In my previous post (Innovation – Identifying the Right Problem to Solve) I discussed six research techniques to help you uncover the right customer problems to address. The next step is developing creative solutions and concepts. Learning to think creatively is a skill and one that is generally not taught in school. If you were like me, your education focused on critical thinking. This thinking skill is essential in separating truth from supposition and reducing risk in an uncertain world. Critical thinking is an essential skill, especially if your task is to stay alive. However, the tendency to think critically is not very useful when you are trying to brainstorm and open your mind to new possibilities. In fact, it works at counter purposes. Every interesting idea that pops into your head is immediately short circuited by all the reasons the idea won’t work. Fortunately there are ways to suppress your minds instinct to immediately judge ideas and shut down the creative process.
One of the great minds in teaching creative thinking is Edward de Bono, who pioneered the field of and coined the term “Lateral thinking.” One technique he developed is called Provocation and Movement. When using this technique, you or your team think broadly about an issue and suspends judgment while considering four aspects about potential solutions in relation to current convention:
1. Reversal – deliberately do the opposite of convention. For example, What if we made video games targeted at the casual gamer? (Ninteno did this did this with the Wii, while Sony and Microsoft continued on the industry trajectory targeting young male players with their PlayStation and Xbox platforms respectively)
2. Escape – eliminate or trim features or capabilities. Continuing the Nintendo Wii example above, Nintendo eliminated rich 3-D graphics and the high end hardware needed to render it.
3. Wishful Thinking – describe your desires, e.g. “wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to go to the bank to deposit a check”. (Some banks now allow you to deposit a check just by taking a picture of it with your cell phone.)
4. Outrageous – this is a catchall for all other provocations but they usually focus on exaggeration, such as what if we could make a car for $100? Or what if solar panels could be used as a roofing material?
As a product manager, you do not need to leave innovation to chance. There are techniques that you can use during research and with your team to drive the creative thinking that is the foundation of breakthrough ideas.