Innovation with a Dash of Seasonal Spice

Runner preparing to begin a race.
A short sprint can freshen up the mind for a longer run at innovation.

It’s commonly held that innovation is a race. Unlike your typical race, innovation can be both a marathon and a series of sprints. Just like a change of scenery can inspire runners to keep going longer, a change of tone tied to the seasons and a push for short-sprint innovation themed around the time of year can keep your innovation strategy fleet-footed.

What Is Short-Sprint Innovation?

There are many examples of short-sprint innovation with which you’re probably familiar: Hackathons, 48-hour design challenges, and so on. They tend to be unified around a particular problem at a certain scale, and on a short timeframe. For example, during the summer, a company might launch a week-long hackathon to create energy-efficiency features for its products.

The advantage of short-sprint innovation is that it forces your innovation strategy, and your team, to change focus, at least for a little while. Especially when fighting with a thorny problem that’s taken a while, or has led to some unexpected challenges, it’s good for the mind to set aside the problem and work on something else.

Focusing on a different problem allows you to engage in “deep structure” thinking, looking at the overall thrust of a problem instead of its details. For example, somebody who works with foams might be a materials scientist, a fire-fighter, or a chef making a cake. But they all have the same concerns; how does the foam spread, how can it be contained, and what happens to it in different environmental conditions?

Runner sprinting on a track.
Tackling innovation at different speeds can lead to big dividends.

What Makes For A Good Short-Sprint Innovation Challenge?

A good challenge starts with what you want to tackle. It should be something reasonable in scale; instead of solving the world’s water supply problem, for example, you might instead ask your team to work on ideas for helping a small village address that issue.

Secondly, it has sensible, real-world limits, such as dollar amount that can be spent, an overall time limit such as days or a week, and outside technologies that can be drawn on. It’s not sensible to suggest a village with little government support should solve its water treatment problems by building a full-scale desalinization plant.

Everyone involved in the challenge should be working toward the same goal or theme. Tying the challenge to the summer season, for example, might involve working on low-budget ways to reduce warming in buildings, or ways to engineer cooling systems with available materials.

Finally, it should be tied in some way to something your company is seeking to innovate, although it doesn’t have to be the main challenge on which you’re working. Pick a small piece of the challenge, or something tangential to it, that ties into your team’s expertise. Look for that “deep structure” and let the team go back to basics.

Of course, sprints don’t make up the entire marathon, and you will have to get back to that long-term run eventually. However, by using themed short sprint innovation, you can get your team thinking in a new way, and bring some new energy to your innovation strategy. To learn more, contact us!

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