What Is Innovation?

What Is Innovation?

Last week we posted a video about the most frequently asked question. This week’s video addresses a question that doesn’t get asked often enough: What is innovation?

Introducing the updated Problem Framing Canvas!

Introducing the updated Problem Framing Canvas!

Learn more about the equity-driven updates to one of our most popular ITK tools.

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As part of Team Toolkit’s collaboration with the MITRE Social Justice Platform, we embarked on taking a fresh look at our ITK tools with an equity lens.

Equity-driven design thinking encourages us to create not just inclusive and diverse solutions, but to create equitable solutions. Equitable solutions are available to all (e.g., equal access), and they also help equalize who benefits from the solution (e.g., many groups benefit, not just one). Equity-driven design thinking helps ensure we design at the margins, for those who have the greatest need, who are traditionally left out of the design process. When we design at the margins, we design for everyone.

One way we can do this is by considering who has been traditionally “left out” and to design solutions that level the playing field. In addition, equity-driven design thinking encourages us, as the designers, to take a critical look at our own assumptions and biases that we inherently bring to the table and implicitly embed as part of the final solution.

First up was one of our most popular tools: Problem Framing canvas.

Visually, you’ll notice that we’ve partitioned the Problem Framing canvas into three areas: Look Inward, Look Outward, and Reframe.

Look Inward speaks directly to the additional step, Notice, in equity-driven design thinking. In this section, participants are guided to look not only at the problem they are facing, but also how they themselves might be part of the problem. We’ve added questions to encourage groups to explicitly discuss assumptions and biases, and as part of the Reflect step in equity-driven design thinking, participants are asked to imagine which of these assumptions may be designed, reframed, or removed.

New questions have also been added to dig deeper into who experiences the problem. We ask participants to consider the lived experiences and consequences that users who have this problem face, which may otherwise have been overlooked. We also added equity-related factors for why this problem hasn’t been solved, such as lack of authority or a situational inequity.

Look outward also speaks directly to the Notice step in equity-driven design thinking. In this section, we encourage participants to broaden their thinking to find more insights and inspiration by learning from others who may or may not have this problem.

We’ve added questions to encourage participants to consider who has been left out, as well as to examine who benefits when the problem does or does not exist. We’ve also added an equity-related factor for why others don’t have this problem, which is that it’s been transferred.

Reframe culminates the Reflect step in equity-driven design thinking by asking participants to synthesize their insights and discussions into a succinct problem statement. We’ve streamlined the suggested “How Might We” statement to help groups create more powerful, action-oriented statements.

Lastly, we’ve introduced new “Question Bank” and “Facilitation Tips” sections in the Instructions to further assist problem framing discussions. These additional questions can provide more richness to the discussion, as well as deeper inquiry into the problem.

One final important point – Although we’ve updated the Problem Framing canvas with an equity-driven lens, this tool can be used to guide discussions on ALL problems, not just equity-related problems. By embedding this equity-driven lens into the questions and the tool itself, this naturally leads to discussions that will help create more equitable solutions since they bring equity to the forefront, rather than relying on a participant to bring them up.

We hope you find the updated Problem Framing canvas useful, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Building Your Cadre of Mentors

Building Your Cadre of Mentors

(Today’s post is by Gabby Raymond, one of our new Team Toolkit Trainees!)

Finding a good mentor is like getting a personalized self-help book, one that is full of insightful questions and practical guidance tailored to you. A traditional mentor focuses on guiding your personal growth. However, you can receive a wide array of guidance from a variety of perspectives when you work together with someone, so let’s expand our vocabulary a bit and use the word Collaborators as a more general term.

Just like you wouldn’t need five copies of the same self-help book, it’s useful to have different types of Collaborators, each playing a different role. The alignment chart below illustrates a variety of Collaborators based on the people I have found particularly valuable in my life. The goal of this diagram is to help you identify any gaps in your current cadre and opportunities to round out your group. And the best part, meeting up with one of these Collaborators only costs about as much as a cup of coffee! (usually)

In this chart, the horizontal axis reflects the Collaborator’s relationship to you; your peers are on the left while those with more seniority, formal authority, or clout are on the right. The vertical axis depicts the Collaborator’s perspective on guidance. The guidance you get from people at the top of the vertical axis helps you with personal growth, while the guidance from people at the other end of the axis helps you solve problems or champion solutions.

When I think of a traditional mentor, I think of an Advocator in the upper right quadrant. As someone with clout who can help you grow career-wise, they’ve been in your shoes and can give you advice. Advocators also know other authority figures with whom they can share your accomplishments; they’re the Collaborator who can help you get your next promotion. I find advocating for yourself and having others advocate for you is an important way to gain visibility in your community.

In the upper left side is the Friendtor, a peer who you trust to give more personal advice. They walk the line of friend and mentor, so they know all the best things about you but can also point out your flaws. I personally ask my Friendtors for advice on team dynamics and navigating conversations with my leadership.

An Educator straddles the line in the lower left quadrant. They are someone with specific domain knowledge about the problem you’re trying to solve. An Educator’s role is to teach you skills or information relevant to your work and are the Collaborator you’re most likely to shadow. I’ve found Educators to be closer to a peer than an authority figure, but that’s not always the case.

An Innovator is a Collaborator who is a problem-solving powerhouse, and they span the whole bottom half of the chart. Innovators can either have a background in your problem area or can be someone with a fresh perspective – both mentalities can be incredibly useful depending on your situation. People who embody the mindset of Team Toolkit are my go-to Innovators.

Solidly in the lower right Authority/Champion quadrant is the Accelerator – think of them as someone who will help catapult your idea. They’ve got high-powered connections and stay up to date with the current trends. The strategic prowess of an Accelerator means they are the ones who can help develop and refine your idea. These Collaborators are moving quickly from success to success and can help you do the same.

Finally, at the center of this chart is a person with a wide network, the Connector. They’re the Collaborator who seems to know everyone. Having a Connector introduce you to someone they know personally is often more successful than cold-emailing someone with whom you want to grab a virtual coffee. They can be your gateway to many of the other Collaborators in this chart.

I hope this post has helped you view mentors through a new frame of reference. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out and grab a virtual cup of coffee (or tea!) with me.



Lotus Blossom Tool Tips

Lotus Blossom Tool Tips

The Lotus Blossom ideation tool is one of the most popular in the toolkit, and it’s also one of the simplest. This is a great way to help a team quickly come up with a large quantity of high quality ideas, in a format that is structured, binned, and categorized. A complete Lotus Blossom, with all the petals filled in, can be a really useful artifact for the team to refer to as the work progresses.

But don’t let the simplicity of the tool fool you. There are some subtle nuances and non-obvious applications & implications hidden in this tool, and it can be a challenging one to use well. Let’s take a closer look at some common patterns and missteps.

When a team is filling out a Lotus Blossom I often notice that one blossom has a lot of blank petals while another is fully populated or even overstuffed with more than eight. As a facilitator I like to direct the team’s attention to the blank blossom and encourage them to explore that idea in more depth. Is there a reason we’re not filling that one out? Is it a good reason?

I might also point out that if we’re focusing (and overfilling) on one blossom, that might indicate a high level of interest in that area so it’s worth pursuing, maybe even using it as the core for a whole new Lotus Blossom canvas. Alternatively, all those ideas might indicate a high level of comfort & familiarity with that topic. Maybe we’re only filling it in so completely because it’s easy to do so. If that’s the case, perhaps we should move on and do the more challenging work of exploring less familiar ground. Either course of action is fine – the trick is to be deliberate in our decision to either pursue it or pivot.

Another thing to watch for is the phrase “I have this idea but I’m not sure where to put it in the Lotus Blossom.” Now, the point of this tool is to develop ideas that are connected to each other. If the team is just coming up with random unconnected ideas that genuinely don’t fit into any of the petals or blossoms, they are just brainstorming and not really using the Lotus Blossom tool. In that case, I try to redirect them towards the empty petals and blossoms that do have labels, encouraging them to build on these ideas by getting more specific and granular.

But sometimes the phrase “I’m not sure where to put this” means you’ve come up with an idea that genuinely fits in multiple places. If that’s the case, it’s possible you discovered a relationship between the ideas that is not currently reflected in the Lotus Blossom layout. At this point you may want to rearrange and combine the related ideas into a single blossom. This is easier to do with a digital canvas than it is on paper, of course.

Another strategy for the “not sure where to put it” situation is to label one of the blossoms OTHER and put all the random stuff there. It’s not optimal, but this strategy can serve as a useful parking lot or holding place for ideas that may find a more connected home later.

The Double Diamond

The Double Diamond

The double diamond is a well-known visual map of the design process starting with the challenge at hand and ending with a final solution. The process pairs divergent thinking (where the participants come up with many ideas) with convergent thinking (narrowing the ideas down to the most feasible and practical).

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The Double Diamond is a problem-solving framework that originally began in the design world. It describes four phases of problem solving:

  1. Set the stage
  2. Design the right thing
  3. Design the thing right
  4. Deliver

The first phase is when a problem is acknowledged, and the problem-solving challenge is introduced. Phase 2 and 3 are the active portions of the problem-solving process where the solution is ideated, designed, and created. In the last phase, the solution is delivered to the user.

The diamonds represent the different types of thinking that are needed during the problem-solving process. The left-hand side of each diamond represents Divergent Thinking. This is when teams are encouraged to widen their thinking and generate a broad range of ideas. On this side of the diamond, quantity is more important than quality. Divergent thinking benefits from diversity of thought, so be sure to include new and varied team members who can help everyone think outside of the box.

ITK Tip: Check out the 4 tools in the “Generate Ideas” category of our Toolkit: Lotus Blossom, Mind Mapping, TRIZ Prism, and Bodystorming!

After a certain threshold (based on time or some other factor), the team then moves into the right-hand side of the diamond. This area represents Convergent Thinking, where the team narrows their thinking. Here, they’ll focus on reducing, prioritizing, and eliminating many options into one. The team will often use evaluation criteria to help them remove options.

ITK Tip: Check out the 3 tools in the “Evaluation Options” category of our Toolkit: Rose, Bud, Thorn; Stormdraining; and Prototyping!

You’ll notice that there is a diamond in both Phase 2 and Phase 3. That’s because this cycle of divergent and convergent thinking is an iterative process. Although the diagram doesn’t explicitly show it, you can actually repeat the diamond pattern multiple times within one phase, whether in parallel or in series!

Another thing you’ll notice is the similarity of the labels in Phase 2 and Phase 3. However, they are critically different in meaning: In Phase 2, you design the right thing, whereas in Phase 3, you design the thing right.

The key distinction here is that Phase 2’s priority is to make sure you define the problem well. A clearly articulated problem statement ensures that all teammates are on the same page and that it’s a problem worth solving. If this phase is skipped, team may find themselves creating solutions for symptoms of a problem, rather than the real problem itself.

ITK Tip: Check out the Problem Framing canvas!

Once the team gains consensus on the problem, then the team embarks into Phase 3 where they can begin creating solutions. The team again flows from divergent to convergent thinking until they arrive at a final solution. Especially in Phase 3, it’s very common to have multiple iterations of this diamond cycle.

That’s the double diamond in a nutshell, and let us know in the comments below how your team uses this framework!

Flip The Script: PersNOna

Flip The Script: PersNOna

Persona is a tool we use to describe a semi-fictional ideal customer or user of your product or service. The tool lives under “Understand User” category and serves as a vital way to understand or empathize with their perspective, opinion, or point of view.

Personas help a project team understand their users’ needs, motivations, limitations, and capabilities, acting as a focal point and reminder throughout the project, ensuring the final product is something a human being would actually need or want. Personas accelerate the process of developing and validating solutions, are a useful component of thought-experiments, and help increase the clarity and realism of the project team’s pitches and presentations.

Envisioning a persona can be challenging, especially when starting with a blank sheet of paper. What do they like? What do they do? What are their responsibilities? What are their values? Ideally, you want your personas to be built off existing user research to help answer these questions. But what if you don’t have existing users? Sometimes it’s easier and more impactful to start by outlining an anti-persona – or PersNOna – that you want to target. Identifying what falls out of scope can be just as important as identifying what falls into scope. Using reverse thinking, this exercise clarifies, refines, and builds consensus among your team.

We’re no strangers to reverse thinking or brainstorming here at Innovation Toolkit. If you’re familiar with our Premortem tool, you know that through defining failure, we inversely define success. Sometimes it’s easier to think negatively about all the things that could go wrong and where we may misstep, than what we actually need to do to succeed.

Oftentimes, thinking about the reverse can be freeing and allow ideas to flow more openly than solution-oriented brainstorming, removing the pressure to be “right” and encouraging failure. Once you’ve brainstormed all of the ideas for failure, you reverse them into solutions. Reverse brainstorming is a good technique when it is difficult to identify solutions to the problem directly. It could be used in standard solution brainstorming, too (challenge: fill out a Lotus Blossom with anti-ideas!).

You may want to create a PersNOna for several reasons:

  • You think everyone could be a target user / your persona is too broad
  • You don’t know where to start with a persona
  • You feel strongly about the qualities that would NOT fit your target user/customer
  • You want to work by process of elimination

Sometimes it’s easier to start with the “definitely nots” than the “definitely’s.” That was the case when we were discussing adding new members to Team Toolkit. We couldn’t quite put our finger on the qualities of someone we would want to join the team, but it was much easier to write down what we did NOT want. Some examples of the “thanks, but no thanks” category were ego driven, fixed mindset, did not want to collaborate or learn, and traditional/set in their ways. The team got passionate about this discussion, especially because we all agreed we wanted to maintain the cultural attributes of the team when adding training new folks.

Have you put off creating a persona or solving a problem because landing on the “right” solution felt too daunting? We encourage you to try flipping the script and flexing your reverse thinking muscles to define the “nope’s” before getting to the, “Yup, that’s it!” We all deserve to be off the hook for thinking of the “right” thing every now and then, we can finally get to a truly innovative solution – something different that makes a difference.