How many times do you hear (or think) “I liked it better before” or “I don’t like what they did to the place”. Bloody honest? You probably can’t keep up the count and especially when you are leading change in your organization. Do me a favor and for one week – yes, you may start now – start counting the following things:

  • The number of times you think something used to be better in the past.
  • The number of times you hear a coworker or customer say the above.
  • The number of times you hear a coworker or customer complain about “this new thing”.

If you reach 10, the clock is ticking backwards and it is worth to consider throwing the following question in your Collaborative Innovation community:

“If you had a time machine, what would you bring back from the past to have in your daily operations and the products we sell today?”

Afraid you’ll end up being stuck in the past? No worries. Read on and discover how looking back can actually help you to move forward.

Retrovation: Time Machine Ideation

I dare to gamble that the sentence “It used to be better” is amongst the top 3 most heard feedback in any type of product development. But, what if some things were just better? This question will definitely freak out some of your product developers and your sales people. Hearing that your hard work doesn’t satisfy your end users is a hard pill to swallow. In this case you better listen twice with the right focus, the focus of feedback for improvement and not just mere flashbacks of people wanting to go back in time.

The following process might help you to get to the desired outcome:

Time Machine Ideation Process

1. Looking Back: Feedback Collection

Humans are hardwired to resist change. Part of the brain—the amygdala—interprets change as a threat and releases the hormones for fear, fight, or flight. That is the way our body tries to protect us from change. As a consequence a common reaction is to frame the “It used to be better”-feedback as our natural resistance to change. As a result we are often not paying any further attention to it and dismiss possible valuable feedback. Are you able to tell the difference between what is feedback and what is a flashback?

Both feedback and flashbacks are most likely to come from the frontline. All the more reason to target your Retrovation challenges towards them, especially the first step of the Time Machine Ideation process – the feedback collection. They will thank you later 😊

Alright, let’s start collecting some flashba – euh feedback. You can either go for an open question or a more specific one. Some examples to get you started:

  • Open Question: If you had a time machine, what would you bring back from the past to have in your daily operations and the products we sell today?
  • Specific Question: If you had a time machine, which change to our sales process would you prevent? / If you had a time machine, which change to our Idea Management platform would you bring back? (Yes, we are launching this one as we speak 😊)

To maximize the outcome in the next steps of the Time Machine Ideation process, there are three things we recommend having in place:

  • Collect this feedback in a single place and open it up to others.
  • Allow others to react to the collected feedback.
  • Allow voting in order to prioritize the right things.

You cannot fix everything at once and some feedback might just be the natural resistance to change or a so called flashback. That is exactly why the next step is all the more crucial.

2. Standing Still: Feedback Investigation

Feedback must always be treated with caution before it is turned into action. The decision of what needs to be done in order to satisfy end users mustn’t be mapped one on one with the feedback that was given. The real issues must be exposed in order to find the correct solution. This is true for all kinds of feedback, but especially for feedback after a change and even more when the feedback comes under the form of complaints – you know, because it used to be better 😉.

I worked in software development for several years and did multiple so-called “migration” projects, aka throwing old stuff out and new stuff in. You can probably imagine all the “It used to better”-remarks that followed when D-Day was getting closer. We went from black screens with green text and only keyboard control to a full web application with mouse control. If we would have taken all the feedback literally, we would have ended up back in time or froze the project. We did neither. Eventually, the solution turned out to be simple, but only because we listened and we listened twice, which allowed us to expose the real issue. It turned out that they were missing some shortcuts 🙂.

A crucial part in this step of the Time Machine Ideation process is allowing others to give their view on the matter too. If you have implemented some of the advice from the previous step, you now have collected additional feedback on the feedback – or flashbacks. The most crucial issues definitely received a higher number of support, either through comments or through votes. Both comments and votes give you a good indication on which elements are in need of a solution, but it is transparent discussion that will allow you to separate feedback from flashbacks. The best way to do this is by joining the discussion and asking some additional questions, for example:

  • Why was it better? (“It was faster”).
  • Which aspects bother you the most in the new way of working? (“I don’t like to use the mouse. It slows me down.”).
  • How big is the negative impact on your productivity? (“It takes 3 times longer to complete the same task”).

Once you have a better view on which issues need solving, you can move forward by turning them into actionable ideas.

3. Moving Forward: Feedback Transformation

Retrovation feedback isn’t any different from regular feedback. In order for it to become valuable it needs to be constructive. More importantly it needs to be transformed into actionable ideas in order to make an impact.

Here is the perfect opportunity to rely on your Collaborative Innovation community. By widening your reach you will find different perspectives and you will increase your chance of finding ideas on how you can keep what used to be better in your solutions today.

You can involve your Collaborative Innovation community in different ways. Obviously, it depends on what you need:

  1. Calls for Ideas: You have a clear view on what people are missing and are looking for ideas on how you can apply this in your solutions today.
    • “How can we bring back <X> in <our solution> today?”
    • “How can we save time in solution <Y>?”
  2. Input / Validation of Ideas: You have collected ideas or transformed them already and are looking for validation.
    • “Vote for your favorite solution.” / “”

Asking for ideas and validating them together with your Collaborative Innovation community increases the chance of finding the best solution to the problem and turning your Retrovation Challenge into a win-win situation for all.

Moving Beyond

It doesn’t hurt to look back once in a while, but the main goal must always remain to move forward. A good understanding of what is liked in your past products or services is key in order to successfully bring improvements and new products to your end users. People will always be resistant to change, but often the cause is not the direct change itself but a set of side-effects related to that change. Prioritized “it used to be better”-feedback is a powerful source for Retrovation, but dangerous in the wrong hands. Retrovation challenges aren’t only valuable, but come with a nice bonus effect for your Collaborative Innovation initiative. They come with a low barrier for entry and are by consequence an open door to involve more people in your Collaborative Innovation efforts. Whether you are simply looking for more engagement, just started with Collaborative Innovation or rebooting it after a while, a Retrovation challenge is definitely something to consider!

Good luck and see you later or sooner! 😉⏰