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How This Process Developed

While at frog design, I often noticed a huge disconnect between our approach to innovation and our clients’ approach. Ours was fast, fluid, and intuitive. Theirs tended to be slow, rigid, and analytical.

What especially stood out was how paralyzing “innovation strategy” processes can be. A lot of the problem comes from requiring consensus on one step before moving on to the next one. The well-meaning intention is to ensure that the idea is aligned with strategy, allow the team to create buy-in, and give senior executives a variety of options.6 Most of the time, this innovation process starts off pretty well, but inevitably, companies lose their momentum and their motivation. This is especially true in highly successful organizations. They get so bogged down in the complex details that they forget all about (or never had in the first place) “creative destruction,” which is the need to fundamentally question their biggest achievements. As a result, instead of stimulating innovation, they end up stifling it.

So, you can imagine what happened when our clients decided they wanted to be part of the creative process. Listening to our proposals and making decisions wasn’t enough. Oh, no. They wanted to contribute ideas and get involved in creating strategy and direction. Clearly, we needed to come up with a new approach for working together. If our clients were going to be involved in key parts of the process, the frog design teams would have to add a bit more structure to their free-flowing, intuitive approach. At the same time, the clients would have to get comfortable operating with a little less structure.

In the end, I developed a process that we called frogTHINK—a fast, agile approach to collaborative innovation that would maintain the right level of tension between fluid intuition and logical rigor. frog design has clients in virtually every business sector and of every size, from start-ups to Fortune 100. With such a diverse group, we had to make the process accessible to everyone, regardless of educational and professional background. We also had to make it easy for clients to hit the ground running, to understand, participate in, and contribute to. No esoteric jargon or complex charts and equations. Also, no brainstorming with water pistols, beanbags, and other supposedly creativity-stimulating methods.

In 2005, I had the opportunity to take this process further by developing a new, graduate-level course at the Stern School of Business at NYU. The goal was to teach B-school students how to solve problems and create opportunities using a disruptive thinking approach. The object wasn’t to turn them into designers. (It was unlikely that any of them would continue on to be professional designers after business school anyway.) Instead, we tried to transcend design technique and focus on a business-design mentality.

The course is intended for people who have no previous background or training in—or even exposure to—design. We focus on helping students develop ways of thinking that are very different from those they would learn in a typical MBA environment. And, by the end of the course, they’ve learned the simple-yet-thorough process of disruptive thinking—the exact process we’re going to spend the rest of this book discussing.

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