This happens all the time. Everybody knows that innovation is all about the customer, but we tend to forget that we have to understand customer needs before we do anything else. Customers put us in a different point of view and empathy maps are tools which can help us see the world from our customer’s perspective. Validating ideas is the basis of user centered design (vs. solution centered design)
Empathy maps were created and first used by XPLAIN. Today there are several slightly different templates available, most of them with 6 different blocks like in this example:
Empathy maps help you think and feel like one of your customers:
- What do they think about the product? How do they feel about it (is it a good experience, is it painful?)
- What do they see when using the product? Where are they? With who?
- What do they hear others say about the product? Has anyone recommended it?
- How do they use the product? What problems do they face? How do they solve them?
- What are their wishes?
- What are their pains?
Some questions are easier to answer (behaviors, problems, recommendations) because they can be seen or heard, others are difficult (pains, wishes, feelings). Do your best and put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Try hard!
This is the typical process to use the empathy map:
- Select a team: Developers, Managers, Stakeholders & Customers (if possible)
- Segment your customers. This is not mandatory but it will help you “feel like a customer” and avoid generic ideas, which are useless. Think the way a “traveler” feels at an airport; now think about “a pregnant woman at an airport” or a “person with limited mobility at an airport”. See the difference?
- Choose a customer segment and make them personal. Draw a picture of them, give them a name. Empathy is about feeling close to people: thinking about a “traveler” is one thing; thinking about “Peter and his two kids, Susan and Kevin, who are traveling to Miami to see their grandmother” is something different.
- Go question by question and fill the empathy map: “How do I feel?”, “What do I see?”, “What are the problems I face?”, “What could make me happy?” and so on. Write answer on post-its and stick them to a flip chart. Seriously, no computers.
- List ideas of innovative potential solutions.
The empathy map creates many assumptions and hypothesis that must be validated before moving on. Validating data with customers is critical and is trickier than it seems. Interviewing and asking the right questions can make a big difference.
- Bad questions: Feeling-based questions like “Is this a good product?”, “Do you like it?”, “Is this something you would pay for?”
- Good questions: Fact-based questions like “What are the main problems?”, “What do you miss?”, “What happened last time you used it?”, “Where do you use the product?”, “Has anybody recommended this to you?”, “How do you use this product?” an so on.
This video (from The Lean Playbook) shows the importance of validating data and asking great questions:
The empathy map is a great tool to help a development team understand customers. Don’t waste time and money building something nobody wants.
Find out more here:
- Empathy map image from: http://www.solutionsiq.com/what-is-an-empathy-map/
Our brain works in a way that helps us understand the world quickly. We are good at finding patterns, applying proved solutions and learning from experience. Our brain and the way it thinks is an evolutionary advantage that has made us progress. However, sometimes the way it functions is a problem. Innovation is one of those moments. Let’s see an example:
In this picture we find two very different tasks from our brain’s point of view:
- The left column shows a task our brain LOVES doing: finding a pattern in mispelled words. Past experience and known solutions work great here, piece of cake for our brain.
- The right column shows a task our brain HATES: reading the word’s color instead of reading the written word. Past experience does not work here; even worse, past experience is a wrong solution. Our brain has to do things differently, which is tiring and frustrating. Unfortunately, innovation work must be disruptive and, therefore, looks pretty much like this type of task.
Our brain likes “doing the same things the way we have always done them”. This is called psychological inertia. Innovation needs disruptive thinking, which does not get along well with psychological inertia. This mental inertia prevents us from seeing unconventional solutions and is a great obstacle for breakthrough results. It is a wall between business as usual and innovation.
Experts define 3 main types of mental presumptions:
- Functional fixedness: Tendency to perceive an object as having a specific function, leading to inability to imagine new possibilities (e.g. a brick is used for building houses, but it can’t be used as a flower pot)
- Structural fixedness: Tendency to view objects as a whole. It makes difficult to imagine how the product could be reorganized differently (e.g. a regular bike vs. a folding bike)
- Relational fixedness: Tendency to view relationships and dependencies of a product or situation as static and permanent. One overlooks the possibilities of changing these dependencies to create new configurations (e.g. a rain umbrella used as a beach umbrella)
Combined with “Ideal Final Result” techniques (learn more here), innovation work benefits incredibly if we actively try to overcome the psychological inertia of our development team. The typical process is:
- Discuss the innovation challenge with the team.
- As a team, list the assumptions about the product of service that the team is analyzing (e.g. bricks are for building houses, cars need a park place…). This will create consciousness about our presumptions and prejudices.
- Challenge assumptions: think how can I eliminate the barriers, contradictions and limitations. Choose a “HCI” (how can I) or “WI” (what if) question and think how to eliminate the problem (e.g. how can I use bricks if building a house is not an option? How can I eliminate the need of a park place?)
This mental exercise can be very powerful. It opens our mind making obvious our assumptions and prejudices, and prepares our brain for the fight against standard solutions. Maybe, who knows, you will never look at your product / service in the same way.
Picture from: www.psychologyconcepts.com
Innovation is more important than you think, even if you are a well-established Fortune 500 company. According to Eric Ries (The Lean Startup) “creating an innovation factory, a group of people who create disruptive innovation on a continuous basis, is probably the only sustainable path to long-term growth”.
Clayton Christensen (The innovator’s dilemma) has described 2 types of innovation:
- Sustaining innovation: incremental improvement to existing products and serving existing customers.
- Disruptive innovation: breakthrough new products.
Yes, only disruptive innovation generates new sources of growth. Bad news is that many big companies are great at sustaining innovation but poor performers at disruptive innovation. That’s why 60% of the companies fail jumping into the next generation and disappear after the first technology revolution (learn more here).
Innovation needs a) a management process and b) the correct environment. The innovation management process must focus on learning and is very different from general management techniques, which focus on execution (i. e. doing things on time and on budget). Facilitating and cultivating a learning environment is the responsibility of senior management (learn more here)
If both things are present (correct management processes and a great environment) more ideas are tested, learning cycles are shorter and the probability of innovation increases exponentially. Using Scott Cook’s words, we convert politicians into entrepreneurs:
When you have only one test, you don’t have entrepreneurs, you have politicians, because you have to sell. Out of a hundred good ideas, you have to sell your idea. So you build up a society of politicians and salespeople. When you have five hundred tests you are running, then everybody’s ideas can run. And then you create entrepreneurs who run and learn and can retest and relearn as opposed to a society of politicians.
Scott Cook, Intuit chairman, via The Lean Startup