Tag Archives: Innovation Culture

Experiment: Designing An Innovation Toolkit

By 2015, Propellerfish had partnered with Cisco’s internal innovation teams across dozens of initiatives around the world. The need for support on innovation projects throughout the organization was growing and Cisco’s internal innovation teams realized that volume of requests for their services had grown beyond what they could reasonable deliver.

Propellerfish was starting to see similar limitations in other client businesses. We decided to sit down together and segment out the types of requests on a spectrum. At one end were teams needing help running simple things like workshops. At the other, were teams needing more robust support working through complex challenges. We realized many of the former were initiatives teams could be tackling on their own. With the right innovation toolkit, we were convinced they’d be successful leading smaller innovation projects and innovation workshops without us.

We set out to understand the anatomy of these challenges and realized they had three things in common:

1. The time and resources these teams had to dedicate to the initiative was limited. They needed answers quickly and needed to move on with their day jobs. The right innovation toolkit would help them get the most out of the time they had to dedicate to this challenge.

2. They were situations where the need (or the resources) to conduct any meaningful insight work was not present. Teams were in a position to jump to solutions and weren’t looking for months (or even weeks) of rigorous user research and solution development. The innovation toolkit would need to help them be insightful with the time and perspectives available within their team.

3. A huge part of the task at hand was really understanding what they were trying to achieve with this project – the innovation toolkit would need to force them to pause and reflect on what made them approach Cisco’s Innovation Management Office in the first place.

We developed our first innovation toolkit in 2014 as an experiment. The prototype was basic: a plastic box contained a booklet on process, basic templates for running a session and the stationery people would need in order to complete a working session.

We learned a lot from that first experiment. Specifically, we realized that teams need two things: (1) efficient guidance and (2) structured flexibility.  Efficient guidance in that they needed to understand what they were doing but did not have tons of time to watch an instructional video. Structured flexibility in the sense that every session was inherently different. People needed the ability to customize their journey without compromising on the structure that made workshops run well.

Version 2 was a more polished toolkit that started with a questionnaire about what challenge the team was setting out to solve. Based on that diagnostic, the toolkit prescribed a series of exercises that helped people tackle their specific problem. Instructions were simple and visual. The result was a series of stories where teams felt more empowered to take these types of challenges on alone.

The innovation toolkit has evolved further through experimentation across different organizations and use cases. What we’ve ultimately learned is that the innovation tool kit works best in conjunction with (1) a team that is genuinely committed to doing some of the work on their own and (2) a dedicated amount of remote coaching from a seasoned Propellerfish innovation leader.

If you’re interested in developing a toolkit for your organization, we’d love to share our experiences building innovation capability for organizations around the world.  Please get in touch here and someone from our team will get back to you within 24 hours.

Propellerfish is an innovation consulting firm with offices in London and Singapore. We turn strategy into the products and services that move businesses forward in the real world.

There’s Meaning In The Making

Want employees to find more fulfilment at work? Get them closer to the things you make and the people you make them for.


I recently watched the CEO of a packaged goods giant talk about the challenge of competing with the Silicon Valley for the best young talent in the US. After the talk, people in the audience were chatting about the coolness of startup culture, the lure of huge exits and replaying the excuse that only small businesses can really offer these things. I’d say there’s a third factor that matters more: these smaller businesses put employees closer to the process of creating value (the making real things for real people) which makes working for them more fulfilling.

The closer people are to the value businesses create, the more fulfilled they are, but as businesses grow, they put distance between the creation of value and most people’s day job.

On one of my favourite projects, a Fortune 500 company wanted a new product created from scratch in 8 weeks. In this instance, that wasn’t a lot of time, so they asked us what it would take to speed things up. We suggested relocating their New York-based team to a pop up studio in Bangkok for the duration of the project, putting them in the middle of the region they were designing for.

Over 8 weeks, we travelled across the region, spent time in the homes and lives of the real people we intended this solution to serve, engaged monks and traditional medicine experts for inspiration and insight, experienced the complexity of traditional retail up close, worked through 29 iterations of a solution and ended with an awesome product that’s now a real thing in market.

We’d solved a business problem, but we’d also watched a senior team come alive with a sense of purpose rooted in how their organization delivers value to the world.



Businesses create value by making useful things for real people. People in business derive value from their proximity to that process.

Smaller businesses have always kept people closer to the process of creating value. The first businesses made things in actual workshops, knew their customers because they sold to them directly, and responded to their needs intuitively. It’s no surprise to find that the introduction of job satisfaction surveys corresponds to the rise of the assembly line. Work that disconnects us from the bigger picture of how businesses create value for real people just isn’t satisfying.

When I watched the CEO on stage talk about competing with the Silicon Valley, it seemed to me that this competition is really about proximity to value creation. Smaller companies (even those with billion dollar valuations) have a habit of keeping employees closer to the making of products and the people that use them. That closeness benefits everyone: being closer to the process of creating useful things for real people leaves employees more fulfilled and results in products that are better designed to suit the needs of everyone.

Big businesses approach the creation of meaningful products and the creation meaning for employees as separate functions. The reality is that the former feeds the latter.

Maintaining that connection gets tricky as businesses get bigger, but it’s not impossible. We regularly work with companies that are creating innovation labs dedicated to eliminating distance between their employees, their consumers and the process of creating new products.

After years of putting distance between their people and what they do, businesses are re-connecting the dots. The result is more meaning for people at work and a learning that the closer we are to the things we make and the people we make them for, the more fulfilling work becomes.

Propellerfish is an innovation consulting firm with offices in London and Singapore. We turn strategy into the products and services that move businesses forward in the real world.