Advocating for Innovation

by Josh Goldblum, Founder & CEO

Concept workshop with Kaiser Permanente

Too many organizations have a ban on innovation (not that they would ever admit it). I see it all the time in museums where the leadership is too set in “the way things are done,” but it can be true at any established organization. Unlike a startup which may be financed to succeed or fail spectacularly, established companies are designed for longevity. I understand that. How can anyone know for sure whether their seed of an idea is a dud, or the next big thing? The truth is, it’s impossible.

So what does a sustainable orientation to innovation look like?  Rather than chasing after one big idea, how about creating space for brainstorming and experimentation? Risk-averse brands have to dedicate the space to advocate for innovation.

AR prototype

One of several AR prototypes we created for Comcast.

In the book Little Bets, Peter Sims shows how then-Senator Barack Obama’s staff did just that during his 2008 presidential campaign. It was the first internet-forward presidential campaign in history, and, in the early days, nobody quite knew what an internet-forward presidential campaign should look like. The digital media team decided to run dozens of small experiments: Custom ringtones, YouTube videos, personalized text messages… The ringtones were a flop and text messages drove turnout, but who could have known for sure? Once they identified what was working and what wasn’t, resources were re-allocated towards the most effective strategies. Obama’s team did not succeed because they were geniuses. This was uncharted terrain, and nobody knew the right answers on day one. They succeeded because they were open to new ideas, ran inexpensive tests, and used those results to refine and build support for the winners.

Any organization can take a similar approach. Though, rather than a digital media war room, we suggest concepting sprints. These are quick opportunities for experimentation. During a sprint, small teams use tactics like prototyping to qualify, iterate, and (just as importantly) discard ideas.

Our first AI experiment for The Henry Ford

Our first AI experiment for The Henry Ford that classified images and clustered by visual similarity.

One way we like to use sprints is to test out new and unexpected technologies, and it is something we often do with clients. At The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation we used prototypes to play and chase ideas early in design, creating AI experiments we called “example mashups” to see how AI-based image sorting could be used with their collections. These prototypes ultimately lead to the development of the Connections AI Table. The prototypes also identified a range of opportunities that may also evolve into new products and further prototypes.

For Comcast, quick AR builds helped us imagine how artwork on campus might be brought to life. These AR prototypes qualified the concept and the project will soon go into production with an informed direction, scope, and pricing. Importantly, we also killed a few AR concepts along the way, which may have been harder to kill or pivot away from if we had simply picked one and gone down that road.

THF Connections Table

Users explore the final Connections Table experience created for The Henry Ford.

Sprints are a low-risk way to kick the tires on an idea. Nobody is going to panic if a rough demo surfaces potential problems with a project. On the contrary, you’re likely to come away with some unexpected but valuable lessons. Teams can also spend sprints identifying opportunities for innovation and exploring new technologies. These are dedicated spaces to try something new and generate buy-in for ideas. Down the line, that leads to building something amazing, even in organizations where innovation is not the norm. Like Obama’s team testing out text messages and ringtones, a sprint gives you the data to say with confidence what is working. Layer a few sprints one after the other, and soon you are ready to implement that impossible-to-predict but now well-tested big idea.

As a project moves from idea to prototype to public launch, each little bet helps to turn the tide from hesitation to innovation. It may sound counter-intuitive, but by starting small and dreaming big, teams can mitigate risks, build the case for big changes, and launch successful innovations.

Have an idea, space, or existing experience that you’re hoping to investigate? Connect with Brad Baer, our Chief Strategy Officer, about working with Bluecadet on a concepting sprint.

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