Blog Innovation

A Simple Exercise to Reenergize Your Innovation Workshops

Michael Ifkovits

Director, Innovation Strategy

  • Reading Time  Min Read
  • Publish Date December 8, 2020

Most of us have been there. It’s the middle of a workshop, we’ve made our way through the bulk of the schedule, and we are stuck somewhere between post-lunch-tired and Happy Hour-hopeful.

But we need more ideas. As a facilitator and a participant, there is nothing worse than the feeling of, “Is any of this useful?” I’ve stood in front of these rooms many times, and an exercise I always keep in my back pocket for just this moment is, “How might they?” to help uproot from current constraints and reignite blue sky thinking.

How Might They is inspired, of course, from the “How Might We?” It is a gentle, open-ended question to spur a new way of evaluating a problem. However, the ‘we’ is almost always rooted in what we have today. We ask this of people incredibly close to the work; they’ve seen a barrage of previous efforts that have sputtered. There is pain there.

How Might They? is an empathetic approach that asks participants to imagine the problem as if they have the resources, creativity, or inspiration from a familiar market leading institution.

How might Amazon solve this?

How might Disney create this experience?

How might Apple launch this product?

How might Uber get this done?

You can use Starbucks, Netflix, Tesla, Spotify, or others in this visioning exercise. Most of the people in the room have used these companies. Indeed, everyone in the room has heard of them and has an idea of what they’re about.

This exercise works because it removes constraints that may be the root of the problem: inaccessible data, poor experiences, budget, previous thinking, and maybe even leadership concerns. At its core, it pushes people to think more freely, leaning on the ‘easy,’ ‘inspirational,’ ‘seamless’ experiences, and products of organizations with which they are familiar.

You can select companies to inspire based on the problem you are solving. Experience improvement? Apple and Disney. Removing friction from a process? Amazon and Starbucks. Using data to the fullest extent? Spotify and Netflix.

You can administer this exercise in various ways, but what I find most helpful is delivering it in a Crazy 8’s style way. Everyone uses the companies as inspiration, and they have eight minutes to quickly sketch out eight ways to solve the problem at hand. Depending on the group’s size or the number of companies you are using as inspiration, you may want to assign companies to individuals or groups.

Remember, the point of innovation workshops typically isn’t to have an idea completely baked. You don’t need to have an answer for every who, what, where, when, and why. The exercise’s goal is to accelerate more significant thinking by removing familiar constraints to deliver a new vision for solving the problem. It is then typically the goal of the innovation program (whether that’s a lab, centralized team, distributed team, et al.) to fill in the rest of the details – typically using a familiar framework like jobs to be done, business model canvas, or a lean startup approach.

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