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  • AECOM CityHack

Why some ideas work, while others don’t: Bringing concepts to life



Advancements in digital technology have empowered a new generation of creative thinkers with increased access to information, resources, and networks, to bring their concepts to life.


Despite the surge in new innovations, the reality is that only a fraction of these reach breakthrough status. Research indicates that 5 percent of all product innovations and 10 percent of new start-ups succeed.


So, why is it that some concepts work, while others don’t?


Today, we speak to one of the facilitators of FastTrack CityHack Singapore 2022, Ummi Jameel, Senior UX Researcher, ex-BCG, who shared with us how innovators can turn an idea into a breakthrough innovation with value.


What defines a successful innovation? I am a UX researcher in my day job. So, for me, my KPIs will always be:

  1. Are people using this?

  2. Are they able to use this and is it sustainable in the long term?

These are the two key factors that help me define if an innovation is successful – that it improves lives and makes the change that it was supposed to.


What is the secret sauce for an innovation to succeed?


Firstly, successful innovations consider the full end user experience. For instance, they consider the difference between a user that’s first using the product/service, versus an experienced user with heavy usage. This means that the product is growing with the user.


Another factor is in future proofing and considering how change can affect the product or service.


To illustrate how the absence of, or lack thereof, future proofing impacts a product or service’s success: A building might skip a structure because it is not needed at present. However, if it is required somewhere down the line, a lot more additional work will have to be done to ensure that it is safe.


It is also critical to conduct sufficient testing with a good sample size of users. Look at the entire ecosystem of stakeholders, and how they would most likely be using the product service or idea.


How should creators and innovators approach the process of turning an idea into a reality?


Of course, it always starts with the inspiration. The next step would be a feasibility test, and this does not need to be expensive, or time consuming. In fact, you can just discuss the idea with a close family member or friend.


If it’s a ‘go’, the next step is to further iterate on the idea. Try out a basic prototype. I find that sketching helps, but I think we don't sketch enough anymore seeing how we are reliant on digital tech functions. Sketch your idea and test it with the users. Make it a habit to ideate, prototype, refine, test, then make. This all goes back to the Double Diamond, design process.


You mentioned the Double Diamond design process, is this a framework that creators and innovators can follow to improve the chances of an idea?


The Double Diamond is helpful for design thinking because you move from divergent thinking to convergent thinking. You're thinking about all these questions, including:

  • What is the idea?

  • Can I define the problem space, then narrow it down?

  • Who are my users?

  • What should I be doing in order to make this happen?

  • Who are the key players in the market?

  • What else are people doing?

  • What are the different options that could make this idea become a reality?

These questions help you sharpen your focus and thinking, to determine who it is for, and what it is going to be.


What needs to be done to increase the chances of innovations taking off?


A successful product is one that evolves with the customer.


Let’s use mobile phones as an example. Back when it was first invented, the primary purpose was to call someone – there was no need for messaging then. But as the world got bigger and more expanded, people started wanting to connect more, and the need for calls was no longer enough. This gave birth to messaging, and that was considered enough for a while.


But as we innovated faster, we wanted more. We wanted to be there, in another country, next to our contacts. The best way to handle that was instant messaging, instead of text messaging. And then we realised that we were not always coming across right with instant messaging, and this is where emojis came in.


Just like the mobile phone, IT systems have evolved with us to the point where we can't really live our lives without them. If you show people, especially the younger generation, the origins of the first phone, many will find it amusing that it developed from just one function into one that features many functions today.


What are some of the common mistakes which creators and innovators make that may impact the process and result of bringing a solution to market?


Everyone makes mistakes. One common mistake is that we assume who our users are, and we assume that a need is real, when it is not. We do a lot of assumptions that our product will solve all of humanity's problems when really, we are answering perhaps just 0.001% of a person's problem. We're not even sure if the solution will be a permanent one, or if it will evolve to something else.


Another common mistake stems from the fear of holding on to the idea and trying to keep it as it is instead of letting it grow and develop with time. For example, the main function of an e-wallet is to make payment. If we were to think about the larger question: what is payment? Do we need payment?


Imagine a world where everything is paid online, and you could just enter, put your things in your bag, and then leave. There is no payment interface because it all happens in the cloud. In this case, do we really need an e-wallet?


It’s important that we think of the long-term vision instead of holding on to an idea and keeping it as it is, without any intention to rethink and adapt to new and future needs.


Any words of advice for future creators and innovators?


I always tell my mentees to keep digging and asking questions; to always be curious.


I like to ask them to imagine that they are in Alice in Wonderland, envisioning themselves as the White Rabbit whose job is to find as many things as possible. To do that, they have to keep digging the hole until they can’t anymore. Then when they finally feel like they've had enough, jump up, go on to the next hole and start digging again. They will never really know how far they can go without asking the right questions, so it's best to keep digging to find out.


FastTrack CityHack: A steppingstone for creative thinkers


FastTrack CityHack Singapore, taking place on 25-27 November 2022, is primed to be a weekend long of creativity and innovation. Over 80 participants across various fields and expertise are expected to come together to dream up solutions that will help make Singapore a more sustainable, liveable and resilient city.


If you haven’t already signed up, here’s your chance to bring your vision to life.

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