Use deprivation tests to uncover insights for innovation

English: An anxious person

An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”- Joni Mitchell

What happens when you get a bunch of people to turn off autocorrect for a week? You get some insight!

I found this story about depriving oneself of a “perceived” valuable function we’ve come used to having with us everyday very interesting:

But if I was going to propose that we kill autocorrect, I wanted to be responsible about it. If we all turned it off for good, I asked myself, what would we be forsaking? For starters, we’d lose the opportunity to make all sorts of clever jokes to our friends about autocorrect-related texting mix-ups. That would be a bummer. We also wouldn’t be able to use the function as a way to escape accountability for weird spelling mistakes or embarrassing typos. And it does at least appear to help us type faster on our tiny keyboards. Was I overreacting? Maybe my phone is unusually terrible? What if some people actually like autocorrect?

With all that in mind, I decided to run a test. I asked some friends and family members to participate in a one-week experiment involving life without cellphone autocorrect. A few Slate staffers took part as well. Altogether, eight of us switched off the autocorrect function and proceeded to write and send messages without it. Five participants used iPhones, one used a Samsung Galaxy S3, I used the HTC phone, and another person used a Droid Razr. No one ran into any major issues figuring out how to turn off autocorrect, and we left the spellcheck on, so we’d still be able to see spelling errors and correct them manually if we so desired.

What happened next was insightful and could serve as a barometer as to what we really expect from the autocorrect function in our phones. I recommend you read the whole article!

Our habits blind us of opportunities

To change something means we must change ourselves. This is easier said than done. Ironically, people and businesses intuitively know that habitual thinking is the enemy of innovation, and also know that by creating something we are going to eliminate something else, but they don’t take the time to understand what habits will be eliminated by their upcoming solution. If only they asked themselves a key innovation question: What are we eliminating?

I’ve found that most companies rarely conduct deprivation experiments where you deliberately break a “habit” to see what happens. It is a way of changing perspective to see a thing or situation anew, and it may seem obvious that the deprivation tactic would be “business as usual” inside businesses that are trying to innovate but, like ethnography isn’t practiced widely, it is not.

I used the deprivation tactic a few months ago because I’m involved in developing a service that helps people deliberately break their food eating habits. To do some research around existing food apps, I asked 8 foodie friends to show me and tell me about what apps they use to find places to eat.

Once I got a list, the usual suspects were always the same, I asked them if they were willing to deprive themselves from using those apps for a whole week to find out what they would miss about them. They all obliged and for a whole week they all went about their business without using those apps, and similar the autocorrect experiment I got some messages from everyone about how this experiment was messing with their heads!

All in all I got some great feedback from the deprivation experiment, which informed our concept and product design. Next time, I’ll let people test drive our service for a couple of weeks. Then take it away to see how the people react. If the reaction is indifference, perhaps it will be time to return to the drawing board.

Because people rarely change their habits consciously, depriving your prospects of using a product to see what they miss about them is a great approach to uncovering insights that may point to an innovation opportunity. At the end of the experiment, it is very important to ask yourself: What does this experiment teach us?

Bottom line: As innovators we deprive ourselves from insights by not questioning everything. I highly recommend you try the deprivation tactic to uncover insights; I assure you that you will.

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