image by Sebastiaan ter Burg via Flickr Creative Commons license

Achieve “Impossible” Results Predictably

Big How

As you might have guessed, it’s finally time to imagine ways to fulfill the Big Crazy Dream defined in your challenge statement. A more powerful way to ask how is to ask, “What would make this possible?” I like “brainwriting” better than brainstorming for idea generation because, again, non-­‐native English speakers can usually write and read English better than they can talk and listen, and quieter people can contribute more, too.


Have each person spend five minutes writing down their ideas – one idea per sticky note – and placing them inside a manilla folder.


Image Ref: Courtesy of Dr. Francine Gordon,

Every five minutes, rotate the folders to another person. The new folder owner then reads some of the ideas and contributes more ideas of their own. Research has proven that the best ideas come at the end of a brainstorm, so repeat this process for as many rounds as you like – and absolutely continue well beyond the point where people are convinced that they are completely out of ideas! Using this method even a small team can easily generate dozens or even hundreds of ideas in less than 30 minutes. Afterward, have the team group the ideas into an affinity diagram and title each group. By the time your team finishes this exercise people will be eager to implement some of these ideas, but don’t do that yet!


Go on an expedition to expand your thinking and enrich your ideas by getting out of the building. Equipped with a pad of sticky notes and pen, venture to art museums, convenience stores, parks, and automobile repair shops to spark creativity and leverage ideas from completely different environments. Use your sticky notes to jot down ideas inspired by your experiences, for use when you reconvene. Here’s a simple example of how cross-­‐pollination sparks new ideas. At an art museum there was an exhibit that made sounds when people moved close to it. I noticed that people seemed to react to the abrupt louder sounds with a mixture of shock and delight. This inspired me to change the name of my workSHOPS to “WorkSHOCKS”.

Prototype, Don’t Perfect!

Next, get to work creating models and simulations of some of your ideas. Think “quick, messy, good enough”. The purpose is to get something that you can test with your stakeholders in order to get feedback. Many prototypes can be created in under an hour.


Here are a few of my favorite rapid prototyping techniques:

  • Build a nonfunctional prototype out of readily available materials. The marker-­‐and-­‐clip picture here is a famous example that was used to prototype a surgical device.
  • Simulate a computer, tablet, or phone screen using paper, as shown here.
  • Use to build a PowerPoint storyboard vividly portraying your idea in a sequence of pictures.
  • Roleplay how your product or service would work. Move fast and have fun with this!

You’re not demoing this prototype at a trade show. Your purpose is to enable you to test initial concepts before you’ve wasted a lot of resources doing the wrong things.


When we hear a word like “test” techno-­‐people might start thinking about needing finished software or hardware that resembles the intended product. What I love about design thinking is that testing can occur before even a single line of code is written or any hardware is built. UI designers have been doing this for years by using paper versions of a UI to simulate the final product, and getting feedback from users before a lot of time and money have been spent coding. Testing can be as simple as asking potential users questions like, What do you think this button does? Let people interact with your prototype while they talk aloud about their thought process. Don’t wait for perfection, or even a functioning prototype! Get feedback early and often, and revise your project accordingly.

Rinse and Repeat


Image Ref:­‐T-­‐PRESS-­‐THE-­‐RED-­‐BUTTON

It’s not uncommon for projects to go through this cycle many times before arriving at a finished product or service. Using the WHY – WHO – WHAT – HOW cycle as a guide makes this powerful approach easy to remember and accessible to all project teams, even if you are not expert in design thinking. “Design thinking helps us appreciate and make sense of the complex connections between people, places, objects, events, and ideas. This is the most powerful driver of innovation. It’s what guides long-­‐range strategic planning. It’s what shapes business decisions that have to be based on future opportunities rather than past events.”-­‐ Idris Mootee, Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School.

If you want to experiment with design thinking in the real world but don’t have a project right now, visit Open IDEO and contribute your creativity to these world-­‐changing open innovation challenges.

Secret to Success

Want to be wildly successful at predictably and repeatedly achieving unprecedented breakthrough results? Think BIG. Start small. Move fast. Prototype, don’t perfect. Make mistakes and fail forward in the direction of your big crazy dreams!