How you squeeze an entire innovation process in just one weekend

I got to know service design and outside-in thinking on a global service jam. We developed a service in which professionals compensate for a part of their ‘un-learned’ creativity by collaborating with kids.

A service jam is essentially a 48 hrs. building process. The result is a research report, an idea long list, several prototypes, a business model and a service blueprint.

This is possible only if you exclude every(1) corporate reflex:

  • Make use of existing research, listen in on social media, walk around and observe. Avoid weeks/months of surveys and analysis. Instead, directly dip your first insights in the market and evolve. Research continues very time you …
  • confront the client/end user with the very basic first version (“minimum viable service / product”) of your idea. Based on his feedback, make a new version … and another one. Your client is your first validator, not your board(s).
  • Form a team and have its members define their challenge, don’t give them “functions” but let them collaborate and try-out roles while doing so.

(1) I lied: you need a well-oiled and strict process so you can focus all your energy on making and re-making stuff (not on the plan).

#GSJAM – Find a safe space to think with your hands at the Global Service Jam on Feb 26-28.

Fail, move on, win: what organizations can learn from tennis pros

“Create a culture in which failure is tolerated. Create a safe space. Allow room for mistakes. Fail Fast. Learn from mistakes.” These are often mentioned as necessary conditions for innovation. However, as failure creates emotions like anger and frustration, hitting a wall and moving on is not obvious.

So, how do we deal with failures and get your innovation back on track? How do you reset after a mistake, keep your mind fresh and your motivation high?

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Innovation can learn from tennis. Another mental, often solitary discipline with many unpredictables or “sudden swings of momentum,” as performance psychologist James Loehr calls them. Loehr and his team analyzed thousands of hours of tennis matches. Loehr: “What we saw was that points were often won and lost not during the points themselves, but between the action. We set about putting a protocol in place for players to control their emotional state between the points and get their emotional chemistry right to optimize peak performance.” This protocol is described in The Tennis Mind, a special report for TRUE Magazine.

Players are trained to apply these 4 steps after every mistake. And to repeat them until they become a habit:

  1. Respond with a positive physical gesture: f.e. turn your back on a mistake (don’t keep staring a the line you missed by an inch), don’t frown (negative face expressions influence your mental state), walk with confidence.
  2. Relax: breathe, stare into your snares or onto the court (don’t take in to much information, avoid to think to much).
  3. Prepare: back to “NOW”, what do you want to do, how do you want to win? What’s the plan?
  4. Initiate game modus: every player has a ritual like visualizing the next point, jumping up and down, bouncing the ball in a particular way.

Now, let’s suppose your team has worked day and night on a service prototype or proposal … and a group of clients rejects. Anger, disappointment, blame, guilt, … this is unfair. Many teams immediately go back to the drawing board, without the right protocol to deal with failure. The meeting room literally becomes a War Room.

Instead of ending up in this pressure cooker situation, try this:

  1. Respond to failure with a positive physical gesture: put material related to the prototype aside (so you don’t have to stare at it), clean up your desks. Discuss how it could have gone even worse (great to release cynicism and generate first laughs). Put a new, empty flipchart on the wall. Tabula rasa.
  2. Relax: take a time out to do something completely different, with colleagues or alone, go outside for a walk or a run, have a drink, write down your thoughts, watch your favorite funny movie clip or cartoon.
  3. Prepare: back to the drawing board. What is the goal of your common mission, what did your learn of the previous solution/mistake? What do you want to a achieve? What are your priorities?
  4. Initiate game modus: launch a challenge (“how can we”), go out and observe, get everyone to preparer a list of 10 ideas … Just know what gets you and your team members playing to win again.

Time !

5 espresso’s to beat innovator’s fatigue

What is the difference between a project at the heart of the business (e.g. a product launch, process improvements, sales optimizations) and a ‘peripheral’ project (e.g. a service innovation, a wellbeing or a safety project)?

After 18 months on a project creating new wellbeing services, I would say: you just have more battles to fight for your ideas to get implemented. Because, to many stakeholders, you are second priority (optimist!) next to running day-to-day business.

These battles –and the victories – provide the adrenalin that keeps many entrepreneurs and innovators going (it’s the little Rocky Balboa inside all of us). However, when you and your ideals and ambitions are backed into the corner for the x-ed time, you might need a shot of espresso. Or five:


1. Ask yourself: who is my (real) client. When you like to do new things (Now! More! Fast!) and you’re not weary of change, people tend to ask you for help. A lot. At some point, you will probably end up doing too many things at the same time. You’ll run the risk your own project objectives are not met. So keep in mind what your client e.g. the project sponsor expects from you. What will help him move ahead?
Your ‘real’ clients are often end users. You might have a vision on what you want to achieve (and a plan and a budget paired to that vision). Check with the end users what part of your vision they are actually ready for, an almost obvious next step in their minds. Go for that in order to get the project moving. If a target group’s concept of wellbeing services is about “no accidents”, an obvious next step might be “no injuries”.

2. Stop inventing new stuff all the time. “I choose 2-3 things to do during a year and I focus on that,” a CSR manager told me. Faut le faire. A pitfall if you want to make things work, is to make a new service or product for every feedback you encounter. Keep your focus, dedicate your energy to simplifying your initiatives (how’s your elevator pitch?), work on one concept and make every single detail fit to it.
The CSR manager dedicated his time to implementing one social innovation: a food product made out of potatoes, manually harvested by minority groups, allowing these people a fair pay. Everything about this product just clicked together like a perfect puzzle. No puzzle ‘clicks’ if you are always creating new pieces.

3. Reinforce the story of your achievements so far. When faced with change or resistance, you might pick up on the negativism, get into emotional discussions. In order to avoid this, arm yourself with a good storyline. Know why you are doing the project (observations, facts!). Know your achievements (facts!). Cfr. point 2, the better your story ‘clicks together’, the less space for resistance and negativism.

4. Innovators, be there for each other. When your project is not advancing the way you would like it to, have a beer with like minded peers. Allow yourself to be angry and get it off your chest. But only order a next round if you are willing to stay out of the cycle of cynicism. No one has ever improved his life by b**ching about something and then doing exactly the same things as before.
Put the blocking factors on the table, make a top 10, discuss how you will tackle them. Make a deal to have some more drinks when you’ll have tackled the first one on the list.
During an innovation bootcamp weekend, our team had done too much divergent thinking. We lost the essence and even the belief in our business idea. We shared our frustrations. Then we got ourselves together, we cut away all the nice to haves and ended the weekend with the most solid and appealing business model pitch since the start of the bootcamp.

5. Fight your own battles. During a recent management gathering, we wanted to create a leadership experience in a time of tough reorganizations, simply by giving compliments in a surprising way. I briefed this idea to a colleague, who got rather enthusiastic about it, and who would in turn discuss it with the actual decision maker. The experience didn’t take place. The colleague lost the battle.
If you have a great idea, YOU should present and defend it yourself. Get a 5 minute timeslot, put your foot in the door, get in the same elevator with the decision maker by coincidence. whatever works. Passion does not take no for an answer.
And if you lose too? “At least lose on your own terms.” (Brad Gilbert’s pep talk to Andre Agassi during Roland Garros’ final)

Drink it while it’s hot!

P.S. If you want to read more about pairing the right activities to certain emotional states as an innovator, I recommend the article “Making The Rollercoaster Work For You” by entrepreneur Cameron Herold on Tim Ferriss’ blog. Herold describes a cycle of emotional states, an “entrepreneurial manic depression” most innovators go through, and how to cope with it rather than trying to change it.

“Are You Still Havin’ Fun?”

What is the secret behind a remarkable shopping experience? After a visit to London’s Gap, Nike and Harrod’s, I would say: to see employees enjoying themselves at work. One of the ‘laws’ in theatre is: the more YOU are enjoying yourself on stage, the more you will catch the crowd’s attention. The more you will touch their hearts. They will identify with you and be a part of the story you tell. 9 GDT geniet van de show

At the Nike store, the employees (they didn’t behave like “shop assistants“, they rather owned their space) looked like personal trainers for every level of sportive ambition. Dressed in Nike gear, dancing, having fun, helping you when you need it and leaving you alone when you feel like walking around the store. At Gap, the bourgois chic salesguys and girls noticed what you were wearing and complimented you on that (especially if you wore Gap, but still). One Gap saleslady taught me a trick that will help me in all future-shopping-for-pants: if a pair of pants fits over your forearm (fist closed), it fits over your hips. Teaching a customer a shopping hack is the best way to show you are happy to help !

These people ‘lived’ the brand in such a way I think what they did wasn’t 100% random. Spontaneous, but no improvisation. In one of the first books on customer experience, The Experience Economy, Pine & Gillmore regularly refer to street theatre when they explain how to create a wow-experience. A street artist has a number of acts up his sleeve and he performs them in an order depending on the interaction with the crowd.

Thank you Eagle Eye Cherry for the blog title. The rest of the song is a warning not to take drugs, so I’ll just stick to the title here. Before you and your team start servicing customers, ask yourself: are you still having fun?

P.S. Were some of those employees at Harrod’s (the rather stiff ones) not having fun? Maybe. Or maybe keeping a distance is a trick up your cufflinked sleeve when you work for a brand that is far away from most customers’ budgets.