Product Solutions
  • Articles
  • September 2018
  • 5 minutes

Life Design Sprints: Beat the Brainstorming Blues

Red figure points the way for  team of runners
In Brief
Is there a better way to brainstorm? RGA introduces the idea of "life design sprints" in the EMEA Quarterly Newsletter.
We’ve developed a better way to co-create solutions that is repeatable, reliable and efficient.

Brainstorming as a business tool has been around since at least the 1950s, and its core concept is simple: we’re smarter together than any one of us is on our own. But while these sessions can leave participants feeling energized, research shows that they often don’t have the lasting, positive impact we hoped for. For example, a study of over 800 teams published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology found that brainstorming groups were significantly less productive in terms of both quantity and quality than individuals working on their own.

We’ve probably all experienced some of the more obvious pitfalls of brainstorming:
  • The loudest voice often dominates the room, making quieter, more reflective participants reluctant to offer their ideas.
  • Looking for a “quick win”, the group may focus on the “low hanging fruit,” ignoring the more complex – and more important – topics.
  • One naysayer in the group can spoil the whole dynamic, while conversely, a group made up entirely of optimists can come up with a wide range of exciting but unworkable ideas.
  • Having a variety of participants from different backgrounds can help the group understand the challenge holistically, but when these participants don’t speak the same language, e.g., the CFO and the Director of Customer Experience, communication breaks down.
  • An imbalance of power can also lead to undue weight being given to the opinions of the highest ranking person in the room. This is especially a problem when this individual is a “hit and run” contributor, popping their head in to give an opinion and then disappearing again.
  • In this age of smartphones and tablets, getting any group of people to stay focused for long is an uphill battle.
  • Most brainstorming sessions/groups last only long enough to come up with ideas, not long enough to flesh them out. When these ideas get handed off to working groups, they can easily morph back into something that more closely resembles business as usual.

To be sure, brainstorming can work for smaller decisions such as coming up with a name for a new product, creating a list of potential speakers for your next conference or deciding where to go for lunch. But when it comes to transforming your business, it can fall short.

A better way: life design sprints

If we’re going to shoot holes in an approach that industry has been using for years, we need to come up with a better way. That’s exactly what we’ve developed with Life Design Sprints:
  • “Sprints” because we borrow heavily from the short, focused few days of sprinting used heavily in the tech industries, such as the Sprints concept developed at Google Ventures
  • “Design” because we employ the iterative processes of design thinking to develop and test solutions
  • “Life” because all these techniques need adapting and refining to work effectively in our specific industries of Life & Health insurance

Life Design Sprints are focused sessions, often lasting around five days, where we not only come up with ideas, but also choose the ones most likely to work, build prototypes and designs to test our ideas, and learn from the results with real customers.

The problems and the process

When we first mention the idea of a Life Design Sprint to an RGAX client or partner, we usually get two questions: What kinds of problems does this help with, and what’s the process?

The problems – The Life Design Sprints tools can be used for all sorts of challenges: improving processes, designing products, “moonshots” – basically anywhere where there is an opportunity for improvement, plus a team which is sufficiently motivated to find a viable solution. A really important area to avoid is falling in love with a solution too early. As Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Ensuring everyone sees the same issue and it’s collectively well-defined, needs to be done before even thinking about potential solutions.

The process - While every problem is unique and we tailor our process each time, the overall framework is the same:
  • 3-5 days of dedicated time
  • with a co-located team made up of 3-5 people from each business
  • entirely focused on solving a problem relevant to each business
  • facilitated by expert RGA and RGAX “sprint masters”

This final point, facilitation by a dedicated third-party sprint master, is an important part of the mix. That facilitator keeps everyone on track, tells participants (even the CEO) when it’s time to move on from a topic, and enforces the “rules of the game” that make Life Design Sprints work so well. In our experience, all this can’t be done “part-time” by one of the participants also in the sprint.

During the 3-5 days, we follow our Life Design Sprints process to:

  • Clarify the problem we are aiming to solve
  • Combine individual work with group collaboration exercises to develop multiple novel, thought-through solutions
  • Condense these down into one or two testable prototypes
  • Test these prototypes with potential customers to get instant feedback

This means we finish the Life Design Sprint with concrete, tested output to a clear, well-defined customer problem – all in days rather than the weeks or months typical of product testing.

Take the next step

Given the complexities of our industry and the pace of change, there is no shortage of problems to tackle. Here are a four things to remember when looking at a particular challenge:

  • DON’T jump straight to solutions
  • DO test and explore the problem properly first
  • DON’T default to brainstorming (it probably won’t work)
  • DO get in touch with us to find out more about Life Design Sprints

More Like This...

Meet the Authors & Experts

Jonathan Hughes
Head of Strategic Development and Marketing, RGA EMEA