Neal Newman was stuck in Silicon Valley traffic, inching his way to Intuit’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The bumper-to-bumper traffic frustrated him, and he considered turning around and heading home, missing Intuit’s invite-only event. But he didn’t. And Newman says it was the best business decision he’s made in a long time.

Newman attended Intuit’s Catalyst event, a hands-on, immersive program aimed at teaching the 62 participants how to use innovation tools that will drive creativity and change at their own companies.

Newman’s small business, the Academy of Self Defense in nearby Santa Clara, definitely needed some innovation. Newman was stumped by how to grow his company and increase revenue. He said his customers and employees always came to him with “great ideas,” but he dismissed them. “The streets to bankruptcy court are paved with great ideas,” said Newman.

But Intuit believes everyone has great ideas, and many of them pan out. The Catalyst event was designed to teach participants, like Newman, how to test a lot of ideas – quickly, without spending money, and while having fun – to see if they might work for their business.

Intuit calls it “rapid experimentation.” And event leaders offered a step-by-step process for how it works. Here’s what happened:

Build teams: The event participants were divided up into small teams.
Gather ideas: Each team was given an idea to test. For Newman’s team, the idea was a “micro-time mentor” program; Intuit wanted to learn if its employees would spend 10-15 minutes of their own time mentoring a colleague.
Create a hypothesis: The team created a hypothesis to test. For Newman’s team: Would 30 percent of employees be willing to donate their time?
Test it: Then the team tested the hypothesis. They approached dozens of employees and pitched their idea. The result: 60 percent agreed to it, proving the idea would work.

It was fast, easy, fun and empowering, said Newman. “Now when I get an idea, I’ve learned how I can quickly test it without dismissing it,” he said.

And Newman is putting his words into action. He’s reaching out to current and prospective clients at his school to test the idea of a daytime fitness program, something he doesn’t currently offer. “If the idea of a program doesn’t work out, I’ll know it’s valid because I tested it.”

Check out this video for another example of rapid experimentation from the Catalyst event. Intuit believes “play” fuels innovation, so it asked participants to test ideas of how to get employees to play spontaneously. The results surprised them.

Here’s what Catalyst participants had to say:

Neal Newman is co-owner of the Academy of Self Defense in Santa Clara, California.