“What do you do?” or “What does an Innovation Architect do?”

A quick shout-out to my team—this is a process we’ve developed/adopted/revised over the past two years. I do these things but getting there was the work of a team!

“What do you do?”

Short answer: I learn about student problems, I create solutions, and I test them.

Long answer is long. Over the weekend I spent a few hours laying out my workflow. I have two flowcharts defining my work. The first is the general innovation cycle, the other is about preparing for the work. Quite a bit is left out on the edges, but there is time to deal with that later. Also missing are other duties as needed, which generally consist of managing vendor work, consulting on other projects in other teams, and doing thought leadership stuff like presentations.

In my daily work I focus on a cycle of  Problem->Solution->Prototype->Learn (rinse and repeat as needed). At this point its an amalgamation of Lean Startup methods and Value Proposition Design, powered by a collection of creative tools that focus on encouraging disruptive innovation. I closed/deleted some of the outer branches to make this more presentable:

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Problem – Solution – Prototype – Learn

This shows the essential elements. Start with a problem that is generated either by data, or becomes apparent through an anecdote. Think about the problem, then think about solutions. Once you find solutions that seem to fit the problem, quickly build a prototype, and test it.

The cycle should be quick! The younger the project, the faster you should be. Consider a quick example:

Problem: You have a presentation in four weeks. You want to stand out and make an impression on attendees.

Solution: Spend ten minutes creating a general outline of the presentation. Brainstorm 10 different ways to organize the content. Brainstorm five ways to make the presentation more interesting. Use what you have produced to create elevator pitches for 3 very different presentations. Pitch your ideas to a few trusted colleagues. Look for strong reactions, and revise your approach.

In this case, the ‘pitch’ was the prototype. Powerpoint wasn’t even touched, but you now have learned something about your plans for the presentation, which you can apply in further iterations. There’s so much more to say about each step in the process, but that will have to wait.

Be Ready to Innovate / Develop Innovation Culture

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You will see results if you jump into the innovation cycle as quickly as possible (i.e., have a bias toward action). You’ll have better results if you develop an innovation culture. Every team’s culture will be different, it’s important to stay focused on your core values while finding the tools and inspiration you need to work. Find core ideas to adapt, and apply new ideas as you learn about them. Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. Do it.

Brainstorming is obviously very important. I have some general rules to follow while brainstorming (Pixar is a goldmine here, Lifehacker sometimes strikes gold also).  There are also specific techniques, like “Laddering Up” from Decisive.

Specific tools and processes are helpful as well, but are also more likely to be different in new contexts. I don’t think Frank Gehry had any use for Kanban boards or POP when he was designing Facebook’s new headquarters.

In any case, that’s a visual of what I do during the day. I plan to expand on each of the items on the edges of the flowcharts. It should be an interesting journey…I’m curious to see how the map changes as I work through it.

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