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The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook : Sprint or be damned

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17 October 2019

Author: Martin Raymond

Image: ANIMA II by Nick Verstand

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In his fifth column for The Trend Forecasters Handbook book, Martin Raymond revamps the innovation sprint

How do you innovate? This is a question I’m often asked. And my answer is always the same: for the technical process at least, check out Ron Howard’s 1995 docudrama, Apollo 13. Here an oxygen tank explodes, and the rest of the film is really a 101 on innovating your way out of a classic burning platform conundrum. Here’s the gist: an explosion, deep space, depleting oxygen, a damaged service module, dwindling water supplies, and an unused lunar landing module incapable of protecting the stricken mission’s crew from burn-up on re-entry.

Enter flight director Gene Kranz, with his famous figure of eight trajectory which he chalks out on a blackboard. This is what everybody is aiming for, he explains: to harness gravity and the direction of the Earth’s spin (from West to East) so that the stricken vessel can be catapulted back to Earth.

This figure of eight solution, or overarching aim, can be any goal, any required solution: waste-based beauty products, in-store vertical picking farms, next-generation proteins, or developing alternative mind states without the use of psychoactive drugs

Like all great solution-focused problem-solvers, Kranz realises that any challenge is best tackled in simplified bytes, so the big question or challenge is broken down into smaller, more tangible and parsed ones. This is one of the key rules of all innovation sprints – examine the detail, ask questions about the particular, and the bigger parts will begin to look after themselves.

The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook
'This is one of the key rules of all innovation sprints – examine the detail, ask questions about the particular, and the bigger parts will begin to look after themselves.'

On Apollo 13, to survive the journey back to Earth, they need air, but to have air, they need to replace an ailing air filter. But what is needed before this? An adjustment to the flight path, as the stricken ship hurls towards Pluto… But where does that energy come from? And how, on re-entry, can they survive the intense heat they will encounter? Aquarius, the lunar landing module, can perhaps provide them with the oxygen they need, but can’t offer protection from those rocketing temperatures as the shieldless ship free-falls through the Earth’s atmosphere. So, what to do and how to do it? Every time there’s a solution, there’s a problem, and vice versa.

But each time, by breaking it down, Kranz and his team crack it: by powering down systems, rationing water, remotely managing power and checking scenarios. If temperatures drop, water freezes and food becomes inedible, so what DO WE DO? In all cases they are positing and testing ‘what if’ scenarios, but at all times referring back to that overarching figure of eight, the journey’s end, the ultimate goal.

They don’t do this in isolation, however. They do it with available data, strategic intuition, expert insight and strategic scenarios. But as the film suggests, and exemplary innovation sprints reveal, you need to assemble all data logically, chronologically, visually and accessibly.

You then need to make sure that all participants in the sprint have read it in advance – and fully understand it. Why? As I discovered when researching a chapter of The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook on intuition, housing knowledge like this allows it to ferment, fire synapses, make connections, build solutions, especially during liminal moments, or in free-floating states, so around the sprint as well as when we are in it.

Once in, all data should be at your fingertips: on-screen, in notebooks, on walls, but always visible. Your experts can be called at this point – in person, on Skype, in Zoom – to deepen this research, but also to make sense of it with your team. They (and you) do this by asking questions, identifying problems, brokering solutions – and vitally, not just about that BIG question, but the many that sit between, those mosaic questions as they are sometimes referred to.

Now, relevant trends are added (some prefer to do this at the data-gathering stage), ideas adjusted and scenario-planning methodologies deployed.

Team roles or personalities will be clear at this point, so if you are team leader, you should be using and encouraging them accordingly. At this point, early prototypes are sketched out, built, visualised and debated. Usability testing, as this is called, can be done with potential Early Adopter customers present – but it is important that the prototype is sufficiently developed to ensure that their feedback is based on the potential of your solution, and not the limitations of the scissors, paste and balsa job you are showing them. So, render if you can, and even better, render in 3D.

The Trend Forecaster's Handbook

In all instances, apply the Goldilocks Principle: a product that passes muster generally, and one that isn’t too bad, isn’t perfect (there’s no room for feedback), but just looks and feels alright – that way your Early Adopters and experts can make positive contributions to the next developmental stages.

During the actual testing stage, we use the Rule of Five, as identified by Jakob Nielsen, when working on one too many UX journeys, with a dizzying array of guinea pig users – usually suggested by a nervous, overly cautious client.

When analysing the results of his work, he realised that 85% of the problems identified overall were invariably flagged up by the first five users. After that, the insights they offered were in most cases the same, but in more cases were likely to dilute and dissipate the appeal or design of the final outcome. 

So, limit these tests, pay attention to what they’re not saying as well as what they are saying, and – recalling Kranz’s constant return to that figure of eight – keep referring everybody, at intervals, back to the bigger question, the desired solution.

Innovation is now within reach, and likely to be more long-term and durable because you’ve asked the right questions on the route and tested what I’ve dubbed Raymond’s Ready Rules for Innovation, the five Ps, in the process – parse, preempt, prioritise, prototype and produce. But NEVER forget Kranz’s figure of eight – the overarching journey, the goal you are trying to achieve.

A longer, more comprehensive step-by-step version of the strategic innovation process can be found in the latest edition of Martin Raymond’s The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook, signed copies of which can be ordered below.

 

The trend forecasters handbook

 

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