Move from Innovaphobia to Innovaphilia: EDIPT//A Process for Innovation


EDIPT image adapted from the Design Thinking Innovation Process from the Stanford

First and foremost, innovation is a process. It’s not a pill you pop or a wand you wave. Innovation is method, not magic. And making the time you need to master this method (by practicing it over and over and over and over again) will turn innovaphobia (fear of innovation) into innovaphilia (love of innovation). But you will only move from fear to friendship with familiarity. So it is crucial to repeatedly expose your team to the process we’re about to explain by practicing it until its moves become instinctive. Once the process is transfused in your team’s bloodstream, you’ll experience what Tom Kelley calls “creative confidence”—an increased sense of courageous assurance that your team can in fact innovate.

Our team is deeply indebted to the Stanford and its free-sharing heart for collaboration in innovation. From them, we’ve adapted a model we call the “EDIPT” method. This is a human-centered design thinking process for innovation. EDIPT is an acronym made up from the process’ 5 moves: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. After carefully considering close to a dozen process models of innovation from various companies and experts, this one has proven to be, far and away, the most intuitively effective for our purposes. There are certain muscular shifts we’ve made to allow the process to best fly in our non-commercial, social-innovation context. But the skeletal concepts are the same.

Before we overview EDIPT, let’s ruminate on some of the core values of design thinking:

1//The EDIPT process is called human-centered for a reason. The whole thing begins with the fundamental idea that to truly innovate for the benefit of someone else, you must first climb into their skin and feel what they are struggling with from their own perspective.

2//The process emphasizes validating and modifying your best solution ideas through prototyping or experimentation to gain feedback from those people you’re seeking to help.

3//The EDIPT process has a bias toward action that pushes you to do and try, not just think.

4//The process has a bent toward storytelling as a way to compellingly communicate your vision for how your potential solution will enjoy impact in the lives of others.

5//The process pushes participants to run through all five moves of the design cycle at a fast pace in order to increase process flow familiarity and reveal the power of iterating solutions. When you do and redo, build and rebuild, shape and reshape an idea, it re-re-refines it.

Again, EDIPT is an acronym made up from the process’ 5 moves: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Here’s a brief overview of each of those moves.

Adapted from the Design Thinking Innovation Process from the Stanford

To empathize with those persons you are trying to benefit is the key starting point of the EDIPT process. Empathy comes from 2 Greek words: em meaning “in” and pathos meaning “feeling” and refers to feeling with someone, to participate in their experience. Empathy is not sympathy. That’s why it’s called EDIPT and not SDIPT. Empathy feels with someone. Sympathy feels for someone. So to empathize demands you and your team immerse yourself in the world of those you are trying to impact, to truly experience their problem with them. It’s deep time invested in observation, conversation, and reflection to help you more fully experience, understand, and relate to your target’s specific needs, emotions, and behaviors.

Empathy is the first and most important move of innovation. You simply cannot accurately and deeply define your target’s core problem without first empathizing with them in it [Full Stop]. Lesser leaders or teams will skip this move only at their own peril. It’s difficult, time-consuming, emotional work. But it must be deliberately done. The deeper you dive into empathy, the more precisely you’ll define the core problem, and the better and bolder will be your ideas to solve that core problem. But there absolutely is no shortcut to empathy.

Key EMPATHIZE Question:
How can we best feel with our target around this problem to have the best starting point to solving it?

NOTE: For the Christ-follower and church teams, there is tremendously rich incarnational theology in the Empathy phase of the process which we will explore in depth in later posts.

Out of your posture of empathy, you are now best equipped with the insights you need to define the core need or problem of your target. Focus your efforts by explicitly expressing the core problem you are dealing with in a specific statement. Clearly articulate the chief pain-points or problem you are wanting to solve. This demands asking the question “Why?” several times (even up to 5 times or more) of your stated problem or need definition to ensure you reach the “terminal” or deepest need. Here’s a quick example:

Presenting Problem: You’re overweight. Why?
Deeper Problem: You make poor eating choices. Why?
Deeper Problem: You eat when you’re anxious. Why?
Deeper Problem: You don’t trust God. Why?
Deeper Problem: You don’t understand His goodness, power, and love for you in day-to-day struggles.

When you simply seek to define the first problem you see, you’ll end up solving a superficial problem, which will only result in superficial impact. Continuing to ask “Why?” of the problem before you will ensure that you go deeper until you reach the core problem from which many others stem. In other words, getting to the problem “root” will give you better solution “fruit.” Most innovative efforts fail due to a premature or superficial definition of the perceived problem. The more effort you expend on diving deeper to define the true, specific, core problem, the better your ideation will be, and the deeper your impact will be.

Using role play where you adopt different personas to walk and talk through a specific challenge is a helpful method in more deeply, specifically defining the core problem.

Key DEFINE Question:
What is the CORE problem we need to solve, tension we need to manage, or challenge we need to meet that leads to this problem?

Once you specifically define and explicitly articulate the core problem you’re trying to solve, now you’re really ready to ideate as a team. But this is beautiful, even sacred brainstorming because it is birthed out of an insistence on feeling with your target and a resistance to assumptions that quickly declare you know what their problem is.

And this is where you pool your ocean of potential ideas or possible solutions to the core problem or need (a dynamic called “flaring”). You’ll focus your efforts into a stream of a single high-potential solution in the next phase of the process. But, now, the goal is to come up with as many possible ideas as you can to solve the problem. It’s all about quantity over quality here. So fight the urge to judge the viability of an idea here. When our team is going through this process we even have yellow flags (like those used in the NFL) to throw in the middle of the table when a teammate moves to tell us why an idea won’t swim in our sea.

The goal is to build on one another’s ideas, to keep coming up with more, to utilize “Yes… And…” thinking that leverages collective perspectives of the team and generates synthesized and synergized solutions that could result in radical impact. The path to victory in this phase is volume and variety that allow you to go far beyond the obvious to the absurd. Long-list these on a wipe board or use Post-Its to create a visual wall of ideas. Once you believe you’ve exhausted as many and as diverse ideas as possible, then prioritize your solutions, and, finally, select the one you believe has the most potential to develop in an experiment.

Key IDEATE Question:
How many potential SOLUTIONS can we come up with to meaningfully deal with our core problem, tension, or challenge? Does one look more promising than all the others?

After you’ve imagineered your way to what your team considers to be the highest potential solution to your target’s core need or problem, now you’re ready to create a prototype that will allow you to test (our next and final move) the idea. If you’re in the commercial or product innovation realm, you’ll actually build something tangible to touch, handle, play with, and ponder. If you’re in the social innovation space (where your idea is an intangible service or process or ministry or event), this is where the process might require some adaptation.

Coming from a non-profit, social sector, our church’s team has found the following forms of prototyping to be helpful ways to test and tweak in quick and cheap ways: Create a Flowchart, Draw a Comic Book, Do a Role Play, Write a Newspaper Article, Compose an Email/Tweet from a Future Person (one whose life has been positively changed by enacting our solution), Imagine an Angelic Observation (record a narrative view of Heaven’s perspective of the Earthly impact of our implemented solution), Write a Movie Scene, Send a Rocket to Mars (with your top 5 people to start a new society with this solution), etc. The idea with each of these methods is to visualize a story of the impact of our potential solution.

Key PROTOTYPE Question:
What would be a SIMPLE storyboard or SPECIFIC scenario of how we think our solution could effectively address our target’s problem?

Once you’ve envisioned a prototype of your highest-potential solution, then you test it. This is where experiments come into play (see my cluster of posts on Experiments). How can you fire low-cost, low-risk, high-learnings “bullets” to continue refining your potential solution? The goal in this phase is to test and tweak in quick and cheap ways that allow you to enfold real-time learning and insights and that enable you to pivot into a more probable, viable, impactful solution. Perfection is not the win. Fast learning is. So create. Discuss. Gain feedback. Learn. Adapt. Iterate. Fall up. Fail forward. Rinse and repeat. Refocus and refine.

Prototype assuming you’re right. Test assuming you’re wrong. This will put you in a posture of learning, unlearning, and relearning that will shape and sharpen your solution.

Key TEST Question:
How could we QUICKLY test or experiment with our solution idea to see if it would help fix our target’s core problem?

Adapted from the Design Thinking Innovation Process from the Stanford

How do you innovate? Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. The EDIPT process of innovation will help you and your team move from innovaphobia to innovaphilia as you develop the strongest possible solutions to your target’s deepest core problems.


  1. What innovation process does your team, company, or church use?
  2. What aspects of that process are transferable across commercial and social realms?
  3. How do you think the EDIPT innovation process might work in your context?
  4. What best practices can you share on how to lead a team through an innovative process?


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