I recently decided to take an “Innovation Holiday”. 6 months to rethink my professional path, experiment with new (and old) ideas, and give myself the time to create new stuff without anyone (including myself) holding me back from doing so. If you want to know why I did this, read it here: “Why I chose to take 6 months Innovation Holiday“.

To be honest, this term “Innovation Holiday” only came up during this period. Mainly to explain to outsiders why I was comfortable not making any money, had taken some time “off” after leaving my awesome good paying consultancy job at Board of Innovation. “So you don’t know what you’re going to do after these six months?!”.
“That’s the point, this innovation holiday will help me to figure it out.”

Well, some people do six months of backpacking to see the world. I’m taking 6 months to experiment, invent, discover what I really like to do the following years.

So, the idea was not to take a traditional sabbatical. It was a way to finally find out what I really wanted to do in the future. What gives me energy? What are the (life) goal I’m aiming for? What’s my best way for making money and contributing to society. As with developing a business concept, you have to test/validate/learn/iterate to find a proper fit. I knew just by doing and experimenting I would learn a lot more compared with going in zen mode and brainstorm around my possibilities. I had no plan, I just went with the flow. YOLO. Or better “YODIHO!”: You Only Do an Innovation Holiday Once. Interested in what I did? Here’s a list of 18 things I think are worth mentioning:

1. I refused a good paying job at a big corporate


During the first week of my innovation holiday, I got back in touch with Cartamundi.  They didn’t find a good candidate for the position yet, and asked if I was interested to get back around the table. Keeping my options open, I couldn’t offer 5 full days. They liked a full-time employee. So we didn’t get to an agreement.
During the job interview, I had two assignment to choose from. Option No 1: Find a new business opportunity for the company, using our new process X. No 2: Find new card-concepts for client Y. I chose the first one. Why? Because of the strategy. I have to admit to myself the results was one of my best business cases yet. In only 4 days I invented a new million $ idea for the company, and validated it with some possible clients across the world. This gave me energy! This is what I like to do!

2. I validated a new business idea: Sir


During my Innovation Holiday, one of my friends wanted to set-up a Belgian version of Bloom That. As an entrepreneur it was maybe a good idea to start this copypaste-business (he registered flowerhour.be) , but as a business designer I advised to be a little bit more ambitious. I knew it was only a matter of time that someone with better competitive advantages would copy this business to the dutch speaking world (in the past months Bloomon launched 😉 ), so together we set-up Sir: Your wingman for thoughtful gifts.

Sir is an application that simplifies gift buying. By answering a few questions about the receiver, users receive a tailored gift proposal. If you like the gift you can pick it up in a local store (free) or have it delivered to your home/work (paid)  Sir takes away the hassle of gift buying so you have more time for the fun part: giving a useful and tailored gift!

Over the past months I validated this business idea, set-up real partnerships and fixed around 40 gifts for real clients (more about this project in this article).
There’s a big difference between validating an idea, starting your own business and starting a tech company. The last one is hard. Really hard. Having an awesome idea is one thing. Making it into a real business you also need the right team, the cash to survive, the guts to take all the risks and the willingness to invest all possible time in it for the following years . It’s like building a house in the storm. You can’t do it on top of time of other projects. You can’t combine it with running other businesses. Maybe I’m more an architect than a real-estate agent or construction worker. Maybe designing businesses could be my job, instead of running them.

3. I relaunched my old micro-business: Thea Swing


When I was still studying Industrial Design (+6 years ago), I invented an add-on for existing swings, to transform them easily into a safe and relaxing swingbag (www.theaswing.com). Over the years I sold some pieces but froze the micro-business for my full-time job as innovation consultant. A couple of months ago, I relaunched the business to gave it another shot. This time with support for business and marketing.
Today we’re selling a couple of swings a week. To make it my living it should be around 1000 pcs a year, and other products should be added to the brand. We’re not there yet. Bringing a hardware product on the market is hard. But I love the smile it brings to my users’ face. I love the awesome feedback from their parents. It makes me feeling a better person, with small but meaningful societal impact. Maybe this can be a nice side-project?!

4. I invented, prototyped and tested 5 card-game ideas

4KingsI’m a board game addict. And when Exploding Kittens got funded on Kickstarted, I was psyched. It looks so easy: Have an awesome card idea. Make a prototype. Put it online. Get millions. Work it out. Ship it. Done.
So I invented and prototyped a couple of games. Some really strategy driven, others just fun.
I’m not saying I have five million euro game ideas on the table. But I do believe there’s a market for each of them. Quickly making my own business case, this is a long shot. Making real, good money with card games is hard. For myself I’ve decided that this can’t be my main job. Currently on hold but maybe I put them on kickstarter one day when I’ve got more “play”time.

5. I read an awesome fiction book.

I almost forgot how awesome fiction books are. Study shows they’re great for cognitive closure, improve our empathy, and btw they’re a perfect alternative for Netflix. During my innovation holiday, I started a couple :) . The one that inspired me the most and helped me in my journey was “The Alchemist”. If you haven’t read it, I totally recommend it. It’s a great book for people looking for purpose and passion. A crucial part of an innovation holiday.
Just read the book!

6. I invented my “Idea Parking Lot-journal”

6ParkingLotOnce you start creating, once you’re on that train, new ideas come by the hour. Although I just went with the flow, I had my own deadlines (for Sir, Thea, …). But sometime those new idea didn’t let me go. When this happened, instead of jumping to that new case, I gave myself a time-restriction of two hours. One hour to describe the idea on a concept sheet (left side of the journal), and one hour to make a visual prototype (right side). After those two hours my mind was cleared. Back to business :)
Although I knew I’ve this awesome skill of generating ideas and making them tangible in a very quick way, while running a business this can be a disadvantage (it doesn’t bring in new sales, it distracts you from the daily job). You need to focus, you need to do your job. Unless you make this skill your business  😉

7. I redefined my living expenses.

8LivingExpensesWhat do you really need to live? What’s important to you? What’s extra? Having no certainty of an income for six months was ok for me (I had some savings, but every extra saving was welcome). I stopped buying comic books, gave up on Netflix, didn’t buy anything new on Kickstarter, made my own sandwiches, discovered I had still a subscription running in Mailchimp that I didn’t need, … We don’t have a car, we don’t have a digital television, we’ve currently a small apartment, we’ve no kids…
With €850/month I can have a basic but stressfree life. In a couple of months (when I’ve a mortgage) that will be around €1100/month. For me an interesting discovery.

The other things…

I’m making this post mainly for myself, to write down my thoughts, to make conclusions, to prove that the past 6 months were valuable. Currently I’ve not the time to fully describe all this other things I did, and this post needs to be published! I think a small list is fine. If, on the other hand, you like to know more about one activity. Make a comment, and maybe I use it as inspiration for a next post.

8. I pitched, and got accepted into an incubator.

With Sir we got into a Belgian incubator: Startit@KBC. The thrill of presenting and waiting for a (positive) response. Looking back on my days as innovation consultant, I have to admit to myself that I love to present. Making a good pitch to convince a jury (for investment, access, …) is something I’m good at.

9. I transformed my old room into a maker-space

I love to make stuff! Prototyping, making things tangible… I finally got the time to give my 3D printer and Lasercutter a good spot! Now I can make almost anything.

10. I sharpened my negotiation skills

I bought a house, played the get-the-best-bank-deal game, I’m half-way “Getting to Yes”.

11. I took 2 weeks “real” holiday

Making, thinking, doing can be exhausting. After 3 months in my Innovation Holiday, I had a good reflection time in Montenegro! Far more better than that time I decided to lock myself up in an old monastery with no internet connection.

12. I researched the whole value chain of one market: Board & Card games

Doing the job interview for Cartamundi, and inventing my own card games, I felt it would be interesting to map the whole value chain of the game industry. So I did :) This industry has so many innovation opportunities. If you’re interested in this topic I recommend reading: The Game Inventor’s Guidebook!

13. I tried out several tools for productivity and focus

Recommendations: Toggle, Wunderlist, Tabtics & the book “Manage your day-to-day

14. I experiment with several online marketing tools & techniques

Recommendations: SumoMe & Instagress (thanks @yakha88)

15. I invented a new product. It sucked.

I’m a designer, but not the best product designer. Business – & service design suits me better.

16. I recorded a video tutorial

Should be live later this month!

17. I build my own personal website

You’re on it right now 😉

18.I learned more about myself and who I like to become.

So, what are the next steps? My full conclusions and what I learned is for the third & last post in this Innovation Holiday series, but if you check this website maybe you’ll already know? #staytuned

coming soon:
“What I learned from my 6 Months Innovation Holiday.”