This is part one of a two-part series on the innovation tournament final in the Haas School's unique Problem Finding, Problem Solving course.
It was a couple minutes before 1 p.m. when I found myself walking up the stairs to the Bank of America Forum for my final exam for Problem Finding, Problem Solving. As I joined my team at our table to put the finishing touches on our “Tea Box” prototype, I looked up to see that people were casually chatting about ideas and others were smiling with excitement. This was not the ordinary atmosphere shortly before a final exam, but then again, this was no ordinary business school class.
The clock struck 1 p.m., and we were ready to go. My team picked up our Pecha Kuchas (20-slide presentations) for our three business ideas that tried to solve the problem of “How do we bring people together by drinking tea?” We rushed over to judging table E, where we were met by our two judges. I introduced the idea of the “Tea Box.” Similar to Birchbox and NatureBox, the Tea Box would enable subscribers to receive a box as often as desired with selected tea and complementary food items, a concept that resulted from an insight we gained through ethnographic interviews.
Following the story, the judges gave us feedback, such as the need to clarify whether people are too busy to go buy tea or whether they enjoy the experimentation aspect of the Tea Box. Two different team members then told the stories of our other business ideas, and we were given constructive feedback on those. With that feedback, we raced back to our table to re-think a couple of our business ideas. We started with the core insight and from there, re-structured our ideas. As we developed changes to our concepts, we altered our Pecha Kuchas. With revised stories in hand, we went back to the judges table for another round of story telling and feedback.
Now that we had two rounds of feedback, we had 20 minutes to decide on one business idea to present to the entire panel of judges and our classmates and make any necessary modifications to the story and concept. Based on the strength of the insight (parents want an easy, healthy way to connect with their children in the evening) and the originality of the idea, we chose to go with our “Story Tealling” concept.
Story Tealling was a tea in kid-friendly flavors that had a character attached to the tea bag. The character would represent a person living in some country during a particular period of time (stemming from the American Girl Doll characters), and the parent could scan the bar code on the back of the character with their iPad and a story containing that character would download. This would give parents the opportunity to serve their kids something healthy to drink and educate them on a period of time and culture.
The 20 minutes flew by and we quickly found our way to Andersen Auditorium for the final presentations. We watched and listed diligently as several other teams presented their innovative solutions to topics such as how to prevent bike theft, how to make urban parking more efficient, how to help customers choose wine at restaurants, and many more.
Finally, it was our turn. We filed to the front of the auditorium, and a few of us held the drawings as one team member walked the audience through a story about a single dad, Will, who was able to spend quality time with his daughter after a long day at work thanks to the Story Tealling product.
In the end, we won the award for the “Most Meaningful Business Concept.” But far beyond the award, we made great new friends, learned strategies and frameworks for understanding problems and developing solutions, and gained a better grasp of the importance of research to develop insights. And perhaps most important of all, we are more prepared to tackle tough business problems.