This July was the annual Innovation Month, a Commonwealth Government initiative dedicated celebrating thinking differently, being creative and trying new approaches.
Events are held all over the country, to find new solutions and better ways of working. This year’s theme was experimentation, particularly: Test, Fail, Learn, Deliver.
The public sector encourage people to share stories of testing, failing, and learning from experiments, and of delivering results and we could not resist the urge.
You’ve met with, observed, listened and empathised with the user. You’ve generated an idea and prototyped it. Now it’s time to test it.
There are 3 common mistakes when it comes to testing ideas:
Talking to the wrong people
When testing your prototype, don’t ask your Mum, sister, best friend or neighbour what they think. 9 times out of 10 they’ll love it.
Likewise, unless you have culture in your workplace of giving and receiving robust feedback, don’t ask close colleagues. Their answer may be biased by their own needs such as competitiveness, fear or even camaraderie.
Go wide and real. Test with genuine users who don’t know who you are personally and don’t have an agenda.
Relying on hypotheticals
If you ask someone to imagine how they'd respond to your solution in a given scenario, the response will also be an imagined one. Test your prototype in a real or as close to real simulation.
Spending too long on prototypes.
The longer you spend developing a prototype, the more you risk falling in love with your idea, the harder it is to accept non-corroborating feedback. Low-fidelity prototypes are fast and cheap to produce so you can test multiple ideas to see what resonates most with your end-users.
‘Fail'. Gee whiz has this word been romanticised in the start-up age! "Fail fast, fail cheap", 'Failure isn’t a dirty word", “Fall in love with failure". They’re all catch phrases that have been memed to death in recent years.
At G2, we don’t like using the word ‘Failure’ at all. Unless you’re part of the current generation of kids going through primary school, just the idea of failure can cause negative emotions. So, asking people to be comfortable with failure is asking them to remove years and years of cultural and idealogical conditioning. It’s slow and ineffective because people will keep resisting.
In the context of innovation (which so often takes a back seat to Business as Usual anyway) we should be doing everything in our power to make innovating enjoyable and irresistible. That means losing the F word. Instead, at G2 we talk about ‘Exploration' and 'Experimentation'. When people explore and experiment, every outcome is a win. It doesn’t matter whether we corroborate our expectations or otherwise - every outcome is a win because it takes us closer to genuinely solving the problem. By winning rather than failing, we send endorphins to the brain. Happy, endorphin-full people stay curious. Forget the F-word and start focussing on the E words.
When you observe, talk to and listen to customers - you learn. To discover the real problem - you must learn. When you test your ideas - you learn. When you launch your idea - you continue learning.
Sometimes the greatest challenge of all is in the unlearning of ingrained behaviours, assumptions and expectations. When you think you know the answer and fixate upon it, you risk derailing the innovation process and leading yourself and others in your team down the wrong path, expelling unnecessary resources.
One of the tools we use at G2 Innovation to document and share learning (and avoid wasting resources) is the Feedback Grid. This can be used at the prototyping stage, but we also use it effectively after ideation when combined with other idea selection tools. The Feedback Grid allows teams, users and outsiders to evaluate an idea, providing positives, improvements, other ideas and ask questions in a non-confrontational and inclusive fashion.
You can’t deliver a letter, without writing it. And you can’t write the letter, without knowing your recipient and the message you want to send. If you get the recipient wrong, or the message isn’t right, your message won’t be received or achieve your intended response.
The same applies to innovation. When you get too attached to the delivery of innovation, and don’t consider the users, process or problems effectively, it won’t have the intended outcome.
Nevertheless, the danger of flipping the focus from solution to problem is that you get trapped in the thinking, analysing and discovering and don’t move forward. After all, there will always be more you can learn, and learning can be more comfortable than sitting the exam.
To prevent this paralysis and progress to delivery, you need to let go of perfectionism and focus on value. Once there is a clear link that your solution is solving the problem and will add value, it’s time to progress.
Delivery needn’t be scary. It is an extension of the testing phase. Soft launches, small geographical/departmental/audience groups, Wizard of Oz approaches (where the interface looks complete but behind the scenes it’s manual and rough) are credible delivery techniques which allow you to improve and iterate further, each time extending your user reach and learning more about how they interact with your solution.
So, the cycle of innovation continues. You receive feedback from the user, you improve your solution, you test and learn, then deliver (and so on).
The joy in this approach is that every time you complete a cycle you don’t just improve your product, service, process or system, you also improve your knowledge, confidence and ability to innovate.