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VOL. 127 | NO. 232 | Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Michael Graber

Use Your Senses When Innovating

By Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

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If you’ve read some of our columns, you know that we use one method of idea and value generation called Design Thinking often. See the May 30 edition of The Daily News (Try ‘Design Thinking’ for Innovation) to read a primer on the method.

Design Thinking serves as a valuable tool for defining problems, exploring core empathy with customers, and discovering new, surprising, and game-changing innovations in products, services and experiences.

However, Design Thinking has its limits. The core shortcoming being that it uses only one of the five senses and other ways of knowing as the primary mode of creation. Because Design Thinking came out of the design and engineering world, the solutions tend to be visual.

There are more modes of creation and knowing, which allow different styles of thinkers to fully participate in innovation projects. The world of innovation needs to widen its dominant modes of discovery to include inventions that present themselves in ways other than visual.

The various forms of clairvoyance provide new methods of ideation and conceptual thinking. We recommend exploring at the idea generating stage first with each mode. You never know what mode may crack the code of growth and provide real value to your business.

Keep in mind that in the ideation phase a basic download has already occurred and we seek new ideas, which is more of an art than a science. Later, in the process, we apply the critical facilities in the Validation phase of the project.

Here is a short list of some of the non-visual sensory modes:

Feeling/Touching: Clairsentience. Here, a person acquires insight primarily by feeling. Kinesthetic learners thrive when they can feel an idea or touch a concept, making creation a “hands-on” experience. Actually doing an activity can be the easiest way for them to learn. Mapping out an experience, as in asking how does it feel when … ?, can make the feeling mode valuable and immediate. After all, innovations make tired categories easier to use and a better experience. Sometimes, the way the category should feel arises in these sessions – and serves as a tuning fork for the entire project lifecycle.

Hearing/Listening: Clairaudience. In this mode, insights form first as a sound – sometimes a whole word and sometimes a hum or syllable – and people who excel in this style discern deeply, listening with a “third ear” attuned to auditory impressions. We recommend a Deep Listening session – where we seek to define the tone and pitch of the category of the innovation. Many ideas spring out from these “seed syllables.”

Smelling: Clairalience. The olfactory senses have long been called the gateway of the soul. How should a product or place small – and how do you map out the associations that arise in the process. How does a poorly performing category smell now, whether it’s a store, a doctor’s office, or a restaurant. Smart companies, like Westin Hotels, know the value of defining a particular scent.

Knowing: Claircognizance. The hunch. Sometimes you know something from the gut. This form of gnosis is an intuitive download. Many business people, artists and scientists have written about intuition. After an immersion into a problem, practice ways to tap the intuition of the team members. Acknowledge the knowing as it presents itself to group members in a way that is non-judgmental. As Dr. Norman Sheely says, “Every invention is an intuitive download.” Einstein agrees: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift.”

Tasting: Clairgustance. In this mode, you turn on your taste buds – and taste a substance without putting anything in one’s mouth. Popular culture has a keen expression: “that left a bad taste in my mouth.” Woe be on the company that leaves a bad taste in a customer’s mouth. How should an experience taste? That is the question.

Design Thinking works for visual thinkers, but it’s a big world with a complex range of senses. All of these senses can be harnessed to create breakthrough innovations.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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