Monday, May 2, 2016

Innovation Game: This Special Moment

Image by funeralwind
Games are fun ways to train your ability to think innovatively in an easy, inexpensive, and entertaining way.  Here’s a simple one you can try either on your own or with a friend.  You can play this anytime you’re out somewhere with strangers around: a coffee shop, restaurant, mall, airport, etc.  Glance around and find a stranger or two and wonder about their backstory.  Who are they?  Why are they here?  The best way to find out (as determined by entertainment value) is to invent it!

Here are the rules.  You must give the person a name and be as specific as possible about her background.  Where does she live?  What does she do?  Get very detailed into her specific habits.  Talk about her hopes and fears.  Draw gigantic conclusions based on the slightest details in her mannerisms and appearance.  Yes, to do this, you must completely give up any desire to be right.

Now here’s the important part.  This moment at which you find her is special.  She does not just happen to be here.  This is a highly pivotal moment in her life that you are about to witness.  This special moment you fabricate should draw from the background you just created for her.  It must flow naturally from her story so that it is both interesting and believable (but most certainly not true).

And then stop.  You’ve built a story and taken it to just before the climax.  What a cliffhanger.  Then start this again on another stranger.  If there are several of you, take turns on different people.  You  will suddenly find yourself at the climax of many interesting stories.  You happen to be at the most interesting place at the most special time in the world.  The person who comes up with the most outrageously amusing, interestingly plausible, and philosophically enlightening story wins.  You can play as many rounds as you like until you get bored.

What does this have to do with innovation?  List time:

Build Empathy:  
Much of innovation is about understanding the needs and desires of users.

Practice Creative Wrongness:  
You have to be willing to be wrong in order to be creative.  By purposefully making sh$t up, you are getting over that creative barrier of wanting to be right.  It gets easier with practice.

Pivotal Moments:
Innovation is all about discovering why this moment in time is different.  Something about how people live/work/play, or the advent of new technology is on the verge of a huge shift, allowing for the innovative products we create to change the world.  This exercise similarly helps us focus a story around a special moment.

I’ll close this blog with an example.  There’s a man sitting in the coffee shop I’m in wearing an old, wrinkled suit.  He’s in his fifties, and clicking away slowly on an old laptop (yes, it’s a PC).  Everything after this part is made up (but that doesn’t mean it’s not true).

His name is John Clancy.  Or that’s what he tells people.  It’s actually Johan Cleunskatchy, but he got sick of people mispronouncing his name, and success goes to those who have easy names to say.  He came to the US only three years ago from Poland, and yes, he was wearing that suit.  It was the suit he wore when he became the director of operations at a factory back in Krakow.  It was also the suit he wore when he got fired while under investigation for embezzlement.  He fled the country to stay with his nephew Georgie who works at Facebook doing computer stuff.  His nephew is trying to get him to “upgrade his skills” and learn how to use computers.  So every day, he kicks him out of the apartment and sends him to this coffee shop with all the young hipsters to join the 21st century economy which seems to consist of wearing baggy clothes and eating muffins.  At first, he resisted.  He found the Coursera course on Android App development that Georgie signed him up for boring. But then a nice young lady who also did not seem to be doing anything productive introduced him to the World of Warcraft.  He was hooked.  Every day, he would hop out of bed, grab his laptop, and rush to the coffeeshop to fight orcs and demons.  Georgie was happy that his plan to get his uncle back into the economy seemed to be working.

But today was not like every day.  Today was special.  John had been flirting for weeks with a mage he had fought some battles with.  They began chatting and found that they shared a love of cronuts and Leonardo DiCaprio movies.  For the first time since his wife had left him fifteen years ago, he felt hope that he could find a new love.  He had shared everything about his past, and hidden nothing behind the Orcish Warrior facade of his avatar.  And they had finally arranged to meet, on this day, in this coffeeshop.  Today was special.