6 Innovation Tips from The Google Ventures Team

April 14th, 2016

When we heard that Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz (the guys from Google Ventures) wrote a book on innovation, we knew we had to get our hands on it immediately. And, it didn’t disappoint.

Sprint is a five-day framework for smarter, faster, more efficient idea implementation. Relevant for startups and bigcos alike, it’s easy to read, digest and employ for almost any innovation challenge. We’re excited to see how it compares with our own thinking when it comes to building and testing ideas. Below are some of the key lessons we pulled from the book, but we’d highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself to get the full explanation of the framework and process.

The Takeaways:

1. Concrete ideas are better than abstract ones. How many times has someone tried to explain something to you–a picture, a movie, a book, etc.–and it turns out completely differently than expected when you finally get to witness it yourself? When discussing big ideas with a group, it’s crucial to speak in concrete terms whenever possible to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Vague, ethereal ideas can be twisted to fit the interpretation of each individual team member, setting everyone up for false expectations. To make sure everyone is on board with the vision, teams must learn to sketch.

2.You can say it better with a sketch. What the authors mean by this is to diagram an idea, possibly with boxes and stick figures, to get a point across. Humans are visual creatures, and we often need to physically see an idea take shape in order to conceptualize it properly. And no, you don’t have to be an artist to sketch. In fact, sometimes, some of the best ideas are born from sketches done by non-artists. In Sprint, the authors showcase an instance from a session with Blue Bottle Coffee, where one of the team members in particular expressed concern that he couldn’t draw. However, by the end of the session, the idea that the team ended up moving forward with came from a sketch by the very person who expressed his concern about “not being an artist.” (We would highly recommend picking up Sprint to check out their four-step solution for sketching an idea from rough concept to blown-out solution–it’s a game-changer.)

3. Anything can be prototyped. When it comes to actually building out the first iteration of a product, it doesn’t have to be 100% fully-baked to test with consumers; as long as the bones of the concept are there, consumers will still be able to give excellent feedback. A prototype should be “goldilocks quality”–not too roughed out, but not too polished and sterile. It should be just real enough to elicit an honest reaction from the target audience. For example, in Sprint, a company had an ambitious idea to prototype a working robot that could dispense toothbrushes to hotel customers. The team attached an iPad with expressive animated eyes on its screen to a basic body prototype. This elementary model was enough to delight all of the consumers in the testing phase; the team knew that they would get an even better response when they refined the product.

4. We need much less feedback than we think. The Sprint authors have consistently experienced diminishing returns after interviewing just five consumers about a given prototype. Seem pretty low? Think about it: In a lot of cases, the problems with a product or service are obvious when watching just a handful of consumers struggling with a prominent issue. In Sprint, the writers give the example of watching video footage of families entering the lobby of a prototyped family clinic. After seeing several parents struggling to shove their strollers over the door ledge, it was obvious that the ledge was too tall and that the lobby design had to be changed. The researchers didn’t need to watch 500 people hauling strollers over the ledge to glean that insight and fix the problem; just two or three instances were enough.

5. Reframing challenges = more effective brainstorming. As part of the Sprint framework for building out solutions, the authors recommend using “How might we…?” phrasing during brainstorms. For example: “How might we improve the navigation of our website?” vs. “Our website is clunky and hard to use.” This positive, open way of approaching challenges helps avoid time-sucking downward spirals of negativity. Instead of highlighting all the looming problems that need to be solved, this phrasing opens up a more opportunity-focused dialogue while forcing the team to pose questions in a unified, digestible format.

6. Inaction is not an option. We’ve already talked about this, but it bears repeating: sitting and debating ideas for days (or weeks… or months) is a recipe for missing a crucial window of opportunity to get to market. It’s better to ship a product and then iterate later than to be bogged down in minutiae. Make the decision, ship, and don’t look back.

There are so many more actionable details in this book that we haven’t even touched on, and the five-day framework will change the way you think about building ideas. Go check it out, and start making, testing and breaking things.

The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups through fast, iterative methods that cut down the time of traditional innovation pipelines and quickly get product to market.

Photo credit: Unsplash user Tim Gouw

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