Ways We Innovate: Ask “Why Do We Still…”

With all of the new technologies and ways of doing things seem better and faster, do you ever wonder why we sometimes cling to the old ways of doing things? Why even if much better options are available, we still do things a certain way? Why do we hesitate to innovate?

We get hired to moderate and facilitate a lot of workshops, meetings, and events. Sometimes, they are innovation-focused workshops, centered on developing products and services which can be developed and launched today. Sometimes they have targeted IP generation sessions, expressly designed to generate protectable IP, in the form of patent applications (and hopefully patents). Sometimes, they are far future strategy sessions that can generate all the above. In all our sessions, we also generate massive improvements in employee engagement.

We tend to use repeatable, useful, and mind-expanding session formats, to generate the biggest return in the shortest period. One of the most useful tools in our arsenal is the “Why do we still…” format, which we find fun, engaging and helps to open the team’s minds to new possibilities.

In this game, we spend a few minutes generating the end of the question “Why do we still…” – typically first using individual ideation, then group ideation, then dot voting to select the top three-sentence ends. We then randomly split the team into two, and have each team argue for and against this assertion, looking at cultural, social, technical, and other markers to answer the question. We also ask the team to develop a sales pitch for their viewpoint and have the teams compete against each other to determine a winner.

Here are some examples:

  • Why do we still buy DVD players? (electronics manufacturer)
  • Why do we still use websites? (bank)
  • Why do we still use remote controls? (virtual audio assistant developer)

A good example question for a book retailer might be “Why do we still read paper books?”

The pro side could argue that the physical manifestation of a book is still important to the customer, that tactile sense of the book itself, the feel, the smell, the ease of viewing, all contribute to an all-around pleasurable experience. That side could also argue that the quality of eBooks is sub-par, screens are difficult for some to read, and that for some eBooks, especially those with charts and graphs, they translate to electronic form very poorly. Additionally, they can discuss how to encourage those who prefer eBooks to instead to try to use paper books, by highlighting those elements, targeting that market. Finally, they develop a paper book pitch, to be delivered to eBook customers, convincing them to try paper books.

The other side could argue that the electronic delivery of books can be much more rapid, the price of the books is much cheaper as there are no physical elements to the book. They could argue that eBook reader devices are getting better and can present the book in a much more flexible way than just as an analog book. They can argue that paper books are heavier and use up natural resources in production (even if they use recycled paper) so that it is much more environmentally friendly. In the same way as above, the pro-eBook team builds a pitch for eBooks.

When the pitches are complete, they present to each other, and the sides then pick a winner. The exercise is to focus on why, when technology and culture can move us in one direction, they tend to keep us moving in the same direction. It’s a great exercise for companies in distress, looking to decide on

a pivot or a way in which to redefine their current offerings.

Who knows – you may even be able to discover your next unicorn.