Forget secret handshakes, guarded rituals, and clandestine meetings.  The easiest way to show that you’re a part of the “In-Crowd” is by throwing around obscure terms and incomprehensible acronyms.

Every industry has words and acronyms that only make sense to insiders.  Stock traders have BOP (Balance of Power), Consumer Goods companies have ACV (All Commodities Volume), and, thanks to the military, we all have SNAFU (Situation Normal: All F-cked Up)

Innovators are no different.  We throw around terms like Design Thinking, Lean Startup, ethnography, Discovery Driven Planning.  We rattle off acronyms like VUCA JTBD, and MVP.

But do we really know what the industry terms and acronyms mean? 

More importantly, are we sure that our definition is the same as our boss’ or colleague’s definition?

If you’re even a little bit like me, your answer to both of those questions is No.

And that feels awkward because it can lead to confusion, frustration, and disappointment in your work and your team. 

So, let’s get back on the path to building clarity, efficiency, and support in your innovation efforts!

In Part 1, we’ll get into the What, Why, and How of the 5 of the most popular Innovation frameworks.  Next week, in Part 2, we’ll dig into the When of each framework in the innovation process.

Human-Centered Design (also known as Design Thinking)

  • What it is: A problem-solving framework that integrates the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success grounded in 3 principles:
    1. Inspiration: Understand customer needs
    2. Ideation: Generate creative ideas
    3. Iteration: Rapidly prototype and test
  • Why it is important: Useful in solving “wicked problems,” problems that are ill-defined or tricky and for which pre-existing rules and domain knowledge will be of limited or no help (or potentially detrimental)
  • How you do it:
    • Qualitative research with tools like ethnography and Jobs to be Done to build empathy with the customer
    • Ideation to identify and explore lots of possible solutions
    • Prototypes to build, test, and refine solutions

Systemic Design

  • What it is: A way of making sense of the world’s complexity by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its parts; grounded in 5 principles:
    1. Acknowledge the interrelatedness of problems
    2. Develop empathy with the system
    3. Strengthen human relationships to enable creativity and learning
    4. Influence mental models to facilitate change
    5. Adopt an evolutionary design approach to desired systemic change.
  • Why it is important: The increased complexity caused by globalization, migration, sustainability renders traditional design methods insufficient and increases the risk that designs result in unintended side effects.
  • How you do it: This is an emerging innovation discipline with multiple schools of thought and dozens of potential tools.  To learn more and find tools, check out the Systemic Design Association.

User-Centered Design

  • What it is: A framework in which usability goals, user characteristics, environment, tasks, and workflow of a product, service, or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process and grounded in 6 principles
    1. Design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments.
    2. Users are involved throughout design and development.
    3. Design is driven and refined by user-centered evaluation.
    4. Process is iterative.
    5. Design addresses the whole user experience.
    6. Design team includes multidisciplinary skills and perspectives.
  • Why it is important: Optimizes the product around how users can, want, or need to use it so that users are not forced to change their behaviors and expectations to accommodate the product.
  • How you do it: Personas, scenarios, and use cases that capture the context, behaviors, habits, and instincts with

Lean Startup

  • What it is: A methodology for developing businesses and products that emphasizes customer feedback over intuition and flexibility over planning, grounded in 5 principles:
    1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere.
    2. Entrepreneurship is management.
    3. Validated learning.
    4. Innovation Accounting.
    5. Build-Measure-Learn
  • Why it is important: Aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable
  • How you do it: The most common tools are:
    • Canvases: Business Model and Value Proposition
    • MVP (Minimally Viable Product)
    • Metrics that are actionable (vs. vanity)
    • Innovation Accounting
    • Build-Measure-Learn loop, including A/B testing


  • What it is: A project management philosophy that expanded to be used in innovation and business transformation
    1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools
    2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation
    3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation
    4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan
  • Why it is important: Improves time to market, quality, and employee morale
  • How you do it: The most common tools are:
    • Agile teams that are small, entrepreneurial, and empowered groups
    • Operating Model with focuses on leadership and culture, management systems, structures, talent, and processes

So What?

By now, you’ve probably noticed that the frameworks above are very similar – many of them are centered on the customer, value diverse experience expertise when creating solutions, and prioritize iteration over perfection. 

So, which should you use?

The answer to that question depends on two things: your company and where you are in the innovation process.  We’ll dive into those topics next week.

As you wait patiently for Part 2:

  • Tell me what I got wrong, what I missed, and what you think in the comments
  • Download this handy cheat sheet to the What, Why, and How of 5 Popular Innovation Frameworks