The invite: ‘You run innovation workshops, Deepa? Have you worked for ….? Call … He is our client and a wonderful person. They want to run an innovation workshop.’, texts my client-friend Zia. I have just boarded the flight to Sydney and my heart skips a beat. Its a client I’ve been eyeing since I fell in love with their advertising. My mind does a quick back flip and a few cartwheels before it lands on my mobile. I regain my stoic composure and call Zia. In a calm, steady voice I say, “Hi Zia. No, we haven’t worked for the company”. “Have you done any work with plumbers?” “Never”. A second of quiet before she says, “anyways call him. If not this time, something else may come” ‘Yes yes yes”, my mind does more cartwheels.
Connect from Down Under: Write a mail from Sydney where we are on a work-vacation. He replies though we’ve said we have no category experience. We understand the innovation process and have worked with over a 100 very diverse teams to get very good outcomes.“Can you mail your profile presentation and some details on the innovation workshops you have conducted?” We are in Cairns in the north of Australia, just settling into our room with a view of the Pacific. His mail that asks if we can speak. We get on a call for an hour with a detailed brief. The view of the Pacific has long faded as the conversation builds. A real time mind map forms with lines, squiggles, arrows and emoticons, pulling in images from those workshops bygone as we explain the process. We badly badly want to work for this client. They are great at innovation. I tell him we have addressed global innovation majors on consumer centricity and innovation. I can’t tell if he’s impressed on the other end of the line.
Winning the Project: We send them the proposal and they like it. We get invited to a walkthrough to discuss it. “Can you give me three references please?”, asks the manager briefing us. I don’t think much when I call out three client names. We have worked with in the past 1 year and got very good feedback. They are all at level Vice President and above’. Our meeting of an hour in their office has stretched to 2.5 hours. They are telling us about the business, brands, the current business problem and details of the consumer immersion. We take them through our innovation workshop process, our tools and some twists to make this fun. We visit their consumer centre and get a peek into their innovation journey. Its exciting and we remember of regular visits to hardware stores and DIY stores. We love being handy around our home and this is getting really interesting.
Getting Started: We participate in nine consumer immersions to meet different consumer segments in Mumbai, Pune and Nasik. They seem to like our eager beaver passion about consumer visits. We go beyond the brief and tell them how we structure immersions, and give inputs on best practice for discussion guides and observation capture formats. A client calls with ‘I got a reference call from…”. I am taken aback and embarrassed at my slip. I have forgotten to give my clients heads up to expect a possible call. As I’ve given the client their phone numbers, I should have told them to expect a call. I apologise but the client cuts me to say that she has told them about our work ethic, quality and values. Very grateful and very embarrassed all at the same time, I quickly send messages to the other two clients. My clients are really nice and one feels forgiven.
Can we go one more day to discuss the details of the workshop? A Monday morning 9:30 am meeting! A part of the time-poor me protests silently, but we see the opportunity to influence the President and the Marketing Director. The consumer listening begins the smattering of a vocabulary on a new category.
D-day Arrives: We are at the venue at 8:30 am. The CEO, President and Marketing Director are all participants at the workshop. Our approach derived from the design thinking ‘double diamond’, works uses Zoom in, Zoom out, Zoom in approach.
The 30 participants are seated in six syndicates. The client had created an immersive atmosphere at our behest. Standees on consumer listening and centricity, consumer speak on the walls. We had a domain expert who had upgraded the ITI curriculum for plumbing and written two textbooks on plumbing. Participants were exhorted to capture all their observations. We showed them inspiring videos of around consumer centric ideas that led to business innovations and growth.
We started the ideation process a little before lunch and continued after lunch. Michael Michalko’s SCAMPER is a powerful structure. We gave them their tool kit and examples around SUBSTITUTE, COMBINE, ADAPT, MAXIMISE/ MODIFY, PUT TO OTHER USES, ELIMINATE/ MINIFY and REARRANGE/ REPLACE. Variations like brand videos, slides, and 5 minute brainstorm showed participants how to think wearing the specific lens of the tool in use.
By the end of day 1, we collected 440 ideas, not all unique. As the teams were putting down their ideas, we were getting these typed. By the end of the day six team members and us sat down to bucket the ideas into common themes and the different platforms or renditions of these ideas.
Workshop Day 2: It starts with renewed enthusiasm. Barring the R&D head who had excused himself at the end of day 1, the CEO, President and Marketing Director and senior team members continued. They come in at 8:30 am to review the themes and the platforms emerging from need spaces. They decide the ones the teams would not work on in this particular session. This clarity helps bring focus. The selected platforms are put up for the syndicates to pick. The teams get 1.5 hours to build their ideas. The teams fill out two templates to build their ideas. Our illustrator sits at each syndicate time in rotation, furiously sketching ideas much to the admiration, amusement and reassurance of the teams. The teams present their idea concepts to claps, ‘wows’ and build conversations. Sometimes a voices on ‘we have a product like this in ….. market’ can be heard.
More Process: We explain the ‘bindi’ voting process by asking the participants to don the VC hat. ‘If you had 3/ 3 million dollars’ what would you ideas would you bet to work on?’ This piques interest, a sense of competition and gives the participants a sense of closure.
Post lunch, the syndicates picked their second idea to work on. By 4:30 pm, the second set of ideas was ready and presented. We repeated the voting process. The teams had fleshed out 12 idea concepts and could rightfully feel satisfied with themselves. The presence of the leaders greatly helped build seriousness into the fun. The team was productive and we came to the close of the session. We owned the process & the client owned the outcomes.
Closure: Experiences were shared and the teams gave their feedback. A sense of ‘a lot to be done’, ‘I didn’t know we could get so many ideas to work with’ was the mood. Some people loved the process and saw its relevance in their everyday work and life. The teams thanked us warmly. I asked if I could read out a poem written during my visit to their office. The CEO came to me saying, please send me a copy of the poem.
We close the project but not the relationship.
A happy ‘high-five’ feeling!
Sticky diamondGold standard“Built to last”, admirableInching sixtyCross-generationsTwo pictures in their officeThe Chairman looks onGurus and “patron deity” Vishwakarma“Manufacturer/ Builder” ‘puraan’Sticky advertisingStickier productsConsumer inspirationPlumbing into ideasAdventuring Innovation