Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship

Innovation is all about making a difference in people life‘s, and it starts with an idea.

This idea needs to resonate with customer needs, create the appropriate market attraction, find the right value network to grow, justify its financial costs and last but not least have a potential return on the investment.

For that many aspects about innovative ideas need to be understood, starting with the person who take the idea from being an abstract idea to be a reality (AKA the entrepreneur) and what qualities he / she should have. What innovation means, and how it can create a real value for all of its stakeholders. What is the industry context we are going to work in and what are the market forces that we need to take for. How we are going to build a sustainable business model to support growing our dreams and business. Last but not least, how we are going to find a real market needs and get the appropriate customer understanding.

All these and more were the topics within this interesting course “Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies” which was named #1  Entrepreneurship Course on Coursera by CourseTalk’s “Top Rated” MOOCs.

This blog post is an attempt to go through the course material in a moderate way and provide the key insights and knowledge that you can take with you within your entrepreneurial journey! So I hope you find it useful.

What is entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is a hot topic know-days and it will make sense to start thinking about and what does it really mean.

Technology ventures define entrepreneurship as:

“undertaking the creation of an enterprise or business that has the chance of profit or success”

This definition does not distinguish between what is for profit and what is not, nor does is it distinguish between a company, an organization or an enterprise. The main thing about entrepreneurship the to have an aim and succeed in it.

Entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation

The three topics, entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation are interrelated topic! But what is the difference?


Creativity can be thought of as “creating a new idea”, the key thing here is the word new! New can be complete new thing or relatively new.

Creativity is an iterative process, where the following can happen:

  • Connection of disparate ideas.
  • Discovery of opportunities and possible solutions.
  • Invention as the application of discovery.
  • Application in the feasible adoption of solutions.

That been said, creativity does not imply making it valuable, this where innovation comes to play.


“Innovation is the successful exploitation of new ideas”. Innovation is about taking an idea (could be from the creativity) and making it valuable for it for its stakeholders! Value here means that the idea is desirable by the customer, viable as business concept and feasible as an implementation.

Innovation has the following types as per Dr. green:

  • Business Model Innovation: Changing the way business is done in terms how we capture value.
  • Marketing Innovation: Development of new marketing methods with improvement in product design or packaging, product promotion or pricing.
  • Organizational Innovation: Creation or alteration of business structures, practices, and models, and may therefore include process, marketing and business model innovation.
  • Process Innovation: Implementation of a new or significantly improved production or delivery method.
  • Offering Innovation: Introduction of a new good or service that is new or substantially improved in some functional characteristics, technical abilities, ease of use, or any other dimension.
  • Supply Chain Innovation: Occur in the sourcing of input products from suppliers and the delivery of output products to customers.

Entrepreneurship as we saw is the mindset and the glue links creativity, innovation and execution, where we find what is new, explore how it can the valuable, taking the steps to make it real and finally delivering it to the intended market.

The key learning we all have to take from the above is: entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation are all skills that can be learned! Yes, it helps to have some kind of qualities with in you as person, but we humans always find a way, when there is a well!

The Opportunity Analysis Canvas

The whole course is built around the The opportunity analysis canvas, which is is a new tool that can help us in the following:

  1. Help us develop our entrepreneurial mindset (1a, 1b, 1c in the figure below)
  2. Develop that opportunity analysis skill set (2a, 2b, 2c)
  3. Identify the entrepreneurial opportunities (3a, 3b, 3c)

And as any canvas, its a way to lay fame our thinking, lay down ideas in a written way that makes them more communicable with others.

The opportunity analysis canvas

The opportunity analysis canvas

The opportunity analysis canvas is a nine stage tools that can be looked at as a step that proceed creating the business model canvas, where First, we look at the element of our entrepreneurship thinking, motivation and find tune it. Second, we zoom out to look at what going in the in the economy, what’s going in industry and competition, with in it. Third, its used as way to look for the value for customers and trying to identify the opportunities.

In this way, the opportunity analysis canvas helps us in Thinking Entrepreneurially, Seeing Entrepreneurially and finally Acting Entrepreneurially. The following material in the course expands on the items in the opportunity analysis canvas in each of its three main categories.

Entrepreneurs, motivations, behaviors and the mindset

Entrepreneurship is all about the people! Its a quality that some people have, while others largely miss. So the question arias: How can you define your self as an entrepreneur or not?

Dr. James Green stated some of the characteristics entrepreneurs have, such as:

  • They are people with goals to achieve! The goal could be to help the society or even be motived by money, as long as they have a goal they are pursuing, they are entrepreneurs.
  • They are people with high Independence! Entrepreneurs tend to have some individuality when it comes to how they work and make decisions, which results in needing less support or approval from others.
  • They are people with freedom! Entrepreneurs love freedom when it comes to what they do, how they do things and when they do it. Thats why they favor freedom from been in in another type of profession or career that limit them to do so.
  • They are people with high focus! Entrepreneurs have both attention and commitment. They also able to leads others individuals to react and to become successful with them.
  • They are people who create! Successful entrepreneurs connect the dots and see things other did not see or are blind to see. They also have the ability to create relationships with in the market they operate in, which for sometimes, be the real differentiator.
  • They are people with high optimism! Entrepreneurs make judgments in a positive way. They have the tendency to overlook critical elements and discount uncertainties.
  • They are people with risk taking! This is what really makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur! The ability to take risks and have the courage to fail. They also risk there money, because they see that there is an opportunity, the higher the risk, the higher the return.
  • Against all the odds! Entrepreneurs have the ability to see things other don’t see, so grounded to their vision, entrepreneurs proceed to take actions that other may see unrealistic or sometimes even silly.

In an nutshell, entrepreneurs develop ideas into actions!

Entrepreneurs may succeed but also they may fail along the way, they are people how have the passion and the motive to move things from point A to point B, so its worth studying these success stories and try to to learn from them how did they succeed, what are the best practices / lessons we can take from them and hopefully trying to avoid the failures they have been to.

Behaviors of an entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs have certain type of behaviors that distinguish them from others.

They first have Confidence, where they believe in themselves and their abilities. Maintaining Relationships, where entrepreneurs are driven by likeability and good communication skills, they also have the skills to connect to others with ease. Building Social capital, entrepreneurs build find many resources in and through personal and professional networks. Last but not least, Risk tolerance, where entrepreneurs have the natural tendency to take big risks.

Entrepreneurs and decision making 

If we imagine going inside an entrepreneur mindset, we are likely to see a lot of brain activity, where a lot of pushing and pulling to make decisions smartly and relatively quickly. Trying to understand how entrepreneurs make decision making on a fundamental level is a key to know how unique and significant entrepreneurs are!

Decision making is cognitive activity, and by cognitive we mean it involves a thinking process of goals / objectives / process and taking choice out of set of choices. When we take a decision we have a set of alternative options at the time of decision, we may not know the exact outcomes, but we can try to estimate it.

The process of strategic decision making 

By strategy we mean, a means to achieve a goal or an objective and for that strategic decisions is typically a process that has the following steps:

  1. Recognizing a problem or the situation
  2. Generating alternatives options to overcome the problem or the situation
  3. Evaluating the various alternatives
  4. Selecting the alternative that best satisfies our evaluation criteria

Strategic decisions involve critical analysis, resource investment, and commitment. It also comes with an objective that can be for example:

  • Revenue and profit goals
  • Market share and competitive advantage
  • Product superiority and technical advantage

Strategic decisions at the high-level share four fundamental characteristics:

  • Complexity: facts, variables, and contingencies relevant for the decision at hand
  • Uncertainty: all possible outcomes are not known and / or are difficult to forecast
  • Rationality: a specific goal is intended by making a decision
  • Control: intentional and deliberate actions are made by decision-makers

Why its important to study how entrepreneurs make there decisions?

Studying how entrepreneurs make there decisions may help us in finding ways to make our decisions better when it comes to the normal management practices!

Entrepreneurs take decisions while under the following:

  1. Limited information to operate within
  2. Taking decisive and action-oriented decisions
  3. Taking risks that involve could involve major consequence

Looking at the their strategic decision making process and trying to learn how entrepreneurs actually do it, may of us could find patterns that we can benefit from in normal management practices in the highly uncertain world we live and under the extreme conditions surrounding our businesses today.

From an entrepreneur point of view, strategic decision making can be thought of as the first step to discover opportunities, which is the key first step to build the business venture.

Understanding the industry and the market

Dr. James Brown defined an industry as a type of an economic activity that is running at a large scale, and it can be thought as batching or grouping set of companies based on there economic activity. For entrepreneurs its important to look and think about industries that are off interest to them, especially when they are thinking, and searching for the business concepts.

When looking looking at industries, two type of conditions are very important for entrepreneurs:

Industry Knowledge conditions: which are the mount and type of knowledge creation that is required to generate products/services within these industries. We may ask questions like, do we need specific expertise, or is success based more on financial capabilities, location, relationships or any other factors.

For entrepreneurs building on the expertise they have, they can can create favorable knowledge conditions by themselves or by finding the right partners within that industry space. Also its important for entrepreneurs to seek opportunities to build knowledge of the business space, market and technologies within the selected industry. Finally, entrepreneurs showed have a look at adjacent industries to avoid the disruptions and to have a broader vision about what other options are available to there prospect customers.

Industry Demand conditions: 

The other set of conditions entrepreneurs need to look at are demand conditions. Within it, entrepreneurs examine three aspects of customer demand conditions:

  • The magnitude of customer demand
  • The rate of growth of that demand
  • The heterogeneity of that demand across customer segments

At this stage, its important for entrepreneurs to do market segmentation to determine who to serve / who not to serve, who is the most attractive segment to start targeting and how to better address the needs of that target segment. Market segmentation also presents and attractive opportunity for entrepreneurs to specialize and find something that seizable enough, yet unattractive to the exiting large player.

Looking at these both type of conditions (knowledge and demand) within the industry your pursuing your next business idea, will give as an entrepreneur a broader understanding and a knowledge advantage that you can use to assess the viability of the market, disrupt the exiting market, find the right partners or any other pre-commercialization decision.

There are many ways to segment the market and find customer segments, options include segmenting the market by demographics, socialgraphics, lifestyle, interests, etc.

The most powerful way to segment customers is by understanding there needs and wants and starting from there. This way an entrepreneur can make sure that he / she is find a solution for a real problem.

Strategy and strategic positioning

Strategic positioning is all about defining the company’s position, making trade-offs, and forging fit among company activities. Hence, strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities, which can be serving few needs of many customers or serving broad needs of few customers.

To have a strategy, as strategic planning process need to be undertaken, where the formulation of long-range plans for the effective management of opportunities and threats in-light of a venture’s strengths and weaknesses. This is where the entrepreneur try to define the venture mission, specifying achievable objectives and setting timelines and measures of how to access what have been achieved.

After that comes the the step of strategy formulation, which is the process of developing the identified strategy.

Creating a sustainable competitive advantage

With in the workable industry, entrepreneurs need to find a venture that has a strategy that other companies do not duplicate in some form and for sometime. The competitive advantage is a unique feature set, unique business relationships, a unique business model, which is only an advantage if it’s in place and it’s not easily copied.

To analyze the right competitive advantage that could be selected by an in a certain industry, two models can be helpful to understand where the new venture will be positioned and how it can develop a sustainable strategy:

The Poter five forces: Porter five forces analysis is a framework to analyse level of competition within an industry and business strategy development. The five forces helps us determine the competitive intensity and therefore attractiveness of a market.

Five Forces Analysis assumes that there are five important forces that determine competitive power in a business context, which are:

  1. The Supplier Power: here we assess how easy it is for suppliers to drive up prices with in that market. The fewer the supplier choices we have, and the more powerful the suppliers are.
  2. The Buyer Power: here we assess how easy it is for buyers to drive prices down. This will be driven by the number of buyers, the cost of switching to someone else, and so on.
  3. Competitive Rivalry: if we have many competitors, and they offer equal products and services, then most likely that we have little power in the situation.
  4. Threat of Substitution: this is where customers are able to find different way of doing what we are doing but with a different method. The more options are there, the more weaken we are.
  5. Threat of New Entry: if it costs or time or money to enter your market and compete effectively is to little, this is a way to weaken our position within that market and losing any competitive advantage in it.
The Poter five forces

The Poter five forces

The Blue Ocean strategy:
 Blue Ocean is all systematic strategic way of making competitors irrelevant by creating new market spaces that did not exist. Blue Ocean strategy emphasis on finding new market spaces that were untapped before using its methodology, and stress on leaving the “like them” follow strategies that let the company struggle in an exciting red ocean.

The heart of blue ocean strategy is the concept of Value Innovation which is all about creating the right mix by both increasing the value proposition to customers and reducing the cost structures of the business. Which is a simultaneous pursuing of both differentiation and low cost.

Within the Blue Ocean strategy, the strategy canvas can be used as way to current state of play in market space and drive action by reorienting focus from competitors to alternatives and from customers to non­customers.

Strategy Canvas

Strategy Canvas

Building the assets 

When entrepreneurs are entering a certain industry, its very important for them to understand what assets are most critical in that industry and market of interest. This will help them in building the right muscles to compete with exiting players.

Assets to build could involve:

  • Tangible assets: like money, equipment, real estate, patents, etc.
  • Intangible assets: like knowledge, relationships, reputation, customer experience, brand name, etc.

Entrepreneurs will need these assets to create advantage over competitors, so its wiser to start with the intangible assets as they are not that easy to replicate, once established in a right way.

Understanding the changes at the macro-level 

One of the key things entrepreneurs need to be in the look out for are the changes that are happening in the intended market on a macro level. This includes monitoring changes in technology, changes in social and demographic factors and changes in political and regulatory rules.

Technological changes for example are one of the most important triggers of change that allows for the expansion of new innovations and create new market spaces. Social & demographic changes also opens up the opportunities by creating demand for things where demand had not existed before. Political & regulatory change can be a two way sword, where it can create the opportunity or even demolish it, based on that change.

Understanding the customers

For entrepreneurs to build a successful venture, they need to introduce a product or service that satisfies customer needs in a better than competition, the right cost structures for the business and at a price that fits the business model for this venture.

For that its very important to to find that unsolved customers problem first and then find a better way of solving a customer’s problem than whats is existing.

Finding the real customer problem 

Entrepreneurs must study current customers and “see” what are there needs and wants. This can be done by applying both ethnographic research methods along side market research method.

The key thing is to find the sources of customers pain or unmet needs and prime that to find the opportunities for new innovations. The entrepreneur need to look for clues from the customers and find expressions of an
unfulfilled wishes. Finding the needs is only a start, once identified, the entrepreneur can start developing the product that fulfill the necessities grounded to the insights gathered.

Design Thinking can be used as a process to understand customers current needs, there current obstacles and as way to overcome it by formulating solutions based on the gathered insights. If you are interested more about how to apply Design Thinking for business innovation, I would recommend to visit this extended post about it here.

Understanding customer adoption cycle 

On of the mistakes entrepreneur do when they think about customer acceptance for there innovations, is to assume that innovations are mass market ready from day one!  Tough the innovation in it self may be valuable and desirable by customers, but the reality that it has to undergo a certain cycle when it comes to customer adoption.

The theory of innovation diffusion breaks down the customer and there adoption to any new innovation to five different segments as follows:

  • The Innovators: are at the forefront of the curve. “Innovators” do not just try out whats new, but they can also aid in the innovation process itself.
  • The Early Adopters: they come into the picture once the benefits of a certain innovation start becoming clearer. They are always on the lookout for new things and are quick to adopt new innovations to suit their needs. They normally have the resources like time and money needed to adopt new innovations. They also are inherently risk taking and see the need to be trendsetters.
  • The Early Majority: are the first of the group that adopts an innovation once it gains sufficient traction and widespread acclaim. They are influenced by the media and other social channels and follow the crowd.
  • The Late Majority: are conservative in nature and risk averse. The only reason for them to adopt new innovations is to fit in and not get left behind.
  • The Laggards: are the bitter end of the curve. They share many of the fears and concerns of the late majority. It’s probably safe to ignore them during the early phases of innovation, but they can provide valuable input during the late phases of innovation.

Working with each segment requires different strategies from the entrepreneur and understanding this adoption cycle is a key to understand how innovations can be taken to the next level.

Customer adoption cycle

Customer adoption cycle

Opportunity identification and business modeling

When entrepreneurs find the real customer needs, this is where the opportunity arise for innovation. Here the entrepreneur need to find the opportunity that can bring value innovation to the market.

Value innovation is all about creating the right mix by both increasing the value proposition to customers and reducing the cost structures of the business. Which is a simultaneous pursuing of both differentiation and low cost.

Value Innovation

Value Innovation

Blue Ocean strategy if you recall, has a framework that is very useful to be used by entrepreneurs, which is the four actions framework. In the action framework, the entrepreneur should look at the current company factors and competition factors and see what you can do to these factors in terms of creation, raising, reduction and elimination to create a new value curve.

Entrepreneurs use the four actions framework to reconstruct buyer value elements in crafting a new value curve and to break the trade-off between differentiation and low cost and to create a new value curve by answering four key questions, what to raise? what to eliminate? what to reduce? and what to create?

The 4 Actions Framework

The 4 Actions Framework

Opportunity identification & verification 

Entrepreneurs opportunities become real when they find a solution that leverages strategic advantage and solve an important problem for others.

Its vey important for entrepreneurs to validate their ideas and solutions by talking with prospective customers very early in the product development process. This can provide insights on what features, values, and price are important  to customers (before even the first prototype).

What are the “real” needs that we are building our compelling value for? Are we are providing customers something that will really match their needs? To know this, we need to start from the customers not from our intuition.

One method to apply opportunity identification & verification is to use lean development methods. Lean development is all about about applying a scientific methodology to validate a certain hypothesis or a theory. Its all about having the mindset to accept the changes in the enterprise that shift the thinking from the “Ship it!” or the organization driven opportunity development mindset to a more customer driven opportunity development mindset.

If you want to read more about lean thinking and how it can be applied to startups (also to big established companies), I would recommend to view this blog post.

Building a business model

A business model in its essence, describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value.

To better understand your business model and the business model of other, a very nice and helpful tool called “The Business Model Canvas” can be used to demystify business models. It provide with a way to look at you business from different angles like from value proposition point of view, from customers point of view, from partners point of view and so.

In the business model canvas, we look at the following:

  • Customer Segments: where we define the different groups of people or organizations to serve
  • Value Propositions: where we describe the bundle of products or services that create value for a specific customer segment
  • Channels: how we are going to reach our customer segments
  • Customer Relationships: what type of relationships we want to establish with the customer segments
  • Revenue Streams: how we are going to generate money
  • Cost Structure: what are the costs we are going to incur to operate our business model
  • Key Resources: what are the important assets we need to make our business model work
  • Key Activities: what are the important things we need to do to make our business model work
  • Key Partnerships: who are the suppliers / partners how are going to help us in our business model

The following video gives you a premier on business model canvas, here.

Business model canvas

Business model canvas

Creating business plans

After we have done all the amazing work to find the opportunity, understand the customers, understand the market / industry, find the business model that we are planning to operate with, its time to formulate the business plan.

A business plan is plan for the creation and management of the business that details exactly how the company will materialize from concept to maturity, it also explains the market size and the competitive environment we are going to operate in. A business plan is more of an owner manual for the new venture.

In a business plan we put a special attention to:

  • The marketing plan: describing match of products and strategy to current and future markets
  • The operations plan: discussing our processes for operation
  • The financial plan: assessing all revenues, costs, and financial requirements and sources for the venture

Why write a business plan?

A business plan is a great tool to:

  • Helps to focus ideas and serves as a feasibility study of the business’s chances for success and growth
  • Finished plan serves as an operational tool to define the company’s present and future possibilities
  • Helps us manage the business and prepare for success or adaptation
  • Serves as a strong communication tool for the business purpose, competition, management, financial goals, etc.
  • Provides the basis for your financing proposal, which is required by most banks and investors

Its worth noting that the business plan is a working document. It requires significant research and thought, needs regular, recurring updates and must stand up to criticism and challenges.

For the sake of simplicity we are not going to nitty gritty details of a business plan, but there are many online resources that to can look up on the subject.

Final thoughts

This course is a great eye opener to many subjects with in the field of entrepreneurship, it has nearly every thing you can imagine on a very basic level. Tough, I think that each one of the subjects with in this course need its own course, to get us entrepreneurs on a clear and solid understanding.

Also, the videos in the course where a bit long compared to other MOOC’s I have attended, which demand really a very long time and attention to manage to go through.

All in all, I have enjoyed this course very much and I would recommend it to any one in the field of startup, innovation or Entrepreneurship.

Kudos James Green :)

More from Dr. James Green

If you are interested more about the topic, an online master degree called the “Master of Technology Entrepreneurship” is available 100% Online within 15 Months period and for the pice of $19,500 from the University of Maryland.

Dr. Jamess also has a book that expand on the course topic, The Opportunity Analysis Canvas, which can be obtained from the following link or by clicking the book image below.

The Opportunity Analysis Canvas

The Opportunity Analysis Canvas


About the Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies course

The Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies course was provided as a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on the Coursera platform and provided by University of Maryland in 6 weeks timeframe.

The course was designed to assists aspiring entrepreneurs in developing great ideas into great companies. Using proven content, methods, and models for new venture opportunity assessment and analysis. The course helps in enhancing the entrepreneurial mindset of entrepreneurs and help develop their functional skill sets to see and act entrepreneurially.

This course was instructed by James Green the director of entrepreneurship education in University of Maryland. For more information about the course and its future schedules, kindly visit the course Coursera page.

I have successfully finished this course in July 2013 and the following still image provide a verification of my course completion.



About the 

Mussab Sharif, an innovation manager and practitioner in a leading Middle East telecom operator. Having a major of computer engineering and in the process of finishing my MBA specialized in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea university for applied sciences in Espoo, Finland.

A Crash Course on Creativity!

Where do ideas come from?

Creativity is looked at as the engine to bring ideas, but also most of us think creativity is an epiphany, where some will get it, while others will not!

What if I told that creativity is something that every one of us can learn, its only a matter to understanding its underlying framework and how to unlock it.

Creativity is more than imagination!

How can we understand creativity as persons and how can we enable it in the world we live in? This is the topic of this fascinating course provided by Tina Seelig the Stanford professor, who has spent the last 13 years or so looking for the answer to the question, how we can unlock creativity?

Most of the efforts in the course where in the psychical group sessions (+videos) as we have formulated as team of 5 from the same location to carry on the assignments. The team was called Alien Team, just in case we pumped in the name below :)

5 + 5 = ?

Can you solve this equations? The answer may be obvious as we learned in school that there is only one right answer to this problem, but what if we looked at the equation in this way (? + ? = 10)! Suddenly we have infinite numbers of answers that we can suggest!

What happen is that we have changed our perspective of the problem and this helped spared our imagination.

Click on the image to watch the video!

Click on the image to watch the video!

The innovation engine

The innovation engine as called by Tina Seelig is an, its a way to open the aperture and avoid look at creativity in a very narrow way. 

The Innovation Engine

The Innovation Engine

Innovation engine is what we need to unlock our creativity! It’s a way to have a fresh look at creativity and to decompose it to elements that we can try to understand, create and grow.

The parts in inside of our innovation engine are knowledge, imagination, and attitude:

  • Knowledge provides the fuel for your imagination
  • Imagination is the catalyst for the transformation of knowledge into new ideas
  • Attitude is the spark that sets the innovation engine in motion

Looking outside our innovation engine we, see resources, habitat, and culture.

  • Resources are all the assets in your community.
  • Habitats includes the people on your team, the rules, rewards, and the physical space.
  • Culture is the collective beliefs, values, and behaviors in your community.

The following video gives you a nicer explanation about the innovation engine from Tina, so don’t miss it!

Seeing old things in a new way!

When we used to look at things in a way, we tend to create patterns that unlock us from seeing other alternatives.

A creative persons is someone who always on the look for what’s new in what’s old, its just a matter of changing the perspective. This can only happen by unlocking the power of observation, which is is an active process that help us gain knowledge and find solutions to problems we have.

An experiment was done by Richard Wiseman where he invited people to count the number of images in a newspaper. He then invited people how thought they are luck and those how are not! What happend is that people who are thought they are not lucky started counting the images in the newspaper and reported the number after couple of minutes.

Going back to the newspaper, it was not any ordinary newspaper! The front page had banner with big font saying “Stop reading the newspaper, there are 43 images in it”. People how thought they are lucky, looked beyond the question and reported the answer in matter of seconds.

Sometimes solutions to our problem are hidden in plain sight! Its just a matter of changing how we look at the world, and this is where new opportunities can be unlocked!

Connect and combine!

Pablo Picasso is claimed to have said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”! 

Most of innovations result from building upon existing ideas, and connecting and combining them in unexpected ways! That’s why connecting unexpected people, places, objects, and ideas can provide boost to innovation.

We had the assignment as team to find two objects and connect them in a new way, the results? See for your self!

One very video that shows you how connecting and combining can bring creativity is the video in titled “Elements of Creativity“, enjoy it by watching clicking on the image below!


Click on the image to watch the video!

Reframing problems

Finding the proper question to ask is the main element of finding solutions to problem. Being able to question and reframe problems can help us change our point of view.

Asking questions is a key to find and unlock new potentials.

If I asked you to build me a bridge, your immediate answer maybe I cannot!

But if you started to ask why? you may know that I need to get the other side, and there are many ways to do that. Just by asking why we can find and unlock answers to problems we thought before not solvable.

Can we look at the chewing gum in a new way?

Our team tried to look at how can we use to chewing gum in a new way! We got a lot of ideas from the session, here are the best final nine ideas that we thought it can provide unexpected ways to use a chewing gum can be viewed here!

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.03.44 AM 1

Challenging assumptions

The first answers to any problem are not always the best answers. In fact, much better solutions are usually waiting to be unearthed. The best approach to pass the first obvious ideas is brainstorming, brainstorming enables us to get past the first set of ideas pretty quickly and on to those that are much less obvious.

Brainstorming is more like chess, you know the rules but its hard to implement them in reality. The same apply to brainstorm rules like “defer judgment”, its looks easy, but in reality its very hard to do.

When we look at brainstorming we need first to look at WHO is in the room? A brainstorm session is only as good as the people who are coming up with ideas.

Second, WHAT are we brainstorming about? We need to carefully think about the problem you are solving. We have to frame it right to find the best solutions!

Third, WHERE will we brainstorm? We need to create a space that can foster idea generation.

Finally, HOW does a brainstorming session run? We need to make everyone aware of the brainstorming guidelines, how much time you will spend on the session, and what will happen at the end.

Can we talk to animals?

One of the assumptions we have today, animals can not understand us! But what if this is not true?

As a team we created this video (which is a combination of many videos), about a concept called Pet Language Translator. The aim of it is to expand our thinking about how we can bridge the gap between a human language and an animal language.


Mastering the creative mind

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work

To have a creative mind you need to adapt your self to failure. You need to experiment and try many ways till you find what work. Every failure revels a new truth of the world. Successful innovation comes from trying lots of approaches to solve a certain problem, which will result in discarding a lot of ideas, and that is the nature of innovation.

Its also an attitude, some have the fear of being or getting wrong, but those who throw there fears in favor of the fear of missing out, they are the more likely to take large challenges.

More from Tina

The author of the online course Tina Seelig has book on that expand on the subject, titled inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, you can consult it for more information on how to unlock creativity in detailed way.

inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

About the Crash Course on Creativity course

This course was provided as a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) by the Stanford Venture Lab (Now NovoEd). The course was provided in mid 2013 and was held for 6 consecutive weeks.

For more information about the future course schedules and timings, please follow the link for NovoEd web site. Its worth noting that the course name may have been changed, so search for the course based using “Tina Seelig” name :)

I have successfully finished this course in June 2013 and the following still image provide a verification of my course completion.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.01.41 AM

About the author

Mussab Sharif, an innovation manager and practitioner in a leading Middle East telecom operator. Having a major of computer engineering and in the process of finishing my MBA specialized in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea university for applied sciences in Espoo, Finland.

Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Sustainable healthy life is basic human necessity. We all want to live healthy, stay health and to be healthy.

Healthcare is one of the aspects that can help us achieve the healthy living we look for as civilized modern citizens. We all imagine a healthcare system that is accessible, affordable, efficient with less human errors, less medication errors, better treatment / diagnostic methods and better ways of personalizing the whole healthcare experience for us as individuals.

That been said, the reality differ from the expectations! The healthcare systems today has many challenges that may seem paralyzing and very hard to overcome, but from an innovators point of view we need to see the elephant in the room, we need to see the opportunity for innovation in healthcare from the lens of these challenges, as always, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the return will be!

The Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) aim to assist individuals and/or small teams in the identification, development, and promotion of products, processes, and procedures that address the healthcare system needs, by providing a framework for innovation and entrepreneurship in healthcare.

The course started by highlighting the current obstacles existing today in the United Stated healthcare system, providing a basic framework to understand and think about healthcare and laying out a foundation for innovation that can be applied within this healthcare system.

This blog post is an attempt to summarize this interesting course and shade the lights on the key concepts provided in it, so let the healthcare journey begins!

What is healthcare?

“… The diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, illness, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in humans. Health care is delivered by practitioners in medicine, chiropractic, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, allied health, and other care providers. It refers to the work done in providing primary care, secondary care and tertiary care, as well as in public health” Wikipedia.

From the definition above we come up with the eight components of healthcare, which are: Assessment, Prevention, Diagnosis, Intervention, Recovery, Rehabilitation, Administration and Integration.

The eight components of healthcare

The eight components of healthcare

The healthcare dilemma in the United States

Before trying to understand how innovation can be applied to the healthcare system, its very important to understand some context about this system, the challenges it has and the delimiting factors its that may limit the innovators when pursuing innovations in this domain. This off course as per the course where done of the united states, but it can be applied to any healthcare system in the world by taking the key elements and localizing it for the intended market.

Some numbers about the healthcare in the United States

For the United States, the spending per capita for the healthcare is the highest in the world, where 17.3% of the US GDP in 2012 is spent on healthcare (up from 7% in 1970).

Despite that, the US rank in the 37th place among world nations based on World Health Organization (WHO) study. Adding to that, the US ranks as number 39th in infant mortality, 43th in female adult mortality, 42th in male adult mortality and 36th worldwide in life expectancy!

Factors limiting innovation in the healthcare in the United States

The introduction of new innovative healthcare product and / or services in the US is defined and delimited by the interplay of certain conditions as Marilyn Lombardi the course instructor said. These conditions are fragmentation, specialization, regulation and reimbursement.

Following are the delimiters as Marilyn Lombardi talked about:

  • Fragmentation: the US healthcare system is a fragmented system because there is no one has an enough ownership to strongly influence the whole industry outcome. This results in high administration costs as many capital costs need to be cared about by each player alone, as found by America Hospital Association.Fragmentation also result in the ignorance of the problems faced by the industry as each segment of sector of the healthcare ecosystem see that the problem in the healthcare system comes from other segments. Therefore, every one should fix there own house first before starting any industry wide efforts. This may give some grounds for innovators to test there innovation on a silo level, but they may face some issues when they try to propagate it later on the whole industry level due to this fragmentation.
  • Specialization: looking at healthcare industry, one of the key elements it preserve as an industry, is the speciality it has in each of its sub-domains. Healthcare is a big ocean of research, but each island in it needs its own skills and its own knowledge.But with that, specialization can be looked as a way to control complexity and the fear it comes with, where dividing complex problems into into small, reduces manageable parts is the only way to find optimum solutions. Therefore, innovators need to find the right sweet spot in this domain that match the capabilities and the knowledge they are grounded in within this domain.
  • Regulation: pressures that comes from the regulator as the healthcare system is highly regulated in the US need to be observed by the innovators. This can be both a positive and negative point, positive in a sense, if innovators find a way to convince regulators with some kind of a solution, it can be pushed as a standardization by the regulator. The negative part is that environments where regulators exit are harder when it comes to innovation and has more procuration.
  • Reimbursement: innovation is all about finding value for the innovators and the intended market. Therefore, innovators need to have a seizable return on innovation within the healthcare system especially when it comes to the US marketplace. This is to assure that the innovator have a sustainable income that can support the businesses and future innovation pursuing efforts.
Healthcare innovation delimiters

Healthcare innovation delimiters in the US

Global trends in healthcare costs

Marilyn Lombardi also highlighted some of the global trends when it comes to healthcare cost based on the WHO report “Primary Health Care, Now More Than Ever” and the “Global healthcare expenditure on diabetes for 2010 and 2030” report, as follows:

  • From the total world population, 5.6 billion people pay out of their own pocket for over half of the healthcare costs, mostly these people are located low- and middle-income countries
  • 100 million is the number of people who fall into poverty each year because they must pay for catastrophic healthcare care costs
  • 490 billion (in US Dollars) in the year 2030 is the expected cost of diabetes care alone, among people aged 20-79

Just looking at the numbers we can foresee the size of the challenge the global healthcare system will face in the near future if no measures are taken to prevent and fix these situations. This is where innovation comes to foreground as means to find the light in the end of the tunnel and promote ways that not only to fix whats broken, but also transform and find new ways for the global healthcare to fulfill its main objectives, which is more healthy humans.

Disease fundamentals and treatment options

After understanding the healthcare system on a high level, its very important to as innovators in the healthcare domain to know more and understand how do physicians see and interpret the patients. As this is the basic fundamental process that happens within any healthcare system.

The physician in many times sees the patient through a cloud at the beginning as the patient presents their current conditions. What happens next is that physician who are trained strongly in anatomy and physiology, look at the patient in terms of the the human systems and how they are working (ex: organs).

Afterwards, physician try to understand what have changed in the patient in terms of the anatomy, in terms of physiology, in terms of how there body’s systems interact with each other. Then physician try to assess the frequency of the conditions and what are the possible outcome on the patient when it mortality or morbidity. Finally, the physician try to assess the possible outcomes of the patient conditions on a broader level on the patient family, the society and even on how the patient can be treated.

Disease Fundamentals

After all this disease fundamentals phase, the physician has identified the disease, identified the
problem, narrowed it in terms of scope or what we want to focus on. The physician is then ready is better prepared to provide interventions, or intervention assistance to the patient to help overcoming his current conditions. This is where treatment analysis comes to place. Treatment analysis can be defined as:

“… involves detailed research to understand what established and emerging therapies exist, how and when they are used, how and why they work, their effectiveness, and their economics …”

The physician try to find the best treatment based on the patient conditions and the available options the physician has. On a high-level, this is how physician do diesis and treatment analysis in the aim of finding a better care for the patient and its important to understand this process when trying to find innovation that are patient centric.


The course instructors have defined innovation as: 

The process where creative ideas are translated to practice.

Looking at the definition we can see is not about just creating or finding something new (which is creativity), but its about find sustainable value out of it.

Innovation also has stakeholder. Stakeholders in innovation is everyone effected by this new introduction in way, as it fulfill a need or a want they are seeking for.

Innovation can be thought of as a controlled chaos. Innovation is driven, first of all, by organizations and or individuals, that are need-oriented. They recognize that the ultimate way to innovate in the healthcare is to recognize the complexity, find the potential / opportunity and see how we can achieve that with capabilities that are available.

The process of innovation

Innovation also has a process that it can be pursued with. This process has four stages as per the definitions of the instructors:

  1. Discovery phase: discovery phase is focused on, first of all, immersing ourselves in the, in the particular area we’re working in the healthcare domain. From this phase, we find the needs for the stakeholders and document it somehow in a needs specification.

  2. Design phase: in the design phase we start finding solution grounded to the insights that we gathered from the discovery phase. In this phase, we try to find solutions taking in mind the current capabilities and context we work in. It’s also very important in this phase to understand the viability of the business ideas we are looking it at a high-level, does it make sense from a financial perspective or not?
  3. Development phase: at this state we bring the subject expert matters to table and we try to develop the offerings on a form that we can test with the stakeholders, its also the phase we try to create detailed business plans for the offering we are creating.
  4. Deployment phase: in this phase we come up with the final offering we try to bring to the market, at this phase we also take in mind introducing our innovation in complainant way with the regulators
The innovation process

The innovation process

Approches to innovation

Based on the instructors point of view, there are two types of innovations when it comes to healthcare that can be pursued:

  1. Blue ocean type of innovations: radical policy-level innovations that reconfigure the whole system by the value it creates where these new ideas challenge the exiting processes, products, or services.These type of innovations comes when the innovator starts thinking beyond the current organizational structures, beyond current billing practices, and beyond current care processes.
  2. Focused, pragmatic innovations: incremental value-added changes in processes, products, or services but don’t not disrupt the industry at the systems level. These type of innovation can happen by finding cheaper, faster or better ways of delivering an aspect of the healthcare industry, compared to what its on today.

Its worth mentioning that the rest of the course materiel focus on the first type of innovation with the blue ocean type, where the aim to have an industry wide, radical and disruptive effect on the healthcare system.

Value innovation in the healthcare system

What does value in the healthcare means? This important question was answered by in the article by Michael Poter in titled What is the value in healthcare as follows:

“Patient health outcomes achieved relative to cost of care ….. in a well-functioning healthcare system, the creation of value for patient will determine rewards for all system actors.”

The key thing about innovating in the healthcare system is to find value and to find the innovation that ticks within the industry, this is where the maximum benefits for all the stakeholders is guaranteed.

When innovation happens without value, it tends to be technology-driven in some sense and may go beyond the patient comfort zone, if we looked at innovation from patient centrality lens.

Value without innovation may encourage the type of changes that are not sufficient to make a company
or organization stand out in the marketplace.

Value innovation in action

To explain how value innovation can happen in the healthcare system, the instructors listed this dilemma currently in the US system and then tried to show how can we find the opportunity in this dilemma:

Patients with a single chronic disease, or multiple chronic conditions, represent in the United States, 20% of all patients. And those 20% of patients, the ones with chronic conditions, incur 80% of all healthcare costs.

The above example shows a typical example of the 20/80 rule where we have these chronic patient populations, each requiring different bundles of services and those services are delivered by different teams of providers. The example also shows a typical case where care is so fragmented and so specialized that the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing.

So how to tackle this problem from the a blue ocean innovation point of view mentioned earlier?  

First, by having a patient-driven centered value search, where the shift of focus to the actual health outcomes to the patients value, so instead of looking at the value from system point of view, we look directly at the patient, and when we are at the patient, you look to at full cycle of that patient’s care and then try to identify where we can find, create and enrich value. That means we have more of a whole system thinking but with the patient at its center.

Patient centered approach

Patient centered approach

Secondly, and due to the speciality of this dilemma, we also try to have an integrated team approach where local health providers band together (due to the market fragmentation conditions in the US), seeing first of all, it was economically feasible to do. Then seeking to get specialists from across the board, nephrologists, dermatologists, nutritionists, social workers, mental health professionals, all of dedicated to preventing or ameliorating conditions that are associated, comorbidities that are associated with diabetes. The aim of this is to reduce the cumulative cost of healthcare by first finding preventive measures to the healthcare problem and for exiting patient, to find better, cheaper and more efficient healthcare value innovations.

In the two methods taken above for innovation, an inside-out and outside-in perspectives are taken when looking for innovation, which will make us assure we achieve the best outcome for the innovations we are pursuing.

Qualities of healthcare 

Innovation in the healthcare can be also looked at from the view point of the healthcare elements we have mentioned before. In this view we look at which elements we want to address and by which qualities. The qualities are: safety, effectiveness, patient centricity, timed delivery, efficiency and equitably.

Lets say we need to assure having a “safe assessment”, how can we come up to this using the innovation process? This framework help us pinpoint and have a clear focus about what is the general innovation theme we are look at and at which component of the healthcare system.

Target qualities of the healthcare system

Target qualities of the healthcare system

Healthcare Entrepreneurship / Intrapreneurship:

Bob Barnes started to look at the innovators, or the people who take the innovation from an idea to reality.

For any innovative idea there is this basic triangle of human actors, which are:

  • The ideator: who comes up with the idea.
  • The innovator: who takes and idea from its conceptual form to be something that is ready for the market
  • The customer: who is actually benefiting from this idea to satisfy a need or to solve a problem

Its work noting that the human triangle can consist of one or many persons, but for the simplicity and clearance we mentioned it in its basic for above.

The idea human triangle

The idea human triangle

Taking a focus on the innovators or people who take ideas to reality, these people are normally people who have passion, self confidence, commitment, risk taking and last but not least the motivation.

Innovators can be classified into two categories:

  • The entrepreneur: is a person who organizes and manages any enterprise by his / her own
  • The intrapreneur: an employee of large corporation who is has the needed support to create new products, services, systems

Both the entrepreneur and the intrapreneur they have the same traits of the innovator but the main difference, where they are located.

Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur

Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur

Final thoughts

This content of the course when it comes to innovation may be very familiar to SID Laurea blog members, but based on instructors vision its something that is hardly present in the healthcare market space.

The knowledge of how to start with the customer (aka patient), understand the needs, find the insights and then build from there is somehow is taking in opposite manner in the healthcare field, where its more of a provider centric type of innovations that are present there.

My point of view is that the instructors have done a good job in bring the two world together, the healthcare and innovation in one plate, that can be easily taken by entrepreneurs to the next level.


Healthcare is a very important aspect in our life’s and for that innovation is a way to unlock new potentials in it. As innovators we need to understand the healthcare system and its process and how human centric it’s and try to innovate within its ecosystem and stakeholders.

Innovation is always a systemic process that can help us remove the uncertainty and the barriers we have mentally built over time. We need to understand that innovation always starts with the human and ends with the human, its not about the technology, its not about the money its about the value it can bring to the human first and then everything follows.

I hope this summary shaded a light on this important field for innovation, welcoming any feedback and discussion in the comments.

About the Healthcare Innovation & Entrepreneurship course

The Healthcare Innovation & Entrepreneurship course was provided as a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on the Coursera platform and provided by Duke University in 6 weeks timeframe.

The course was designed to provide a foundation in the innovation and entrepreneurship process tailored to the healthcare industry. Providing practical tools and techniques you can use to discover and prioritize unmet healthcare needs, conceive solutions, prepare useful need specifications and effectively pursue opportunities within the complex, highly competitive global healthcare marketplace.

This course was instructed by Marilyn Lombardi & Bob Barnes and for more information about the course and its future schedules, kindly visit the course Coursera page.

I have successfully finished this course in June 2013 and the following still image provide a verification of my course completion.

Mussab Healthcare Innovaiton & Entrepreneurship Certifcaton

About the 

Mussab Sharif, an innovation manager and practitioner in a leading Middle East telecom operator. Having a major of computer engineering and in the process of finishing my MBA specialized in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea university for applied sciences in Espoo, Finland.

Design Thinking For Business Innovation

Innovation has always be seen as a myth, where genius is the main ingredient for it. Unfortunately this is not the reality!

Innovation can be a systematic process. The key to successful innovations is to understand where the process starts. The process starts by first understanding the current needs, the current obstacles the target audience want to overcome and then formulating insights that can guide the thinking about potential solutions.

This is against to what most of us think and do today, where we try to provide solutions without understanding the real problems. So, probably by passion, we try to jump to a future that we envision for our customers without involving them or trying to understand what are there needs.

The argument can be raised that “Customers don’t know what they want” as Steve Jobs said or following what Henry Ford said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. This can be partially true when it comes to what customers express literally, but the key takeaway from this is to see what customers don’t see by sensing, observing and noticing the signals than predict the future like “faster” (but not the horses) in Henry Ford quote.

Design Thinking: a means for innovation!

Design Thinking is a mindset and methodology to help businesses in problem solving, finding possibilities and securing innovations that are desirables by humans at first, viable as business offering second and finally feasible as an implementation.

In few words, Design Thinking is all about starting with the human and ending with the human. Design thinking is about the people but first you need to change your mindset for this shift.

Design thinking can bring to businesses the power of curiosity, the power of exploration, the power of empathy (which is putting ourselves in others shoes) to help in solving big challenges in the uncertain world we live in today, and this is what innovation is all about.

Why innovation is hard to do in established organizations?

Most of organizations excel in execution within an environment of predicability and efficiency. But when they start to look for big ideas, the mistake most organizations do is to look for focus and control.

Innovation is governed by its own line of rules and the first rule of innovation is : The only certainty in innovation is uncertainty!

So the question arise, why do established organizations fail to find real innovations that really rock the boat?

Based on Professor Jeanne Liedtka,the following reasons may be the cause of such failure:

  1. Most organizations are obsessed with analysis, but analysis has its limit. How do we connect data from the known past to the unknown future? The whole point of innovation is to spot where is the future and how it will divert from the past! Data for the future does not exist, we have to make it up!
  2. The growth gridlock. Managers in established organizations get stuck between building something new and controlling something that exists, which in a sense kills most of innovation efforts.
  3. Customers are very terrible in envisioning what don’t exit yet, so just doing typical market research is not the best idea to get real innovations!
  4. Organizations tend to spend resources and efforts in innovation but in the blind! When the ratio of resources and efforts invested in innovation is larger than knowledge pursed, bad things happen!

How to be innovative?

To be innovative you need a learning mindset, you need a curious mind!

To be innovative you need to accept failure and look at it as a learning opportunity! We tend to like everything as perfect as possible, so we fight failure, which in its essence a learning.

To be innovative you need to have customer empathy, not customer focus! Empathy is involved in being interested in details of how people live, not people as market segments!

To be innovative you need to be a Design Thinker!

What is Design Thinking?

Looking at Design Thinking from an innovation point of view, it can be said that Design Thinking is “a human centered approach to innovation, where people behaviors are examined with deep lens to find their actual needs, finding insights that guide the design of the solutions, prototyping solutions, validating those solution prototypes with actual customers and iterating until finding the best fit”.

With that said, its also worth noting that Design Thinking is not the magic wand that can help us in solving every day problems, for example when we talk about efficiency, Design Thinking may not add a lot, but when we try to look at creative problem solving or innovation, this is where it can make more sense. It’s important to understand that Design Thinking is a systemic process that can manufacture innovation.

What Design Thinking can bring to businesses?

To clarify what Design Thinking can bring to businesses, its very important to distinguish between a puzzle and mystery.

A puzzle is a problem that if you have the right data you can solve it, while a mystery, its a problem that you don’t have data or even have too much more data than you cannot find the right solutions. This is where it needs a systemic approach to figure out the mystery and how we can solve it and this is where Design Thinking comes to the foreground.

Design Thinking can be thought of as a new toolkit that can complement other type of thinking toolkits, and as away to balance current thinkings. It can bring to businesses the curiosity, its also bring the power of empathy, which is putting our self in others shoes, which is something that can not be outsourced or contracted.

Its also worth mentioning that the type of challenges businesses faces today, are different from what we had before, the whole level of new uncertainty we are living in and the big issue like sustainability and how can we integrate it with our business need a new type of thinking and this is where Design Thinking can help us in.

That been said, it’s also needed to know that Design thinking is not the solution for every day problems! When we talk efficiency for example its not Design Thinking domain, Design Thinking is when we look at creativity and exploring new areas.

The process of Design Thinking

Professor Jeanne Liedtka, defined four general steps to achieve Design Thinking as a systemic process as follows:

  1. What is, What are the current needs, what are the current obstacles we want to over come?Its all about getting a deep insights about what our stakeholders are looking for and not about jumping to the future or conclusions so fast.
  2. What if? What are the current possibilities? How can we move our self from the current constrains we want to over come?Grounded to the insights we have gathered from the What is stage, we start to brain storming and try to find solution for the problems or the needs we have identified.
  3. What wows? Innovation does not have any value unless it can be realized. At this stage we take a deep look at the different ideas we have generated from the What if phase and try to find the sweet spots, ideas that matches our capabilities and our abilities to develop.Afterwards, we start the the concepting phase, where we try to materialize what we think is wow and bring it to form that we can test and engage our stockholders with.
  4. What works? This is where we take our LoFi prototypes generated from the What wow phase and put them in the hands of our customers and / or stakeholders. The aim is to take there feedback in a rapid manner, iterate and modify our offering till we reach the right or the best possible option.

The process main

From the Design Thinking process we can see that it is problem solving approach, human centered, possibility driven, options focused (where we have a protocol of ideas) and finally its an iterative method where we form and re-form with the aim of finding success.

Tools of Design Thinking

The course DESIGN THINKING FOR BUSINESS INNOVATION had highlighted in a high level different tools for Design Thinking that can be used at the different phases of the Design Thinking process. The aim to have an idea about what tools are available at each step and to select whats suitable on a project to project bases.


Tools for the WHAT IS

  1. Visualization: in simple words, its the transformation of information into a form that you can see either with your eyes or your mind. Pictures are a great example of visualization, sketches are also a form of visualization. Tough visualization is used mainly at this stage, but its a tool designers using in every stage of the Design Thinking process.Its very important to think of visualization as a way to de-risk project growth! the more things are illustrated and obvious to the project team, the more common understanding is there, which can results in better harmony!
  2. Journey mapping: Journey maps are very powerful tool to shift your focus from what my company wants or what my company is doing to what is the customer trying to do?  As a tool it’s not that much different than process diagrams, but it show on one aspect that is very important for unarticulated needs which is the emotional side of offerings. Mapping customers emotions is a very powerful way to unlock the the customers unarticulated needs.
  3. Value chain analysis: is a study of an organization interactions with partners, in the sake of producing the value propositions. Its the business side equivalent of the customer journey map and gives important clues about the partners capabilities, intentions and your organization vulnerabilities and opportunities. Using value chain as tool to explore what are the possible profitable growth and optimization opportunities that your organization can seize and it also can be used a tool to find value opportunities for partners supplementing the concept of co-creation.
  4. Mind mapping: its a tool to find patterns and themes in large quantity of data. It can be used to separate whats important from what is not so it can help us in channeling the right efforts for the What if phase. Also, mind maps can be used a way to de-risk project as more focus on what is important can be established, adding to that, its a great tool for alignment about what we know within a team.

The purpose of the What is stage is not prove an idea, but to get the insights that can help us in getting the WoW ideas later.

Tools for the WHAT IF

  1. Brainstorming: is a goal oriented way to generate ideas and its a fundamental tool when it comes to innovation. But to make sure its an effective tool, its must be used after the What is phase to make sure a proper understanding of the problem scope and design criteria has happened. Afterwords, with a good mix of the people from different disciplines, open ended questions and proper facilitation, ideas will flow. The end game for brainstorming is to come up with ideas that have a high potential to create value.
  2. Concept development: is the act of the selection of the best ideas from the brainstorming phase and then trying to develop them into detailed solutions that can be further evaluated. Development will always need a dedicated team that can help in making ideas real and it does not mean taking ideas from ideas to full solutions, but detailing how they would be so we later can develop them into tangible concepts that can be later tested by various stakeholders for feedback.

The What if stage is about dreaming but with a focus! Building on what we know to come up with what can really tick.

Tools for the WHAT WOWS

  1. Assumption Testing: its a tool for surfacing key assumptions in new business concepts and using data to see the likelihood of this assumptions to be true. Because we have certain hypotheses, we need to validate the it. Hypotheses can be thought of as insights into the future. We need first to find the key questions that we need to find answers for, find and identify our assumptions and then gather data or running live experiments to see if our assumptions are true or not.
  2. Rapid prototyping: its the step where we create visual and some time manifestations of the concepts. The key thing here is to materialize our concepts in a way that we can later test with our key stakeholders for feedback and validations. The whole purpose is to have this rapid learning that can help us reach our goal, which is viable, desirable and feasible innovation.

Coming to this stage the What wows stage, its about materializing concepts into tangible things that can be tested with customers and stakeholders.

Tools for the WHAT WORKS

  1. Customer co-creation: is all about inviting the key stockholders for the creation process and engaging them in the new business offering development. At this step, we take what we have created in the What wows stage and we put it in front of the customers to know there reactions and observe how do they perceive it, to iterate to an improved offering.
  2. Learning launch:  is a step where we try to experiment in a cheap and fast way in the marketplace. Its more of a bridging step between the customer co-creation and the commercial market launch, but with the least efforts possible. Also, the purpose of it is to increase the learning and find out what works and what not and modify the offer according to that. Learning launch is about trying to find both the confirmation and non confirmation points in our hypotheses.

As we can see from all the steps above, Design Thinking is all about the rapid learning and co-creation. We empathize, visualize, co-create, develop, test and iterate till we reach the best outcome.

Tips about how to manage a design project

Professor Jeanne Liedtka laid out some tips on how take your design project forward, here are the key ones:

  • Initially there are a superstitious people who don’t know what Design Thinking mean, try to explain it to them in simple and relative wording (talk with there language)
  • Reframe all your work around customers and what are there needs
  • Finding real customer problems that are effecting your organization and show it to stockholders and relate it to the real offerings, it will be even good to show a real customer video in using a product or a service
  • Formulate a team and trying to find real customers to make ethnography
  • Talk in numbers, try to define the problem as cost problem in the organization, although customers will benefit from it at the end
  • Manage your anxiety! You don’t have ready made solutions but you have proposals! So you try to believe in your self and you will get it
  • Try to get some solutions, this will help in creating more confidence for you and for your management
  • Make sure its a collaborative efforts to help change the perspectives of others

Design Thinking in Action 

Have you heard before about The Good Kitchen?

The good kitchen is a story that was told by Professor Jeanne Liedtka to show how Design Thinking was used in action to solve real business problems.

To know the story, we have to travel to Denmark, where it has been recognized that aging is a problem that needs a different view on how it is approached!

With more than 125,000 senior citizens and counting (Total 5 million inhabitants in Denmark), one of the major issues that have been identified for this group was nutrition, how can they have the right nutrition for the elderly?

Everyone was thinking that its an issue of menu design, so people before using the Design Thinking method where jumping to a solution that they thought is the right (without taking the feedback of the real stakeholders), and the search was for: How can make a better menu?

This was taught of as the solution to the problem, but as we shall see, it was found that this is only a narrow thing with in the scope of what could have the impact on the elderly nutrition.

The problem was assigned to a design agency, where they will use Design Thinking tools and methods to try to un-look the real problems and then find the right solutions.

The agency have used tools like journey mapping to show on aspect that is very important, which is the unarticulated needs using emotional analysis of the customer journey.

Surprisingly the design agency, found that there are both emotional needs both at the elderly side and the provider side (people who make the food) which made this dilemma. This is why they tried to convince the government that the scope is bigger than the question of how can we improve the menu.

Problems like perceiving the people who make the food for elderly as a low status job was one of the thing that contributed to the nutrition problem, adding to that when we look at the seniors side, things like letting them eat alone was a reminder that there family left them.

With Design Thinking tools and methods the agency have found the What is and now they are ready to take the insights and find real solutions to the problem.

The agency approached the stakeholders (kitchen staff, elderly people, government, etc.) to co-create, They formed workshops with all the stakeholders to create a sense of ownerships. Suggestion like can they think of the elderly kitchen as a restaurant? Would this be the solution.

As you can see, this stage is all about dreaming big and getting rid of the current constrains to envision a brighter future and this is the What if phase.

They started afterwords by taking the possible ideas like menu designs, restaurant concept, etc… and tried to find what can be wowing and valuable. At this is stage which is the What wows, understanding what is can be making the bigger difference.

At the end, comes the last stage which is the What works where the creation of the concept of “The Good Kitchen” have been decided based on the feedback of all the stakeholders.

What was the results?

Before The Good Kitchen:

  • 60 % of elderly in nursing homes or under supervision were getting the wrong diet.
  • 20 % suffered from malnutrition.

After The Good Kitchen:

  • Sickness absence went down 9 %.
  • Job applications more than tripled.
  • Subscriptions to The Good Kitchen increased tenfold, and the elderly found a new zest for life.

The results as you can see where all about happier seniors with better nutritions, motivated employees with more pride in work.

What happened was not about the numbers but about the shift that happened to to all stakeholder, which as a result made the good kitchen all about “Good food that comes from the heart”!

More from Jeanne Liedtka

The author of the online course Professor Jeanne Liedtka has also published two books on the subject, one book that is a detailed replica of the online course (actually its the course of the online course), which is The Designing for Growth Field Book: A Step-by-Step Project Guide, you can consult it for more information on Design Thinking, its process and its tools.

The other book is more of a case study book, where stories about how Design Thinking was applied in various fields and how it successfully managed to achieve the successful outcome it was intended to. The book is in titled: Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works.

book1                book2

About the Design Thinking course

This course was provided as a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) by the Coursera platform. The aim of the course is to provide an overview of the process and tools used for design thinking, and examine their application in organizational situations. The course was provided in late 2013 / early 2014 provided by University of Virginia and instructed by Jeanne M. Liedtka and was held for 5 consecutive weeks.

The aim of this post was to walk you through a summary of the online course provided by the Coursera platform, in-titled DESIGN THINKING FOR BUSINESS INNOVATION. Its worth to mention that summary of the course materiel is highlighted in this post and this is not intent as a complete course content layout.

I have successfully finished this course in January 2014 and the following still image provide a verification of my course completion.


Note: This course seems to be deprecated from the Coursera platform at the time of writing and only access to previous enrolled students is applicable. But to know more about the course, you can visit the following course introduction in YouTube, at:

About the author

Mussab Sharif, an innovation manager and practitioner in a leading Middle East telecom operator. Having a major of computer engineering and in the process of finishing my MBA specialized in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea university for applied sciences in Espoo, Finland.

Gamification: A Quick Introduction

Games have been always known for their immersive and engaging experiences. These experiences normally challenge players to spend huge amount of time and efforts playing games, in return of gaining that sense of pleasure, mastery and progression that games generate in the player mind.

Building on the strength of games, the term gamifiaciton have been coined where businesses have started applying game thinking, design and tools in non-game contexts for the sake of achieving certain business objectives.

The business objectives from gamifiaciton can vary from increasing customer engagement, building relationships with customers, creating more joyful brand experiences and last but not least influencing and changing customer behaviors.

At its core, gamifiaciton is the same when it comes to the thinking, tools and methods with the difference is why it’s applied and where it’s applied, when comparing it to games.

The aim of this post is to walk you through a brief introduction on gamifiaciton and how it can be used as way to design engaging experiences. The knowledge provided here is based on the material provided in an online Massive Online Open Course (MOOC), which was provided by Coursera on the topic.

I have successfully finished this interesting course in 2013, and the following link provided a verification of my course completion record:  

About the gamifiaciton course

The gamifiaciton MOOC provided by Coursera with partnership with university of Penssilvina was designed to show the application of game elements and digital game design techniques in non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges. This course will teach you the mechanisms of gamification, why it has such tremendous potential, and how to use it effectively.

The course was provided by Wharton associate professor Kevin Werbach’s in Spring 2013 and had around 70,000 students signed up for it. Due to its popularity, a second revised course has been provided in 2014.

To know more about the course and its future scheduled timings, please visit the following link:

What is gamifiaciton?

Gamifiaciton as discipline is a new field that has only emerged to surface, as we know it today in 2010. Some say that it’s rooted back to the year 2003, where some game designers have started to use game elements in non-game contexts.

When it comes to gamifiaciton, there is no one accepted definition for it, but as per Professor Kevin Werbach it’s: “The use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts”.

The key thing in this definition is the use of game design, game thinking and game elements within spaces that are usually not part of the game industry it self, which are everyday business spaces. This can be in enterprise context, social impact, and behavioral change even in pursing innovation just to name a few.

Gamifiaciton is best suited to be applied on the non-core value exchange. So when we look at services for example, we can say if the services is providing a certain type of value to the user (example: utilitarian), its not a wise idea to gamify the core value exchange it self, but to look at boundary areas of the service experience that can be gamified.

Benefits of gamifiaciton

Gamification has many benefits for businesses on how it can impact both customer and employees to motivate and engage them with in the gamified context, but there are not the only benefits!

Gamification can be used, as a way to influence behaviors, drive innovation, drive skill learning and also give new meaning to activities that may seem dull or challenging.

For example, Foursquare defined a complete new behavior, which is the check-in (declaring ones place at a certain venue publicly). The new behavior has been enforced by applying game tools like points / badges and game mechanics like competition (What used to be mayorship in Foursquare, now I believe its depreciated). Here we can see that gamifiaciton has created a complete new engagement model that motivate people to do behaviors they did not used or know about before.

Intangible Benefits of Gamifiaciton 

Gamifiaciton can be means to increase the intrinsic motivation of its targets. This can include tapping into the inner human psychology by increasing motivation, creating permanent behavioral changes (habitual design) or uplifting the overall service experience in the mind of the target to be more immersive and fun.

Other intangible benefits can include also increasing the brand loyalty & attachment and creating the motive to promote the service provider and it’s offering.

These intangible gamifiaciton benefits can be very powerful but yet, it requires deliberate design and longer execution cycle from the service provider end.

Tangible Benefits of Gamifiaciton

Gamifiaciton can be used a way to influence the behaviors of its targets in a shorter term using techniques like immediate feedback loops, badges and rewards. These elements can be used as a way to let service providers gain a fast and deliberate responses from both customer and employees for that can be in the benefit of a certain business objectives.

These are called extrinsic motivators, since they motivate the targets to do activities not for the sake of the activity its self, but for external influencing factors out side of the activity its self like badges or rewards.

Service providers can gain performance improvements, more voluntary data collection that can lead to better customer understanding or increase in interaction engagement with the provider service offering.

To look in detail at what gamifiaciton can bring as benefits and value, the following 2×2 model shows that gamification can have both tangible and intangible benefits that can have the effect on the customers and / or the internal employees of a certain business.

Gamification benefits

Games vs. Gamification

Although games and gamifiaciton have a lot in common, but there are different when it comes to their final aims.

Both games and gamifiaciton are voluntary in nature but games are a spaces where players have the chance to make mindful choices by themselves on what they want to achieve, while gamifiaciton is all about businesses trying to direct or channel the player for certain choices that correspond to a certain business objective but with a twist of fun, challenge, competition or any other game motivational factors.

The goal it self is what differentiate games from gamifiaciton. Games are seen as way to entertain the users, while gamifiaciton is means to increase user activity with in a non-game activity, therefore increasing their engagement.

Some may also compare games to incentive programs like loyalty programs, thought they may use some similar game elements like points, badges and levels, but also the final aim is completely different as loyalty programs are means to reward customers by incentives while gamifiaciton is a means to achieve motivation and then engagement.

The following diagram highlights the different fields that are related to gamifiaciton:

Games vs. Gamifiaciton

Gamification Design Framework

So far we have looked at gamification, its benefits and how its different from games and another adjacent practices like loyalty. Now, the question is how we can use gamifiaciton in our services and applications to bring engagement and motivation?

Professor Werbach have stressed on the concept of design and that it’s not only art or illustration or creative expression, but also it’s a process to attack problems and think thoughtfully about challenges. Professor Werbach even highlighted that when it comes to gamifiaciton it’s also a design process where we try to identity why and then how gamifiaciton can be used to solve our business problems and achieve defined objectives.

So the following six steps can be used as general process design for gamifiaciton based on the work of Professor Werbach, as follows:

  1. DEFINE business objectives: Why are you gamifying? How do you hope to benefit your business, or achieve some other goal such as motivating people to change their behavior? This is the most important question to answer before starting any gamifiaciton efforts.
  2. DELINEATE target behaviors: What do you want your players to do? And how can you measure that they are actually doing the behaviors your promoting? What metrics you’re going to use to measure such behaviors? For example, your business goal might be to increase sales, but your target behavior could be for visitors to spend more time on your website.
  3. DESCRIBE your players: Who are the people who will be participating in your gamified activity? What is their relationship to your business?For example, are they prospective customers, employees at your organization, or some other community? And what are they like when it comes to demographics (such as age and gender), psychographics (such as their values and personalities).

    Also it will be very important to look at the players using one of the existing players classification frameworks like Bartle’s player types, or some other framework to understand the player motivations and how to design for them.

  4. DEVISE activity loops: Explore in greater detail how you will motivate your players using engagement and progression loops.Engagement loops are one way of behavioral design techniques to motivate users in an ongoing activity dialogue, which will result in increasing their engagement and the likelihood to redo tasks.

    At the basic level it’s about creating the motivational affordance that trigger players to act, and then to reward such action to furtherly imprint the behavior in the player mind.

    Engagement loop When it comes to progression loops it’s way to achieve the concept of flow in activates. By flow we mean to design activates in a way that at first it has clear goal, secondly, they are challenging enough compared to the current skills the player have acquired and lastly a clear and immediate feedback is provided to the participants.

    Progression loop
    For example, the first time a user is being part of gamifiaciton activity or experience, its important to make it as easy as possible to on-board the user and let him / her feel the sense of achievement. Later, the more the skills the user is acquiring the more the activity is designed to be challenging compared to the user acquired skills.

    It’s important to understand how will players progress in your gamified solution? This includes how the system will get new players engaged, and how it will remain interesting for more experienced players.

  5. DON’T forget the fun! Although gamifiaciton is not about pure entertainment of users, but fun is one element that remains as important as the other aspects.In order to fully explore this aspect of the design process, consider how your game would function without any extrinsic rewards. Would you say it was fun?

    Identify which aspects of the game could continue to motivate players to participate even without rewards.

  6. DEPLOY the appropriate tools: last but not least, comes the part where you need to think about which game elements you need integrate with your offering to achieve your goals.The mistake of many of the gamified experiences is that they start with this step by thinking about which game tools or elements they need you use and forget all the planning needed before hand to know which tools are best to be used in relation to the business objective.

Application of gamifiaciton

Professor Werbach in his late lecture has highlighted that gamifiaciton can be used a way to design motivation in many applications.

From these, enterprise gamifiaciton where a business or a company use gamifiaciton as way to motivate employees to increase there productivity or increase there loyalty to the company.

Also gamification can be used as a way to design for social good, where the crowd community is encouraged to do more good for the community using gamifiaciton techniques. Example, the website Stack overflow where a community of dedicated developers are encouraged to help each other in complex programming problems using gamification techniques.

Lastly, gamifiaciton can be used as a way to drive long-term behavioral change. This is key application as many experts see in gamifiaciton as means to facilitate behavioral change, which can be designed for sure.

BJ Fogg has a very famous framework for behavioral change, which is called the Fogg Behavioral Model. The Fogg framework is a framework that looks on how habits can be formed using three elements at the same time, which are motivation, ability (simplicity) and trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.

Fogg Behavior Model

Looking at the Fogg model, gamification can be used as way to increase the motivation of users using game motivational elements. This is off-course along side the others two elements which are making activity as simple as possible and also to have the right triggers that provoke the user action.

The following video provide you with more explanation about the framework by BJ Fogg him self, you can find it at:

Reflections on how Gamifiaciton can be used in Service Design

If we look at gamifiaciton as means to drive motivation of user and then customer engagement, services can benefit a lot from such practice in enriching the current service experiences.

Academics like Brodie & Hollebeek & Juric & Llic (2011, 253) have looked at looked at the development of customer engagement from a conceptual level based on its relationship to the service dominant logic (S-D), and have concluded that he term customer engagement is still gaining attraction with in scholars and practitioners alike in the near times.

Therefore and based on the content of this course, we can conclude that Gamification can be used a way to increase customer engagement and take service experiences to the next level from being helping, satisfying and fulfilling experiences to be more joyful, engaging, immersive and fun.

Gamification experience

This takes in mind that the key factor in measuring service experiences is the core value it provides to its key stakeholders, and later on comes the service experience on its abstract level and finally the gamified experiences that is constructed in the customer (aka player) mind, which in the end reflects the customer visible behaviors.

The following model explains how the integration of game design (gamifiaciton as one of its applications) and service design can be used to create those gamified service experiences.

Game Design + Service Design

The aim is to find a way to enhance the current service experience by adding gamifiaciton element to make service more motivational and more engaging.

I hope you found this post helpful and eye opening to this new and interesting field, for any more information, feedback or inquires feel free to use the comments to share your thoughts :)

About the 

Mussab Sharif, an innovation manager and practitioner in a leading Middle East telecom operator. Having a major of computer engineering and in the process of finishing my MBA specialized in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea university for applied sciences in Espoo, Finland.

Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 5/5

Anyone can be a designer with the right mindset. Source:

Anyone can be a designer with the right mindset. Source:

Multidisciplinary teamworksimple but effective toolsvirtual workvisualization, prototyping, design thinking… There are tons of different tools designers can use in their work.

This is my final blog post about the designer tools our innovation team uses in our everyday work here at the UNICEF Headquarters in New York. This time I’ll introduce two projects relating to Design Thinking and discuss how this discipline has helped us to approach things from new angles and to perceive projects from the user’s perspective. Designing with the user is possibly the most crucial part of design and prerequisite for successful solutions.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our way of working and that my posts have provided you with inspiration for your own work.

Global Design for UNICEF Challenge encourages students to design solutions that fit the problem context. 5 Why’s is one of the Design Thinking tools included in the competition curriculum. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

Global Design for UNICEF Challenge encourages students to design solutions that fit the problem context. 5 Why’s is one of the Design Thinking tools included in the competition curriculum. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

Design Thinking helps students approaching difficult challenges

Norah Maki, our Project Assistant, is also an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) candidate in the Design for Social Innovation Program at School of Visual Arts. Because of her background she pursues design thinking in her work.

Her main project is the Global Design for UNICEF Challenge, an academic partnership and design competition that engages students in coming up with creative solutions for pressing development problems. This year the Challenge is being scaled to include new universities outside The US, beyond The City University of New York (CUNY) that has served as the flagship partner for the competition.

In the process of moving towards the global Challenge, Norah has developed the competition curriculum and provided the students with more design thinking tools. This enables them to approach the challenges from the user’s perspective and to design feasible solutions that fit the problem context. The competition process now includes the following tools to encourage creative thinking from students and help them accomplish all competition checkpoints: User Journey, 5 Why’s, Stakeholder Mapping, co-creation, and consultation with experts. The winners will have the chance to go to the field to test their prototypes and do some actual co-creation with the users: the children!

Tile game pushes people to think beyond current frameworks

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Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 4/5

2013, New York, The US. 3D printing at New York University. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

2013, New York, The US. 3D printing at New York University. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

The New York University (NYU) students I referred to in my last blog post about virtual work were asked to prepare a 1-minute video to communicate their ideas for the next class. There are so many ways to visualize projects and their components that I can only just begin to grasp the subject in this post. I will now introduce 3D printing and share four data visualization tips from our Design Lead. Nevertheless, I hope this article gives you some interesting ideas to visualize different types of data and processes.

3D printing for prototyping

I guess I had heard about 3D printing before but I didn’t really recognize what it was until here in New York. While preparing a post for our blog I was browsing through our photo database and came across a photo of Chris (Fabian, UNICEF Innovation Unit Co-Lead) throwing in a 3D-printed item he had received from Singularity University up in the air. From that point on I wanted to see a 3D printer because it seemed more like a tool from science fiction movies than a machine invented in the 1980’s. Later on I learned that 3D printers come in many different shapes and sizes.

2013, New York, The US. Chris’ 3D-printed item he got from Singularity University. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

2013, New York, The US. Chris’ 3D-printed item he got from Singularity University. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

From what I know, 3D printing is used at least in our Innovation Lab in Uganda. Also, the Design for UNICEF student team developing modular drones have used 3D printing within their design process. Recently, we got a 3D printer to the New York office: the 3Doodler. Some team members tested it and made cool Christmas trees. All I was able to make was a weird white ball of string (it was supposed to be a snowman). I guess it’s a good tool after some practice.

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