In one of my earlier published articles: Working Backwards: Amazon's Culture of Innovation: My Notes, I briefly discussed Crazy 8’s — the design technique that UI/UX designers swear by, and a key tool in the Design Sprint toolbox. On further analysis, have we as a sprint-abiding community, restricted the true power of this particular tool by relegating it for designers’ use only? I say, Crazy 8 was meant for more than that: problem-solving, structured innovation in brainstorming sessions in a time-bound manner.
For every meme I’ve seen in the last two years about “meetings that could have been an email,” I’ve created another one in my head about “meetings that shouldn’t have resulted in a follow-up meeting.”
No matter the task: a new product, a new process, or even a root-cause analysis of failures — productive brainstorming within teams leading to action items and solutions is elusive.
My read is that focussed ideation is hard. In any given room, filled with knowledgeable and opinionated stakeholders, multiple people with diverging points of view come up with multiple ideas. Then that becomes hard to converge. Eventually you are left with another meeting on the books.
Imagine a Zoom call with Chief Product Officers, CEOs, developers, and entrepreneurs; everyone tries to arrive at some solution vocalizing their opinions. The result is a long-winded meeting that will spill over into another long-winded meeting.
Technically, COVID-driven boost to collaborative softwares like Miro or Mural and smarter project management tools should have made this easier. And yet, Zoom fatigue is real and conclusions remain unequivocally out-of-reach. There needs to be a better way to handle the process of getting hairy ideas to execution, within the span of one meeting.
In a tangential universe of UI/UX designers, Crazy 8 is essential and omnipresent. Designers use it to come up with eight screens, one minute per screen, allowing quick iterations, and getting you closer to your goal, fast.
The double diamond design thinking methodology of diverging and converging is useful in this context. Crazy 8 speeds up the “diverge” part of the exercise by time-boxing it without limiting creativity.
As experienced innovators and top product company founders will be the first to tell you: “more is sometimes, just more, not better.” When diverging, you can do a lot with eight new ideas; you don’t need 80.
Let’s say we want to create a digital calendar for artists. What a designer will do is express the challenge statement and quickly create eight different, low-fidelity screens or simple sketches. Then they will speak to their stakeholders, do a simple vote if needed, and converge into two or three top designs. These top options will be green-lit into development and testing.
Why is this process relevant? It connects directly to the problem at hand and then creates a fast way to move forward to testing a hypothesis in an innovation process or a meeting.
During a Google Ventures Design Sprint with stakeholders from 3M (Parent company for Post-it®) — the goal was to springboard the analogous Post-it® product into the future, and bridge the digital divide for sprint hosts. What does that even look like?
When the problem statement is as large as that, what was rightly hosted was a “Vision Sprint.” While not a far cry from a design sprint— the prototypes at the end of such a sprint rarely look like an actual product. For Post-it®, it was a collection of ideas and value props that would help them transition into the future. After the sprint, two extremely successful Post-it® App launches could be directly tied back to this sprint.
Evolving Crazy 8’s role, in an innovation process like this:
You write down the challenge or a problem statement, which in this case was:
P.S. For this solution to work, you must, absolutely must, outline the problem at the right level of abstraction. But that’s another post for another time. We’ll go with this for now.
Once we have this statement down, we allocate eight minutes to find eight ways to solve this problem. I often encourage this step to be done alone. This comes from the design thinking toolbox of problem-solving: “together alone,” where you do certain things together, and certain things separately to drive innovation faster. The key principle is to crowdsource cross-functional ideas, even crazy ideas. If there are 4 participants, we have 32 ideas. That a lot to converge.
We now do affinity mapping, where we cluster ideas that are similar. Themes will emerge that bring out similarity between ideas. We label the themes using the discovered similarities. Then, reframe the themes to solution themes. Understanding perspectives and points of view is important to evolve the ideas and create net-new additions. Timeboxed show and tell demos help with that( 2-3 minutes per participant). The goal is to identify opportunities and solutions.
Usually, 10-12 reframed themes emerge from an affinity mapping/reframing exercise like this. It is hard to work on 10-12 statements, so we converge to two or three ideas and move forward. Prioritization can be done using voting with play money or using a matrix of orthogonal priorities (like impact-effort).
Reverse engineering the launches that emerged from this vision sprint, it appears the following ideas were green-lit for prototypes and further testing:
On a realistic note, any company, especially product companies, need continuous innovation to drive growth, adoption, investment, and success. A five-day design sprint every few weeks is neither feasible nor possible. Waiting for a lightning strike of inspiration to inspire the next cycle of growth is impractical.
While heuristic solutions are great, growth will eventually stagnate without a structured, regular, and persistent approach to define hypotheses, visualize solutions, experiment, and test.
So, where do we go from here: faster innovation and using every opportunity to problem-solve as a source of new ideas that can be leveraged to grow.
Using Crazy 8, you get from a complete whiteboard challenge statement to a reframed, converged solution statement in 45-60 minutes. Asking yourself whether something is right or wrong can be counterproductive because, in reality, half the time you don’t know what is right? AirBnB’s co-founder Joe Gebbia repeatedly recounts his big 5 failed attempts before his company really took off. Most of the time, innovators are faced with ambiguous challenge statements and they want to converge and test.
Thus, give it a try and see how it works for you and your team.
The next time you run a brainstorming/critical alignment meeting use these steps:
So what is your next big challenge you want to apply this technique to? Ping me if you want to discuss the technique and set up your workspace to ensure a meeting that converges to points of decision.
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