Why innovation is critical in isolation

“Experimentation is the prerequisite to Innovation”

Successful innovation is, almost always, a product of high-learning experiments. One needs to learn, from users themselves, what works for them and what doesn’t. Most startup founders, innovators and product designers are aware of this thumb-rule and they look towards processes that offer user-centric design. This is the key to creating an engaging User Experience (UX).

There are various techniques used in this process such as field research, observation, interviews etc. However, the current lockdown poses serious challenges in user discovery and survey sampling. Luckily, in this age of remote connectivity, communication tools and social media, we can reach large audiences without endangering ourselves or anyone else. A process that capitalises on this fact is called Game Thinking.


Game Thinking is a revolutionary product design methodology designed by world renowned game designer, author and startup coach, Amy Jo Kim. It marries concepts of game design, design thinking, agile & lean UX and systems thinking. A unique aspect of this methodology is the theory of a Super Fan. A super fan is a part of your early target audience who:

  • knows and feels the problem that you are trying to solve
  • has been looking for a solution
  • has probably tried workarounds and alternatives to solve the problem
  • is not happy with them
  • most importantly, is willing to talk to you about it

The next question that comes to mind is how do we find these super fans, especially without any feet on the ground, without huge market research budgets or focus groups. It is accomplished by:

  • defining your initial target market (go as narrow as you can)
  • determining how one can reach them using digital tools like social media platforms, groups etc.
  • sending them a screener survey to decide whether the person is a super fan or not

Let me illustrate with some examples. If your solution caters to children, you need to reach out to their parents who are the decision-makers and purchasers. A good place to start might be a Facebook group where parents exchange notes e.g. “Mommies Unite”.

If your target audience is small or medium business owners, there are several online communities for such business owners in your city e.g. “The Business Owners Group, Mumbai”.

Game Thinking provides guidelines for creating the ideal screener survey. The survey should not be too long that can cause survey fatigue. However, we should be able to extract the right information from the audience. When done right, the results of this survey are magical.

The way people respond to this survey clearly indicates whether they are invested enough in the problem or they feel the pain enough to be able to contribute to your research.

Once that is established, a quick interview with such super fans clearly validates or refutes your assumptions as a product designer. You can then decide to persevere, pivot or kill the project. When you decide to persevere, you are empowered with the knowledge that you are building something that would really solve a problem for your users. Super fans provide you invaluable information like who are your competitors, what works for the users, what existing habits do they have relevant to your product etc. 

We worked with a travel platform to enhance the user experience of their travel agents. A smartly-designed survey revealed who the super fans were and diving further into quick discussions with them revealed a very important habit — they were using WhatsApp for a lot of their communication with the customers because of its popularity. However, the travel platform itself was missing out on all those transactions. We decided to offer a simple integration with WhatsApp and the agents were delighted. It saved a lot of their effort and it gave the platform important transactional information. 

The super fans are happy to be the alpha testers of your prototypes, early adopters of your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and enthusiastic evangelists of your solutions.

So, don’t let this crisis hinder your drive to create engaging products. Keep alive the spirit of innovation even in isolation.

(Edited by Apoorva Puranik)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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