Running a good "vision session", "innovation session", " session"...?

7 Nov 2005 - 9:56am
1174 reads
Larry Marine

We do something similar for our clients on a regular basis. We've found that
just running an innovation session without context is largely a waste of
time, so we do a lot of work to set the fuzzy boundaries of context.

Typically, there are several objectives that have to be met, both from the
business and marketing side of the equation as well as from the expected
user's perspective. Most innovation sessions are typically either a focus
group of users or designers. In both cases, these folks lack one or the
other perspective and so the resulting innovations are usually out of
context. Yes it is true that you may still come up with a few good ideas,
just remember, that even a blind squirrel can find a few acorns, but the
likelihood of finding a large cache of acorns is slim.

The biggest downside to unstructured or unframed innovation efforts is the
"wouldn't it be neat if..." approach to design. Oftentimes the group begins
with a framework that is often rooted in the current technology, so even the
best innovation sessions tend to limit themselves to their understanding of
the their technology.

Our innovation sessions actually occur midway through our projects, after we
have articulated the business and marketing drivers, in terms of product
design perspectives, and have done a fair, but brief, amount of user
research to better understand the users' needs, goals, and tasks. Our user
research targets the users and opportunities that the business and marketing
folks suggest is ripe for the picking, but we tend to observe users
performing in the target domain, but not using one of the client's products.

In every case we have identified at least one new and valuable opportunity,
sometimes much more valuable than the original product premise. We take
these opportunities back to the team and discuss them and use this context
to generate ideas that fit the opportunities and help push the envelope of
technology. Many of our clients have created new patents and product for the
ideas generated from these context framed innovation efforts. This approach
doesn't seem to suffer from the downside mentioned above.

For example, one client recently asked for help in coming up with a new
approach for their product line, mostly world renowned telephone headsets.
Instead of locking ourselves into a room for a week, we went on the road
and, lo and behold, what we learned was amazing. By observing the users, we
uncovered an extremely common task that no one, not the client or a single
competitor, was addressing. This represents a whole new and very lucrative
business opportunity that the client is eagerly going after. The interesting
thing is that no one in the client organization even knew that this task
occurred. So, the likelihood of them coming up with ideas to address it were
less probable than random chance.

I give the example of one client, but this has happened dozens of times, so
clearly the process works. To reiterate, avoid the temptation to hunker down
in a room or even at some innovation facility for a few days and get your
butts out into the field. Let the users give you ideas, then work from them.


----- Original Message -----
From: "David Hatch" <dhatch at>
To: <discuss at>
Sent: Sunday, November 06, 2005 9:44 PM
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Running a good "vision session", "innovation
session","<insert buzzword> session"...?

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
> Hi all,
> I want to run an innovation session focused on coming up with ideas for
> a next gen web site (if you know where I work you probably know the site
> I'm thinking of). I've done these before, but I haven't in a while so I
> need a refresher. I don't want to bog the session down with an
> excessively controlled agenda, but I do want to have an underlying
> structure to make sure we make good use of the time. Anyone here run a
> successful session like this lately? Any pointers to good resources.
> Thanks much,
> David Hatch
> Chief Information Architect
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