The innovation vortex is a meta-model for iterative processes built to promote continuous innovation. Based on Lean Startup and Design Thinking, it shows there are no separate, sequential steps in a continuous innovation approach. Instead, there are seven streams of activities that all swirl together in a dynamic-looking model.
There is this misunderstanding popping up when people offer diagrams explaining “how to combine” Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Business Modeling, Growth Hacking, Lean UX, and Agile Development. What consultants typically do is that they draw different cycles in a row with arrows between them — one iteration cycle for Design Thinking, one for Lean Startup, one for Agile Development, etc. The result is a sequence of circles that looks suspiciously like a waterfall process. And everyone misses the point of continuous innovation.
The Innovation Vortex consists of
seven different streams of work,
swirling into each other.
The Innovation Vortex consists of seven different streams of work, swirling into each other.
Contextualize is about narrowing down innovation to a domain. You have to focus on something and to decide on which part of the universe is worth investigating and improving. Your Product Vision is a really relevant tool here.
In the Synthesize stream, your observations need to be processed and studied to get to the core problems that should be solved. It is here that you could turn all acquired input into a description of people’s Jobs to be Done with their Pains and Gains. The result of this stream should be a clear problem definition in human-centered language.
In the Externalize stream, your team will be creating the smallest posible thing that can be validated, and making it available to customers, by running Lean Experiments. That’s why you are creating an inexpensive, scaled down, and fast-to-make prototype, or, in Lean Startup terms, a Minimum Viable Product (MVP): to validate learning.
The Systematize stream is about deciding what to do with what you’ve learned. After closely observing people using your prototypes, you should have enough information to see how the results fit into the bigger picture. Did the solution work as intended? Are further improvements necessary?
Empathize is where the Design Thinking models start and shine. This is about finding out as much as possible about potential users using Site Visits, Customer Interviews or Empathy Maps. In Lean Startup, this is called Get Out of the Building. And the result is a large pile of unstructured research findings.
Hypothesize based on what you’ve learned, you can start working on ideas for solutions. Generating hypotheses can involve techniques such as Brainstorm, Brainwrite, and Worst Possible Idea. What are the most radical or original ways to address your user’s frustrations? You want to get as many ideas as possible.
The Sensitize stream is the sixth stream in the Innovation Vortex. After you have offered one or more prototypes to the user, you must gather data about their effectiveness and become sensitive to whatever the users are doing. At the end, you must select the most workable, feasible, and effective idea from the various prototypes.
Continuous discovery, delivery, and improvement is ONE circle
Both Design Thinking and the Lean Startup insist on iterative approaches to innovation, and neither suggests that their steps always need to be performed in a linear manner. You can do work in any step at any time. The focus of design thinkers is a bit more on empathizing with users while the focus of lean startuppers is somewhat more on the validation of hypotheses. For real innovation, all steps are relevant. It is true that they commonly follow each other, but backtracking and hop-skip-jumping across the seven steps is fine.
Continuous discovery, delivery, and improvement is one vortex representing the messy, non-linear, dynamic process that we call innovation. The Innovation Vortex is neither complicated nor linear. It is complex, simple, and dynamic.
- The Innovation Vortex shows there are no separate, sequential steps in a continuous innovation approach: there are seven streams of activities that all swirl together in a dynamic-looking model.
- Unlike the Design Thinking and Lean Startup models, the Innovation Vortex recognizes that there is a first stream, called Contextualize, which is about defining context, focusing and unfocusing: before Empathizing, you have to carefully consider which people to empathize with.
- The Innovation Vortex also recognizes that there is a final stream, called Systematize, which is about learning and improving the system. It is an integral part of the model and not should be taken for granted.