Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Learnings from Design and Implementing Think & Do's this past year

So exciting news!  My colleagues, Susan Resnick West, Jake deGrazia and myself submitted a review of the Think & Do process to the MIX prize last year.  You can see our submission here.  If you recall, we were finalists of the prize last year; and the organization reached out to us to let us know that they thought our submission was still very relevant and re-submitted it for us.  Here's info on the prize.  

They gave us a day to add more information on what we've been doing to date since last year's with the hope we move to Phase 2 where we can improve the submission even more.  Fingers crossed!

So for your enjoyment, below is a reflection on the learnings we've gathered from running 9 Think & Do's since inception of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, the additional material we added to the MIX prize submission.  What's great about deadlines under pressure is it really has you focus and get things written down and its all great material for the ebook we're planning to release in the Fall.


When we last posted, The Annenberg Innovation Lab was one and a half years into a lifetime adventure using the power of play to create networks of interdisciplinary collaborators. Our initial efforts have yielded our Think & Do process.  Over the past year, we have improved our execution but our fundamental process remains the same:
  • Ask Provocative Questions,
  • Invite Phenomenal Participants,
  • Create a stimulating Place,  
  • Get people together, mix it up, use Play and humor to flatten hierarchies and break down power barriers.
  • View innovation as a Process.  

Regular participation in our T&D Workshops is something we now consider a key benefit we provide our sponsors, among which are some of the world’s top media, entertainment, and technology companies. Over the three years we have been developing this process we have seen relationships grow across the media ecology amongst our sponsors, small media companies, our students, and faculty. Our process has also gained enough exposure that other companies and nonprofit organizations have asked us to personalize T&Ds for their networks. This increased interest has pushed us to start work on an e-workbook to be released Fall 2014. The book will further define our 5 Ps and offer a toolkit of activities that we hope will help people organize and facilitate their own Think & Dos. Since last January, we have honed our methods and thrown our nets wider, continuing our interdisciplinary work and expanding our process to help individual companies and organizations ideate and innovate.    

In the past year we have convened 2 additional cross disciplinary Think and Dos, focusing them on provocative questions related to the future of media and entertainment.

  1. Re-Envisioning the Home TV Experience: “Watching” and “Doing” TV Differently

  • Provocation: What defines the amplified experience of home television entertainment?
  • Participants included executives from the TV business and strategy side; creators and producers experimenting with content; user experience designers and developers; “wild cards” with an early appetite for reinventing, repackaging and enhancing the TV viewing experience; and USC professors, staff and students.
  • Everyone shared their best TV experience; mapped a typical 24-hours of viewing by a fictional TV viewer; discussed the shortfalls of our current home TV experiences; experimented with new technologies like Google Glass, Oculus Rift, 3D Printing and tablet experiences, to think about how these could add to or create new TV experience.
  • We came up with ideas like:
    • Enhancing a program with multiple points of view delivered to viewers through Google Glass (in development with prototype complete end of April 2014)
    • Using 3D-printed tangible artifacts to unlock extra content (in development with prototype complete end of April 2014)

  1. Business Models in an All-Mobile Environment


  • Provocation: How can we create new business models for the media & entertainment sector to take advantage of an emerging all-mobile environment?
  • Participants included Media & Entertainment executives, “wild cards” and USC professors, staff and students.
  • Everyone shared the most interesting way they had used their mobile phone recently; brainstormed ways to address current business problems with emerging mobile solutions; refined those solutions by incorporating some core principles for creating value for business and the consumer.
  • We came up with an idea tentatively called “Janus,” to take audiences deep into a studio’s library through a recommendation system using both algorithms and celebrity content curation. The audience builds a community around content through social media, fan pages, and geolocations. (in development)

We believe the Information Economy is being replaced by a new Imagination Economy: a new global boom in which the rise of ubiquitous, natural, and affordable technology, the rise of participatory culture and the new “maker” movement, the rise of a global broadband distribution platform with 3.5 billion users, and the rise of a rapidly growing global middle class converge to reshape the media and entertainment industries—and quite possibly every other industry as well.

The two new Think & Do events mentioned above are part of our participatory design research agenda in how media and entertainment companies can reorient themselves to flourish in this emerging Imagination Economy.  By extending the Think and Do ideations into action, our approach responds to the challenge, “How can we tap into emerging digital technologies and the principles that undergird them (such as transparency, collaboration, meritocracy, open­ness, commu­nity and self-determination) to imagine the future of business?”  To extend the one-day experience we establish working groups and build on-going networks through social media. Since many of these people are not local,  technology today such as telepresence, skype and google hangout facilitate partticipant involvement.  

Projects Generated:
To date, our T&Ds have generated four new projects, all in various stages of completion:

1) Flotsam, a children’s transmedia play experience (PROTOTYPE consisting of an ebook, trading cards, game, and curriculum, a lab experiment conducted in the 1st quarter of 2013 to explore EXPANDING WHAT WE MEAN OF AN EBOOK PLATFORM)

2) A children’s pre-programmed second screen experience with DirecTV (completed in Spring 2012)


3) Individualized daily news delivered by a personalized anchor (in development; CONCEPT PROTOTYPE EXPECTED SPRING 2014)Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 9.25.42 PM.png

4) A white paper focused on defining the field of transmedia branding  (publication released summer 2013 -- download here)

Expanded Think and Do Applications
In addition to the Think & Dos that we implemented as part of the Lab sponsors’ annual benefits, three organizations requested that we design and facilitate organization specific Think & Dos. Two of the three requests centered on transmedia branding, an expertise within our Lab, and the Director of the Arts Journalism program requested a Think & Do for a National Arts Journalism Summit.   We used our 5 Ps process to design these workshops which included:  

  • Transmedia Branding Think and Do for a major Clothing Manufacturer
    • Provocative question:  How do we connect the notion of “frontier” to global stories and spark a multicultural conversation amongst a new generation of consumers.   We asked the question, “How will this new generation pave their own definition of pioneering a new frontier–what does that mean to them?” “How can the company connect the campaign to their origin story.
    • Participants: 20 people including a few of the lab’s research fellows, members of the company’s value chain, as well as the creative team running the program.
    • We laid the groundwork for three key transmedia strategy pillars and brainstormed tangible deliverables.  These deliverables incorporated an awareness of a more globally inclusive world. By the end of the day, we had seeded a transmedia strategy for the brand campaign that impacted both the bottom line and global equity.

  • Transmedia Branding Think and Do for a Luxury Car Manufacturer
    • Provocation:  What are the branding and image challenges faced by this company?
    • Participants:  All levels of the company from full participation of the CEO, to the Creative Director, to the social media assistant.  Our goal was to create an equal creative playing field for all voices to contribute and feel as if their contribution mattered.
    • We ended the day with a draft transmedia brand map for the company to use as it further refined their campaign.

  • Future of the Arts Press

  • Provocation: How do we build a better arts press?
  • Participants: 64 artists, journalists, foundation executives, technologists, and entrepreneurs
  • Summary of the Day: We asked participants to share their first creative acts, discussed arts journalism's branding problem, used the Idealized Design process to identify the features of an ideal arts press, brainstormed projects that could deliver those features, and presented scopes of work and startup budgets for those projects
  • Scoped and budgeted projects included: a location-based mobile app focused on making notable art discoverable, a foundation-funded journalism organization focused on arts reporting for non-specialist audiences, and a storytelling framework for reporters trying to tell a single story from many different angles, in many different shapes and sizes, over many different distribution channels

Our core Think and Do team has now expanded, drawing in graduate students as well as faculty and sponsors.  While the teams sometimes operate independently we remain true to the interdisciplinary nature of a Think & Do.  A requirement for all our Think and Do’s is flexibilty and openess to include a wide range of stakeholders and colleagues as well as “wild card” participants that we bring into the process. In other words, we insist that our Think and Do’s “invert the pyramid and shift from the static value chain to value-creating networks.”

Lessons Learned:  
  • The importance of initial introductions. The opening introductions activity can be an incredibly effective community-building activity.  As a result, we have increased our emphasis on making intros memorable. With such a diverse group of people, creative introductions give everyone 45 seconds of fame: a moment to position and equalize before leaving egos behind. Think and Dos start with participants introducing themselves to the entire group by sharing a personal experience related to the day’s topic.  For example, at the Future of the Arts Press Think & Do, all participants introduced themselves by recollecting their first creative act. At New Business Models in an All Mobile Environment, participants shared their most novel use of a mobile device in the previous week. Some folks got unlost with geolocation and mapping; others found their cars; and still others used the device to downsize their possessions.
  • The power of Wild Cards, or people who seemingly don’t fit the model of other participants. For example, we invited a Red Bull executive to the Future of the Arts Press Think & Do.  We’ve found that people who don’t initially seem to belong in a room often very quickly help all the belongers see their problems and opportunities from important new angeles.
  • The importance of laying out the framework for the provocative question before folks arrive - Finding the right balance of enough but not too much information was the biggest learning process for the briefing books (many linked above in the different Think & Do’s we mention). The briefing book offers a place to curate and make explicit information that help formulate the provocative question that guides the day.
  • The need for a toolkit/framework for activities.  In order to scale, we need to move beyond our very small (3-5) team. After designing and implementing 9 Think & Do’s, we have begun to curate a variety of activities that can serve as templates.  Some of our best activities have been done multiple times, but no two are the same because each activity is a framing rather than a didactic lesson. A few examples include:
    • Character Sketch Trading Cards which give brief facts about stakeholders or consumers
    • Fishbowl Discussions happen in the middle of the room, unlike “expert panels” on stage, anyone can participate and members can freely tap in and out of the discussions.  This “model of engagement emphasizes the power of the individual over command and control”.
    • A Day in the Life creates a temporal understanding of how a product, process or policy impacts specific stakeholders.
  • The importance of FLIPping at the end of the day. FLIPing is Fast, Lean Implementation Planning. Without this activity, the energy of the day quickly dissipates, and people leave having enjoyed themselves but not having committed to staying involved in the “process” of innovation.

Over the past year, we have improved our execution but our fundamental process remains the same:
  • Ask Provocative Questions,
  • Invite Phenomenal Participants,
  • Create a stimulating Place,  
  • Get people together, mix it up, use Play and humor to flatten hierarchies and break down power barriers.
  • View innovation as a Process.  

Each Think & Do is a springboard into a process of innovation with impact.  The events are wonderful sparks, the challenge remains to fan the flame and maintain the networks beyond the one day event. We’re having some success and look forward to the communities feedback to move us to the next level of understanding this new way of working.

We look forward to your input and help as we continue to refine our process.


  1. Wicked cool stuff, Erin - congrats! I'm honored to have been a part of it, and I'm greatly looking forward to the book!

  2. Thanks Geoff! Yea, we've realized we have a lot of information to share and a great set of tools for others to conduct their own Think & Do's.