Disruptive forces are at work in almost any industry. Leading organizations are capable of harvesting the positive aspects of those disruptive forces and transforming them into bold and inspiring innovation. In an interconnected world, this innovation has to happen across organizational boundaries – otherwise the impact is limited and the speed of market adoption may be negatively affected.
In the world of accountancy, cross-organisational collaboration can help to develop better and more responsive services, while improving the spread and speed of their market penetration and enhancing trust in business. For audit to work in the public interest, we need innovators, thinkers and practitioners from across the profession to actively engage with wider stakeholders to create meaningful solutions together. The audit profession started as a network of highly-trusted individuals and today it has an opportunity to reinvent itself as a positive driver for the benefit of the public and to rebuild its professional capital.
This is very relevant in a post-financial crisis world, where the financial industry is reinventing itself. Most of the august professions now have to operate in a highly regulated context. Additional regulation could stifle meaningful innovation, as it is intrinsically reactive to past events. Looking forward and being prepared for the global challenges of a 21st century marketplace, perhaps even being a leader of innovation, is the core challenge that led us to create the Open Design Studio.
This is very relevant in a post-financial crisis world, when the financial industry is in need to reinvent itself. Most of the august professions now have to operate in a highly regulated context. New regulation can stifle meaningful innovation by its very nature is reactive to events of the past. Being prepared for the global challenges of a 21st century marketplace, perhaps even being a leader of innovation, is the core challenge that lead to the creating of the Open Design Studio.
Open Design Studio
The Studio is a design-led project that challenges its participants to flex their creativity to solve realistic and complex problems. It starts with inspiration – the problem or opportunity that motivates us to search for solutions and to approach challenges differently. The ideation process lets participants experiment with the power of human-centred design and helps them identify patterns and opportunities for concept development. Finally, the implementation creates possible paths to the market, by giving accountants hands-on experience prototyping solutions with the community they aspire to serve.
The Open Design Studio of AuditFutures is an illustration of design thinking methods igniting a cross-organizational change. When we have a shared understanding of the challenges at hand, design thinking can help us plot approaches and pathways to develop solutions and to make ideas a reality.
Design-thinking helps us to look at the future with an open, unbiased view, enabling a clearer mind for creating ideas that have a high impact on organizations and society. By its very nature, accounting is focused on risk avoidance, and by its very nature design-thinking welcomes risks as one of the foundations for meaningful innovation. It is in this forcefield that relevant discoveries can take place – opening up the space of possibilities.
AuditFutures partnered with students and tutors from the Royal College of Art and with the leading experience innovation firm InReality to deliver an industry-changing jam experience. After a phase of student work, the jam is intended to broaden community engagement and to facilitate a high level of stakeholder involvement.
The design of the jam combines futures, design thinking and service design methods for the best possible outcomes, even for participants that don’t have a background in creative thinking. It was designed as a sequence of concept opening (divergent) and concept closing (convergent) phases. Each phase is designed with a few core activities, with a number of alternative frameworks prepared to react to changes in group dynamics. Participants worked in groups of 8-10 people, each group had an embedded facilitator keeping the process moving, and each participant picked his or her group based on interest and expertise.
A Diverse Set of Stakeholders
As in any established industry, a diverse set of stakeholders must be engaged to ignite systemic change. These stakeholders included accounting firms, academic institutions, businesses and non-profit organisations, investors and creative organisations
From Challenge to Solution
The underlying question for the Jam was: how do we get the participants to experience the different tools of creative collaboration, in order to
a) create specific, actionable ideas and
b) empower them to take those tools and use them with future challenges in their organizations.
Further, we wanted participants to focus on creating ideas that will offer fundamental improvements to the profession and not just a new way for existing organizations to increase profits.
Innovation processes are usually carried out in smaller in-house teams or policy making or through academic processes. Intrinsic in this ‘or’-structure is a limited visibility to the true underlying issues. A traditional innovation process also only exposes innovation to an extended set of stakeholders ‘after the fact’ – the innovation is shared and (in a best-case scenario) verified very late in the process.
The format of a Jam turns this dynamic on it’s head by inviting a diverse set of stakeholders at the very beginning of the innovation process. The resulting innovation ideas are thus more relevant and impactful – but only when they are carried through to trans-organizational execution. We are sharing a few aspects designing a successful 2-day jam below:
#AuditJam: the approach
Convergent and divergent thinking
The Jam consisted of a series of specific activities which were arranged to allow participants to think about a problems through new lenses and in new contexts. The concept of ‘going wide’ then ‘narrowing thought’, twice, is a fundamental aspect of the design process and is often referred to as double diamond. By utilizing this structure, we were able to guide participants through a range of collaborative activities intended to quickly generate multiple ideas and then keenly focus on a solution space.
Throughout the Jam, we asked participants to create personas (characteristic profiles) of the people involved in a new idea and solve problem from the perspective of those personas. The purpose here is to build empathy for stakeholders and to create solutions that are more closely related to their needs and desires instead of being built on assumption.
Another key aspect of the Jam is create a space of collaboration with a mixed group. Each team was composed of a mixture of academic students, auditing professionals and/or academic professors. The mixture of expertise and experience levels provides a rich landscape for idea building and provocation. We find that when group perspectives are varied, ideas become more robust because team members challenge each other and work through disagreements to find solutions that are more holistic.
In order to think about complex challenges in a structured yet conceptual way, we employed a brainstorming tool called ‘multidimensional innovation’. The tool consists of three dimensions. The first (X) dimension focused on aspects of the profession in the context of Society, Institutions, Scope, and People. These are rudimentary aspects that are the scaffolding of of the profession.
The second (Y) dimension held trending shifts present across multiple industries called ‘keywords of disruption’. Disruptors, in this context, are positive factors that are shaping the way business function in the 21st century and beyond.
The final (Z) dimension was a time horizon with an outlook from 1-2 to up to 15 years into the future. These dimensions were presented to the groups as a series of color coded cards. Groups were instructed to select one card from each dimension and brainstorm a possible concept using the three cards as a starting point. Teams quickly found that the random combination of cards created a productive framework for open innovation.
cone of futures
The Jam blended themes from three disciplines of thought: Futures Thinking, Design Thinking, and Service Design. The combination was intentional in that it provides an open landscape for innovation and progressive thought. Futures Thinking (sometimes also referred to as Foresight Studies) searches for ideas far from the realm of current possibilities. Ideas that might seem too far fetched in today’s world, might be just the inspiration needed to spark a pivotal change for the world of tomorrow. Design Thinking is the wider application of design methodologies to fields, such as business processes, which are not typically known as having a need for design. Further, it encourages cross-functional team collaboration and building ideas into workable solutions quickly and cheaply. Service Design focuses on the creation, or improvement, of services. In designing the implementation of non-tangible things, Service Design focuses on person-to-person interactions that create value and meaning of service experiences.
#AuditJam: the experience
A Jam happens best in a space that is comfortable, inspiring, and well lit. Equality important is the need for a space to allow for improvisation and collaboration. We set up teams at round tables, arranged such that each had a close by wall space for posting ideas and project updates. Participants were encouraged to stand and move around as needed to keep energy levels high and collaborate throughout the entire 2-day period.
Do more, talk less
Two days go by very fast. Too much time can be consumed by talking about problems, or trying to work through details that may not be relevant to the final solution. For this reason, a continuous message during the Jam was for participants to do more in place of excessive debate. We accomplished this by on the second day by instructing teams to prototype their ideas as well as to see real world feedback from the general public. Each team was able to leave the working space with a prototype or diagram of their new idea that they could present to pedestrians on the street below. To great delight and surprise, teams found that they were quickly able to gather an outside perspective on their concepts. This valuable feedback was then fed back into the concept to make it more well-rounded.
The Value of the Experience
The experience of going through group innovation process and building new relationships is a core foundation for lasting innovation. Leveraging the connections established can directly lead to ongoing progress and cross-organizational successes. While not all outcomes are (yet) measurable or their potential impact quantifiable, we designed the experience with the “post-workshop” period in mind. The experience of attending the jam, along with the toolset each jam participant received should serve as the lasting foundations of innovation groups.