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The anatomy and evolution of an idea – my involvement with Smart Seeds

I had the honour of being part of a scheme called Smart Seeds, an initiative by GHD that originates from Australia. Smart Seeds started off internally then became a global innovation program involving public and private organisations in different areas of the world.

Smart Seeds is all about tackling complex challenges with innovative ideas by teams whose members consist of employees from many different organisations.

Smart Seeds came to Wellington earlier this year and I took the opportunity to get involved, with Intergen being involved in sponsoring, setting challenges and mentoring teams.

I was involved as a participant, along with Jennifer Jones and Soing Kim. Ian Cowan was a mentor and Toby Spendiff was a project sponsor. Myles Buckland-Jones was a challenge author.

The beginning of the whole event (for me) was attending a kick off workshop where we were forced to perform some embarrassing tasks as introduction exercises – things like getting up and singing a jingle about innovation that we had to write with the other people on our tables in eight minutes. This quickly broke down barriers and brought humour to the whole exercise. I might use this technique myself as a team introduction exercise!

We were presented with different challenge and voted on which ones we would like to tackle.

The challenges:

  • Reimagining our Transport Corridors

Challenge Authors: Greater Wellington Regional Council, Hutt City Council, Wellington Airport, Wellington City Council

Transport corridors within urban areas currently provide many functions. These corridors take up a lot of space in and between our cities. In many parts of our urban areas space is in short supply and has a very high value. Their use is largely restricted to the surface area of the road corridors primarily used for vehicle corridors (roads), on-street parking and pavements for pedestrians. There is however a large airspace above road corridors that is often used only for utilities and could be considered to be under-utilised, especially in our city centres where adjacent to high-rise buildings.

  • The ‘New’ Quarter Acre Dream

Challenge Authors: Wellington City Council, GHD and Wellington Airport

The ‘Quarter Acre Dream’ is the current cultural standard for home ownership in New Zealand, a hangover from the last 50 years of development. But the way in which we all live needs to change. We need to find ways to excite people about living in more urban environments.

  • Food For All

Challenge Authors: GHD, Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council

How do we feed a city? Food is caught, grown, transported, bought, sold, prepared, cooked, eaten and disposed of… and this happens every day in every city around the world, all as if by magic.

More and more of our landscape is changing to cope with a growing population and growing demand. By 2050, there will be twice as many people living in cities and they will be consuming twice as much meat and dairy products. It is estimated that half the food produced in the USA is thrown away. And yet, globally, we struggle to feed our people properly now.

  • Harnessing the Wind

Challenge Authors: Greater Wellington Regional Council, GHD and Intergen

We have a love/hate relationship with the wind in Wellington – in many ways it defines our city but it also drives us mad. The wind is Wellington’s under-appreciated asset, an untapped natural resource. We could do more than just build wind turbines and sculptures; perhaps Wellington could become a world leader in living with and embracing the wind!

  • Water, Water Everywhere

Challenge Authors: GHD and Wellington Water

How do we respond to environmental challenges of increasing rain events and rising seas to the advantage of the region?

I ended up taking the The ‘New’ Quarter Acre Dream Challenge. The team to battle this task consisted of:

  • Myself
  • Lisa Colebrooke from Greater Wellington Council
  • Clinton Hunter from Hutt City Council
  • Shane Saheem from Wellington Airport
  •  Kurt Thomson from GHD
  • Tim Gale from Greater Wellington Council

I have to own up here… Before I started all this, I secretly thought how hard can this be? The answer is…. very!

In the introduction workshop, I advised the team that I would set up a Slack team room for us. It’s free for teams of fewer than ten people and is a perfect “collaboration” dumping space. This worked well for us for sharing ideas, arranging meetings and getting feedback from our Mentor (Keith Woolley, from Wellington Water)

We initially met once a week for a couple of ideas to have a brainstorm about what we could research. We found out some amazing facts about how people currently live – such as there are many houses with empty bedrooms, and that even if you wanted to downsize, you’d be hard pressed for choice.

There was no shortage of articles to get us fired up to try and solve this problem.

We bounced around A LOT of ideas, from the sensible to the ridiculous, then we would circle right back around and have all the same ideas again. Right at the beginning we decided that we wanted to focus on targeting “empty nesters”, getting people whose children left home and may be hogging an entire three+ bedroom when they are only using one.

As time went on, we found this idea to be difficult to support for a few reasons:

  • Was it a bit unfair to target a specific set of people – and was it actually changing people’s opinions on what they look for in housing?
  • Even if we could convince them to downsize – where would they go?
  • It would be harder to convince an older generation of people who are settled rather than younger people who may still be influenced.

We attended an ideation workshop where we further scoped our ideas and worked out how to test their feasibility. We pitched our vague ideas including the one just mentioned and whilst they liked the idea of what we were tackling they saw some flaws in the thought process.

One of the biggest things we learnt at that workshop is that we hadn’t considered people’s emotions. The panel’s argument was that we would have a much harder time getting people to give up “memories” and feelings that come with a home.

So we scrapped that idea. The workshop was very enlightening and we now had angle that we knew we had to include in our future ideas.

In one meeting, we got talking about what is being a kiwi all about? Then it struck us all like a bolt of lightning. The one thing that makes kiwis so likeable and envied all over the world is their passion for having a good time and a good life. Kiwis are envied because they have this fabulous country and they get out there and use it to the fullest and live life!

Our idea quickly turned to focusing on Lifestyle. What if we convince people that buying a house should be about lifestyle first, e.g. you aspire to have a certain lifestyle so make the house fit that rather than have your lifestyle dictated by your house.

Brilliant. We were getting somewhere!

At this point the meetings had ramped up to twice or three times a week and regularly lasting more than two hours. Every meeting we honed that idea down and down.

This turned into a campaign for “Live Your Lifestyle” which would consist of a marketing campaign and a website. Together we built some prototypes. The team kept tweaking and tweaking until we got this:

We also had the idea of doing some videos but we didn’t in the end due to time constraints. Here is one example of the campaigns:

We attended a pitch workshop where we pitched the idea to a panel with our images. The panel loved the idea and had some great thoughts on how we could pitch it better and tap into peoples’ emotions. They advised that our message was a little convoluted and could do with some clarification.

The next step was to prepare and practise our pitch for the real showcase event. Intergen pretty much became our new home as we embarked on spreading our message. This would be pitched to four judges from leadership positions within public and private companies and 120 people consisting of colleagues and stakeholders. We had to communicate our issue and solution along with what we expected from stakeholders, and why they should invest in our idea. All in eight minutes.

We developed a pitch script and tested it out and it came in at 16 minutes long. This resulted in a few late nights really trying to refine the pitch and our message. It actually resulted in cutting all paragraphs out of our pitch and going to an old style storyboarding techinque and laying them out in order and throwing away statements that were repeated or unnecessary.

It’s amazing how much effort and time we spent on just an “idea”. It really challenged my skill set and people’s skills. I work at a company where most of the time we are on the same “logical” wavelength, whereas here we had to compete with different emotions and ways of thinking. I feel very privileged to be in the team we were, as we bounced off other very easily and were able to have honest discussions without feeling dismissed.

The showcase event came around very quickly and suddenly we were all sitting at the table waiting for Maurice (the MC from GHD) to announce us on. I don’t know if I talk for the whole team, but I know a few of us were shut off from the outside world to try and remember our lines. Personally I was very nervous. I knew my lines but as soon as I was faced with an audience whether it was my partner or my team, my mind would go blank! Luckily Maurice had lined up some fun activities for the audience which calmed us (me) down and relaxed me a little. We were the first team to pitch, which I am super happy with as it meant I could get it over and done with and then enjoy a beer!

The time came and Maurice announced us on. We were now called ‘Live Your Lifestyle’. We started our pitch with a BBQ skit where we “conversed” a few issues about where people live. We went through the motions and it was going really well. Heat beating, knowing my part was about to come up. I had a small cue card in my pocket, but I was determined not to use. It was my time. I stepped up and did a video tour of the website. The whole time I kept my left hand in the pocket that had my cue card, which must have looked really odd as my right arm was waving all over the place and I was pacing left and right down the stage. It’s amazing how you analyse every little thing you do when you are on the spotlight. I successfully said my piece and the rest of the team followed. It went really well and we felt like our message was clear, concise and well received.

Time to have a beer and watch the other teams!

Next up was ‘Grow Your Own’, a team that featured another intergenite (Jennifer Jones), offering an innovative game which you progressed through by doing real gardening (think Pokémon Go for gardening!). It was a very interesting idea and I thought of a few people straight away that would play it.

Then came ‘Streets for the people’, which included Kim Soing (yet another intergenite). Their innovative idea was to bring collaboration, community and off peak roads together, allowing communities to “book” out spaces on roads that aren’t used in off peak times.

Team FERN (Flooding Emergency Resilience Node)’s solution to the ever increasing problem of flooding was to get homeowners to take personal charge of building the resilience of their own homes to flooding. Homes would then be awarded for the level of resilience showing potential homebuyers how safe the home is in flooding by means of increasing the value and lowering insurance costs, etc. What really impressed me about this was the effort they went to get insurers and councils involved to see if they would invest in the idea. Not only did they only invest interest, but they saw the scope being widened to include earthquakes and other natural disasters.

‘Winderful Wellington’ blew us away with their humorous pitch that included a staged courtroom of the prosecution vs Wellingtons wind. Amazingly they had somehow created a brand of something that comes plentiful in Wellington and free. They would take advantage of the 250 days of wind that wellington gets to enable the community to get together and do wind based activities.

It was seriously impressive what everyone came up with. The challenges were difficult and the solutions interesting and typically not what you were expecting. I wholeheartedly recommend anyone to get involved in this initiative and take part. It was hard work, but I have come away with new friends and new networks. We are all meeting next week with our partners to celebrate the process we went through together. I gained an insight into how my skills and logical thinking can come into play even in non IT related projects.

I am looking forward to getting involved next year and seeing what new challenges are born and how they get tackled, only this time I will do it in the audience.

Posted by: Matthew Batten, Developer | 16 June 2017

Tags: innovation, social responsibility, Smart Seeds

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