As designers and product development consultants we are constantly solving problems for our clients. These problems that need solving can be big or small or somewhere in between. There is a common theme in regard to problem solving of a creative nature; during the process of solving a problem, decisions must be made, and every decision leads the process in a direction, ruling out other directions. In a sense, every one of those decisions is a compromise. You get one thing at the cost of another. It is not a bad thing, it is just a thing.
The question I have found that is most important is how do you make many sequential decisions, one building on the next and wind up at the desired goal, when you have no idea what the journey looks like from where you are to where you need to be?
In the very beginning of the creative process there are two statements that I have found are true. The first is that there will be unknowns that only the innovation process can unearth. After all, at this point you haven’t solved the problem or made the product. The second is that critical decisions or program criteria (that rely on this unknown information) will need to be made in order to begin the process. This conundrum can cause a problem.
Attempting to outline the program criteria for a new innovation program, lacking the knowledge that only the innovation process itself can provide, can lead to incorrect assumption. And those assumptions, if not corrected can lead the program to a dead end. Sometimes teams just avoid making certain decisions, putting them off for later, which can be disastrous. Sometimes teams guess and hope the decisions will turn out right, even as they doubt those very decisions. Sometimes conflicting information is just disregarded until it is too late and can no longer be ignored. There is a way to use this situation to your advantage if a particular process is followed. I will get to that later in the article.
"In the very beginning of the creative process there are two statements that I have found are true. The first is that there will be unknowns that only the innovation process can unearth. The second is that critical decisions or program criteria will need to be made in order to begin the process."
Some examples of critical information that may be missing at the beginning of an innovation program might be; a comprehensive list of correct product features, the total budget and resources required to complete the program, the ultimate product cost of goods, how many will be sold over the lifetime of the product, what the materials or manufacturing process might be, what does the customer want and what does the customer need and are they the same, will this product concept meet those wants and needs, what is possible for your team to achieve, and what are the pitfalls your team may face on this program as they move through the innovation process?
All innovation programs that deal with solving an unmet need, which will ultimately wind up being a product purchased by an end user, must have criteria by which to judge the success or failure of each concept direction. Without these criteria to guide the innovation process, the program will become an “art project”, meaning that the criteria are totally up to the creator and no one else.
The third critical part of this innovation process requires this evaluation criteria. The evaluation criteria are used to guide the innovation process. The evaluation criteria can be fluid, meaning they can change or evolve. The evaluation criteria need to be in place at the start of the innovation process so the development team has a place to start. If the criteria are vague or incomplete, it will be more difficult to evaluate concepts.
All innovation programs are an exercise in compromises. No one thing can be the answer to everything. Each decision made will rule out the opposite option. That is why the criteria that drive the program are so important. If the criteria are wrong, the design solution will be wrong.
So how do these three components:
1) The unknown information
2) The required decisions
3) The evaluation criteria all come together?
(See illustration 1-1)
Driven Innovation has created the above graphic image to describe our innovation process. I look at the creative innovation process as a tapered helix. At the beginning of the innovation process there are lots of choices and options available. As the innovation process progresses through each discrete task, new information is learned. That information should be used to continually reevaluate the baseline assumptions. Do not build on top of assumptions that may no longer be valid or relevant based on the new information.
· A healthy creative process will narrow in scope over time as progress and decisions are made. If the process does not narrow in focus, the creative process can stretch on indefinitely.
· A natural byproduct of the narrowing process is that certain options will be removed from consideration.
· If new information uncovered in the development process requires new thinking in regard to previously made decisions, evaluate and make the necessary changes. Make continual smaller course corrections based on constant reevaluation in order to keep the innovative process on course. This is shown as the straight line entitled “evaluation” running down the center of the helix.
· Going down the wrong path, by building on top of misinformation or incorrect assumptions can lead to a dead end. Course corrections at that point tend to be much greater, more time consuming and also much more costly.
· Often innovation programs have conflicting goals or criteria. An example of this could be the requirement for a simple, intuitive user interface and a requirement for numerous, complex features making the user interface difficult. This is where the continual reevaluation is important. In this example, what is more important, the features or the ease of use? Continually assessing that question as the design evolves and more information is learned will lead to the correct answer.
“As the innovation process progresses through each discrete task, new information is learned. That information should be used to continually reevaluate the baseline assumptions. Do not build on top of assumptions that may no longer be valid or relevant based on the new information.”
The creative process is always challenging and it can be torture or it can be made to be enjoyable. When the process is enjoyable, better team solutions emerge. Knowing what to expect in the innovation process and actually enjoying the sometimes messy nature of innovation, and using that messiness to your advantage, can lead to amazing, profitable solutions.
Making decisions and blindly holding onto them regardless of new information, or not reevaluating those early decisions frequently, is where the innovation process derails. For an innovation team to effectively reevaluate earlier decisions, it requires the ability to let go of ideas that no longer work; even the ones which you may be personally vested in for whatever reason. Never fall in love with an idea. Allow the creative process to lead you to the correct solution, not the other way around.
Contact us at www.driveninnvation.com and let us help you with your next innovation program.