The Three Power Rules of Prototyping

Innovation does not drive prototyping. Prototyping drives innovation.

prototyping drives innovationWhen you create an innovation culture within your organization, your team will become inspired to apply creative solutions to everyday business issues. Prototyping is an integral part of inspiring innovation in your organization. Once ideas are brought to the table, discussed, and refined by the team, the next logical step in the innovation process is to start prototyping the idea.

Prototypes can take on many forms. We most often think of physical models when we think of prototypes, but they can also come in the form of storyboards, staging, rehearsals, and more. Anytime your team “tries out” a new process or idea before fully implementing it as a documented process, you are prototyping.

Research shows that those companies that prototype more often are far more innovative than those that do not. Here are our three power rules of prototyping to make sure that the prototyping stage really works well for you.

1. Always ask who benefits.

If we change these things who will benefit? Will we benefit because it’s easier to manufacture, easier to create? Will some of our customers love it? Will other customers hate it? Will all customers like it?

From asking these questions, we begin to understand that sometimes maybe we need to have more than one prototype. Some markets like it this way, other markets like it that way. When we focus on how the change will affect all our stakeholders, we create a better understanding of the scope of the prototype project.

2. Fail early and fail often.

I know of one team that is in the office design business. Within 24 hours of getting a new project, they’re in design mode. They get old chairs and old materials and they recreate a new environment and start playing with ideas as a way to figure out which ones don’t work. They bring their customer in several times to look at their ugly stupid ideas. Why? To get better contact with the customer and to find out what’s working and what’s not working.

Through failure, we’re better able to determine what definitely does not work, and that gives us information that we would never be able to get from instant success – or from not trying new ideas at all. Organizations that have truly embraced innovation, and are highly successful at implementing innovative ideas, aren’t afraid of making mistakes, they embrace them.

Fail early, fail often.

3. Don’t use show and tell, use show and ask.

How many times have you presented an idea of yours that you know is truly innovative – it’s going to positively position your company for growth and you’re crazy excited about it? You go into a meeting to present your idea to your boss or your client…

And you launch right into the demonstration of your great new idea – this is how it looks, this is how it works, this is how we’re going to execute it, these are the projected results based on this research, etc. You get all the way through your presentation and then you ask questions – at the very end. And at that point, how does your audience respond? “Well I like this, but I don’t like that.” And “I like this, I don’t like that.”

And as you’re going through this feedback, you start feeling deflated. What you’re doing is trying to sell your prototype, rather than addressing the need for the innovation. Instead, start asking questions from the beginning and inviting people to react to your ideas earlier on. This helps get those questions out of the way and invites your boss, clients, focus group, or whoever they happen to be to engage and become part of the prototyping team. This helps things go much better. You get more thoughtful, constructive feedback from your audience and they start to feel that shared ownership in the idea.

These three rules will help make sure that your prototyping process effectively helps you fully test your team’s innovative ideas, ensuring that the final decisions on what, how, who, when, and where to implement the idea have been fully thought out and understood.