Tools for blockchain thinking

Blockchain, Design Thinking, User-centric

If we want to unlock blockchain’s potential and if we feel decentralisation is important, we need to get more non-tech, mainstream people on board to figure out the why, what & how.

To achieve that, we need to make it easier to discuss concepts, impact and hurdles. We need to create a level playing field. My contribution to this space over the last few years has been lots of talks, a book (in Dutch) and some workshops, generally to create awareness and explain some key concepts.

But we also need:

  • more (workshop) tools
  • to create more refined input
  • from a more diverse bunch of people

Below I share some of mine.

In search of a problem

I have noticed that blockchain thinking does not always come natural to people. It can be quite different from the current way of operating. I recently got the chance to design a blockchain workshop for senior executives at a Solvay Business School program and even with very clever people, it can be a challenge to flip them into a more blockchain-perspective.

Challenge two: the tech can get in the way. Blockchain is a world where the tech development drives the change. So I see it as an added value to bring more focus on business and – more importantly – user problems. Often I hear “Blockchain is a solution, looking for a problem”. And while that’s an easy one-liner to say, there’s definitely a risk of getting carried away with all the possibilities of the technology.

Now, as a facilitator, I love tools, frameworks, methodologies, exercises. I’m a firm believer of “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. The interest in design thinking et al has supplied us with a plethora of these tools. So one of my objectives is to develop and finetune more and better tools for blockchain thinking, where design thinking meets decentralised thinking.

Obviously, as with all design processes, user research & validation are important aspects, but these are a few steps that I think can be more blockchain-specific.

Step 1 – Problem and opportunity spotting

Value Mapping for advertising industry at ADCE Conference in Barcelona

I have lost pitches, “because blockchain came into the process too late”. I tend to disagree with this approach. Any facilitator or consultant will realise this is the frustrating bit; that one needs to take time to take a step back and identify problem/opportunity areas, before jumping into solution mode.

One exercise I have developed to make this happen is Value Mapping. Based on Customer Experience Mapping, the objective of this simple exercise is to unravel the value chain. How is value being created? Who adds what? Where are you in that process? And where are the friction areas?

It could go like this:

  • Step by step, which contributor/stakeholder does what in the process of creating your product/service? This typically includes contributors outside your own ‘company’.
  • What would you call the unit of value (information, money,…)?
  • Find the pain points, with questions like: Who is frustrated with whom or what & why? Where do users feel a lack of trust? If you take away one particular step, would you create a trust issue?

The results of this approach have been promising. One attendant called it “all he needed”, because it made him realise how fragile the perceived added value of his company was.

Note: Kudos to Patara. Their Decentralisation Method Sheet helped me challenge my older versions of the Value Mapping exercise.

Step 2 – Framing opportunities

Once we’ve defined some interesting areas, we can develop How Might We statements around that. This is a proven technique from innovation and design thinking methodologies, enabling everybody to focus on key issues. Sentences like:

  • How can we make sure a logo designer doesn’t feel under-valued, by working for an hourly rate?
  • How can we help increase transparency with regards to the payout of bonus schemes?

Step 3 – Blockchain concepts

Only then, do I bring blockchain into the fray. It helps if people have some basic understanding, but I tend to break down the not-very-helpful term of blockchain into a bunch of key components.
The blocks I tend to use are:

  • Immutability/Verifiability (the basic of blockchains)
  • Programmability of business logic (i.e. smart contracts)
  • Tokenisation (representation of ‘something of value’)
  • Oracle (who/what says it’s true)
  • Alignment of incentives

Once people have that in their heads we rephrase the briefings.

How Might We /do x/, using concepts like Smart Contracts, Tokenisation,…

Step 4 – Ideation

Ideation tools are nice. Soon there will be a set of cards like this for Blockchain

While I’ve had some success with these approaches, I think we need to finetune the ideation phase and create more specific questions and triggers. That’s why I’m really excited to start collaborating with Alejandro Masferrer from Triggercards to design some ideation tools around blockchain.

He’s got a good track record of creating beautiful, well crafted inspiration cards for a wide-ranging set of subjects: from Advertising campaigns to Business Design and Artificial Intelligence. Getting questions right and using the correct wording can help tremendously with triggering people’s minds. So I’m looking forward to getting this produced in the next few months.

Extra Step – Token Canvas

Finally, I’m intrigued by concepts of token economies and how tokens (these weird new assets) can help align incentives, create new business models and new forms of organisations. To get a conversation around that going, I’ve developed a very basic Token Design Canvas.

It’s basic. Partly because it’s an initial version. But in this subject matter, I also see ‘basic’ as a feature. When engaging with a broader, non-tech, more diverse crowd, you often end up working with people who have basic blockchain knowledge. And getting them to warp their minds into the concepts of tokens, incentive alignment,… proves to be quite a jump.

So far I’ve had (initial) useful results with the following ‘framework’.

  • What could a token represent (right to work, proof that you did a task,…)
  • How could a token accrue value?
  • How could a token incentivise which stakeholder?
  • How could all this lead to a different organisation/business model
Token Canvas, the basic version

Feel free

I’ll be tweaking and fine-tuning as we go along.
In the meantime, add to the conversation. Give feedback.
Above all, feel very free to borrow, use and share. As long as you improve on it.
You can download PDFs of the sheets here.

Some references