We wish you a healthy, joyful and inspired new year and hope that in 2018 you move forward on your innovation path for yourself, your family, your team and your organization!

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” said the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Our brain processes all its information through our five senses. So for this new year, we would encourage you to use all your senses to help you travel on your journey to a more creative world.

Celebrate 2018 by Using All of Your Senses to Propel Your Innovation Journey

Here are five steps to get you started:

1. Listening

Ethnographic approach is critical to an innovation practice whether you are using design thinking, lean thinking or any other approach. Innovating is about creating change but you have to understand the needs of those you are going to impact. Take the time to pay attention to those who may be impacted by the innovation early in the process by listening and asking open-end questions that will help you better understand their perspective.  One of the most powerful questions is “why?”: Why is this important to you/my customers/my peers/my boss…? Why do users do this or that?

2. Seeing

Our eyes are often our primary way for making sense of the world. Yet in our everyday lives we use our voice and ears much more to discuss, argue, decide and strategize. Learn to use “visual thinking” to help you discover new ideas and share them with others. In his book, Visual Thinking, Willemien Brand1 explains that in our world where speed is of the essence and complexity is always increasing “visual techniques [can] improve the speed, creativity and effectiveness of teams as they collaborate in a dynamic environment”.  So next time you are in a meeting and the discussion gets difficult, stop and invite others to collaborate in drawing out their idea(s) — a new flow chart, a strategic plan — and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.

3. Smelling

Think of using smell as a stimulus for a brain storming session. What can scents such as chocolate, perfume, onion, baked apple pie and incense do to help you think of new ideas for a challenge? More importantly you may want to think about taking time to “smell the roses ” and try new things this year —  a new conference to which you have never been, a class on a topic you are interested in or visiting a new place?

4. Touching

A core pillar of design thinking is the idea of prototyping: to make and try rather than talking about the idea. It may seem like a simple idea… for example, if you are working on product development ideas, think about fast prototyping made with random art and craft elements (pipe cleaners, Play-Doh, string and sticks for example). This concept also works for services and experiences using approaches such as doing skits, creating flow-charts or shooting videos (while you cannot really touch it you can appreciate the idea in a different ways than words). This year, try to be more concrete as a way to get better understanding, feedback and alignment.

5. Tasting

While it may be hard to strictly “taste” your new idea — unless you are in the food business — there are many ways you can “get a taste” for the change by experimenting with possible futures. Use the concept of “abductive thinking” defined by Peirce and emphasized by Roger Martin2 by asking “what if…” and create mini experiences of what a transformed future could look like. I worked with a client in the car rental business and for one day they tried a new way for customers to return their car. It did not take much time or money, but they really got a taste of what may or may not work with this new approach.

Of course these are just examples and it is often best to combine all the senses to fully guide you towards meaningful change. And finally do not forget the 6th sense, intuition. Sometimes in our overly rational world we may forget that intuition has a place to play. I believe that intuition is our short cut to what we already know and have learned over time although sometimes we are not exactly sure why a path seems more meaningful and relevant. If you give yourself time and permission to listen to that sense, it may point you in some interesting directions.

We hope this new year is a chance to experiment and take some interesting steps on your journey.

What single step would you like to take to start your journey this year?


Brand, W. (2017) Visual Thinking, The Netherlands: BIS Publishers

Martin, R. (2009). The Design of Business. Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press