A year ago this week I sat down with a CEO in Washington DC who had one question on his mind after seeing a video demo for a web application our team had built for a sister company in Boston. He wanted to know: Who made it? Which is how I got to his office. His next question: How? It’s a question we get a lot. People like to know how an idea or need becomes a product that people actually use. How do we invent it? How do we build it? What tools and processes do we use?
I told him the six-month concept-to-proof-of-concept story that began with the Boston company’s team – and ours – imagining a better way to sustain learning at the team leader’s dining room table in LA (complete with details of the fresh scones on a teacart and that hopeful feeling in the morning to that hurry-up sense the team was getting late in the day when no clear picture had evolved.) It was at that end-of-the-day point that I described a personalized app with a series of game-like challenges – and team support – where people moved up in skill level to achieve mastery. Yes, whew, that’s it, everyone said.
How did I come up with that? I didn’t. The team did. I just connected the dots in a new way. We knew we wanted to use technology to enable a paper process that already worked. One person really liked Dan Pink’s motivational principles from Drive: autonomy, mastery, purpose. Another described her vision for a generic tool that was skills specific (could be used for any training program content). Another described the pride in achieving skills mastery and earning recognition. We tried on ideas about games, levels and badges. We discussed storytelling and heroes journeys. We considered the value of friendly support from peers. We named constraints, fears and hopes.
Inventing new concepts starts with getting all the ‘dots’ out. One process we use a lot comes from ‘simplicity’ colleague Bill Jensen (Thanks, Bill). We ask: What do you want people to know, feel and do?. We listen to the conversation about the ‘dots’, share some of our own, and then connect them in a new way.
What are your ‘dots’ and how will you connect them in a new way?