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.


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. Read more of this post