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Looking to spark some innovation? Try this FAD exercise

Often when I work with teams that are looking to overhaul their process or service, we are starting from a place of pain. Pain points I mean!


They have identified something in their process that is causing frustration for their teams, or friction for their customers. It might be teams struggling to get quality work done because of complex processes and dependencies. It might be customers not converting to a long term relationship after an initial service experience.


Starting with pain points is great for innovation because we know there *has* to be a better way of doing things. Teams are motivated to put on their creative thinking hats and solve these problems.


But every once in a while, a service or process overhaul doesn’t start from a place of pain, but starts with a team recognising that while their service is great, they can make it even better.


Designing from good to great is an exciting challenge to face. But it often requires a little bit more work to encourage out of the box thinking and not getting anchored on how things are currently done.


Recently I faced this challenge working with a client of mine. They are an agency that has productised some of their consulting work into a workshop package. They were looking for ways to make the service even easier to deliver, all while increasing the delight and value delivered to the customer.


I considered some of the well known approaches to sparking new ideas, like SCAMPER and lightning demos. None of these were quite the right fit for this team’s goals for their service. Instead, I pulled together some of my favourite ideation questions into a rapid round-robin exercise I’m calling FAD ideation.


This is how it works.


Photo by Eric Krull on Unsplash


FAD Ideation Jam


For this exercise, all you need are some sticky notes and markers, or a virtual whiteboard with virtual sticky notes.


The first step is to define the scope of your ideation. This simply means defining which exact process, service, or product you are looking to improve with your creative ideas.


It can also be really helpful to define your objective. What goal are you trying to achieve by improving this process, service or product? Are you trying to increase conversion, make the process more efficient or increase customer delight?


Once you have something to improve and a goal to focus on, you can start the exercise.


This ideation exercise is as simple as asking the team a series of three questions. After each question, the team spends 5 minutes writing down each idea that comes to mind in response to the question. They write one idea per sticky note and collect their ideas in front of them.


After each question, one by one the team read out their ideas from their sticky notes. They don’t need to add any explanation - simply read what they wrote. They can also stick these up on a wall or a shared space in the virtual whiteboard.


Once everyone has contributed their ideas, you have a big list of new opportunities for your process, service, or product.


Ok, that’s the mechanics, so what are the questions?


1. The Ferris Question: What would this look like if it were easy?


In his book, Tribe of Mentors, author and speaker Tim Ferris encourages readers who are trying to improve their life to ask themselves the question “What would this look like if it were easy?”


The beauty behind this question is it forces us to stop assuming that a particular activity has to have a certain amount of friction. There may not be a truly easy way to do everything in life, but we can at least ask ourselves the question.


This works for processes and services within our business as well. And we can think about this question from both the perspective of our customer and our team.


What would this look like if it was even easier for customers?


What would this look like if it was even easier for our teams?


2. The Asimov Question: What would this look like if it was completely automated?


In a similar vein to asking what would make this easier, we can also explore what could make things more automated. Automating repeatable parts of our process or service frees our teams up to focus their creative energy on the true differentiators - creating an amazing experience and applying our insight.


Sometimes we stop short of how far we can take automation. By asking ourselves what a process or service would look like if it was fully automated, we look for even more creative ways to apply process automation. Some ideas may edge into the world of science fiction a little bit, but that’s by design. It encourages us to push the edges of what we think is possible. Then we just have to filter for which of our ideas are truly possible.


This is of course called the Asimov question as a nod to writer and scientist Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics.


3. The Disney/Apple Question: How would this service/product work if Disney/Apple was selling it?


The final question has two variations. You can sometimes get value from asking both, but I find the brand Disney works best for services and experiences, and Apple works well for physical and digital products. Alternatively, you can also substitute any other brands that your team loves or admires.


By considering how brands that are known for delighting customers would deliver a service like ours, we can uncover a new way of thinking about the service that is outside our usual patterns as a business. This question actually works even better if it’s unlikely Apple or Disney would ever sell or do what you are selling or doing.


I used the Disney question with a team of growth marketers. And while Disney may never sell growth marketing consulting, the team thought that if they did it might involve immersive off-site experiences, actors explaining concepts and an animated short describing your marketing strategy instead of a report.


More than a FAD


Once you’ve generated ideas with these questions, the key is to make sure those ideas are more than just a fad, or a fun conversation the team had once. The best way to do this is to prioritise the ideas and then pick one or two to try with a business experiment.


To choose which ideas to take forward, you can use a simple dot vote: team members get a limited number of sticky dots and vote for the ideas they think will move you closest to your goal.


Alternatively you can place the ideas on an effort-impact matrix. Get team members to move the ideas onto a four by four matrix with “Value” on one axis and “Effort” on the other. Ideas that fall in the quadrant for low effort and high impact are perfect for an experiment!


Once you have narrowed down the ideas, design an experiment. To do this, list four to six steps you would need to take to implement the idea. Then set a timeframe. We find this works best if the timeframe is between 2 and 6 weeks but choose whatever makes sense for your business.


And finally, you must pick a measure to evaluate whether the experiment has worked. It needs to be a measure that reflects the value you want to see from the experiment, but also one that will actually show some change over the experiment time period.


The beauty of this method is that if your first experiment doesn’t work, you still have a long list of prioritised ideas on how to improve your process, service or product.


Now, go run some FAD experiments!