Build Your Creative Confidence: The Wallet Exercise

Build Your Creative Confidence: The Wallet Exercise

If you attend a class or an executive program at the, the first day will most likely include a fast-paced, hands-on activity we call Design Project Zero, or DP0 for short. Rather than try to explain our process for innovation, a DP0 is intended to give people an overview by experiencing it in a microcosm.
Tom Kelley
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Everyone is creative. This belief runs through everything we do at IDEO, and in 2013, it led my brother David and me to write a book that would help others—even those who don’t think of themselves as “creative types”—to unleash their creative potential. Creative Confidence has inspired thousands of people to adopt a creative mindset and apply it to the diverse real-world challenges they face. In this series, we’ll share some exercises from the book that can help you approach your challenges from a new perspective.

Creativity Challenge # 10: Help your group understand innovation thinking

If you attend a class or an executive program at the, the first day will most likely include a fast-paced, hands-on activity we call Design Project Zero, or DP0 for short. Rather than try to explain our process for innovation, a DP0 is intended to give people an overview by experiencing it in a microcosm. Faced with a simple innovation challenge, you have a chance to start with empathy, create new ideas, and then build some rapid prototypes, all within about 90 minutes. DP0 projects focus on everything from the gift-giving experience to the ramen-eating experience. The original DP0, explained very briefly here, is called The Wallet Exercise.

The exercise uses a simple object that most people carry with them as a prop to discover needs, design and prototype solutions, and get user feedback. It gives everyone a chance to cycle quickly through the human-centered design process.

Tool: The Wallet Exercise
Participants: Pairs in groups of any size
Time: 90 minutes, plus preparation
Supplies: The facilitator’s guide (available on the website) includes a complete list of instructions, worksheets, and prototyping materials. The instructions and worksheets can be printed out for each participant or projected on a screen. Provide prototyping materials (essentially basic craft supplies, which may include markers, colored paper, aluminum foil, tape, pipe cleaners, etc.).


Step 1: Participants pair off, with one starting as the interviewer/anthropologist, while the other plays the part of the prospective customer. The interviewer spends a few minutes understanding and empathizing with the other person. The interviewee/customer takes out his or her wallet or billfold, and they have a discussion about the items inside and the meaning attached to them. The interviewer asks questions to see how the wallet fits into the customer’s life, looking especially for problems or friction points associated with the wallet. For example: "Have you ever lost your wallet?" "Do you use it differently when traveling internationally?" "Which items do you take out most often?"

After just a few minutes, the facilitator calls time, and the team members reverse roles, with the interviewer in round one becoming the customer in round two.

Step 2: After the participants have had a chance to understand the customers and their wallets, the next step is to develop a point of view about their latent needs and missed opportunities with regard to their wallets. Those need-based points of view can take the form of a sentence like, “My customer needs a way to ... [user needs] ... in a way that makes them feel...[meaning/emotion] ... because ... [insight].”

For example, “My customer needs a way to keep track of the contents of their wallet in a way that makes them feel secure, because if they lose their wallet, the anxiety of not knowing what has gone missing can be worse than losing the cash inside.”

Step 3: In a form of mini-brainstorming, each participant generates a few concepts for new objects—they may not be physical wallets at all—that satisfy the needs highlighted by their point of view developed in step two.

Step 4: In the most kindergarten-like phase of the wallet exercise, participants create the roughest of prototypes to bring their ideas to life. Using an eclectic mix of materials like construction paper, duct tape, pipe cleaners, and binder clips, each person will build a prototype just good enough to make the idea tangible so that they can get feedback from their future customer.

Step 5: Using their storytelling skills, a selection of participants “pitch” their new-to-the world wallet concept to their customer and/or to the room at large.

Tips from the Field

The wallet exercise is all about the journey, not the destination. Reading about the wallet exercise doesn’t deliver experiential learning. The value is in the doing.

Much of what people take away from this experience happens when debriefing the wallet exercise with the whole group. Ask a few pairs to share their prototypes with the larger group. You might ask, “Has anyone’s partner come up with a solution that is so great that you need it right now?” or “Is there an idea so ingenious that it should be backed on Kickstarter?” or “Has someone designed something that is incredibly personal?” Have each pair come up and describe the need they discovered and the prototype they built. Use these shared stories to drive home lessons about empathy, prototyping, getting feedback early and often, and so forth.

This fast-paced format can work for many kinds of challenges. Once you have mastered The Wallet Exercise, think of other innovation challenges to tackle, like redesigning your daily commute or exercise regimen.

Making New Habits

Some psychologists claim that you have to practice a new behavior for twenty-one days before it begins to become a habit. The operative word is “practice.” The weeks, months, or years spent thinking about new behaviors don’t count. So pick your favorites from this chapter or create some new experiments of your own. Start accelerating down the runway now if you want your new skills to take flight.

This post was taken from Chapter 7 of Creative Confidence. Purchase the book for more on how to use creativity to solve problems, or read more from this series of creative exercises on the IDEO blog.

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Tom Kelley
Tom Kelley is the best-selling author of Creative Confidence, The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation as well as a partner at IDEO. As a leading innovation speaker, Tom addresses scores of business audiences on how to foster a culture of innovation and tap into the creative potential of their organizations.
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