If you attended one of our Labs in 2011-12 then you may have experienced Neontribe’s Cool Wall.
The Cool Wall is a simple thing. You get a stack of ideas on Post-it notes, and a wall. You mark two dimensions on the wall: one from not cool to cool, and the other from impractical to practical. Like the X and Y axes on a graph. Then you stick your ideas onto the wall where you reckon they fit best. Usually, one person has the stack at a time, and the rest of the group helps them put each idea in the right place.
It’s a little theatrical, and a lot participatory.
Neontribe’s learning about digital innovation accelerated when one of us was lucky enough to attend the BBC’s Innovation Labs in 2006. Since then, its not stopped. We believe that with a little light-touch process you can usually get the best out of people’s creative thinking. Typically these will be people who work in the area where you need innovative ideas, and those who use the services they provide.
Our in-built instinct is to take an user-centred approach: starting with user-generated personas and putting these fictional characters into fictional situations. For example, David is a 19 year old young man with psychosis, no job and little family support. He work up today feeling worse than he has for months but his CPN is on leave and he feels anxious about contacting the crisis team. What digital ideas could help David?
This kind of method always leads to lots of ideas. We try and keep ideas crisp, and small. This usually means restricting people to fitting each idea onto a single Post-it note. This also enables us to more more rapidly, generating ideas on top of each other. This means we’ll often reach a stage in a process where we have a whole load of Post-its. Each of them will articulate a small idea, a small intervention. Somehow these ideas need to be winnowed down into a shorter list of ideas ready to be taken further. Some of these ideas will be better than others.
When We Reach For the Cool Wall
The BBC’s Top Gear used to judge cars based on how cool they were.
They’d have a segment in the programme where they’d take a couple of cars, and stick pictures of them to a wall in the studio. Some were judged cool, some less so, and right up at the far end of the wall was a small fridge for cars that reached the dizzy heights of “Sub Zero”.
What they didn’t do, of course, was pay any attention to how expensive the vehicle might be, or anything else about it. It was all about the cool, not about whether anyone with less than a footballer’s wage would ever be able to afford them.
When Being Cool is Not Enough
“Cool” is great for an idea, of course, but it’s necessary, not sufficient: it has to be cool, but not just cool. That one dimension isn’t enough for us; an idea has got to be practical. Practical can mean very different things in different projects. Different organisations have different appetites for the novel, and different funding levels.
Different ideas might be more or less technically feasible. Even restricted to a Post-it note, an idea might just be too big, and a tiny intervention might be a little less cool, a lot more practical and make a much bigger impact.
Practicality Helps Winnow Ideas
I can’t remember when, but we started using our cool wall to reflect this. It’s that second dimension of practicality that really helps us winnow the ideas that deserve further thought. More user-centred iteration, more honing. Perhaps some of those Post-its might get merged into one idea, perhaps some will be packaged up into one larger service.
DocReady started out as an Innovation Labs single Post-it note idea called ‘Try to See it My Way’ that aimed to teach health professionals how to be more ‘accessible and approachable’ to young people. If I remember right, it was judged “pretty cool” because it was really needed, but “pretty impractical” because it sounded hard to achieve. It’s morphed and come a long way since then because it’s been examined hard by young people and those who work with them.
Without the Cool Wall we wouldn’t have generated the grist for DocReady to develop. The Wall is only one point in a longer process: but it really helps winnow out the best ideas.