The method for generating innovation ideas I presented at The Top 100 Summit was very well received by the event attendees. This is an annual event in Beijing for the technology industry to share case studies in technology innovations / R&D management practices throughout the world. The 2015 Summit was held at Beijing National Convention Center from December 5-7, and the audience are over 1,000 Chinese professionals in the technology industry from all over China.
I talked about a method which I summarized in Chinese as “望闻问切”之法 (for those folks who understand the basics of Chinese Medicine would understand where this is from). This is a method that I have learned and practiced and then summarized through my training and experience as a product manager in Microsoft. It is a combination of the Empathy Map model created by XPlane, the Customer Journey Map and a couple of other tools, which helps teams to understand customers deeply, to find their pains and gains, to identify opportunities for innovation ideas, and come up with solutions through out the entire customer journey to help them solve their issues.
I shared a case that I did recently with a startup. I helped the startup company figured out what products they should build for their target customers, those Chinese students that are studying in the US universities.
Basically, you start everything by understanding the customer's real needs and wants.
First, you observe the customer, understand what their missions are. In my case study, this can be the Chinese students want to pass on their exams.
Then you observe what the customers see, hear, say & do, and think & feel. For example, the Chinese students were very nervous about their exams, felt overwhelmed and they could not manage their time and study well. Before they left China, they heavily depended on their parents at home and teachers at school to remind them (well, monitor them) in studying, and they were under tremendous pressure by supervised by those adults around them. When they left home and lived overseas, they finally got the freedom and with NO supervision around them 24x7. They have not learned how to plan and manage their own time, usually do not prepare the exams early and end up of spending the whole night trying to study. And as you can guess, many of them did not really understand the materials and did not do well in the exams.
Thirdly, you can ask WHYs to the things the customers did/heard/said/thought/felt. This is a way for you to dig into the root cause of an issue. In my case, because I asked many whys, I understood why those students waited until the last night to study for the exams, and then worried so much about not be able to pass.
Fourthly, you draw your conclusion about what are the pain points and gain points for these customers. That is where opportunities unveil. The example I gave on the students showed an opportunity to provide a service helping the students plan their time and enhance their study efficiency.
Lastly, you can look at customers entire journey, and break the journey into different stages or moments, then use the same method repeatedly to find opportunities and come up with solutions. For the student example, we look into what the students experienced from the time they have received university acceptance letter to the time they graduate, and found many points of solutions (well, I would say ideas at this stage) through this 4-year journey. Then we selected some of those points to start product development.
I would say this is a very simple method that everyone can try to use. I have trained product managers, marketing professionals and university students to apply this method. Usually through a one-day workshop, they will be able to use this method to come up with some insights to their customers and develop product ideas. Then they will take more time to apply this method on their own to go deep.
If you have questions about how to apply the method “望闻问切”之法, please feel free to contact me.