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
Henry Ford knew this very well back in the 1930s: great innovation begins with the end in mind.
Innovation is about implementing new ideas for simple solutions in order to generate value for customers (learn more here). Keeping the end in mind is key for innovation because it forces you to think how to create value. It’s all about thinking the perfect solution, also known as Ideal Final Result (IFR). The IFR is the description of the best possible solution for a problem without caring about resources or constraints. Idealization is the mental process that imagines that IFR and concentrates in finding real value and not in eliminating problems or effects. Let’s see the lawn mower example:
If we think about a lawn mower, it is easy to find room for improvement: they are noisy, they use fuel, they have potentially dangerous blades, they need maintenance. We could work hard to improve all these things to create a better product. That’s the classic (not IFR) approach which focuses in problems and effects.
However, using idealization, we must concentrate in customer value. What does the customer want? A lawn mower? No. People don’t buy lawn mowers, they buy perfect grass. The Ideal Final Result is beautiful and splendid grass, no matter how you get it. Artificial grass, real grass that does not grow or selling your backyard are solutions that fit perfectly well here. You have probably noticed that we are not talking about lawn mowers anymore. That’s really the point of using IFR: it opens your mind to a broader range of ideas.
The use of idealization / IFR starts with perfection and looks for ways to eliminate barriers (real or perceived) that prevent us from reaching that ideal state. It is like a kids maze game: we start from the prize and move backwards.
Warning! The search of an Ideal Final Result does not mean that you have to ignore your customer’s opinions and preferences. It’s just the opposite: your knowledge about the customer must be so deep that you can clearly differentiate creating value (what the customer really wants) from just solving problems.
It is almost impossible to overemphasize the effect of environment in innovation. Yes, some people have that special thing that makes them incredibly creative, but even the most talented team will fail if it is surrounded by risk aversion and fear to failure. The good news is that the opposite is also true, everybody has creative potential if the environment is favorable.
There are 3 main environmental states:
- Unfavorable environment: Only results matter. The motto is “if you fail, you’re fired”.
- Neutral environment: Failure is accepted. The motto is “it’s okay to make mistakes”.
- Favorable environment: Trial and error to maximize learning. The motto is “use all available opportunities to learn”
Experts say that innovation is “the effective implementation of new ideas for simple solutions to address relevant customer needs in order to generate value“. Innovation and Lean are different things, but they like working together. Innovative thinking is a common building block of Lean work. Additionally, lean tools can be used or adapted for creative thinking and innovation. In fact, there are very interesting initiatives going on working in the relationship between Lean and new product design (like Lean Startup by Eric Ries, http://theleanstartup.com/) or generating new business models (like Strategyzer by Alex Osterwalder, Tecnhttps://strategyzer.com/). Some might think that “innovation just happens”: new ideas show up suddenly generated by that limited group of people who are good at inventing new things. Well, there is some truth here (creative thinking is not 100% controllable, some people are more skilled than others) but there are many factors to consider that affect innovation:
- The S-Curve of innovation
- Innovation is not linear
- It is key to understand customer needs
- The importance of the environment
- The importance of execution
- It is all about the process
Innovation means “jumping the S-curve”. In other words, innovation is revolutionary, not evolutionary. New ideas and technology follow a performance/effort curve with an “S” shape. The first step is “experimentation” where a new success pattern emerges (“make it work”). After this, the “learning” phase (“increase efficiency”) shows a very rapid growth in performance and profit, apparently infinite. Suddenly, we reach the “maturity” phase (“minimize cost”) and performance stays constant or even declines . This is the moment to jump. True high-performance companies are able to jump repeatedly the S-curve, because before they reach the top of one “S-Curve” they are already getting ready for the next “S-Curve”. Research shows that 60% of the companies fail doing so and disappear after the first technology revolution.
Innovation follows a development pattern similar to PDCA. It starts understanding your customers needs, feeling their life with tools like interviews, focus groups, or the empathy map. We must always go to the gemba and see customers interact with the product or service we are studying. The process keeps going with the generation of innovative ideas (e.g. using SIT): create prototypes (something physical or not) and experiment with them to learn. These prototypes are often called Minimum Viable Product (MVP), defined by Eric Ries as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort“. Finally, connect with stakeholders to develop a business model (e.g. with a business model canvas) and validate assumptions (e.g. with a validation board). Now that you know more about your ideas, what things work and what things don’t (you will have many of these because approx. 99% of innovative ideas fail) it’s time to refine the prototype and start again if needed.
- The only important thing is the learning process, not the tools. “Learning” means understanding what the customer needs/likes/wants. The tools mentioned before are just suggestions: always use the tools and methods that work best for you. Experiment and learn.
- The process is not linear, so it is perfectly ok to move back and forth as many times as needed as long as you are learning.
- Your customer is the key part here. Understanding the customer and validating the prototype (MVP) is critical. Starting the idea generation phase without having understood the customer needs is a great and common error. Investing money in anything that has not been validated with the customer might be fatal.
It is important to keep in mind certain innovation killers that can make the difference between success and failure
- The environment: it is critical for innovation. Everybody fails the first time. We all need time, support and patience for some trial-and-error until we reach something that works. A place that encourages thinking differently and provides a safe place for testing-failing-learning has the highest probability of success.
- Implementing: Understanding the customer and generating ideas are important, but they are useless without robust implementation. The world is full of great ideas that fail because they are implemented wrong. Pay attention to business models and execute seriously.
- Talent and process: Innovating needs creativity AND a process. It is wrong to think that pure and simple talent is enough to make it work. Yes, talent is critical, but talented people helped by a great process will be unstoppable.
This is a summary of the post, enjoy!