Turning Lemons into Lemonade: The Re-Cap

Let’s face it: we’ve all been subjected or contributed to a bad idea. And like anything else, a bad idea can evolve into something bigger: a policy or product that is destined to fail. But as Charlie Day once stated “sometimes even hearing a bad idea is a great way to get to a good idea.” And that was the theme of the Boston Design Thinking Meetup we hosted at Isobar Boston: “Turning Lemons into Lemonade.” Our goal was to explore how to leverage bad ideas and shape them into great and innovate outcomes. But, in order to do this, we had a pivot our normal process around good ideas and dive into bad, awful, disgusting and even offensive ideas. With the help from Matt Templeton, Senior Director of Innovation at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, over 60 people embarked on this journey. We utilized the topic of transportation to explore bad ideas with the hopes of transforming them into a better travel and/or commuting experience (because, let’s be honest, we’ve all had a horrible travel experience).

Our design thinking agenda was pretty straightforward; utilizing a condensed version of a multi-day Design Sprint where we address a problem and frame a solution through prototyping. After forming teams, we started with a Stoke exercise – a simple warm-up to get participants focused on bad ideas. We then had teams talk about their worst traveling or commuting story and each member talk about what good (or bad) outcome came out of it. Each team then prioritized their ideas to share with the larger group.  Once shared, we had the teams reframe their bad ideas into a good “How Might We” statement to prototype against.

Within two hours, the group gravitated to similar travel themes. But, most importantly, from all of this work, we gathered some interesting insights around structuring a bad ideation session:

Put constraints around the topic but not around exploration: As we were formulating this meetup, we wanted to make sure that we provided the teams with the right topic to focus on. So while we had initially focused on daily commute, during the actual meetup, we expanded the idea to traveling in general. In doing this, we created a broader range of exploration. In the future, it may make sense to keep the task a bit more focused, but for the sake of the meetup, this open-ended topic allowed us to bring all ideas to the table, no matter how terrible or offensive they may be.

Bad stories are better than bad ideas: Even though the teams were tasked with coming up with bad ideas or situations, they instead focused on telling bad stories.. The teams reveled in the details: from having a passenger twerk in purple yoga pants while commuting, to being kidnapped in a foreign country. In each case, the stories helped to strengthen how bad the experience was while providing a baseline for others to relate. The common thread of bad traveling experiences allowed teams to surface themes for the group to ideate around without feeling constrained.

Leverage Reframing to turn the bad into good: Using the ‘How Might We’ (HMW) approach enabled teams to quickly pivot their bad stories into good ideas. Most teams were able to easily group and categorize common bad themes and prototype positive outcomes. But, to find the right HMW, we walked through some of the common themes we heard during the share out. The goal here was to craft the right statement to encompass the needs and objectives of the user — not too broad or narrow to explore when prototyping.

Bad situations and experiences have the potential to invoke a deeper empathy for a user or customer, thus forcing designers to explore the complete range of emotions a user would feel in order to build the optimal solution. For example, one team presented the concept of a digital experience where a traveler could pick and swap seats on a plane based on their preferences and/or current mood. Need some quiet time but don’t care where you sit? Swap your seat with another person (with child) who is looking to sit with his/her family before getting on the flight. And through this act of kindness, the individual would receive a reward, such as a free drink for their efforts. Since the team’s bad ideas focused around the frustration and uncertainty of sitting next to someone, the lack of individual preference when flying and the struggle with personal comfort on a flight, their solution was derived from exploring the complete spectrum of struggles travelers face.

Overall the session was not only a great meetup, but also provided an opportunity to refine a ‘bad idea’ design-thinking framework and spurred some additional exercises to explore for future opportunities. More importantly, the participants seemed to really enjoy exploring bad ideas! A big thanks to Matt Templeton along with Lars Leimanis, Shane Patton, Mario Gonzalez, Alicia Park, Sarah Hoover and Anne Keane for making this event possible!