“Every Child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once they grow up.” — Pablo Picasso
Growing up in a high tech company like Microsoft, I was surrounded by innovation.
I knew a lot of Softies that were good at innovation, but I didn’t think of myself as an innovator.
Then a few interesting things happened…
I started writing my ideas down to free up my mind.
I read the book Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko and I learned how Thomas Edison had an “Idea Quota.”
I started carrying around a little yellow sticky pad and writing my ideas down.
I didn’t force them, I simply thought about how things could be different and changes I would like to see.
I started paying attention to my inner voice that would start with, “Imagine if…”
Writing Ideas Down Builds Your Innovation Muscle
At the end of the first week, I had about 10 really good ideas in my sticky notes.
I used one sticky note per idea.
I wrote each idea down as a headline or tagline. I thought of it as a mini-press release exercise.
An amazing thing happened after that first week.
Once my ideas were down on paper, my mind was freed up.
My head suddenly had all this creative space for thinking.
I hadn’t realized how even just a handful of ideas bounced around so much and took up so much room.
So, with my mind clear, by the end of the second week, I had filled an entire sticky pad with ideas!
And the ideas just kept on flowing.
And by the 3rd week, I filled 2 sticky pads, and my speed of ideas was increasing.
Innovation is a Numbers Game (Just Like Success)
My new challenge then was to be able to pitch ideas and implement them.
I learned that innovation is a numbers game.
Sometimes the market isn’t ready.
What I learned was that I had to catalog my portfolio of ideas better. So I started keeping organized lists that I could easily manage.
And I had to figure out very simple way to share the essence of my ideas with other people.
This was a bit of a learning curve and a journey.
Mock Press Releases, Metaphors, and Demos (Oh My)
I hadn’t learned the power of mock press releases yet, so my early write ups of my ideas often fell flat or took a lot of explaining.
I did try to use metaphors. For example, one app I envisioned I referred to as “ITunes for knowledge” so people could get a quick sense of the ideas.
I realized quickly how a demo was worth a 1,000 words.
But I also learned that I didn’t need complicated technical demos.
I simply need to first show what the user experience would be.
Work Backwards from Customer Experience (But Keep 3 Perspectives in Mind)
As I practiced mocking up the user experience, even by just drawing on a whiteboard or piece of paper, I realized it was easy to mix up 3 distinct perspectives:
1. user experience
2. tech feasibility
3. business value
I found that I could quickly mock up a user experience with just simple pictures of the idea.
I could then do A / B testing by sharing the mock up with customers and asking them which they would choose and why.
I literally had customers emailing me their feedback within 10 minutes of sharing the mock ups.
This was a huge game changer.
Innovation is a Game of Finding New Value Faster
Before that, I had relied on shipping software for users to test and give feedback.
That was a two week cycle, which was incredibly fast at the time, but it wasn’t fast enough.
I really wanted the user feedback integrated throughout the design.
So this rapid visual prototyping helped me speed up learning what customers wanted.
Value is the ultimate short-cut.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a great name for my approach at the time.
I called my process “Experience-Driven Development” and I was trying to convince people that it would by how to win against scenario-driven development.
I called my mocks up “Experience Step-Throughs”.
It wasn’t a great name, but it sort of highlighted the main idea.
Next I learned the power of trends & insights.
Next I learned how to use Imagine If to unlock creativity whenever, wherever I went.
There’s more to this story.
Call to Action
- Read the book Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, by Michael Michalko
- When you go to work, go to the movies, go to the store, browse online, or just go about your day, imagine how things could be better, starting with, “Imagine If…” and write your ideas down.
- Practice sharing your ideas. Start with a story of the current customer pains, needs, and desired outcomes. Then share your “Imagine if…”
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