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Innovation in Action: How to Test Innovative Ideas Early and Often

August 15, 2015

Innovation in business relies on prototyping—testing ideas early and often. As a business owner, you’ve uncovered what seems like a viable idea through creative problem seeking and solving. But what comes next? The testing and experimentation phase is an important step, during which ideas are put into action on a small scale.

Why prototype? Testing ideas helps team members better understand concepts, see the value proposition of an idea, and uncover potential refinements. When exploring new ideas, experimentation removes uncertainty. Whereas the traditional scope of business would approach change by finding a solution embedded in a new business plan, innovative thinking proposes testing ideas on a small scale before implementing a systemic shift or change.

Prototyping is an iterative process, relying on revisions and changes throughout. It’s a simple representation of an idea that should be quick to build and easily disposable. Implement a prototype even before the plan or idea is fully formed—it will provide invaluable insights and quickly identify areas for improvement or change.
What does that look like in business? Prototypes are cheap, easy to produce products or environments for experimentation. If you’re considering reframing or reworking a business process, build prototypes for each piece of the process—from the value proposition and customer to the business model. Don’t try to take on the entire process at once. Rapid prototyping, a phase of innovation that allows businesses to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, is one style of testing that can have impactful results in a short amount of time.

Some examples of prototyping in business:

> Identifying a hypothesis to map ideas and track progress.

> Building a small-scale model of a product that embodies one feature or characteristic
you’re eager to test.

> Testing a process in one section of a department or space. > Building simulations that play out different situations. These could range from a conversation to a full-scale recreation about how a process is altered. Keep in mind As you test and experiment, remember these points for assessing the value of your ideas.

> Embrace failure. The more quickly a test or experiment fails, the more quickly learning happens.

> Experiments don’t necessarily represent reality. Rather, they expose possible perceptions of a situation or problem.

> Measure the results. Assess these experiments and build actionable takeaways. Alter your hypotheses as appropriate and test again.

Negotiating a Beta Client

Beyond prototyping a product, service, or process, consider testing your idea with a beta client. This can be particularly beneficial if you don’t have an existing research and development department in house. 

> Who to target: Existing clients, established connections or prospective clients. Completing work in the testing phase could open the door to work with a client your business has been targeting.

> How to frame it: Align expectations for the scope of work with beta clients. Provide an overview of the financial commitment, what services are provided as part of the testing and a timeline.

> Keep in mind: Not every client is an ideal candidate for beta services. The optimal beta engagement is a client that is willing to think through the best solutions. These candidates will participate in a truthful conversation about your service and provide feedback.

Defining a Problem

> Creative problem seeking considers the the bigger picture. It involves considering all variables that influence a situation.

> Problem solving evaluates adjacent possibilities and focuses on the problem, not a solution. The solution comes last—after analyzing, brainstorming, prototyping, and evaluating.

Framework

> How to test innovative ideas

> Why test and prototype (test early and often)

> What does it look like to prototype (applied creativity)

> How to negotiate a beta customer

Build a Team Ready for Prototyping

Prototyping doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires a team effort and employees who are willing to think (and act) outside the box. Look for these characteristics as you build your team for innovating and prototyping:

Flexibility. Associates should demonstrate the ability to move fluidly between projects, plan for spontaneity, and be able to pivot and shift the course as necessary. As a team leader, play to their strengths—recognize where each employee thrives, whether it’s in the longer-range or quick-turn projects. Adjust your approach with those strengths in mind.

Openness. Prototyping requires embracing the unknown and an open mindset. Team members should be able to thrive in a setting that doesn’t necessarily have established boundaries, absolutes, or linear processes. Allow time and space for employees to listen, absorb, and seek new possibilities beyond the traditional ways of thinking.

Steadfastness. Staff members have to both enjoy the challenge of multiple projects and demonstrate consistency in performance no matter the flux in work. These employees are the stability and backbone of the creative and prototyping processes. Seek out team members based on their reliability, performance, and commitment. Sterling National Bank strives to reach new goals with clients as they design a future of growth. Reach out to your relationship manager to learn more about how we can provide the financial support needed to fuel your next innovation.