Source: Gilad Lotan https://www.flickr.com/photos/giladlotan/5108589192/
Business 2.0, Design

Startups vs. research for innovation

We recently saw Australia’s leading political parties exchanging policies to out-fund the other in relation to spurring “innovation.” By and large, I think this is good thing, and a refreshing change to focus on ways forward and the future, rather than on who might come in or out of the country, and one whose terms.

During these announcements, Labor put forward their policy position which included regional hubs, to be delivered through educational institutions such as universities and the idea of a “Startup Year” for students.

Around that time, Steve Baxter from River City Labs1 and Shark Tank, took to BRW to argue the case to Fund accelerators, not just universities.

I can’t say I disagree with the overall sentiment of Steve’s piece, but it did cause me to take pause and think a little deeper about the role and relationship of startups and university research. Continue reading

Sign with words "evolution". Source: Kevin Dooley @ Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/1856663523/
Business 2.0, Design

Do you need a digital strategy?

I’ve been giving the topic of “digital strategy” a bit of thought lately—what does it mean, exactly, in today’s marketplace, to have a digital strategy?

In jamming around some ideas, I recently jotted down the following:

The lines between what’s digital and what’s not have been permanently blurred. Our customers and stakeholders no longer see digital as something separate to their day-to-day “real world” experience. So you can’t afford to either.

The biggest opportunities are often not found in a simple app or product. They require a rethinking of how we do business—how we engage stakeholders in the definition, design and delivery of solutions. How we organise our own resources. How we manage our business to manage risk and build a culture of innovation.

The general vibe I was trying to capture was that having a separate “digital strategy” is problematic in a world where mobile and social technologies enable increasingly integrated experiences—where the “online” and “offline” distinction is less and less meaningful.

I was interested to read, then, a post from McKinsey entitled ‘Transformer in Chief’: The new chief digital officer. So, when early in the article, Tuck Richards notes:

Digital isn’t merely a thing—it’s a new way of doing things. Many companies are focused on developing a digital strategy when they should instead focus on integrating digital into all aspects of the business, from channels and processes and data to the operating model, incentives, and culture.

…it all sounded rather familiar. Continue reading

Business 2.0, Design

The new MBA: Mastering Business Ambiguity

Lisa Kay Solomon has a great post entitled The New MBA: A Masters in Business Ambiguity:

Long gone are the days of “Mastering Business ‘Administration.” (What are we administering anymore?) Today, the model we should be teaching is more appropriately titled: “Mastering Business Ambiguity.”

It’s a great piece—I’d recommend checking it out.

But it also sparked for me some thinking about the role that we (at Zumio, but also designers more generally) play, and I think that a critical part of our value to our clients is in working through ambiguity—the so-called fuzzy front end of business and product development.
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Someone using a mobile phone to take a photo Image: janitors @ Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/14368191486
Design, Presentations

Mobile diaries

This is a cross-posting of a post originally published on the IDX Backstage Blog.

It was prepared as a “leave behind” resource for participants at the 2014 Design for Social Innovation conference who attended the speed teaching session I hosted on mobile diaries.

In the spirit of Legible Practice I wanted to document in a bit more detail some of the aspects of what was discussed in those sessions. I hope this is a useful resource for participants and those who weren’t able to attend but are interested in the method. I’d be delighted to hear any feedback you might have…

Header image: janitors @ Flickr

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Business 2.0, NGOs & Nonprofits

Prototyping vs. piloting

This is a cross-posting of a post originally published on the IDX Backstage Blog.

In conversations talking about iterative approaches to projects I often make the distinction between a “pilot” and a “prototype”.

I can’t recall where I heard this, but I remember someone once saying that a “prototype” is as much about working out what doesn’t work (failing informatively, to borrow Clay Shirky’s phrase) as it is about working out what does work.

A prototype should be “light”—the minimum investment necessary to test something. It should be, conceptually, something that you’re not afraid to throw away.

The term “pilot”, on the other hand, infers something where there are a number of knowns and you’re really testing what it takes to actually run something—to take it to scale. There is a high expectation of the thing actually working. There may be more significant investment, just not to full scale. Often this may be the trigger for a summative evaluation (i.e. a stop-go decision)—making the stakes higher.

I’ve had occasion to revisit this thinking in the past few days. Both as we consider the first early prototypes of a series of workshop/event activities, and also in support of one of our Innovation Lab participants.

In the latter case, our participant is trying to understand how best to prototype an iPad app that will be used in a workshop context. There are a lot of mechanics to the workshop, and an underlying program logic (or theory of change) that needs to be tested, in addition to the app itself. So we’ve been exploring how paper prototyping tools might service the testing of this wider area of concern, before jumping too far into the development of the app.

At the same time, the IDX team has been exploring how coding and robotics workshops with primary school aged children could be of value in achieving our mission objectives. We’re looking into whether building on existing tools and approaches (MIT Scratch and FIRST LEGO League, for example) might work in our context. How we might need to adapt them. What level of interest might exist around these particular activities.

As a team we’ve been back-and-forthing about what “prototype” means in this scenario. Even running an initial workshop requires a degree of investment in hardware (computers, educational LEGO kits) that isn’t insignificant. What is the minimum investment needed, so that we can reduce the feeling that it must succeed (i.e. maintain space for informative failures).

I mapped this out on the back of a napkin this morning:

A rough mapping of prototyping through to delivery

We end up with three broad objectives for each phase: LEARN, PRACTICE, and EVOLVE. Of course, prototyping (and learning) can occur across the process, but as a broad mapping I found this useful to get an understanding in my head.

What do you think? Is this a useful distinction? Are there other definitions of these phases that provide a better understanding of when they apply?