Obstacle courses

“Observing behavior” and “being tangible” are two essential principles that guide gravitytank’s practice. One way we bring these to life is through “obstacle courses” during our workshops with clients.

An obstacle course consists of a real world context, one or more activities, and a goal. One of the first obstacle courses we ever designed was with Zebra Technologies, the leading maker of bar code printers for logistics. Teams consisting of engineering, marketing, and product management took apart several printers, photocopiers, and computers piece by piece. As they took the products apart, they discovered ways of solving challenges similar to their own. They wrote down their insights on large equipment tags and attached them to the pieces.  At the end of the short 90 minute exercise, they had a full library of innovative references laid out in front of them. Perhaps more importantly, they were excited, motivated, and confident to pursue the architectural challenges that faced them in their own project.

Over the years, we have designed many kinds of obstacle courses to serve every kind of client industry. For Fiskars, the craft and garden tool manufacturer, we rented a nearby empty field and had the client work in teams to water the lawn, transplant a tree, and prepare a planting bed. For a large B-to-B service organization, we sent teams to four different retail services in downtown Chicago. Each team had a goal and had to engage with the retail service. They documented key aspects of the service experience. That helped them reflect more objectively on their own goals.

We have found that obstacle courses are an essential way to make our clients’ innovation objective tangible and as a result, greatly improve their effectiveness at creating successful new products and services.

written by: Chris Conley