In late 2010, I had an opportunity to do something really fun. I hand-picked about 10 of my co-workers and announced that we were going on a field trip - to do research project. These were peers, it wasn't compulsory but there would be homework.
Starbucks had just launched the Starbucks Digital Network (in cooperation with Yahoo!) - a portal of content exclusively available in its cafés. At the same time, our new group was really hitting its groove and thinking hard about what the next version of the internet looked like for us. We were a newly formed unit focused on the internet inside a major non-profit that had successfully lived in a postal world for decades - several different groups had been brought together to function like a startup. Those were exciting times.
I told them to bring their phones, laptops, I think we even had a brand new shiny iPad First Edition with us.
I put together a packet with a couple of pages of questions. We piled into cars and headed to Starbucks. Unfortunately, the WiFi wasn't working. The barista said it had been out for some time and that it had been reported. We tweeted about the non-working WiFi and one person tweeted about the Starbucks Digital Network. We got in the car and drove to a second Starbucks. By the time we got there, we had heard back from Stephen Gillett, the then-Executive Vice President of Digital Ventures at Starbucks who apparently had a watch on Twitter for people mentioning the SDN. (By that afternoon he and I exchanged a few emails and the WiFi in the first store was fixed. That was kind of cool.)
So we rolled into the second store, some already carrying Starbucks cups, the others heading to the counter to place their orders. We gathered at the bar and a few nearby tables and began playing. They also had their homework packets that I had prepared and provided in print and electronically to them. Some filled it out by hand, others began to type responses and others didn't fill them out later, but I led them through an examination of the experience... what did you notice about the marketing? how was the new offering promoted? how easy was it to use? what did you like? what didn't you like?
I got them thinking about how the experience might be perceived - how it might complement someone's other activities, such as sitting and drinking a coffee. Or would it have negative side-effects? Would people stay too long? Was that a problem? Would they play on their computers instead of talking or reading a newspaper? Would they be disappointed if they called up the page later after leaving and they could no longer get to the content?
Lastly, I made it applicable to us. What if the same people that did the Starbucks Digital Network did our website? What if they were trying to do what we did?
There were some fascinating answers, some great thought-provoking discussion and I think we all came out of it asking new questions and approaching our work in a new way. (My photo is intentionally obtuse, I think the responses were best left for internal use.)
I never had a chance to do anything like this again, but I always thought it would have been fun to go some place like The Home Depot and use their breakroom for a brainstorming session. Or go to Best Buy or Verizon or Macys or Wal*Mart and ask "What is unique about this experience? What would it look like if the gatekeepers for this experience were tasked with meeting our business objectives? What would they do? What wouldn't they do that we're now doing?"
What are you doing to get out of the box and see your business in a new light?
(cross-posted to LinkedIn)