Embracing The Unknown: Reflecting on the First Ag Innovations Bootcamp

Jeremy Suisted, 25 February 2019

Confession time. It was with more-than-a-little nervousness that I arrived to Rezare Systems’ Ag Innovations Bootcamp at Mystery Creek in December. I wasn’t nervous about the content – as a facilitator I had guided and coached many teams through design thinking and innovation experiences. I wasn’t nervous about the size of the group – Rezare had done a masterful job of curating an experience to 20 people, allowing for much more tailored learning and personal interactions with everyone in the room.

I was nervous because I had never worked in this way with agricultural innovators, farm specialists and primary sector entrepreneurs before – and I wondered how they would engage with new processes and learnings designed to help them create new solutions that solve real problems.

I shouldn’t have been afraid. Within moments of my arrival, I recognised that Rezare had created an experience that encouraged all participants to embrace this new process, to voice any questions and concerns they had, and to lean into the uncertainty they may be feeling.

The Ag Innovations Bootcamp was created by Rezare as they recognised the need for upskilling and supporting agricultural innovators and businesses who were developing new and improved products and services for the market. These businesses were highly capable in their technological skills and knowledge of the market – but many did not know how to deeply understand the customer problem to be solved, or ways to rapidly co-create with their customer, generating new insights and better-fit final products.

Motivated by this need, Rezare decided to practise what they preached. Billed as a prototype event, the Ag Innovations Bootcamp provided a bespoke learning experience, with participants being guided through LEAN business model canvases and how to apply these to new concepts, approaches in ideation and brainstorming, powerful empathy techniques, and hands-on experience in rapid prototyping. The two-day event was jam-packed with practical learning, but also invited feedback and iteration from the participants – so they could see how even the Bootcamp was a design-driven event.

Each aspect of Bootcamp was planned for the needs of the participants, who Rezare had identified as ranging from entrepreneurs seeking to develop their agricultural product, through to business managers from rural agencies and large-scale agribusinesses. All participants shared a common drive – a willingness to be creating new solutions that will benefit farmers, orchardists and primary industry producers around the world.

As a design thinking facilitator, I’m increasingly aware of the critical need for innovators and managers to upskill in this area. McKinsey reports that businesses that embrace human-centred design and co-creation provide 32% higher revenue growth than non-design led businesses, and 56% higher return to shareholders. At the same time – over 40% of companies don’t talk to their customers at all during product and service design – a trend which is likely higher in New Zealand. In our world of rapid change, developing trends and lower development costs, it is imperative that innovators learn to co-create with their customers and solve their real problems. This is the heart-beat behind Ag Innovation Bootcamp – and a growing need in many businesses.

Over the two days, our Ag Innovations Bootcamp participants learned the theory of design thinking and engaged with case-studies of design thinking challenges – but the true growth came from the design experience curated for them. Small start-up teams were formed amongst the participants, who were tasked with a design challenge – and then coached throughout a design sprint. It was immensely encouraging to see all of the participants crafting discussion guides, running empathy interviews with real customers, capturing key insights, clustering new concepts and discoveries, generating 100s of potential solutions, and prototyping an idea for testing – all within a fast-paced, supportive environment.

There was plenty of laughter, questions and debate throughout the two days, which was encouraged by Rezare and all the facilitators. Additionally – participants were provided with breaks from doing, to learn from experienced innovators from Gallagher, Amazon, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and more.

At the end of Ag Innovations Bootcamp, I was not driving away with nerves, but with excitement. I was deeply encouraged by how much the participants had embraced the learning, and created concrete lessons that they were looking forward to applying in their business. I enjoyed seeing moments of discovery for all of us, and a recognition from participants that they could do this – that they could begin talking to customers, generating insights and designing quality solutions to real problems. I was motivated that it was through the unique combination of listening and doing, that Rezare had crafted an event that really did maximise the learning for all who attended.

And I was encouraged to learn that this would not be the last – but that Rezare Systems would continue to iterate the Ag Innovations Bootcamp, to keep supporting and guiding innovators towards both business and product success.

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