Method Mondays: Never Stop Learning

Five methods for innovation you should try in your team

Benjamin Franklin once said: “Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I learn.”

At the SAP Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC), we frequently organize the so-called “Method Mondays,” a regular one-hour meeting series in which the team members share, practice, and test different methods.

In this article, I would like to share the five methods with you that work best for us—they’re worth trying!

Brainstorming: The Walt Disney method

We love brainstorming—and the Walt Disney Method is a quite simple technique for everyone. It is based on a role play with three Walt Disney characters.  

According to Robert B. Dilts, “there were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist, and the spoiler” (Ollie Johnstone and Frank Thomas: The Illusion of Life. Disney Animation, Disney Editions 1995, S. 379).

So who are the three characters?

The dreamer is a subjective and enthusiastic individual. His task is to think about the ideal way to answer the given challenge. The typical question for a dreamer is: “What can I do if everything is possible?”

The realist is the pragmatic and practical thinker who wants to realize the dreamer’s ideas. His leading question is: “How can I do it?”

The spoiler judges and provokes the ideas and gives positive feedback. He or she has to deal with the question “What can go wrong?”

In the role play you go through the different roles, either on your own or in a group. Always spend about 15 minutes in each role and do several iterations. The number of iterations is set by the level of detail you want to dig into each point. Ready, steady, go!

Empathy map

We are always looking for new methods. When we came across a new approach for clustering research results, we simulated a workshop situation in which the empathy map is used to cluster interview results based on what the interviewees have said and done, what they think and feel, as well as their pains and gains.

We found the empathy map a great tool since it is applicable to every business and provides valuable insights about what customers and partners actually want—and this knowledge is necessary for the success of your company.

It all begins with a large white poster and a character’s head with physical features. Divide the poster into five sections that portray what the character sees, hears, thinks, and feels as well, as the challenges the character faces, and ask the players of the game to change perspectives.

Fill the map with results from real research about the persona’s experiences. This helps players of the game identify with the persona and project themselves onto it. During the game, all players should write down their ideas about the targeted persona’s experiences on post-its and then stick them onto the respective section of the empathy map.

Once it is complete, analyze the results in a team and think of ways how to apply them to your service or product. For a more detailed description and the online game, have a look.

Belbin characters

Dr. Meredith Belbin found out that if groups work together, there is always a set of nine characters—and each of them is essential for getting the group successfully from start to finish.

However, this does not mean that you need nine different individuals in your team, because even you as a single person may not necessarily behave the same all the time…but you might have a tendency. Being able to identify the different characters in a project or the workplace and being able to adapt your own behavior to the strengths and weaknesses of your team can be a great advantage.

The nine roles can be divided into three orientations: act-oriented, subject-oriented, and communication-oriented. See a detailed description of the roles. 

To give the people participating in the exercise a surrounding to test or to reflect on the characters, we usually use the game “build a bridge.” For the task to be successful, form groups of 4 – 6 people and provide each of the groups with a big stack of paper, a filled half-liter bottle, and two tables or chairs as base for the bridge. The distance between those two can vary between 50 cm and 1 meter. Within 30 minutes, the bottle is supposed to be placed on the bridge for 20 seconds.

It is up to you if you distribute cards with the characteristics of each role at the beginning of the game—so that the people behave accordingly—or if you introduce the characters after the exercise. In both cases you end with a reflection on the people’s behaviors. Good luck and have fun!

Remember the future

We want to be better. The game “Remember the Future” is a very suitable method—and one of the easiest games—to better understand your customers’ definition of success and their understanding of how to achieve this aim. It centers on the question “What should your product do?” which is often trivially answered: “Your product should be better.”

However, there are actually unlimited possible and plausible futures to think of. To answer the question together with your customers, hand each of them a few pieces of paper, let them imagine they have been using the product continuously until some day in the future, and ask them to write down as much as possible about what your product will have done to make them happy over that time.

The results will change drastically depending on the wording of the question, so phrase it carefully. It’s quite unlikely that each customer will come up with the same imagination. The true sense and magic of the game is the discussion about how the customers actually perceive their future.

In the next step, comparing the current product development with the newfound perceptions of the future allows for improvement. For more details consult “Remember the Future. Understand Your Customers’ Definition of Success” in Luke Hohmann: Innovation Games. Creating Breakthrough Product Through Collaborative Play, Addison-Wesley 2007, 56-61.

A day in the life

We want to understand others better. As a combination of research and storytelling, the “day in the life” method is very valuable for user insights and in-depth understanding. The designer usually observes individuals through a typical workday and records their activities as well as hints to how they experience the settings.

However, as it is not always possible to conduct very deep field research, we use the “day in the life” method as an alternative in the workshops we hold at the SAP AppHaus. We let a customer describe his typical workday while the others take notes. Paying close attention to how people spend their time allows us to gather a realistic picture of the work settings.

In the next step, we cluster all the information we gathered about the daily routine—similar to the customer journey—and sort them in a timeline. Mapping a day in the life illustrates how time is assigned to different activities and facilitates identifying obvious or potential problems in every single step.

Afterwards, we brainstorm on how this exemplary daily sequence could be improved. “A day in the life,” based on the diary method, can be altered in every project. It may be repeated over several days to get a balanced perspective. Customers might also present a typical week or any relevant time span.

Why the methods work

In the course of time, the topic areas have developed:  We have not only tested creativity methods or tools, but also storytelling techniques, warm-ups, sketching, or psychology theories for group dynamics. Everything that might support us during our project work is highly welcome.

As our team from the Design & Co-Innovation Center at SAP is composed of members with a rich background in different disciplines of design, creativity, and psychology, we decided everybody could share their favorite working methods or new methods they would like to test. After each test, we sit together to discuss what we liked about the method, what we would change in the next attempt and for which scenarios we would best use the method.

It is a pleasure to have the freedom to pause the normal project work and spend time with the colleagues on those activities, supported by our management. It helps us to test and validate new methods, to make mistakes and learn from them. All of us grow with these experiences. And our knowledge is being enriched every time we meet.

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