Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The IDE3A Process

 There is clearly a paradox in distilling the creative process into five easy steps.  So let’s do four instead:

                       Explore, experiment and evaluate

Whether you are designing a new web page, developing a new product or evolving a completely new business model, investigation is the first step. Focus your intellectual curiosity on the project and learn as much as you can about the origin, history, implication, trends and future projections as you can. As your understanding deepens, your creative choices broaden.

Former GE Chairman Jack Welch called this process a “deep dive” and considered it one of his favorite perks as an executive. Welch defined it as “spotting a challenge where you think you can make a difference--one that looks like it would be fun--and then throwing the weight of your position behind it.”  Even if you lack the influence of a GE Chairman, the “deep dive” is a powerful technique.

As your understanding deepens, the next step is to define your project goals and objectives. Placing “define” as the second step in the process may seem counterintuitive to many.  I realize that the classic Six Sigma DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) begins with the definition step. However, I believe it is a mistake to define a problem or project before gaining a deep understanding of the situation. Your project definition will direct and limit your creative choices, so it should be approached with care and understanding.

When you move into the explore, experiment and evaluate phase, things get really interesting and really fun.  This is the time to test specific ideas and see how they work.  Rapid prototyping is critical: mock things up quickly, test how well they work quickly, succeed or fail quickly and move on to the next experiment.

This phase usually involves a cycle where exploration, experimentation and evaluation are followed by a period of reflection to allow the idea to incubate. Reflection leads to new insights which kick off another round of experimentation. Through these cycles, the creative idea gets refined and focused.

The final step is to amaze with stunning implementation.  The best idea in the world still requires excellent execution. This is usually the longest and most tedious phase in a project and it requires mastery and attention to detail. Implementation is hard work and isn’t always fun.  But anything less than amazing is a waste of effort.

In 1984, Steve Jobs used the phrase “insanely great” to describe the newly introduced Macintosh computer and Apple has amazed us with a whole series of “insanely great” products since.  However, neither the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone or iPad were the first in their category or even the most powerful. What Apple provides  is an amazing user experience and stunning design. Your implementation needs to meet the same “insanely great” standard.

The IDE3A is an oversimplification.  But I believe it provides a useful framework for understanding the creative process.

What ideas are you exploring that could benefit from the IDE3A process?  How will you make them amazing?

Jack: Straight from the Gut     The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success      The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience