From Insights To Innovation – Some Lessons

Article in BusinessWeek on how a health-care company produced an award-winning innovation (hospital furniture for cancer patients).

One comment interested me:

With all of the research materials gathered in a room, the group convened for what they call a “big share”—a two-day event that included marketers, engineers, industrial designers, and other stakeholders. The field team began by telling stories and sharing observations. (Researchers record the latter in formal documents that include the observation, its origin, its significance, and other details.)

With their thinking primed by the stories, the group went through all of the research photos, organizing them into related themes—a patient’s need for privacy, for instance—and taping those clusters on the wall. As they began to see common problems or workarounds, they added observations written on Post-It notes to the wall. “The goal is to take the knowledge gained from the research and make it explicit,” says Bromberg.

By the end of the share, the group had generated close to 100 insights, some big, some small.

I quite like the use of the word ‘insight’ ( = deep and intuitive understanding of a person or thing). Often these type of brainstorming approaches lead to observations and comments rather than insights.

In my mind, an insight is at the next level on from this and is a lot harder come by. Consequently it would be good to ask at the end of a idea-generating session, have we (honestly) produced any genuinely new insights (no matter how small)? If not, take a rest, change the environment and start again!

The four key ‘takeaways’ were:

Let it steep. Whether the team members start reviewing research on their own first or immediately come together as a group, spend at least a couple of days going back through notes, sifting through photos, watching videos, etc. Sit with the material and the patterns will start to emerge.

This means that you need to get a room for a period of time – not always easy in cost-cutting times but well worth negotiating for. Also encourage participants to be creative – take pictures from magazines, quick photos using mobiles etc – to stimulate dialogue in new directions.

Look for patterns. Did a certain phrase come up in interview after interview? Do dozens of photos capture the same workaround? Such patterns reflect the user behaviors and/or latent needs that lead to successful innovation.

Pay attention to contradictions or discrepancies. When the cancer patients in the Sonata study made collages representing their current and ideal hospital experiences, the discrepancies suggested great opportunities for innovation. Similarly, when a research subject says one thing and does another, it may be the sign of an unrecognized need.

Both patterns and discrepancies may eventually lead to insights even though each may be wanting to dominate the other – you need a bit of creative tension here!

Be inclusive. Though the heavy lifting of the synthesis process is typically done by the core research team, it’s important to include other stakeholders in some way, both because they bring valuable perspectives to the conversation and because it gives them some ownership of the research, making the transition to product development and later marketing go more smoothly.

The key aspect here is keeping involvement with the wider group going as it can often fizzle out as the project progresses. For this to work, communication needs to be clear and concise and take into account the different backgrounds of stakeholders. Be aware of and try to minimise the curse of knowledge!

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