- Strategic Inquiry



The Strategic Inquiry event is a collaborative innovation journey between our team and yours.

It has as its core aim uncovering and validating new insights, and conceiving completely new ideas for how to engage markets with new innovations.

Strategic Inquiry itself is a broad application of the appreciative inquiry process to finding new opportunities for your business to deliver better value and experiences. It is Discovery–Driven Innovation in pure form.

Because this event is carried out collaboratively between our team and yours, it is sometimes referred to as "collaborative inquiry".

The activity itself involves a certain amount of field work and a certain amount of studio work.

Since Strategic Inquiry is such a broad undertaking, we divide it into three phases, namely…

  1. Learning Inquiry
  2. Testing Inquiry
  3. Creating Inquiry

Each of these is explained in more detail below.


Learning Inquiry is about making objective observations of a situation to learn about the situation as it currently exists. We divide it into two areas, namely Market Inquiry and Business Inquiry. The former is outward–looking, while the latter is inward–looking.

Market Inquiry involves our going out into the field to make observations of product usage and/or service receipt. It includes the practices of Observational Inquiry and Contextual Inquiry. These are based on the field of ethnography and include observing users using products or receiving services in context.

Business Inquiry involves our going inside the business to make similar observations around how it works and how its function depends upon certain business ecosystems and infrastructures. It is just as important as Market Inquiry if we are to ultimately come up with new business models that can be commercialized successfully.

In the process of making these complimentary observations, Learning Inquiry is asking the questions "What Is?" and "What Is Not?". The latter is important because very often we are in search of what's not present, what's not said, what's not done. This is called "Absence Thinking", and these are often the illuminating data points that eventually unveil deep insights around unmet needs. This is also the place where we watch for compensatory behaviors from users and recipients, or from the business. Compensatory behaviors almost always point to unmet needs and/or nascent pain points.

Both Market and Business Inquiry provide the learning necessary to move on to the next phase of inquiry, Testing.


Testing Inquiry brings together a team to study and understand the learnings of the prior phase and then mine those learnings for deeper insights into the unsolved "problems behind the problem" and the unmet needs.

In this phase, we are asking two very fundamental questions… "Why?" and "Why Not?". As with the "What Is Not? question, the "Why Not?" question is incredibly important because, again, we are in search of what is missing, and at this point, why it is missing (more Absence Thinking ). This takes us deeper into an understanding of the many facets of an unmet need, and allows us to dissect any compensatory behaviors observed so as to get at the human psychology and/or business ecosystem causalities behind them.

Key to this process is that it allows us to put forth certain hypotheses as to the reasons behind our observations, and then test these hypotheses against the observations. Sometimes the process just leads to more questions (new, better questions), and requires us to go out again and undertake additional observation (learning) with a new lens of focus.

When finished, Testing Inquiry provides the causal insights necessary to move on to the next phase of inquiry, Creating.


Creating Inquiry brings together this same team and challenges them to engage their minds and creative skills to imagine new possibilities that will work for both the market and the business. This is where we seed the creative new ideas that will eventually become better products, services, and business models.

In Creating Inquiry, we engage participants' imaginations by exploring such questions as "What if... ?" and "What would it look like if we... ?". Subsequently, we engage participants' creativity to conceive new paths forward by leveraging such questions as "How might we... ?". Quite often we weave in and out through questions, reframing them from open to closed, and from closed to open, so that we can build out more well–developed ideas and concepts.

When finished, Creating Inquiry will yield new ideas that can be further developed into actionable business models and offerings.


We are experienced in leading clients through this process of Strategic Inquiry… of, where needed, deconstructing prevailing value models and then (re)constructing entirely new models for value delivery and experience creation. In the Learning phase, we venture out and undertake the necessary market and business inquiries. The first involves fieldwork in the marketplace, while the latter involves time spent inside your business making observations of its structures and ecosystems. In the Testing phase, we assemble our respective teams inside of "jam sessions" (informal workshops) to digest those things observed during the Learning phase and begin testing them against hypotheses to discover and understand the new insights they yield (the "a-has"). This produces substantial insight into the opportunity space before us. In the Creating phase, we further engage our teams in "hackathons" (informal workshops) to brainstorm new paradigms and business models to address the unmet needs and deficits. This results in a body of possible ideas that can be further developed into actionable business models and offerings.

Strategic Inquiry is a highly focused application of our Flight Board Innovation Method (FB/IM), in which case the Learning phase happens in the context of market and business discovery, and the Testing and Creating phases happen in the context of oblique examination. This simply means we look at the value–delivery space from multiple oblique angles (points of view) rather than from a direct point of view, since the direct point of view often blinds us to what is missing, whereas oblique points of view often open our eyes to see what is missing.

By their very nature, Strategic Inquiry engagements are very project–oriented and highly collaborative between our team and yours. As such, they can have an extended duration and do not typically involve a particular set number of days or engagement sessions, though they can be planned to be that way (however this may slightly reduce their effectiveness, as some parts of the activity rely on organic and opportunistic turns of events to produce maximum results). In each case, we will work with you to set up the Strategic Inquiry experience best suited to your needs and wants.

As needed, we can also undertake additional work to develop the resulting ideas further. This includes work in the areas of Business Model Design, Experience Design, Product Design, and Service Design.


The Strategic Inquiry Engagement typically follows these steps:

  1. We begin by listening to you so as to understand your current business challenges and needs.
  2. We then design an Inquiry project that will enable us to learn, test, and create new business model and/or offering options that will speak to those challenges and needs.
  3. Subsequently, we assemble members of our team and your team to carry out the inquiry project together.   This is a collaborative and often iterative undertaking spread over a predefined period of time.
  4. When finished, we prepare a formal Strategic Inquiry Brief detailing the results of the Learning, Testing, and Creating phases.
  5. We then present these observations, insights, and ideas to your leadership team.   We can also lead workshops as needed to further disseminate these across the broader business.
  6. If desired, we can assist you with additional follow–on work, such as Business Model Design, Experience Design, Product Design, and/or Service Design.

Learn more about engaging us for Strategic Inquiry.

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