In my post from a couple of weeks ago, Innovation or Irrelevance? I shared some of the learnings from my recent trip to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Last week in a post entitled, Imagine, I tried to make a brief case for why leaders should care about innovation.

Today, I want to share a little more about our process for innovation. We refer to it as a design thinking model – the output, more innovation!

I first learned about Design Thinking during  a visit to the d. School at Stanford University. They have popularized this approach and trained thousands of men and women in their method.

Our approach has five steps. The language is crisp and clear – I don’t believe much explanation is necessary.

Understand – A problem well-defined is half solved. This is the step where assumptions are clarified, questions are asked and a problem or issue is pinpointed. There is tremendous focus on the customer or end-user. We don’t expect them to solve the problem, but we do want them to help us understand it.

Imagine – This is the step where creativity is applied. “What if?” is one of the predominant questions asked. We want to go wide here – at least in the beginning. At SCAD, we were told of innovation projects in which 1000 ideas were shared before the finalists were identified for the next step.

Prototype – This is the part of the process where ideas become visible and tangible if possible. One of our instructors told us he was on the team that created the Keurig Coffee maker. They built six different puncture mechanisms – the part that puts a hole in the K-cup. They built these prototypes out of Legos! Then they knew which one was preferred.

Validate – Does the idea, product, or service work in the real world? The way to find out is to put it in the real world. For us, we normally start small – maybe just one restaurant. Then, depending on what we’re validating, we may move to 5 or 10 or 50 restaurants. Sometimes, we’ll stage the validation and expand it as our confidence grows.

Launch – This is the part of our process when we say innovation actually occurs – we believe innovation is the process of turning ideas into business value. If we don’t launch, we don’t realize the business value.

Like many things in life, the magic is not in the process, it is in the discipline of using the process. Our challenge is getting the organization to invest appropriate time and energy at each step in the process to ensure the desired outcome. The process works, if you work the process.[GLS_Shield]

What’s your process for turning ideas into business value?

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.