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All you need is coffee: innovation in 72 hours

Innovation isn’t a strategy; it’s a series of orchestrated tactics that solve defined problems, casting aside the status quo in favor of invention and improvement.

The magic lies in finding the right idea to take forward. We’ve tried several approaches at my company, but the most effective is the one we use now. We call it “Innovation Sprinting.”

What is innovation sprinting?

We don’t want to waste time. Our objective is to move from a problem statement to a tangible, testable outcome as efficiently as possible, and we’ve aggressively condensed the time frame to help us achieve this outcome. Over a few days, we conduct a series of generative, validating, and prioritizing activities, and we don’t break or stop.

There is one crucial must: “Yes, and.”

“Yes, and” is an improvisational technique to encourage participation, protect emerging ideas, and promote collaboration and co-design. It’s too easy to shoot an idea down; “yes, and” demands that we work to improve and develop collectively.

That collaboration is second nature for design thinkers, but it’s unfamiliar territory for others, and “yes, and” serves as a rallying cry for even the most resistant participants. It uncrosses arms and reduces anxiety over the unknown.

How do we sprint?

The magic lies in how we apply this approach. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all method. Every Innovation Sprint is tailored, researched, and executed to meet the needs of our combined team.

We prepare and inform our clients, provide homework assignments, and establish an hour-by-hour agenda. When everybody knows what to expect, we can all contribute passionately and generously.

Sometimes, we take five days.

Tangible outcomes

But often, all we need is a solid 72 hours of innovation: three days and nights to go all in.

Day 1: Frame the challenge

A shared language and culture is critical, so we start by introducing ourselves and getting to know each other. Then, we set the ground rules and introduce “yes, and.” We construct and refine our problem statement, examine our assumptions, and continually ask, “How might we do X?” Each answer raises five “why” questions to reveal the root cause.

Our problem statement is a living document that will guide our work throughout the sprint. We return to it, refine it, and focus on it each day, generating new solutions. As themes emerge, we begin to see a glimpse of the experience.

Night 1: Sketch the possibilities

Our core team rests overnight, and our partners go into overdrive. They synthesize our top solutions and make some rough sketches. These sketches are then plotted onto an emerging experience map and experience journey, examining the linear path of the experience.

At the end of the night, we shower, eat, and then…

Day 2: Generate concepts

The initial sketched concepts are presented to the combined team, and we encourage critical review. Every person in the room is armed with pen and paper, and the design process reboots as we all illustrate specific content, desired behaviors, and required outcomes.

Our question pivots from “How might we do X?” to “How will we do X?” We get tactical, and we keep modifying our problem statement with each new insight. The whiteboard becomes the heart of our work, and we begin rewriting the experience from our collective perspective.

Night 2: Refine concepts, and build interfaces

We design all night. Our rough sketches and whiteboard flows transform into interfaces, a visual language, and clickable prototypes. We drink coffee until our arteries pump pure caffeine.

Day 3: Prototype and test

The day begins with a flurry of conversation and our first glimpse of tangible prototypes. Questions follow. We deconstruct everything, refine interfaces, and improve content.

Our technical experts bring direction and validate design decisions while other people are brought in for live usability testing. We keep refining throughout the day and present the proof of concept at the end.

Night 3: Sleep. Easy.

Every sprint is a test of ourselves and our commitment to the problem. We work without boundaries, and we engage in thoughtful, collaborative work. Everybody learns, and together we drive a culture of design thinking and innovation that will last far longer than those three days and nights.

What could you achieve in 72 hours?

  • Adam Young

    “Innovation isn’t a strategy; it’s a series of orchestrated tactics that solve defined problems…”
    … which is, more or less, the definition of a strategy.