Book Review: The Art of Innovation, by Tom Kelley

The Art of Innovation, 3/5 Sparks

[Purchasing link]

Tom Kelley is IDEO’s general manager. Tom has overseen IDEO’s business development, marketing, human resources, and operations. Tom currently has two best-selling books, The Art of Innovation (2001) and The Ten Faces of Innovation (2005). [Company Bio]

IDEO is an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered approach to helping organizations innovate and grow.” IDEO specializes in helping organizations “build creative culture[s] and the internal systems required to sustain innovation and launch new ventures.” [About IDEO]

Main Points

  • Aim to create an experience that is valuable to the customer. Good product and service innovations stem from the careful observation of, and empathy for, lead users.
  • “Innovation does not occur in a vacuum”. Effective innovation necessitates an environment that combines specific conditions, cultures, and activities, with a prototyping mindset.

Review

The Art of Innovation is a testimony to successful defiance of hierarchical management styles and to the value of human-centered design. Author Tom Kelley, firmly believes that “sometimes only a real-life story will show you how the process actually works” [114]. The Art of Innovation manifests this notion. The book is read as a narrative of IDEO‘s successful projects that requires its audience to read between the lines to pull out the interlaced methodologies. Due to this structural choice, the majority of The Art of Innovation’s content functions as promotional material for IDEO and lacks counter perspectives, lessons learned from failure, and in-depth tips for implementation. Nevertheless, the book retains its value with five resource-packed chapters; 3-7. These chapters pair procedures and concrete management tools with real-life examples.

Topics covered by these chapters include:

  • Human-centered design
  • The brainstorming process
  • The importance of strong teams
  • The value of prototyping
  • The architecture of innovation-friendly environments

One of the cases referenced in the book is an ABC Nightline broadcast where IDEO is challenged to innovate the traditional shopping cart within a week. This video broadcast by ABC Nightline is embedded at the end of my review.

So what is human centered design, how do we implement it?

Human Centered Design:

  • Assumes that the real experts are the lead users
  • Attempts to gain valuable design insights by observing lead users through an anthropologic lens
  • Infers motivations, emotions, and needs
  • Seeks to create a better experience for the lead user through design.

Like most companies, IDEO believes that ­successful new products and services address the problems and needs of consumers. The greatest differentiator between IDEO methodology and that of others is the method of identifying these problems and needs.

IDEO maintains a distain for having users fill out detailed forms or attend focus groups because they believe lead users:

  • Are too polite
  • Lack the vocabulary to articulate their problems and needs
  • Lack the perspective to accurately access their struggles and inconveniences
  • Cannot comprehend the benefit or need for an improvement that does not yet exist.

While directly asking your customer what they want is advantageous for marketing functions; Kelley, however, has found that “often the verbal feedback the test user provides is inconsistent with the external observation of their experience.” [27] One must objectively observe the needs and problems of lead users to gain valuable insights in product and service design.

Implementing human-centered design requires

  1. Formulating groups and insuring that “both designers and clients are part of the observation process in order to diversify interpretation and discovery.” [39]
  2. Voiding groups of assumptions
  3. Immersing groups in environments where the customer interacts with the current solution.
  4. Uncovering the natural tendencies of users and any confliction these may have with the status quo solution
  5. Conducting interview, and asking simple questions like “why?”
  6. Watching lead users struggle with bugs and inefficiencies
  7. Emphasizing with the underlying needs, emotions, and motivations of lead users.
  8. Qualitatively recording findings

Tips and Tricks

Make sure to find the right people to observe. Tom defines the ideal subjects as rule breakers; people who take shortcuts or use the product in a way unintended by the manufacturer

Managing the brainstorming process

Chapter 4 of The Art of Innovation is an essential resource for anyone serious about establishing brainstorming capabilities within their company. Along with valuable insights, this chapter includes seven specific best practices for successful brainstorming.

Brainstorming:
  • Requires proper structure and facilitation to yield substantial results.
  • Is a skill that requires practice, can be learned,  and can be constantly improved
  • Begins with a well-defined problem statement. Focus this statement on specific lead user needs or values, not on an internal goal of your organization.
  • ”Can infect a team with optimism and carry it through the darkest and most pressure-tinged stages of a project.” [56]
  • Serves as a form of friendly-competition for employees and gives them a chance to shine.
Brainstorming is NOT:
  • An opportunity for the boss to “poll the troops” for ideas
  • Intended to feel like a chore
  • About spending a lot of money on off-site locations

Tom Kelley’s Seven Secrets for better brainstorming:

1. Begin with a well-honed statement of the problem.
  • Gets the brainstorm running with a clear objective
  • Allows you to bring the team back to the main topic more easily
  • “Go for something tangible participants can sink their teeth into, without limiting the possible solutions” [57]
2. Have playful rules. Make sure to put the brainstorming rules predominantly somewhere in the room so everyone can see them
  • Don’t critique or debate ideas
  • Go for quantity
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Be visual.
3. Number your ideas. “A hundred ideas per hour usually indicated a good, fluid brainstorming session.” [58]
  • Is used as a motivational tool
  • Can be used to measure progress
  • Is a great way to jump back and forth from idea to idea without losing track of your place
4. Build and jump

“High energy brainstorms tend to follow a series of steep ‘power’ curves.”[58] Effective facilitators can recognize these curves and know how to channel the attention and activities of the brainstorming team when their energy and momentum begins to plateau. This may be done by either:

  • Jumping back to an earlier path or idea you skipped by too quickly
  • Building the idea further in attempt to reach the next power curve
5. Utilize the power of spatial memory
  • While there are numerous IT solutions for group ideation, Kelley believes that simple tactile tools like markers, sticky notes, and butcher paper are the most successful.
  • As a facilitator, “write the flow of ideas down in a medium visible to the whole group.” [59]
  • A visual display of ideas allows your team to see the progress they have made and helps facilitators quickly jump to ideas that seem worthy of more attention.
  • “As you rapidly capture the team’s ideas, make mental note of the ones that are worth coming back to during a build or jump. When you return to a spot on the wall where that idea was captured, spatial memory will help people recapture the mindset they had when the idea first emerged.” [59]
6. Mental warm-ups
Required? Not necessarily in all circumstances, but mandatory if:
  • The group has not worked together before
  • The majority of team members do not incorporate brainstorming into their day-to-day activities
  • The group seems distracted by pressing but unrelated issues

In The Art of Innovation, Tom briefly mentions a quick, warm-up word game practiced at IDEO, but never goes into details of how it works. Additional practices Tom mentions in passing are:

  • Assigning content-related homework
  • Bringing wide variety of options and materials that could be applied to a session’s topic. (e.g. “show and tell”
  • Field trips
7. Get Physical
The basic brainstorm activities are visual: sketching, mind mapping, and diagraming. Kelley stresses, however, that the most rewarding brainstorms push the third dimension.
Doing this requires the facilitator to:
  • “Bring everything but the kitchen sink” to the brainstorm including; competitive products, solutions from other fields, and emerging technologies.
  • Have materials on hand to build crude prototypes.
  • Allow team members to act out behaviors or actions through skits and scenarios.
Tips and Tricks
  • The optimum length for a brainstorming session is 60 minutes, but in some cases, may productively stretch to an hour and a half. Kelley argues that “the level of physical and mental energy required for a brainstorm is hard to sustain for much longer than that.”[56]
  • “Think of products in terms of verbs rather than nouns— not cell phones, but cell phoning.” [46] An advantage of this practice is that it does not focus on the technology but rather the value or ability it provides the user.This practice helps you to cross pollinate different product characteristics by combining their values and functions into stronger solutions for the lead user.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Tom sates that just as an athlete must stretch and practice before competing, effective brainstorming requires frequent practice and mental stretching.

Six ways to kill a brainstorm

1.       Have the boss speak first
“When the boss begins by setting an agenda and boundaries, your brainstorm is immediately limited” [65]
2.       Ensure that everybody gets a turn
3.       Limit team members to experts only
4.       Conduct the brainstorm off-site
5.       Don’t allow the “silly stuff”
6.       Write everything down

How to assemble strong teams

At IDEO, a teams’ strength is synonymous with its diversity of perspective and expertise.. Building innovative teams begins with the hiring process. New hires at IDEO start out relatively equal to their co-workers and are “given lots of chances to mess up– and to shine.” [89] The “newcomers that flourish are often offered a key role in a new project, or even an opportunity to manage a project. Age and experience are not factors.” [89]

When looking for new talent, seek individuals who are:

  • Infused with purpose and personality
  • Goal-oriented and objective driven
  • Intellectually curious
  • Optimistic
  • Light-hearted pranksters who joke, jest and play
  • Well-rounded and respectful of diversity
  • Drawn from widely divergent disciplines and demographics
  • Reluctant to bring preconceived solutions to a problem

In The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley identifies 8 personality types sought after by IDEO for team formation. These people are:

1. Visionaries who serve to inspire and generate enthusiasm

2. Troubleshooters who cut through politic and speak their mind. These individuals will occasionally “rub a worker or client the wrong way,” [99] but can invaluably steer a lost project back on course.

3. Iconoclasts who challenge the status quo and constantly ask “why?”

4. Pulse Takers whoobserve the world through an anthropologic lens, and bring valuable insights on human behavior.

5. Craftsmen who are skilled, hands-on constructers who push the bounds of their trade through experimental design and engineering.

6. Technologists who store “vast amounts of geeky knowledge of complex materials, mechanisms, and seemingly arcane technologies,” and provide a “wealth of raw material and knowledge for engineers and designers.” [99]

7. Entrepreneurs who constantly seek to improve the process of brainstorming, prototyping, and communicating innovations. Additionally, when ideas or teams get stuck, entrepreneurs understand how to strip processes down to their basics, and apply new methodologies.

8. Cross-Dressers whose passion and drive to participate in multiple disciplines provides a unique blend of perspective.

When constructing teams

  • Keep team sizes between 3 and 12 members
  • Whenever possible, allow employees to choose what groups they work with, and in some cases, what projects they work on.
  • Insure  team structure is nonhierarchical
  • Establish an understanding amongst team members that they may disband once their objective has been reached.

Motivational techniques are essential for maintaining strong teams. Kelley recommends:

  • Setting exceptionally optimistic deadlines to induce strong feelings of accomplishment when even the slightest of objectives are met.
  • Empowering team members to seek out external resources and insights
  • Instilling competition and playful rewards to build teamwork.
  • Encourage your teams to find or create team icons.
  • Making sure team members “look the part.” This means allocating financial resources toward t-shirts, baseball caps, bags, and sweatshirts. According to Kelley, the level of productivity and comradery derived from these items far exceeds their cost.

Additionally Kelley explains that “Team members want to know three implicit questions from their managers:

1.       Do you care about me?
2.       Can I trust you?
3.       Are you committed to the success of our team?

The best leaders answer those questions with actions instead of words.” [85]

Develop a prototyping culture

The process of innovation is filled with uncertainty and risk. Smart innovation pipelines are designed to mitigate this risk using gateways that encourage ideas to “fail often to succeed sooner.” [232] IDEO has integrated this practice into its innovation process and corporate culture through rapid prototyping.

Rapid prototyping:
  • Is about frequently using inexpensive and easily malleable materials to demonstrate ideas, and presenting them to bosses and stakeholders for feedback.
  • Is “both a step in the innovation process and a philosophy about moving continuously forward, even when some variables are still undefined.” [5]
  • Allows a team to test solutions, acquire feedback, and gain insights that incrementally improve design solutions through rapid trial and error.
  • Frequently seeks feedback to insure projects are on track
  • Often leads to accidental discoveries and revelations
Effective prototypes:
  • Seek to express ideas quickly and cheaply
  • Quickly demonstrate a principle’s effectiveness
  • Can be used as persuasive tools
  • May reveal that the most basic and obvious solution is best
  • May become an inspirational talking point within your company
Additional tips and tricks
  • Sometimes prototyping a bad idea for the sole sake of bashing will lead to insights and will help you to reach a successful solution faster.
  • “Embrace a culture of mini failures… by trying out features or capabilities in rough form as fast as possible, you’ve got a better chance of honing in on the critical fundamentals when the ship date rolls around.” [232]

Architecturing innovation-friendly environments and organizational structures

Innovation occurs where diverse ideas, insights, and perspectives collide. We refer to this act of collision as cross-pollination. Kelley notes that “many companies rigidly separate functions such as research, design, marketing, and manufacturing, create walls between groups that have much to teach one another.” [39] This phenomenon is often referred to as “siloing”  and is the primary barrier to innovation. Additionally, hierarchical organizational structures, poor motivational incentives, and stifling corporate cultures can deteriorate a company’s innovation capability. The solution: make cross-pollination an integral part of the workplace through culture and strategic organization.

Warning: Insure you have identified and recognized the history of a space along with its latest trends before implementing new/destructive structural changes. Be sensitive to a space’s existing culture, dynamic and history. You may find that features of the existing system provide invaluable influences to your workplace.

Improving innovation capability through organizational structure

“Design firms seldom exceed a hundred people.” According to Kelley, “the reason is simple. When talent can’t find enough places to blossom, it generally splits off in new directions” [72] At IDEO, the workforce is broken down into studio groups that range from ten to twenty people. These studios act as neighborhoods and each house a unique culture and identity. Project teams at IDEO operate within or across these studios and can be as small as three people or as large as a dozen. [72]

At IDEO, teams are quickly built around projects and are usually disbanded once the project objectives are met. Due to this, employees often work on multiple projects at the same time. This variety allows employees to notice commonalities between their different projects and cross-pollinate insights and best practices between projects and across studio boundaries.

Warning: Be sure to steer clear of hierarchical structures.

  • Insure that status is about talent, not seniority.
  • “As you create or rework space, beware of a natural tendency to reward superiors with superior space.” [136]This will cripple the flow of ideas and the rate of cross-pollination through politi

Improving innovation capability through spatial organization

The primary strategy for increasing innovation in a company through spatial design is to organize the work environment in a way that maximizes the frequency of spontaneous interactions between individuals. “Try to create spaces that draw workers in and encourage interaction. Spaces [at IDEO], for instance have been laid out so that a central asymmetrical table functions like a park for three or four team members. Prototypes, sketches, or blueprints crowd these tables.”

Additional strategies include:
  • Physically collocating individuals who require frequent interaction with one another.
  • Destroy hallways. Hallways act as natural barriers between people and ideas. Destroying walls also gives workers a view
Tips and tricks
  • “Too much square footage, like too large a budget, can dissipate energy and discourage a more immediate and emotional connection between team members.” [82] Tom suggests filling this space with cheap furniture as a quick fix if you lack the bodies to do so.
  • “Get the team as close to the hardware they’re working on a possible– and make it easy to hold quick, spontaneous local meetings.”[83]

Warning: Keep in mind that creative people need quiet places to think and work. Seek the balance between community and privacy (e.g. some of IDEO’s cubicles feature sliding, translucent barn doors that close if employees wish to “buckle down” and work in seclusion.)

Improving innovation capability through corporate culture

Begin by establishing unique studio neighborhoods

Kelley believes that “spaces should tell stories– about your workers and your company.” [122] A surefire way to access whether your company has strong neighborhood cultures is to walk around your company, “if you can’t tell when you are moving from one neighborhood to another, you probably don’t have neighborhoods.” [124]

A prototyping mindset is the most powerful tool in establishing strong studio as it allows a space to evolve along with team and projects. To initiate this culture:

  • Have “studio heads design the overall pattern of their space and then let team members mold their own nooks and crannies as they see fit.” [125]
  • Give employees ownership over their workspace and allow them to fill their spaces with their hobbies and interests.
  • Encourage workers to display their work and fill their spaces wild colors, materials, and toys.
  • “Turn creating your space into a team-building exercise, and you’ll be surprised at how much fun and pride people take in their workplace” [131]
Establish the following in your workplace:
  • Merit-based statuses
  • Autonomy that empowers the worker
  • Employees who are comfortable enough to poke fun at one-another, even the boss
  • Messy personalized spaces that spawn energy, ideas and creativity by jumbling together cultures, ideas, and experiences.
  • Employees who are constantly seeking improvement and to change the status quo
Inspire pride in your employees by:
  • Offering tours of your employee workspaces
  • Ensuring top management is willing to “get their hands dirty” and lead by example. Management must take significant time to circulate among the different disciplines to insure everyone is communicating.
  • Throwing blowout end-of-the-year bashes that celebrate who your employees are and the work they do. Aim to create a memorable experience, not spend large sums of money.
  • Encouraging employees to browse and surf magazines, articles, books, and the internet in search of new knowledge and insights
  • Inspiring advocates who are passionate about specific fields and expertise
  • Periodically hold an open house. Invite other departments within your company to take a look at your latest projects. Provide free food, and a casual environment conducive to conversation. This will provide you with useful insights and give your team a chance to show off for their colleagues.

Summing up the IDEO methodology

IDEO’s methodology is a system that is continuously evolving. From a broad perspective, this system is broken down into 5 primary stages [6]:

1. Research

  • Seek to gain a clear understanding of the market, the client, lead users, and the technology.
  • Identify the perceived constraints of problem.  Kelley points out that while these constraints are frequently challenged in subsequent stages, gaining clear understandings of these constraints are necessary to break them.

2. Observe

  • Through an anthropologic lens, qualitatively observe people in real-life situations. This is the foundation of Human-centered Design and leads to valuable insights that drive the visualization phase following.

3. Visualize

  • Brainstorm
  • Prototype, prototype, prototype

4. Evaluate & Refine

  • Frequently and vigorously test, combine, and incrementally improve your prototypes.
  • Seek out and utilize feedback from stakeholders, your internal team, lead users, and outsiders.

5. Implementation

  • Prepare your solution for commercialization.
  • Typically the longest and most technically challenging phase in the system.

It is important to note that Tom Kelley’s book The Art of Innovation also includes strong advice concerning product development. However, these insights are too buried and dispersed throughout the book to provide substantial value and cohesion.

Mentionable quotes

“Brainstorming is not just a valuable creative tool at the fuzzy front end of projects. It’s also a pervasive cultural influence for making sure that individuals don’t waste too much energy spinning their wheels on a tough problem when the collective wisdom of the team can get them ‘unstuck’ in less than an hour.” [4]

” We’ve 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.” [13]

“A good prototype is worth a thousand pictures” [112]

“Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. Innovation needs teams. And teams need places to thrive and grow.” [121]

Additional Resources

ABC Nightline – IDEO Shopping Cart Video

After a brief introduction Tom Kelley references an event they held for ABC’s Nightline broadcast July, 13, 1999. The event was a week-long opportunity to innovate the traditional shopping cart. With the project lead by Peter Skillman, this video provides a visual case study and documents IDEO”s Deep dive methodologies in action. Tom Kelley and his brother David, founder and CEO of IDEO, are also present in the video. I have embedded the video of the Nightline broadcast below.

The Art of Innovation briefly summarizes this project but does not clearly outline its methodologies. Stronger insights can be achieved by watching the broadcast firsthand.

Begin with a well-honed statement of the problem.

·Gets the brainstorm running with a clear objective

·Allow you to bring the team back to the main topic more easily

·“Go for something tangible participants can sink their teeth into, without limiting the possible solutions” [57]

Have playful rules. Make sure to put the brainstorming rules predominantly somewhere in the room so everyone can see them

    • Don’t critique or debate ideas
    • Go for quantity
    • Encourage wild ideas
    • Be visual.

Number your ideas. “A hundred ideas per hour usually indicated a good, fluid brainstorming session.” [58]

    • Is used as a motivational tool
    • Can be used to measure progress
    • Is a great way to jump back and forth from idea to idea without losing track of your place

Build and jump
“High energy brainstorms tend to follow a series of steep ‘power’ curves.”[58] Effective facilitators can recognize these curves and know how to channel the attention and activities of the brainstorming team when their energy and momentum begins to plateau. This may be done by either:

    • Jumping back to an earlier path or idea you skipped by too quickly
    • Building the idea further in attempt to reach the next power curve

Utilize the power of spatial memory

    • While there are numerous IT solutions for group ideation, Kelly believes that simple tactile tools like markers, sticky notes, and butcher paper are the most successful.
    • As a facilitator, “write the flow of ideas down in a medium visible to the whole group.” [59]
    • A visual display of ideas allows your team to see the progress they have made and helps facilitators quickly jump to ideas that seem worthy of more attention.
    • “As you rapidly capture the team’s ideas, make mental note of the ones that are worth coming back to during a build or jump. When you return to a spot on the wall where that idea was captured, spatial memory will help people recapture the mindset they had when the idea first emerged.” [59]

Mental warm-ups
Required? Not necessarily in all circumstances, but mandatory if:

    • The group has not worked together before
    • The majority of team members do not incorporate brainstorming into their day-to-day activities
    • The group seems distracted by pressing but unrelated issues

In The Art of Innovation, Tom briefly mentions a quick, warm-up word game practiced at IDEO, but never goes into details of how it works. Additional practices Tom mentions in passing are:

·Assigning content-related homework

·Bringing wide variety of options and materials that could be applied to a session’s topic. (e.g. “show and tell”

·Field trips

Get Physical
The basic brainstorm activities are visual: sketching, mind mapping, and diagraming. Kelly stresses, however, that the most rewarding brainstorms push the third dimension.
Doing this requires the facilitator to:

·“Bring everything but the kitchen sink” to the brainstorm including; competitive products, solutions from other fields, and emerging technologies.

    • Have materials on hand to build crude prototypes.
    • Allow team members to act out behaviors or actions through skits and scenarios.
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One Response to Book Review: The Art of Innovation, by Tom Kelley

  1. hella says:

    super blog!

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