Carpets or Virtual World?

At one school session using a real-life case study about a teenage virtual world, the business challenge for the students was to define an engaging product feature that the company should work on next.

One bright spark said, “Hang on a minute. I just gave you a good idea. If they decide to do my idea, then I should get paid for that.” I asked him whether he would rather do a case study about carpet manufacturing (the previous year’s exercise in which I was not involved) or do this year’s study on a product that they were really interested in? After processing, he nodded indicating he knew he got a much better deal this year.

There is no doubt that bringing a real-life case study on the cutting edge of digital innovation plays a large part toward engaging a group of teens. You should have seen the students’ fascination when talking through the business model at the start!

A great user-designed proposition

This story occurred when I was taking real-life case studies to schools. The product was a set of sounds that a user could download to their mobile and insert into phone conversations.

The company had various prototypes set up such as a fart machine, each fart was a different type (I will let you imagine that!). The teens absolutely hated the farts apparently finding them boring and obvious.

Off they went into groups where I lead them through the innovation cycle, brainstorming ideas and deciding which idea to prototype. I encouraged one particular group to think about how they could use sound functionality in a truly useful way.

The best idea that surfaced was a package of sounds for excuses. The user scenarios they described included: running late for school, being late home keeping parents waiting up and so on. The sounds they suggested offering included: busy road sounds with engines and sirens to clearly represent being stuck in traffic; doctors surgery sounds, “Mr. Smith to see Dr. Jones in Room 1, up the stairs to your left.”

Lateral, practical and lots of nodding heads in the classroom – they wished it was available now.

Ordinarily the most disruptive member of the class

In the very early days when volunteering in schools, I used a fictitious case study about a chocolate manufacturer who had made too many chocolates in the run up to Valentines Day. The students’ task was to generate some ideas of how they could package and sell the overrun of chocolate.

I started by asking the class who they thought the chocolate manufacturers were targeting, “What chocolates do you see when you walk into a news agent around Valentines Day?” They responded that the chocolate offerings were very girly and old-fashioned and seemed to be marketed for older women. Thus began a dialogue about market segmentation.

The student ordinarily the most disruptive member of the class said, “Can I make a chocolate box for the gays?” My eyes lit up. This was a good example of an under-served market.and I explained the value of “the pink pound.” Master Disruptive could not believe that he was not thrown out of class and he seemed chuffed to be commended on his idea. It felt as if praise was a stranger to him.

His team created a chocolate box with a rather cheeky gimmick and slogan to sell the chocolates to “the pink pound” market. Another group chose to market to the single mother market. They pondered, “I would love to give my mother chocolates on Valentines Day becuase I love her.” They produced a “For my mum on Valentines” offering.

Youth Experience

Between the ages of 13 to 18 years old, I was a youth leader in an international organisation. I designed, delivered and co-ordinated sessions and conventions as well as provided coaching for emerging leaders.

When I started work at 21, I already had well-developed public speaking, presentation, leadership, team and communication skills. I was hired as a team manager in my first role and continued to coach many individuals and teams to high performance throughout my career. I have always held leadership roles and have worked
cross functionally and at the board level. From my own experience, I understand the huge value in giving students the opportunity to practice and develop these skills from a young age.

Throughout my career, I have worked with youth products from the launch of One2One / T-Mobile to the areas of Mobile Content and other online youth offerings. I have managed and driven innovation for £350m product portfolios such as Mobile Messaging and have consulted with many companies in the digital space. My 12 years at One2One / T-Mobile saw me promoted to a new role each year. I also spent 3 years as Director of Product and User Insights for a popular teenage avatar / virtual world site called WeeWorld. My special approach has always been to be both end user and revenue centric.

I have been running workshops in schools for over 8 years, starting as a volunteer in Hertfordshire schools when I was at T-Mobile. I have worked with over 10 schools across Herts and London and with teacher groups including the Heads of Business Studies in London.

I have also started conversations about the new Diplomas and how to integrate “Real Work Environments” in to the various programs. I have also been exploring ideas around Education 2.0 with sites such as and the educational properties of virtual world environments.

Student to Student learning

Can you think of an example of a product or service where the end user is NOT involved in its development?

How about school-based learning?

I wonder what a lesson plan would look like if, for example, a Year 10 student designed learning for a Year 8 class with input from an experienced teacher?

Digital? Playful? Interactive?

A great work-related learning skills development opportunity for the Year 10 class student: Presentation, communication, public speaking, co-ordination, leadership…

Update!! Guess what? I found a school in North London that has done this with great success!