Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm
by Tom Kelley with Jonathon Littman
From the flap…Ideo, the widely admired, award-winning design and development firm that brought the world the Apple mouse, Polaroid’s I-Zone instant camera, the Palm handheld, and hundreds of other cutting-edge products and services, reveal its secrets for fostering a culture and process of continuous innovation. There isn’t a business in America that doesn’t want to be more creative in its thinking, products, and processes. In The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley, general manager of the Silicon Valley-based design firm IDEO, takes readers behind the scenes of this wildly imaginative and energized company to reveal the strategies and secrets it uses to turn out hit after hit.
From Amanda: I LOVED this book. Definitely an early contender for a book of the year in the innovation category. On to my flags…I had a zillion of them but the library has started leaving me messages wondering where this book is so I’ve had to pick and choose my flags to blog.
pg 13 One CEO told me that he understood for the first time, what creativity really meant and how it could be managed in a business environment. Nightline’s Deep Dive broadcast was among its most popular of the year, so popular in fact that the network rebroadcast it a few months later. The response amazed us. But maybe it shouldn’t have. The fact is, everybody talks about creativity and innovation, but not many people perform the feats without a safety net in front of a nationwide television audience.
…(many companies) tend to believe that truly creative individuals are few and far between. We believe the opposite. We all have a creative side, and it can flourish if you spawn a culture to encourage it, one that embraces risks and wild ideas and tolerates the occasional failure. We’ve seen it happen.
pg 19 Like the e-commerce revolution twenty years later, it was a time when being old and wise wasn’t much of an advantage. You had to track down sources that could help you, and be bold enough to make some educated guesses. As David says, “When you’re stuck with a tough decision or problem you don’t understand, talk to all the smart people you know.” It’s the networking approach to problem solving, a lesson he learned in the early years of the firm.
pg 25 What do stand-up toothpaste tubes, all-in-one fishing kits, high-tech blood analyzers, flexible office shelves, and self-sealing sports bottles have in common? Nothing actually, except they’re all IDEO-designed products that were inspired by watching real people. We’re not big fans of focus groups. We don’t much care for traditional market research either. We go to the source. Not the “experts” inside a company, but the actual people who use a product or something similar to what we’re hoping to create.
pg 28 Seeing and hearing things with your own eyes and ears is a critical first step in improving or creating a breakthrough product. We typically call this process “human factors”. I prefer “human inspiration” or, as IDEO human factors expert Leon Segal says, “Innovation begins with an eye.”
pg 29 Whenever you are in that new-to-the-experience mode, I would urge you to pay close attention and even take notes about your impressions, reactions, and questions. Especially the problems, the things that bug you. We call these mental and jotted-down observations “bug lists”, and they can change your life. That’s what happened one day to twenty-six-year-old Perry Klebahn on a visit to Lake Tahoe ski resort.
pg 41 Empathy is about finding and listening to the Sallys of the world. It’s about re-discovering why you’re actually in business, whom you’re actually trying to serve. what needs you’re trying to fulfil Companies periodically need an empathy check. Often they fall into the trap of responding to what seems to be market needs: introducing new features simply because other companies are introducing new features. (Kodak example…) One of the first things we did was to remind team members about the underlying emotions associated with collecting, sharing, and viewing images. Jane asked each of them to write a half-page essay about picture related experiences they’d had in the past six months, anything from snapping family photos to sorting their album or mailing photos. Jane shared the personal insights with the rest of the team…. upon hearing one of these family photo-taking tales, one of the lab members said he realized for the first time how important family photos can be to families. Clearly touched, the man had a new found desire to make his project relevant to real people.
pg 55 If you want to keep in shape, you have to exercise your brainstorming muscles more than once a month. So find a suitable space, order some supplies (and some chocolate chip cookies), get a good group together, and brainstorm up several dozen possible solutions to a problem that’s bugging you right now.
Brainstorming is practically a religion at IDEO, one we practice nearly every day. Though brainstorms themselves are often playful, brainstorming as a tool – as a skill – is taken quite seriously. And in a company without many rules, we have a very firm idea about what constitutes a brainstorm and how it should be organized. First, a brainstorm is not a regular meeting. It’s not something you take notes at. You don’t take turns speaking in an orderly way. It shouldn’t consume a morning or an afternoon. Sixty minutes seems to be the optimum length, though occasionally a brainstorm can productively stretch to an hour and a half. The level of physical and mental energy required for a brainstorm is hard to sustain much longer than that. Brainstorming sessions aren’t presentations or opportunities for the boss to poll the troops for hot ideas. Nor should they feel like work. And brainstorming is most definitely not about spending thousands of dollars at some glamorous off-site location. … we call the sessions “brainstormers“.
Seven secrets for better brainstorming:
1. Sharpen the focus – start with a well-honed statement of the problem. This can be as simple as a question. Edgy is better than fuzzy. We’ve also found that the best topic statements focus outward on a specific customer need or service enhancement rather than focusing inward on some organizational goal.
2. Playful rules – don’t start to critique or debate ideas. Go for quantity. Encourage wild ideas. Be visual. Perhaps the facilitator could ring a bell when participants try to turn a brainstormer into a normal meeting.
3. Number your ideas – first it’s a tool to help motivate the participants before and during the session (Let’s try to get to a hundred ideas before we leave the room). Second, it’s a great way to jump back and forth from idea to idea without losing track of where you are. (100 ideas per hour usually indicates a good, fluid brainstorming session)
4. Build and jump – building suggestion might be “shock absorbers are a great idea, now what are some other ways to reduce spillage when the bicycle hits a bump?” By contrast, when discussion tapers off, a good “jump” transition statement might be something like this “OK, let’s switch gears and consider some totally ‘hands-free’ solutions that allow the cyclist to keep both hands on the handlebars at all times. What might those solutions look like?”
5. The space remembers – we have had great success with extremely low-tech tools like Sharpie markers, giant Post-its for the walls, and rolls of old-fashioned butcher-shop paper on the tables. We’re not talking about taking personal meeting notes here, but capturing ideas so that the group can see their progression and return to those that seem more worthy of attention. Cover virtually every surface with paper before the session starts.
6. Stretch your mental muscles – it can be worthwhile doing some form of a group warm-up (fast paced word game simply to clear the mind – Zen practitioners call it ‘beginners mind’), bring show-and-tell to a brainstomer to help visualize the wide variety of options and materials that could be applied to the session’s topics.
7. Get physical – good brainstorms are extremely visual. They include sketching, mind mapping, diagrams and stick figures. Bring in everything but the kitchen sink. Have materials on hand to build crude models of concepts: blocks, foam core… and bodystorming, where we act out current behaviour/usage patterns and see how they might be altered.
pg 72 So as we approached the 100 person mark at our Palo Alto offices in the mid 1990’s, we took a chance and threw things open, designating some of our best people as studio leaders and giving them an opportunity to make their pitches to prospective members. No one at IDEO was going to be assigned to a studio. Instead, at our Monday morning “all hands” meeting in Palo Alto, each leader described the type of work they favoured, and what was exciting and challenging about their approach to product innovation. We reversed that horrible childhood sandlot routine where players wait to be selected. IDEOers got to pick their team leader, not vice versa. And you got to work where you wanted to: The studio heads each chose a location for their teams, among the various buildings in our Palo Alto campus. … amazingly, we were able to juggle the studio sizes so that everyone got their first choice.
pg 75 We believe the strongest teams take root when individuals are given the chance of picking what groups they work with and even occasionally what projects they work on. That way, passion fuels the fire. For example, we were recently asked to develop a kid’s car seat. We asked for volunteers, and dozens of employees stepped forward. One of the dads who volunteered was so concerned about safety that he’d already bought ten different car seats for his three kids. He was picked, of course. To me, that’s the kind of enthusiasm you need to boost a project to the next level.
pg 88 Hot teams perform… How do you start building such teams? First, forget what you learned in school. Believe that your team members will be an outrageous success before their first day of work. That’s what Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, does. … Zander…believes there are several beneficial aspects of this dramatic role reversal. First, it’s a great confidence builder for his students. Second, it eliminates the often counter-productive sniping that people frequently engage in when they think only a few will win (one reason we believe bell curve grading is so flawed). But most important, students invariably knock themselves out for that A. Zander believes that they do more to earn their own personal A than they would ever do for the traditional A given by a teacher.
pg 112 Give your management team a report, and it’s likely they won’t be able to make a crisp decision. But a prototype is almost like a spokesperson for a particular point of view, crystallizing the group’s feedback and keeping things moving. …pg 114 Prototypes can be a source of creation and insurance. When all else fails, prototype till you’re silly.
pg 128 Encourage people to solve their own space problems, and you’ll likely spur innovation where you didn’t know it existed. Years ago Jim Feuhrer, one of our machine shop veterans, found there wasn’t room for his bike, so he hung it from some overhead hooks. Faced with higher ceilings in another building, another IDEOer, one with extensive sailing experience, devised a clever system of hooks and pulleys to hoist up his wheels. No one complained. No one was reprimanded.
Pg 159 What exactly is cross-pollination?… There’s the active, aggressive side: learning about new processes, methods, and technologies. And there’s the passive, accepting side: making time or creating a place for new ideas. The best cross-pollinators encourage both of these practices. Here are a few of the ways we try to make cross-pollination an integral part of the workplace.
1. Subscribe and surf… we call this “idea wading”, so the farther afield the better.
2. Play director…break the world down into scenes and become an expert at watching people perform even the smallest tasks.
3. Hold an open house…keep it casual, displaying a few crude prototypes or perhaps a quick posterboard describing what you’re working on. Encourage comments and ideas…
4. Inspire advocates…mental diversity… we all need individuals who celebrate different viewpoints
5. Hire outsiders… fresh blood invigorates a company and introduces new ideas. Hire people just slightly off centre, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
6. Change hats… creating machines for the blind…team members were taken to their own house, blindfolded, and told to try making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. … they gained a small but tangible appreciation of the challenges of the blind.
7. Cross-train..We, too, can benefit from little drills or processes that we pick up from other businesses. This principle, of course, is exactly why businesses have boards of directors with executives from widely different fields. … IDEO staffers spend as much time learning from noncompetitive industries.
pg 174 Our experience with pen-based computing has taught me that there’s often a hidden barrier in the S-curve. Individual companies and entire industries often slow adoption rates by embracing faulty assumptions.
pg 195 As you step through the innovation process, try thinking verbs, not nouns. … It means not focusing too much on the object or artifact: the new product, the big report, the latest ad campaign, the re-modeled store. Everybody’s in the business of creating experiences, so focus on the verbs, the actions. The goal is not a more beautiful store. It’s a better shopping experience. And creating more value for your brand.
pg 196 In The Experience Economy Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore argue that many business and services are coming to resemble the experience of a theme park. … Think of experiences you might stage for your business. (example of re-designing the airport experience – really good stuff here)
pg 199 You probably don’t work for an airline, but you’ve seen how you can begin to ask the basic question. How can I redesign my operation, install the latest technology, or retrain my staff to deliver a better experience – without, of course, breaking the bank? Start by following your customer journey, breaking it down into component elements, and asking yourself how you can deliver a better experience. (note: this excerpt earned a double flag!)
pg 214 The best products and services aspire to the classic design principle “Make simple things simple and complex things possible.” Sometimes designing a winning experience is about reigning in your wish list and resisting the temptation to do too much.
pg 216 What can we learn from studying badly designed experiences? Look around your own workplace or business for routines that people hate, established ways of doing business that burden your company and/or clients and customers. Little improvements matter. Do people enjoy returning something on warranty? I sincerely doubt it. That’s why when a customer returns a backpack for repair to JanSport, the company mails out a wacky response. “Hi! Warranty Service Camp is really cool. They say they’re sending me home soon,” reads a typical postcard. “Gotta run… we’re doing zipper races today!” Silly as these sound …. nearly all the correspondence now consists of cheery thank-you notes. (they did a similar approach at IDEO with the resume process)
pg 228 Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. … but you don’t simply order up speed. And the path to superior innovation is rarely a direct line from A to B. Look for competitions that you might enter (or create) for your teams that emphasize the playful, speedy side of innovation. You just might get to the finish line faster.
pg 233 “The noble failures always kept us pushing the barriers,” says Schwab. “We kept believing that a mistake may not be a mistake when it reflects an essentially sound strategy.”
pg 250 One caveat about colouring outside the lines: You have to constantly evaluate what’s too far outside. The late Gordon McKenzie, a fellow member of the Innovation Network, would call this balancing act “orbiting the giant hairball”. …the ultimate goal is it maintain a kind of continuous orbit, influencing the organization and being influenced by it, without ever getting completely snagged in the morass. So go ahead and colour outside the lines, but try your best to stay on the same page.
pg 284 You’ve seen hundreds of trailers in theaters. Everybody loves them. Little one-to-two minute teasers. It’s a great way to capture the essence of a project, the heart of the emotional experience you’re seeking in a product or service. You don’t have to figure out all the technical or marketing problems. The goal is a visual prototype.
pg 293 Nearly every product can be made incrementally better, including the one you just finished. As we often say, that’s why God invented clients – and bosses. Clients and bosses have budgets and schedules that bind the prototyping process. They’re like the school-teacher in the movie Six Degrees of Separation who says that the secret to getting great art from second graders is knowing when to take the paper away from them.
pg 294 Give and Take
Many examples of reenergizing the culture are more subtle and built into tacit work practices. Here’s an example of what I mean:
Your boss (or your client) gives you a month to come up with an important “deliverable”, a piece of software, a report, a presentation, a product, or an ad campaign. We believe there are two dramatically different approaches to such an assignment. The first is to spend your month making the “perfect” version of the deliverable, polishing until it shines. Then, at the end of the month, you have the meeting with the Big Boss in which you – literally or figuratively – pull off the black velvet cloth and say “voila”. Well, if your boss throws up all over the thing, you’re in trouble. Ego damage, for sure. Maybe even status and career damage, depending on your boss.
The second approach to that same one-month challenge is to burn the whole first week cranking out four or five really crude outlines or prototypes. The high tech one. The playful one. The low-cost model. The pure-digital version. Then you squeeze in a ten-minute meeting at the end of the week with the Big Boss. Even in the unlikely possibility that she hates all five of your ideas, you’re going to learn a lot as she tells you what’s wrong with them, and you’ve now got three weeks to make the sixth one really sing.
Chances are, she’ll pick elements from two or more of the prototypes, and you’ll be able to combine the best of each in your final version. Even so, whatever criticism you get in week one doesn’t sting much. After all, it’s not your finished work, and you haven’t put too much ego (or career risk) into any of the alternatives.
If you take this message to heart, you’ll have to start training your boss, getting him or her accustomed to the idea that you’ll be back around, long before the deadline, to get solid feedback. Try an up-front deadline compromise like “May 30 is great, if you’ll let me have ten minutes with you on May 7 to make sure I’m on course.”
As long as you negotiate up front, it’s such a reasonable request that who could say no? … What I mean is developing an attitude in which everyone you understands it’s OK to show you rough prototypes. … You’ll see more good work sooner, get a chance to redirect projects headed off into the weeds, and end up with better final results.
pg 296 Over the years we’ve come up with some valuable innovation practice tips. Try jotting these down in your own words and posting them around your workplace. Most of all, practice them
whenever you can.
– watch customers – and non-customers – especially enthusiasts.
– play with your physical workspace in a way that sends positive “body language” to employees and visitors.
– think ‘verbs’ not ‘nouns’ in your product and service offerings so that you create wonderful experiences for everyone who comes into contact with your company or brand.
– break rules and ‘fail forward’ so that change is part of the culture, and setbacks are expected.
– stay human, scaling your organizational environment so that there’s room for hot groups to emerge and thrive.
– build bridges from one department to another, from your company to your prospective customers, and ultimately from the present to the future.
pg 297 Try it yourself. Innovation isn’t about perfection. You’ve got to shank a few before your swing smooths out. Get out there an observe the market, your customers and products. Brainstorm like crazy and prototype in bursts. … don’t forget the true spirit of innovation. That’s right. Have some serious fun.