What Are Innovation Games?
Innovation Games are fun ways to collaborate with your customers to better understand their needs. There are twelve Innovation Games explained in this book. Table 1.1 provides a brief description of each game.
Table 1.1. Innovation Games
Show and Tell
Customers describe the most important artifacts produced by your system to you and other customers.
Start Your Day
Customers collaboratively describe when, how, and where they use your product(s).
Prune the Product Tree
Customers work in small teams to shape the evolution of your products and services.
Me and My Shadow
Discover hidden needs by carefully observing what customers actually do with your products.
Customers work individually or in small teams to create and sell their ideal product.
Create empathy for the customer experience by doing the job of a customer.
Customers identify their biggest pain points with your products and services.
Buy a Feature
Customers work together to purchase their most desired features.
Customers negotiate the relative importance of such things as product features, market requirements, and product benefits.
Customers work individually or in small teams to create vivid pictures of how your products and services fit into their world.
Give Them a Hot Tub
Customers provide feedback on outrageous features to establish what is truly essential.
Remember the Future
Understand your customers' definition of success by seeing how they shape their future.
To illustrate how you might use an Innovation Game, suppose you are an alarm clock radio manufacturer and your product team is interested in better understanding current and future market needs associated with a "next generation" clock radio.
You could accomplish this through any number of techniques. You could engage a simple and direct form of market research and simply ask your customers, "What do you want in your clock radio?" The answers may help your team, but your team may find the customers' responses relatively simplistic and lacking rich detail.
Figure 1.1. Making a Product Box
You could employ a significantly more advanced form of market research, such as a detailed questionnaire followed up with conjoint analysis. The result is more likely to be analytic ("47% of customers surveyed wanted a variable snooze timer, a way to wirelessly connect a personal computer to store MP3 files, and two alarms") but this approach can often feel sterile and suffers from a lack of discovery because you, and not your customers, have predetermined the set of features that are being explored.
Figure 1.2. Selling a Product Box
Or you could play an Innovation Game, such as Product Box, with a representative group of customers. With Product Box, you would ask them to design their ideal clock radio, using blank cardboard boxes and fun supplies that you provide. When they had finished, you would ask them to sell their idealized creation to you and the other customers in the group.
At the end of the game you would have a collection of product boxes that describe your customers' ideal clock radio. You would also have the rich descriptions of features and benefits associated with this idealized radio, and the questions and answers of other customers who were being "sold" this wonderful new device. You could then mine all of this for powerful insights, as I'll describe later in Part Two.
Figure 1.3. Gallery of Product Boxes
Overly Simplistic or Overly Complex Market Research
Innovation Games strike a balance between the overly simplistic and overly analytic approaches to trying to understand customers. Overly simplistic approaches rely too much on direct questioning, asking customers "What do you want?" (or its cousin, "What do you think our product should do?"). If you've asked these questions, you've probably come to realize that they tend to produce disappointing results. Customers are people. They often have trouble understanding their problems. And even if they think they understand their problems, and can describe them, that doesn't mean they can articulate the solutions they are seeking. Of course, many times they often don't know they had a problem, or that they desired a solution, until they see or possess itmuch like I never knew how much I needed a Swiss+Tech Utili-Key until Todd Girvin, a friend who travels as much for his company as I do for mine, gave me one for my birthday! (The Swiss+Tech Utili-Key is a small, multifunction pocket knife that, when folded, resembles a key. You can put it on your key ring and continue to keep it there because it slides through the airport security screening process.)
At the other of the spectrum from simple questions are sophisticated market research techniques that have equally sophisticated names, such as conjoint analysis. Such techniques tend to be hard to apply, produce results that can be misleading, and, in my experience, are not that much fun.
The unfortunate result of this disparate spectrum of market research techniques is that product teams often end up engaging in sporadic or episodic customer inquiry. At times, they may ask a few customers some questions, often without a clear goal, or they may hire a specialized market research firm to apply a technique on their behalf and interpret the results. The use of outside firms increases costs, further discouraging product teams from frequently seeking the understanding of their customers that they need to generate innovations. To make matters worse, the outside firm running the study is the organization that develops the understanding, serving as an unnecessary intermediary between a company and its customers, and it is difficult to deliver the insights gained from the outside firm into the product team in a way in which the product team can act on the results. The effects of disappointing internal results and the relatively high cost of external research lead product teams to avoid market research.
Innovation Games strike a balance by moving beyond simple questions to provide you with powerful insights into customer and market needs. At the same time, they are simple and lightweight enough that you can engage them on your own. Perhaps more importantly, even when you use an outside firm to help you plan, facilitate, or post-process the results of the games, the Innovation Games process ensures that your team is the group that captures the majority of the information by having them work directly with customers.