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Innovation Series: #5

[April 20, 2021] by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas

Innovation taking shape

Series Introduction

Because our world has changed so significantly over the past several months, we all need to be innovators to some degree, challenging the past based on our new reality, and finding ways to improve our personal and professional lives as we move forward.

This blog series is geared to individuals who want to do just that – innovate in small and large ways to move beyond the status quo and create a better place to live, lead and work. It involves getting your head in the right place – exploring a new logic and developing an innovator’s mindset in your ever-changing world. It also requires stepping out with the courage and will to establish your personal credibility in the workplace to pave the way. This journey of innovation continues as you find the right-sized problem in the workplace that is creating enough pain to warrant the time and energy to find an innovative solution. This is where the creativity process truly begins – coming up with multiple possible solutions to a problem, narrowing down the possibilities to those with the greatest potential, and then moving forward into the enhancement phase.

The Enhancement Phase – Prototype Development

Now that your idea is a little more baked, it’s time to again bring together a small team of people with diverse thinking and to enhance that idea as a potential solution. This team may be composed of a mix of original contributors, as described in our last blog, as well as new members, depending on the interest and expertise needed. Individuals to consider for this phase are those with an innovative spirit and expertise in areas that are needed to develop, finance and market a good solution.

It is good to recognize that our ideas come out of our assumptions, and these assumptions may be newly formed, from our past, or a combination of the two. The assumptions that inform your potential solution, regardless of their starting point, need to be unearthed, examined, and challenged for relevance in this time. Sounds a little Sherlock Holmes-esque – and it kind of is!

The eyes-wide-open challenge continues as you research related products, practices, or services already out in the market in some form or another. Take a good look and consider how these findings are and are not filling the void you intend to fill and how they are meeting the needs and desires of the end users.

This innovation-shaping process is an iterative exercise of development and exploration with a focus on learning. And it is built on the repetitive process of designing, getting feedback, testing, adapting, testing, and adapting again. Around and around you go until a viable product begins to emerge. Feeling dizzy yet?

In this early stage of development, you will have additional insights into the functionality and desirability of a potential solution. The idea of prototyping is not to create your final solution. Rather it is to get quick and inexpensive feedback from potential users by developing your idea into a form that is “good enough” – good enough to make the features of a future offer comprehensive to a target audience. In other words – it’s time for some great conversation!

Your inexpensive prototype design, also called a minimum viable product (MVP), can be a mockup of the physical form created from inexpensive materials such as cardboard, pipe cleaners, foil, boxes, Legos, wire, and glue. It can be a product from a 3-D printer. It can also be in the form of a sketch, storyboard, video, digital platform, photo montage and/or combination of any of these. This process allows the group to view the solution from different perspectives and role play to experience the service, product or solutions imagined. Think back to your diorama days! This can be even more fun and can yield an amazing return on your idea!

Getting Feedback from Potential Users and Customers

“Prototype as if you are RIGHT. Listen as if you are WRONG.” ~ Diego Rodriquez Telechea

Now it’s time to go beyond this small circle of co-conspirators and get fresh feedback from potential users -- not to convince them of the solutions worth, or sell them on the product, but to understand how it is perceived by them. Determine ahead of time what you want to learn from these feedback sessions. Ask potential users to share stories or describe situations in which they might have needed a solution for the problem you are addressing. Consider capturing this information through questionnaires and interviews. Here are some questions to get the process rolling, as you focus on the essentials:

  • To what degree is this a unique, or innovative idea?

  • To what degree will this idea directly impact this specific problem?

  • On a gut level, to what degree is this idea worth pursuing?

  • Can you share a story or describe a scenario where you could have used a product/service/tool such as this prototype?

  • How does this prototype feel to you?

  • Can you show us how you would use this product?

  • Will you describe why this would not work for you?

Capture the feedback --positive comments, constructive criticisms, key questions, and new ideas – and consider how this impacts your solution, iterating again if warranted.

Innovations from the Field

Now, just for fun, let’s explore some innovations from the field. Consider how their early and inexpensive prototypes were developed or displayed. Also think about the risks they had to address along the way. Here’s a couple examples to stimulate your thinking:

  • A Flexwarm smart jacket (a product innovation). These jackets have built-in heating elements to regulate the temperature and keep you at a specific comfort level. Smart jackets are intended to be stylish and promote health by reducing inflammation and improving blood circulation. They integrate durable heating technology and precision sensors within them. For those who hate being cold – this is a game changer! We imagine their potential consumers had a cadre of questions about this product as it relates to burns, electric shocks, and fires, not to mention the hazards of wearing this jacket in a rainstorm.

  • Goat2Meeting (a service innovation). A California-based animal sanctuary brought in significant funding pre-COVID from in-person visits to see their animals. To recoup some of their funding curtailed by social isolation, they started Goat2Meeting -- a service where companies can pay to have a goat, llama or other farm animal make a virtual appearance in their zoom call to liven the monotony. They charge between $65 and $250 for various virtual interactions with the animals – and there is a demand. We are totally on board with this one and had a great time imagining all the entertaining moments of “llama-gone-bad” to liven up the day of continuous zoom calls.

Continue Reshaping Your Prototype

As you incorporate your learnings from the feedback you have received, your solution will evolve and reshape a bit. Think of this process like putting on your favorite pair of Spanx or reshaping your yeast-rising bread dough after it flops. The change can be anywhere from very subtle to quite stunning.

Once you get to that desired state, it’s time to define the requirements, materials, workflows, measurements, and processes that are needed to design and further test the solution. You may have the expertise to do this, or you may need to partner with others who have the needed skills – anyone from engineers, technologists, craftsmen, textile specialists and marketing experts. Are you feeling the magic of collaboration and innovation? We hope so! While this is most likely not the “final” solution, it will help you get you to the testing and implementation phase -- the focus of our next blog.

Titter Time:

“Was Rudolph’s nose an early prototype of a GPS?”

~ Harley Schwadron


Lewrick, M., Link, P. & Leifer, L. (2018). The designing thinking playbook: Mindful digital transformation of teams, services, businesses, and ecosystems. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Scott, K. & Steinbinder, A. (2009, July). Innovation cycle for small- and large-scale change. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 33(4), 335-341.

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