How Millennials are Making me a MUCH Smarter Innovator

As a System Driven Innovator I am on a relentless personal quest for ways to get smarter.    This past week I have had two experiences where Millennials made me smarter - and in the process shifted my mindset on how to amplify by customer insight mining effectiveness.

Experience 1:  Baby Boomer InterAct Session:   InterAct is an Innovation Engineering system of gaining feedback from possible customers/consumers.  It's like focus groups on steroids with four simultaneous groups - in the same room - fed with tons of stimulus.  The goal is to create a deep discussion of positives and negatives so to help the team think smarter about new ideas.   The process helps avoid the issues of confirmation bias, yea sayer, etc. that are known to occur in focus groups.

Over the past few months I have done nearly a dozen InterAct sessions with Millennials with 4 different clients.  Last week was my first session with Baby Boomers in quite a while.  The differences between Boomers and Millennials was  immense.   Boomers gave prudent answers.  Practical, reliable and surface deep.  In contrast, Millennials were thinking, bold, brave, articulate and deep thinking.   With Boomers you could feel peer pressure influencing comments.  In contrast, Millennials had no problems being in conflict with the group.

As we prepared for another InterAct session this week - the question was raised should we do Boomers or Millennials.   My recommendation was Millennials - even though the products are for Boomers...."we learn more from Millennials - they are more honest, articulate and frankly they think deeper."

Experience 2:  Millennial Insight Mining Experience:   Insight Mining Experiences is the simple Innovation Engineering name for Ethnography.   They are interactive experiences where customers / consumers are observed working with a product, service or system (in the case of internal system innovations).   Classically they involve 4 to 8 people - so to enable not just observation of the product/service of interest but also debate and discussion between the participants.   Observation of the conversations is as valuable as watching the process.    Data is gathered through rapid Mind Mapping, photos and video clips.   Questions are few - listening and observing high.   Participants are encouraged to use the internet (nothing what search terms they use).   Often, half way through the process a new "innovation" is inserted into the experience - to see how the participants react.

This past Saturday night I had the honor of observing eight Millennials cooking a food category - for a company that is engaged in Innovation Engineering.    Just as with the InterAct session the Millennials were dynamic, engaged and really, really smart.   My head spun as they searched the internet, debated and experimented.  Fortunately I had brought extra product for them to experiment with - as they went through all of it.    Within the group 2 were confident cooks, 3 were ok with cooking, 3 were self reported non cooks.  That said, when it started it didn't matter - they quickly shared ideas and advice.    My overall feeling was of a group of people who were on a quest to get smarter.   They really wanted to learn what would work and what wouldn't.    As an innovator, there is nothing more valuable than having a customer/consumer who really, really wants to learn.

Recommendation:  For your next innovation project find and talk to Millennials.   The fact that they are not "experts" is part of their advantage.  Their digital savvy amplifies their perspectives.  Their no bull mindset provides an honesty that is refreshing.  Their willingness to debate and discuss provides you with a 3 dimensional depth of understanding that is exhilarting .

When working with them and all consumers/customers - be real, honest and genuine.    Ask questions about things that matter.   When you hear things that contradict your thinking be honest and ask to understand why.   Respect them as individuals.   Respect them as thinkers.   Respect them as a group.  Yes, use a group of them 4 to 8 if you can to amplify your learning.   Use groups that know each other to at least some degree so to speed conversations.  Then Listen, Think, Listen, Think, Listen, Think.

Keep your eyes open for the little details.  In both cases I have found myself becoming more aware of the little things they said or did.  Instead of "assuming" I know the why behind a comment/action I ask why with genuineness.    In Innovation Engineering we teach students in our Create class on university campuses the value of CURIOSITY.   I have found that genuineness is easy when you have a real Curiosity to learn.

Lastly - Mind Map what you understand and what at first you don't understand.   In my case, the next day as I reviewed my notes I started to understand at a much deeper level.  Think deeply, the answers you seek will reveal themselves :).

Rock and Roll

Doug