Our technology and management consulting national leader recently challenged our practice to think big and to find better, innovative ways of providing solutions to our clients. This lead to an actual practice-wide challenge in which my teammates and I used critical thinking to brainstorm and produce an innovative prototype that went on to win first prize.
The first step in this challenge was to form a team. Instead of calling on my closest colleagues, I decided to bring together a diverse group that included Lena Chhay, senior associate; Ashley Pickler, supervisor; Jeff Rizzi, manager; and Kevin Voell, manager. While we all come from different backgrounds, we have worked together individually in the past, and based on our varied skill set and interest, we formed a prize-winning team.
Our first task was to come up with a really great idea. This of course can be where most people get stuck and stop. After some time thinking and not coming up with any wonderful ideas, we decided to try to approach the problem a little bit backwards. We started looking at some of the really new technology that was available and see if we could use that technology in an interesting way.
We found some new ultra-band chip technology that would allow us to determine the location of an object in a way that was not possible or cost effective before. From there, we starting thinking about how we could use this capability. We started talking to each other, as well as other people, and the ideas and applications just kept coming. I think sometimes people think of critical thinking as something you do by yourself. I’ve found that when you use critical thinking with other people, you are able to build on each other’s unique ideas and come up with more than you would have by yourself.
We landed on the idea of putting a robot in a store and used our critical thinking to come up with how that robot could be useful to someone. That’s when our collaborative ideas really got going. One teammate suggested that while the robot could still follow a person around, it could also lead a person to an item. From there our group thought of adding various capabilities to the robot that included finding the most efficient route to an item, grabbing an item on its own to bring back to the customer, allowing for automatic payment that avoided the checkout line and more. With every idea, we each critically thought about our past experiences in stores and how we could make that experience better. Then we built off one another’s ideas.
Two other requirements for the innovation challenge were to prove its business case and present with a video. One member of our team decided to back our robot’s use case with facts and statistical data. She figure out that billions of dollars in sales are lost every year from people not being able to find a product in a store. With that information, we were able to put a factual number value to support our case that our idea would be effective. For the presentation, we thought outside the box to impress our viewers. Instead of only explaining our product, we also created a promotional commercial for our product, which we thought would be more entertaining to our audience and differentiate us from our competition. We worked heavily on our script to ensure that it maximized all the great applications of product, but still conveyed the information in a We worked heavily on our script to ensure that it maximized all the great applications of product, but still conveyed the information in a short amount of time.
All throughout the process, we spent time thinking through how we could make our end result that much better. From the original product concept, to the many ways that product could be used, backing it up with factual business cases and statistics, to finally ensuring that the presentation would appeal and be understood by our audience. We learned that by inviting other people into our process, we could critically think together and come up with many more great ideas than we could have ever done alone.