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Posted by on Dec 9, 2014

The ARC Model: Outcome-Centered Design

The ARC Model: Outcome-Centered Design


The “ARC Model,” which stands for acknowledge, reframe, and connect, represents the process innovators use to generate new ideas and innovations. It also represents a “lens” through which innovators see their work and the world.  When innovators ARC  (used as a verb) they acknowledge their current circumstances, reframe these circumstances within the context of a desired outcome, and connect to a diversity of people, data, experiences, and analogies to generate the ideas to bring the desired outcome to life (Read more on the ARC Model here).

Although there are several effective methods to support the design of innovative new products and services such as “Human-Centered Design,” the ARC Model offers the greatest potential and might be best described as “Outcome-Centered Design.” When innovators apply the ARC process they place desired outcomes front and center—above all else. Outcomes become their center of focus rather than any set of problems, challenges, or even customer needs, limitations, & requirements. The reason is because innovators do not want to be tethered or limited by anyone or anything as they generate new ideas and innovations. Innovators choose the outcomes they want to create independent of their current circumstances. These outcomes become the basis for making decisions, setting priorities, and taking action. An example of this comes from the music world with Freddy Mercury, the lead singer from the 70’s-80’s rock group Queen and his composition of the immensely successful song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As Paul Sloane (2014) writes,

“Freddie Mercury first started working on ideas for the song in the late 1960s. He did not write it to please customers or to follow a formula for a hit record. He wrote it as creative piece of self-indulgent musical expression. It was fiendishly difficult to record with the equipment of the day. It was extremely risky in the nature of its composition and lyrics. It was initially rejected as a single by a giant record company because it broke all the rules. Yet in 2002 it was named by the Guinness Book of Records as the top British single of all time. Creative geniuses do not start by tinkering with what exists today. They do not listen to the demands of customers or bosses or critics. They start with their own revolutionary ideas and pursue them relentlessly.”

This is not to say that innovators don’t understand current realities and circumstances. They stay well in tune with the current needs, wants, and desires of end-users, customers, and potential customers. In fact, contrary to the myth that innovators have their “head in the clouds,” innovators are actually very skillful at understanding what’s happening around them. They understand what’s going well (strengths) and they understand what’s not going well (problems, issues, challenges, barriers). In addition, innovators are often keen sensors of patterns and trends. They can be skillful at detecting changes happening around them including societal and demographic changes. They are curious about inconsistencies and unexpected positive occurrences happening in the world. They view the latter as “happy surprises” to be explored further. They are aware of customer needs and more importantly what customers DO.

However, what makes innovators unique is that they do NOT position their current reality “front and center” as the source for generating ideas and innovations. In other words, they do not simply identify and rank order a list of end-user requirements and then set off to design solutions to address these requirements. Rather, innovators do what we call, “pivot to the reframe” (the “R” in the ARC Model). In a sense, current circumstances, and all of the needs and problems that lie within, are moved to an innovator’s “peripheral” vision, and their focus becomes where they want to go—the outcomes they wish to create. Innovators do not want their ideation and innovation activities to be limited by any set of current state problems, needs, or requirements. In addition, they know that new innovations can often make current problems irrelevant. A simple example makes this point.

A mother is baking her son’s favorite brownies for an important Boy Scout meeting. The problem arises when she tries to cut the brownies. A long-time family recipe results in delicious, gooey brownies that, when cut, unfortunately end up uneven and crumbling. The crumbling and jagged edges of the brownies are unacceptable to the boy’s mother, but many attempts to address the cutting problem have failed – changing the type of cutting utensils, coating the knife with non-stick spray, altering her cutting motions, and even modifying the family recipe. Eventually, instead of focusing on the cutting problem, the mother “reframes” the problem in terms of the attributes of the desired brownie “outcomes” she wants to create. These include even, smooth edges, “nice-looking” bite-sized portions, and preserving the family recipe. With these attributes in mind, she ends up repurposing an old mini-muffin tin she had long put away. Not only do the brownies look and taste great, but they no longer need to be cut at all.

Although this is a very simple everyday example, the process of reframing applies to any set of circumstances, large or small. It is important to note that like the mother baking brownies, innovators do not deny that problems and current circumstances are real. It is very likely that Freddie Mercury was well-aware of the current state of the music industry in his day. He most certainly understood the specific wants, desires, and expectations his current audience as well as record producers and executives. He was also aware of artists and composers before him that may have influenced his work.  But he was not going to be limited by these realities. Freddie Mercury had a vision of his composition and this was the center of his focus. How it would “look.” How it would sound. How it would feel. A clear understanding of these desired outcomes drove his behaviors and the actions he took to bring “Bohemian Rhapsody” to life.

The ARCing process can seem a bit mysterious to those who are new to innovation. But so can the process a seasoned chef uses to create a delicious new food dish. Or the process Serena Williams uses to defeat her tennis opponents. Or the process an experienced welder uses to fuse sections of metal together. Or the process a pilot uses to land a 777 jumbo jet on a windy day. Like any skill, ARCing will improve with practice and experience. The ability to acknowledge current circumstance and then reframe them in the context of a desired outcome will get easier as one practices this skill. Our instincts to make problems our center of focus and then go off to “fix” these problems has been our traditional way of generating new products and services. Although there is nothing “wrong” with this approach, be aware that it can greatly limit the potential of your ideas and outcomes.

Terry M. Farmer, Ph.D., Co-Founder and President of EiQ  presents an overview of the ARC Model.  ARC is an acronym that stands for Acknowledge, Reframe, and Connect and represents the process innovators use to generate new ideas and innovations.

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