3 Innovation Frameworks To Stoke New Thinking In Your Organization

True innovation requires a strategic framework.

3 Innovation Frameworks To Stoke New Thinking In Your Organization

by David Rand

Posted on 01-01-2020

“You can’t solve a problem on the same level that is was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” – Albert Einstein

Innovation should be every marketer’s middle name. But in an environment where most brands are racing to differentiate themselves, the true meaning of the word often loses its strength.

Innovation isn’t easy. It’s about implementing ingenious ideas or introducing clever products that change the game entirely and have long-lasting impact. It requires a strategic “innovation framework,” which can be defined as any internal process, platform, or approach that shifts team thinking to produce–and act on–ideas that will continually influence customers over time.

Below we take a deep dive into three innovation frameworks–design thinking, agile marketing, and gamification–which are proving useful for brands trying to stick out among all the noise today.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is a method for problem solving and innovation based on longstanding practices among design professionals. It involves massive collaboration and frequent iterations and has five clear phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

In marketing terms, this translates into driving processes to understand what audiences really care about, defining their motivations and challenges, brainstorming creative concepts to address them, piloting the best ideas in select markets, and then tracking feedback and results to advise subsequent efforts.

When done well, design thinking never really ends. Teams have a cultural commitment to thinking like their customers and ideating to continuously deliver products and ideas that will tap into their desires. Organizations that don’t quite carry out a true “design thinking” strategy, tend to take a more linear and limited approach.

“Many organizations make two major mistakes with design thinking,” Forrester research director David Truog told CMO by Adobe. “First, they misunderstand the phases, doing the work in a shallow way. Second, they think you go through these different phases in sequence, but it’s not really a recipe where you complete step one through five, in order. Mature marketing organizations know it isn’t a process you start and then finish. It is a way of operating on a continual basis for problem solving and innovation.”

According to Benjamin Brown, a senior total economic impact consultant with Forrester, design thinking changes how teams work and helps them achieve better outcomes. However, as individual teams try to put metrics around these initiatives, they should avoid trying to collect every possible data point to demonstrate worth, he told CMO By Adobe.

His suggestion: Teams should establish a baseline to see how they were collaborating prior to the introduction of design thinking. Then, after processes have changed, conduct interviews and surveys to gauge whether the work and processes have become more efficient, creative, and innovative. This feedback loop should span all phases of design thinking-driven projects, he added.

“Design thinking only brings positive ROI if you consistently use it and force teams to alter the way they work,” Brown said. “Doing it halfway doesn’t cut it. For lasting value, you have to actually change how employees work and use the methodology to fix real problems for customers. This will take dedication from designers, marketers, and executive sponsors alike to ensure the culture of work is truly affected.”

Airbnb is a primary example of a company that is reaping the benefits of a design-thinking based approach to innovation. The company instituted design thinking back in 2009, giving its teams the structure to take measured but productive risks on new features and functionality. If teams find there’s a measurable benefit, then the idea is scaled. According to Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, this design thinking-based approach to innovation helps the company move quickly and continually find new opportunities.

“We had this Silicon Valley mentality that you had to solve problems in a scalable way because that’s the beauty of code. Right? You can write one line of code that can solve a problem for one customer, 10,000, or 10 million,” Gebbia told First Round Review. “For the first year of the business, we sat behind our computer screens trying to code our way through problems. We believed this was the dogma of how you’re supposed to solve problems in Silicon Valley. It wasn’t until our first session with Paul Graham at Y Combinator … the first time someone gave us permission to do things that don’t scale, and it was in that moment, and I’ll never forget it because it changed the trajectory of the business.”

Agile Marketing

Delivering quality products as quickly as possible has long been the Holy Grail for competitive organizations. Years ago in the software industry, developers primarily used the ”waterfall” method of producing software, where teams completed one phase at a time before moving on to the next, often making the product development process rigid and slow. More recently, about 80% of developers have shifted to the agile method, which focuses on rapid and flexible development using short bursts of activity. This fluid method of software development has become a model for other organizations, not just the coders.

Marketers, in particular, have found agile methods invaluable for bringing teams together to quickly, creatively, and innovatively deliver differentiated brand experiences.

Most agile marketing efforts begin with sprints, where the various teams are given a few weeks to determine goals, strategies, and delivery methods for campaigns. Sprints are typically managed by a novel process known as a scrum, aimed at locking team members into thinking like customers and quickly working toward addressing their needs. Scrums often include daily stand-up meetings where employees hold brief check-ins while, you guessed it, standing. There could be physical and digital boards for tracking individual progress against team goals. Marketers might even share user stories each day to keep their team focused on what they’re trying to accomplish–and why.

According to an AgileSherpas and CoSchedule study, about a third of marketing teams surveyed have already embraced agile methodology, and half of traditional marketers plan to do so within the year. Indeed, leading brands such as Aetna, 3M, CarMax and Sprint have extolled the benefits of agile marketing for becoming lean, mean, competitive machines.

Teams with effective programs are well-educated on what agile involves, and everyone in those firms–from the top down–fully buys into the approach, said Andrea Fryrear, co-founder of Longmont, Colo.-based consultancy AgileSherpas.

“They focus on doing the right work at the right time,” Fryrear told CMO by Adobe. “They maintain quality and brand integrity, and they always keep the customer as their main focus. All of that means understanding what constitutes the bedrock of a good agile implementation. You need a backlog. A visual workflow. You can’t just change your mind every single day. You must have rigor around your processes.”

If teams fully commit to it, the discipline provided by an agile innovation framework can help marketers break down organizational silos and get things done quickly and efficiently, in sync with the rapid pace of technological change happening all around us today.

“Our workdays become our own,” Fryrear said. “We get autonomy, and we get more purposeful connections between the marketing work we do and larger purposes of the organizations we service. It’s quite amazing for individual marketers to see that when agile is implemented properly, it really works.”


Gamified marketing campaigns have seemingly been around forever. But it’s only been since the rise of software, video games, the Internet, and smartphones that such programs have really taken flight.

From an innovation standpoint, however, gamification is “the process of transforming tasks or processes into a competitive process to engage users, solve problems, increase productivity, and drive innovation.” End users and customers are typically included in the process—for crowdsourcing purposes. A good example is from Accenture, which developed an online platform for its employees to use for knowledge sharing. The most active users got rewarded with points and even financial benefits. The “game” promoted socializing and bonding among employees, which, the company says, led to greater innovation.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Work and Pensions uses an online platform to get its 120,000 employees to share ideas. The best ideas are voted on, and those receiving top votes are implemented. Adobe does something similar with its Sneaks program each year at Adobe Summit. The company gives Summit attendees an inside look into some of the innovation that is happening behind the scenes at Adobe Research. The audience is then asked to tweet their favorite Sneak, and the one with the most buzz is brought to fruition.

“Games are inherently data collection tools,” said Betty Adamou, founder of Research Through Gaming in the United Kingdom. “You can’t really give people feedback about their game performance without collecting some data. As gamification continues to evolve, more polished applications will be taking advantage of this in the near future.”

Adamou said successful gamification techniques typically deliver four key values: knowledge value, where useful information is conveyed; self-discovery value, where users learn something about themselves through a quiz or some other means; transcendent value, where the game lifts audience spirits to another level; and narrative value, where the game makes users feel they are part of a story.

“There is a whole science and psychology to gamification,” she said. “More marketers should educate themselves on what it will take to make it the useful tool it can be.”

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Topics: CMO by Adobe, Productivity, Insights & Inspiration, Leadership, Experience Cloud, Future of Work, Culture