Sunday, November 16, 2008

Prototyping: A foundational competency of every innovator

Guy Kawasaki on prototyping: Economic Times interviewed Guy Kawasaki when he visited Mumbai a couple of months back. He was asked, “What are the few steps that an entrepreneur should get right?” To which Guy answered, “Prototyping is the first thing. That’s the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth thing. The sixth thing is to write a business plan.” I couldn’t agree with him more. Guy answered this question from an entrepreneur’s point of view, but I feel it is equally relevant from innovator’s point of view. Let’s explore this concept called “prototyping” with the help of two examples, one for a product and the other for a banking service.

Prototyping is less expensive & less complex: Ideo, a leading design firm from Silicon Valley, helped a group of surgeons develop a new device for sinus surgery. As the surgeons described the ideal physical characteristics of the instrument, one of the designers grabbed a whiteboard marker, a film canister, and a clothespin and taped them together (see picture on the left). “Do you mean like this?” he asked. With his rudimentary prototype in hand, the surgeons were able to be much more precise about what the ultimate design should accomplish (see picture on the right).

Prototyping is not restricted to products
: In the summer of 2004, Ray Chinn, Bank of America’s Senior VP for New Products Innovation and his team held twenty brainstorming sessions. These sessions generated 80 ideas from which the team narrowed down to the concept of rounding up consumer’s financial transactions and transferring the difference to savings. To prototype the concept, the team created a web-based cartoon that a showed a woman buying a cup of coffee in a store for $1.50, and then displayed rounding the purchase up to $2.00 and placing the 50 cents into a savings account. They tested the conceptual cartoon in an online survey of 1,600 consumers, and the concept won phenomenal reviews for its uniqueness. Eventually the bank launched the new service “Keep The Change” based on this idea in October 2005 and the program has been smash hit.

Why is prototyping important? Prototyping provides two key benefits (1) It reduces uncertainty associated with realization of an idea – addressing the typical question to a new idea – “Show me it works” (2) It provides a learning opportunity by getting an early feedback on the idea from customers. Ideo innovation principle says, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth ten thousand”. If I were to modify IBM's innovation mantra, I would say, "Stop talking, start prototyping"

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