In the Human-Centered Design process, once you answer the How Might We question (see dot #2112), one of the next steps is to create a prototype of your idea. I will admit that when I first heard the word, I envisioned a fully-formed working model of something, but the rapid iteration of prototypes in this design process relies more on clay, construction paper and ingenuity. The goal is to make one aspect of the idea tangible so that you can share it – with the goal of learning from the feedback you receive.

As with the How Might We question, I was surprised at the impact of this technique. Initially, it felt like more of a crafts class than a helpful tool, but after putting prototyping into practice, I have become a believer in its power. Even a “mobile market” that was little more than paper fruits and vegetables taped to paper plates elicited design-changing feedback from the guests we recruited to role play a purchase.

In a real and more serious scenario, animal scientists from around the world have been using the design process to create an artificial nest to prevent African penguin extinction. An international effort and prototyping have reduced the field to two designs that hold promise as a substitute habitat. While the designs may look similar, their nuances are distinct enough to matter to the penguins – something the scientists would not have known if not for prototypes and testing.

The next time you have an idea, set aside your hesitations and create a concrete version that allows you to learn about a key component of your plan. Even a rudimentary and seemingly amateur model can unlock lessons that will make your idea much stronger in the end.

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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