Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Prototyping is integral to innovation

"Will they work with Play-Do"?

That was the question a participant in one of our recent innovation workshops asked me at the end of the second day.  We'd examined how to spot trends and identify customer needs, and the following day we were going to focus on generating ideas and using rapid prototyping to refine ideas and develop them more effectively.  The participant, an innovation leader in a large organization, doubted that many of the people in the class would be willing to develop physical prototypes of the ideas we generated.  He knew we would bring prototyping materials like modeling clay, pipe cleaners, construction paper, and other ingredients.  He questioned whether or not "serious" business people would be willing to be creative and develop a rapid prototype out of simple ingredients.  Based on my experience, I had no doubt.

"Tomorrow will surprise you" I told him, and it did.  We made prototypes of ideas that had been generated, and the sheer energy and enthusiasm that went into the development was (and always is) astonishing.  People who will flatly tell you they aren't creative can take simple, readily available ingredients and artifacts and create a realistic model of their idea.  And what follows next is even better - the insights, questions and refinements of the idea now that a physical representation is available.

Later, after the prototyping, the gentleman approached me.  He as a bit sheepish, as he had developed his own prototype and demonstrated it proudly.  "You were right - these people did more than I imagined.  Prototyping is powerful.  I was surprised by what I learned."

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I think a prototype is worth a thousand ideas.  Most ideas originate as a few words on a page, or a nascent concept in one person's head.  Developing a physical prototype or representation of the idea will spawn new ideas and new insights.  Yet few firms do anything to encourage rapid prototyping as a means to develop and refine ideas.  Far too often teams generate ideas in brainstorming sessions, record ideas on a flipchart and fail to develop the ideas in any meaningful way.  Prototyping - building very simple representations of ideas - will help people understand the ideas more effectively, will help teams understand the value proposition of an idea, and will help people interact and provide refinements and identify weaknesses.  Individuals and teams who "aren't creative" can, in less than 30 minutes, significantly improve an idea and gain dramatically better insights.

Many firms will argue that they build prototypes, but what they actually build are engineered scale models of final ideas.  What they don't do is use simple, readily available and easily disposable ingredients to create a rough representation of an idea.  An initial prototype should be something you can build in less than half an hour, with materials that cost less than $5.  No engineering, no specifications, no advanced materials.  Only through inexpensive, rapid prototyping are you able to explore an idea effectively and improve it rapidly.

I've attached a few photos of some of the prototypes developed in our latest workshops.  Remember, these were built by groups of people who met for a three day workshop that included about an hour of instruction on prototyping and had just one hour to assemble a prototype of an idea they generated as a small team.  As I said before, I'm constantly astounded by the creativity demonstrated and the insights that are generated.

A prototype that explores using solar energy to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, so hydrogen can be burned to produce energy.
A prototype of a cell-phone service selection that allows cell phone customers to select the ingredients of their plan, rather than use company developed packages.
A model of a store intended to increase sales of specific components.

A prototype to demonstrate and discuss financial transactions between industry, individuals and government agencies.

I paraphrased the old saying above, and I believe it to be very true:  if a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand ideas.  What is your team/organization doing with its ideas?  Prototyping is an exceptionally simple yet powerful way to discover more about your ideas, generate more ideas and refine existing ideas.  You'll discover the creativity that lies dormant in each of us when you prototype, and best of all, it costs next to nothing.

Contact us if you'd like to learn how to integrate prototyping into your idea generation or idea development methods.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:16 AM


Blogger Learn Spanish for Kids and Family said...

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1:27 PM  
Blogger Michelle Courtney DeFiore said...

When you are innovating, you need the help of rapid prototype because you cannot really know when a product will be perfect. There will always be new problems even after you fixed a certain problem. Prototypes are used to prevent any significant losses on your resources.

9:02 PM  

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