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Jul 17, 2011 | Comments

My last post describes how the best ideas are kinda like viable startups. That is, approaching a client project is kinda like discovering the initial vision for a company.

Problem: this is an insanely difficult for a full-time entrepreneur, not to mention a digital strategist.

It’s the daunting task of going from client brief to a vision in a few weeks. Entrepreneurs at least have the luxury of an infinite window of time.  This is, by far, one of the most challenging parts of the job.

I’ve been thinking about how to improve this process. For an 8-week engagement, what’s the best way to go from statement of work to clients fawning over an amazing idea?

For this type of structured idea creation, I’ve found a few great sources for inspiration.

Many companies specialize in ideas, like innovation firms What If? or IDEO. Both are pretty public about their approaches (e.g., IDEO’s nightline segment), typically beginning with ethnographic research and followed by extensive idea generation. There’s a lot of talk about failing fast–a concept borrowed in the lean startup ideology.

Then I stumbled upon a different consulting firm. I have huge bro-crush on Adaptive Path, a UX firm with a sweet approach to idea creation and definition.

Alexa Andrzejewski’s slides on a “UX-driven Startup” have a few processes to steal. Her section on “coming up with a vision” echos much of what we hear in startup circles.

Alexa’s got a ton of great content from a project with Smart.fm. Here she describes,

“We brainstormed ways to fill in the blanks: ‘For people who… the new smart.fm is… It’s different because…’ Ideas that emerged included “Smart.fm is like a pickup basketball game—it’s easy to jump right in and participate.”


Another great concept is called metaphor brainstorming (described in more detail here).

“We chose random metaphors and deconstructed their characteristics: Games like Marbles and POGs are about ‘keeping what you win’ and have ‘discrete, tangible, hand-held parts.’ We clustered metaphors with similar characteristics together, then used these characteristics to inspire design ideas.”

I’ve taken this idea further in the context of digital. Using the line, “what if we created a Pandora for [client]?”  It’s a lot easier to laterally think about concepts like recommendation engines or personalization.

Finally, I’m a huge proponent of customer development as the most important requirement before idea development. That is, “getting out of the building” and defining customer needs. Only then do we know that the idea will have some use for the client’s customers and not an irrelevant marketing campaign that no one cares about.

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