Exploration – The Fifth Step in the Innovation Process


The methods we use during this step build on the patterns and insights gained from our deep dive into our intent, people and context. Exploring new concepts involves visualizing the future through brainstorming, sketching, prototyping ideas, and storytelling. The temperament for this mode includes balancing creativity, radical ideas and ways of thinking while adhering to the human-centered and context-driven principles identified in earlier steps. During the Explore Concepts step, the most useful mindsets include:

Challenging assumptions

Uncover hidden assumptions in the organization or industry that bias the project in a given direction. The innovation team must be aware that the current solution framework may have to be reframed. The first question the Innovation team must ask is: Are we coming up with the right solutions? The team must keep in mind that there is always a tendency for organizations to follow the norms of that the industry has established. However, if these norms are reframed as assumptions would they still be relevant? Are there other ways, new ways, to create something new even if it means disrupting industry behavior? Is it possible to find these new ways without losing sight of the core objective of meeting people’s needs and staying within the context?

Standing in the future

There are two ways of thinking about the future and the innovation team must decide which way will create the innovation they desire. The first is to stand in the present, look forward at a desired state in the future, and plan the steps to get there. This way of thinking usually leads to incremental innovation. The second way is to imagine standing in the future after the innovation has already been implemented, and then figure out how the organization must have gotten there. This way of thinking helps create breakthrough, disruptive innovations.

Exploring concepts at the fringes

Areas at the fringes of the business case or the original innovation frame can contain opportunities for new offerings that strengthen core concepts, systems, and market positions that are often overlooked.

Seeking clearly added value

When the innovation team brainstorms, the outcome can be strongly influenced by the biases and preferences held by the different participants. When exploring new concepts, the team should always be seeking ideas that create or add value for the user, the business, economy, society, the environment, or a combination of same. The team must remain alert and ensure they identify and explore the concepts that deliver the most value in these areas. This mindset leads to a more focused, context-sensitive concepts rather than a disorganized dialogue devolving into a test of wills between different personalities on the team.

Reading stories about the future

Storytelling is an effective way to express tangible and abstract ideas that did not previously exist. Telling stories that matter about the future when concepts are being explored can trigger more concepts and help the team speculate on how they will be valuable in future scenarios. The stories need to be built on what has already been discovered and understood about people and context as well as remain clear to all team members.

Staying in the correct mindsets during the exploration phase of the innovation process keeps the creativity and brainstorming flowing in the right direction and prepares the team and the project for the next step – Framing Solutions.

Scott Severns is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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