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Be surprised more often
How to brainstorm and sharpen your new product ideas using the 'Surprise Framework'
Method Academy by Fastuna, 2021
This session is about how qualitative situational research helps you develop and sharpen your product and advertising ideas. The approach proposed allows you to structure and simplify how you obtain new knowledge about consumers/users. You can then link "new knowledge" with the process of "inventing".
It doesn’t matter if you do research in-house or outsource and what specific method you use. This approach will help you get started building your 'Everyday Empathy' process correctly.
The manual will be helpful to everyone who looks to innovate: brand and product managers, marketers, creatives, researchers.
IDEATION as part of an innovation process
Let’s look at the cycle: IDEA — VERIFICATION — IMPLEMENTATION — EVALUATION. Almost any product develops along this cycle. Ideas somehow arise, are tested (or not) and some of them are implemented, the results are evaluated. We then repeat the process. This is how innovation is happening.
At the IDEA stage, the following tasks are solved:
  • Search for ideas: find, generate.
  • Refinement of ideas: develop, fill with specifics, clearly formulate.
An idea — in a broad sense — is a mental prototype of an action, object, phenomenon, principle, highlighting its primary and essential features. An idea can be of any scale: a new business, a new product, a new feature, packaging, advertising, or even a specific interface solution. How best to place the button on the order form to increase conversion is also an idea. Any ideas (even small ones) need to be found and brought to mind.
All these tasks can be described in one word, IDEATE. For a product to develop, managers must ideate. If there are no new ideas, the cycle will stop, and development will stop.
Ideation should be a systematic activity, a process within the company. We will explain how it is done in more detail.
Where ideas are born
This is a manager head. This is where all ideas are born. They can’t be born anywhere else. In order to find new ideas you need to process information from the outside world and use it to turn it into something new based on previous experience.
Previous experience + New information = Idea
New information is key. The previous experience ends sooner or later and will not bring new ideas. In our changing and fast-paced world, previous experiences end incredibly quickly because we have so much information interaction with the outside world.
In terms of business ideation and those ideas that pop into our heads, we need to understand what kind of new information will help us innovate something of value.
Human needs that take you by surprise
We should all base innovation on understanding human needs. We make products that solve people’s problems and challenges. Therefore, valuable information for coming up with new ideas should carry NEW KNOWLEDGE ABOUT A 'NEED OR A PROBLEM'.
What is a need? A need is a very subjective feeling (not always directly perceived) of a lack of something. It is essential to discuss that 'need' with others to understand it. This is what qualitative researchers usually do.
Let’s firstly forget about the intricacies of organizing this process and focus on the benefit. Maybe you’ve talked to fifteen of your target audience about their 'need'. How will you use that new knowledge and add it to the ideation process?
A need is a very subjective feeling (not always directly perceived) of a lack of something. To understand the need, you need to talk about it with people. This is what qualitative researchers usually do. Let’s say you’ve talked to fifteen of your target audience about their needs. You need to understand if this need is new and unique or old. If it is new it can be taken over to ideation. If it is old it should be dropped.
How to identify new knowledge (need?) in the received information array?
We suggest using Claude Shannon's Information Theory, where he proposes to look at any new information in terms of the degree to which it surprises you or not.
Communication with target audience > Surprise > Ideas
Colleagues, acquaintances, or relatives can help you ideate by talking, arguing and discussing your idea with you. However, the amount of new information from them is eventually just as limiting as yours. By communicating your ideas with them, you gradually stop being surprised.
To develop a product effectively, you need to communicate with people whose 'need' or problem requires solving. You want to connect with the target audience of your product. Pay attention to the information you gain from them, that surprises you. This is what marks information that is new to you. New information sets your ideation up for better success.
Surprise is within an arm's reach
Communication with the target audience should be as easily accessible for innovators. Usually, launching qualitative research is a large project that requires significant efforts from the project team. As a result, we find that the frequency of qualitative research is run much less often than needed — just because the belief is that it takes too much time, too much effort and too much money. The effectiveness of the development cycle decreases without proper research: good ideas surface later, and more bad or incomplete ideas get into the implementation stage that shouldn’t.
In this tutorial, we provide a framework to help you simplify the process of generating and refining product and marketing ideas. At the heart of the framework are:
Recognizable business situations. Oh, so this is a typical situation of 'type A'.

Standard protocols. In this situation, I take it and do it this way.

Essential involvement. The ideation owner is a necessary participant in the research process — that’s where the idea is born. But an ideation role should remain cognitive, not organizational.
To give you an example of how to set the Framework up let’s have a look at two typical situations and the set of actions you would set up:
A) you need to come up with something new, or
B) it is not clear what is happening, and you need to figure it out.
01. Define the situation
Usually there are many options for each situation and they may all be very different from one another. There are 4 main types that cover the majority of the situations:
Each of these situations is characterized by a specific Input, Research Object and expected research Results. Let’s define these for clarity.
IMPORTANT! Qualitative research results in hypotheses and ideas. Qualitative research does not answer the question about the potential of an idea but only says "it could happen" or "it can be so". Qualitative research helps you to ideate. Hypotheses and ideas resulting from qualitative research usually require further verification.
You can practice identifying standard situations using your real life examples.
02. Decide who you will talk to
Now that the situation is defined, you need to talk to people. But first, decide who will be part of that conversation. You need to speak with the target audience of your future or actual product.
The target audience of a product is all the potential users who, at least theoretically, need your product and who can physically use it.
Your first step is to define your target audience using the following template:
— Demographics
— Geography
— Possibilities of having a target need
Demography is important for the subsequent search of respondents. It is also known to have a strong influence on preferences.
Geography is your target market. If you work for different countries, always research in each country separately, as the market situation varies significantly from country to country.
The possibility of having a targeted need can be illustrated by the example of goods for children. If you make baby wipes, you hardly want to talk about them with people who do not have children of the right age.

You are creating an App for the selection of recipes depending on what is in your home fridge. Your market is the US. Then the description of your target audience might look like this:
— Males/Females 20−50
— Total USA
— Cooked at home over the past month
If you plan to talk to your current consumers / users to whom you have direct access, there is usually no need to further restrict the target audience. However, you may want to select specific users. For example, "lapsed" users to understand why they stopped using your product.
03. Ask questions according to the situation
There are no limitations in regards to the choice of a specific method to conduct an interview. This can be a personal or remote interview, correspondence with a person by mail or messenger, communication in a group or community, and even a classic focus group. The essence of the approach described here will remain unchanged.
Next Steps. You have identified the situation, the target audience, and the people you need to talk to. It’s time to ask them the right questions.

Our example questions are a great guide for beginners. Further tips include:

  • Start from standard questions in accordance with the situation.
  • Be interested in the answers, and ask follow up questions that clarify their original answer.
  • Record the answers as verbatim.
  • If you are doing an audio or video chat, get permission and record the conversation.
04. Formulate hypotheses and (possibly) ideas
Once you’ve collected enough answers, the fun begins. Let’s say you interviewed 10−20 people, and you received answers to your questions in plain text. Now you need to formulate your hypotheses and ideas.
To help you simplify this process, we offer a straightforward framework:
The more you practise this framework, the easier it becomes. An experienced researcher can conduct a similar analysis of answers during a conversation with a respondent. With a bit of practice, you will soon learn to drill it down to 4 simple internal questions:
— What does this phrase really mean? Do I understand it correctly?
— Does it surprise me? Is this information new to me?
— If new, does it follow from any hypothesis or guess?
— Is there any idea in my head related to this?
Be prepared for many hypotheses to appear, but few ideas (or no ideas at all, at first). Do not hurry. Ideas will occur one way or another. That may be after reading and analyzing many fragments, after discussing hypotheses within the team or after testing the first hypotheses, as a result of the synthesis of several hypotheses. Keep reading through the fragments and enjoy the element of surprise.
To write the hypotheses and ideas, you can practice with your own example.

You want to create an app with recipes. You do not have a concrete idea yet, but you understand that you need to "dig" the needs of people that exist within the territory of "cooking at home".

You talked to people about how they usually decide what to cook. Below is an excerpt from the conversation in text form.

Moderator: How do you now decide what to cook?
Respondent: I open the fridge, look at the small amount of food that is there, and think what I would like — sweet or salty, hot or cold. Then I think about what to do with this "variety" to make it edible.
M: Do you use any applications or websites?
R: Sometimes I go google and type there "a selection of recipes from the list of products" and poke into the first one offered. There I fill in the list of products that are there, a list of recipes appears, and I choose the simplest one.
M: Are you always happy with what these sites offer you?
R: No, usually the recipes are very complex and require a bunch of ingredients that I don’t have :(
M: What emotions do you experience when this happens?
R: I’m angry! Why can’t it be simplified for people?!
M: What does "simple" mean to you?
R: There should be simple products — no anchovies and Jerusalem artichoke. Don’t need these complicated technologies. I still don’t understand what it means to "blanch". Can they just use normal people’s language? And it should be clear how long I will be cooking all this. "Cook until tender" - how many minutes on a conventional stove?

An example of snippet analysis is shown below.
05. Test of your hypotheses
By this stage, you have probably formed a list of hypotheses and, possibly, ideas. Want to test them out?
Due to small sample sizes, qualitative research does not perform well for testing hypotheses and determining the potential of ideas — qualitative research only generates them. There are quantitative research methods that suit this purpose far better (more about it soon in The Method Academy or check out our ProductIdea solution for quick early-stage idea testing).

For example:

  1. You analyzed the answers of one respondent on the topic "cooking at home".
  2. You formulated a hypothesis that it might be important for people to be able to cook something delicious from products already in the house. You can also pick up 'too lazy to go to the store' and ask those who have not spontaneously given this answer if it applies to them as well.
  3. If out of the conditional 15 respondents 7−8 said that the hypothesis is close to them, we code such a hypothesis as potentially FREQUENT.
  4. If 2−3 — mark the hypothesis as potentially RARE (single mentions usually indicate a low potential of the hypothesis or idea).
This pre-validation will help you prioritize efforts in situations where there are many hypotheses and ideas.
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