on humans to ask about where a particular product is or whether it’s even available. This can cause customer dissatisfaction and prevent them from visiting the store in future.
Future State Story The customer asks the digital assistant about the product, and the digital assistant tells the customers it’s available and helps them go find it.  The digital assistant knows the stock and can notify the manager if the inventory needs to be updated.

Here is an example of how you could structure the card visually:


Example “Imagine If” Card for Augmented Reality Training for Child Welfare Workers

Here is an example “Imagine If” card for childcare welfare workers:

Name of Idea Augmented Reality Training for Child Welfare Workers
Imagine If… Imagine if child welfare workers could use augmented reality to train themselves for the field investigation of child care takers for the actions and decisions they need to make.
Current State Story When child welfare workers go into the field to investigate, they come across a variety of individuals. Often questioning a caretaker on their parenting skills and determining whether it is safe for the child to remain in the home leads to unpredictable behavior.

Child welfare workers need to recognize indicators of abuse or neglect and know what to do when they feel that their safety is in jeopardy.

The challenge here is how do they take necessary actions and decisions in cases where they environment is not safe for the child to stay.

Future State Story Child welfare agencies can leverage augmented reality to train child welfare workers. Each worker can be guided through real-life immersive simulations, with no time pressure and no real consequences if mistakes are made during training.

Ensuring the child welfare worker is confident in the actions they need to take and the decisions they need to make when they are in the field.

Here is an example of how you could structure the card visually:


An Amazing Thing Happens When You Use “Imagine If” Cards to Innovate…

Here’s the most amazing thing that happens when you practice using “Imagine If” cards to innovate…

You create thumbnails in your mind of ideas.

As you create “Imagine If” cards, your mind creates a visual catalog of your ideas.  You will find yourself flipping through ideas, like flipping through the pages in a magazine, or like flipping through a deck of interesting cards.  You might even imagine a scrolling waterfall of ideas.

Sometimes you will see the cards, sometimes you will hear the phrases, sometimes you will remember the little stories of the pains, etc.  Sometimes your mind will automatically mash up the ideas into new ideas for you, and find your breakthrough innovations.

Remember that insights are the building blocks for innovation.  When you chunk up your ideas into simple cards, you create an easy way to manage, expand, and explore your ideas.

You are now free to be an innovator and turn your daily challenges into insights and inspire your way to innovation.

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