Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devil's Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization by Tom Kelley









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Few organizations know more about the art of innovation that IDEO, and few have conveyed ways to increase innovation better than IDEO’s Tom Kelley. His latest book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, provides a description of ten different roles that an individual can play to promote innovation. Kelley calls attention to the way in which those who assume the devil’s advocate role can do more to squelch innovation than encourage that the best ideas move forward. A structured approach that allows any individual to assume one of ten roles can increase an organization’s ability to innovate faster and better. Here’s an excerpt that presents what the book is all about, from the Introduction, pp. 6-12:


The Human Touch


The Ten Faces of Innovation is a book about innovation with a human face. It’s about the individuals and teams that fuel innovation inside great organizations. Because all great movements are ultimately human-powered. Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I can move the world.” The innovation personas described in the next ten chapters are not necessarily the most powerful people you will ever meet. They don’t have to be. Because each persona brings its own lever, its own tools, its own skills, its own point of view. And when someone combines energy and intelligence with the right lever, they can generate a remarkably powerful force. Make sure they have a place on your team. Together you can do extraordinary things.

At IDEO, we believe that innovators focus on the verbs. They’re proactive. They’re energetic. Innovators set out to create, to experi­ment, to inspire, to build on new ideas. Our techniques may at times seem unusual, but the results can be truly extraordinary.

All good working definitions of innovation pair ideas with action, the spark with the fire. Innovators don’t just have their heads in the clouds. They also have their feet on the ground. 3M, one of the first companies to fully embrace innovation as the essence of its corporate brand, defines it as “New ideas—plus action or implementation— which result in an improvement, a gain, or a profit.” It is not enough to just have a good idea. Only when you act, when you implement, do you truly innovate. Ideas. Action. Implementation. Gain. Profit. All good words, of course, but there’s still one piece left out. People. That’s why I prefer the Innovation Network’s definition: “People creating value through the implementation of new ideas.” The classic 3M def­inition might leave you with the impression that, as a bumper sticker might put it, “Innovation Happens.” But unfortunately, there’s no spon­taneous combustion in the business world. Innovation is definitely not self-starting or self-perpetuating. People make it happen through their imagination, willpower, and perseverance. And whether you are a team member, a group leader, or an executive, your only real path to inno­vation is through people. You can’t really do it alone.

This is a book about people. More specifically, it is about the roles people can play, the hats they can put on, the personas they can adopt. It is not about the luminaries of innovation like Thomas Edison, or even celebrity CEOs like Steve Jobs and Jeffrey Immelt. It is about the unsung heroes who work on the front lines of entrepreneurship in action, the countless people and teams who make innovation happen day in and day out.

The ten core chapters of this book highlight ten people-centric tools developed at IDEO that you might call talents or roles or personas for innovation. Although the list does not presume to be comprehensive, it does aspire to expand your repertory. We’ve found that adopting one or more of these roles can help teams express a different point of view and create a broader range of innovative solutions.

By developing some of these innovation personas, you’ll have a chance to put the Devil’s Advocate in his place. So when someone says, “Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a minute” and starts to smother a fragile new idea with negativity, someone else in the room may be emboldened to speak up and say, “Let me be an Anthropologist for a moment, because I personally have watched our customers suffering silently with this issue for months, and this new idea just might help them.” And if that one voice gives courage to others, maybe someone else will add, “Let’s think like an Experimenter for a moment. We could prototype this idea in a week and get a sense of whether we’re onto something good.” Or someone else could volunteer to be a Hurdler, and pledge to get the team some seed funding for an exploration of the concept. The Devil’s Advocate may never go away, but on a good day, the ten personas can keep him in his place. Or tell him to go to hell.

One important caveat. My feelings about Devil’s Advocates should not be interpreted as some sort of endorsement for a “yes-man culture.” IDEO has always believed in construc­tive criticism and free debate. Actually, strong innovation roles can lead to more critical thinking, as team members develop a broader perspective from which to view projects. But the Devil’s Advocate seldom takes a real stand, preferring to tear down an idea with clever criticism, and often exhibiting the mean-spirited negativity associated with that role. Meanwhile, the innovation roles are intended to encourage people to stand up for what they believe in.

So who are these personas? Many already exist inside of large com­panies, though they’re often underdeveloped or unrecognized. They represent latent organizational ability, a reservoir of energy waiting to be tapped. We all know plenty of bright, capable people who would like to make a bigger contribution, team members whose contributions don’t quite fit into traditional categories like “engineer” or “marketer” or “project manager.”

In a postdisciplinary world where the old descriptors can be con­straining, these new roles can empower a new generation of innova­tors. They give individuals permission to make their own unique contribution to the social ecology and performance of the team. Here’s a brief introduction of the personas:



The Learning Personas


Individuals and organizations need to constantly gather new sources of information in order to expand their knowledge and grow, so the first three personas are learning roles. These personas are driven by the idea that no matter how successful a company currently is, no one can afford to be complacent. The world is changing at an accelerated pace, and today’s great idea may be tomorrow’s anachronism. The learning roles help keep your team from becoming too internally focused and remind the organization not to be so smug about what you “know.” People who adopt the learning roles are humble enough to question their own worldview, and in doing so they remain open to new insights every day.


1       The Anthropologist brings new learning and insights into the organization by observing human behavior and developing a deep understanding of how people interact physically and emo­tionally with products, services, and spaces. When an IDEO human-factors person camps out in a hospital room for forty-eight hours with an elderly patient undergoing surgery—as described in Chapter 1—she is living the life of the Anthropol­ogist and helping to develop new health care services.


2       The Experimenter prototypes new ideas continuously, learning by a process of enlightened trial and error. The Experimenter takes calculated risks to achieve success through a state of “experimentation as implementation.” When BMW bypassed all its traditional advertising channels and created theater-quality short films for bmwfilms.com, no one knew whether the experiment would succeed. Their runaway success, which underscores the rewards that flow to Experimenters, is detailed in Chapter 2.


3       The Cross-Pollinator explores other industries and cultures, then translates those findings and revelations to fit the unique needs of your enterprise. When an open-minded Japanese busi­nesswoman travels 5,000 miles to find inspiration for a new brand, she finds a concept an ocean away that sparks a billion-dollar retail empire, and demonstrates the leverage of a Cross-Pollinator. You’ll hear her story in Chapter 3.



The Organizing Personas


The next three personas are organizing roles, played by individuals who are savvy about the often counterintuitive process of how organ­izations move ideas forward. At IDEO, we used to believe that the ideas should speak for themselves. Now we understand what the Hurdler, the Collaborator, and the Director have known all along: that even the best ideas must continuously compete for time, attention, and resources. Those who adopt these organizing roles don’t dismiss the process of budget and resource allocation as “politics” or “red tape.” They rec­ognize it as a complex game of chess, and they play to win.


4 The Hurdler knows the path to innovation is strewn with obsta­cles and develops a knack for overcoming or outsmarting those roadblocks. When the 3M worker who invented Scotch tape decades ago had his idea initially rejected, he refused to give up. Staying within his $100 authorization limit, he signed a series of $99 purchase orders to pay for critical equipment needed to produce the first batch. His perseverance paid off, and 3M has reaped billions of dollars in cumulative profits because an ener­getic Hurdler was willing to bend the rules.


5       The Collaborator helps bring eclectic groups together, and often leads from the middle of the pack to create new combinations and multidisciplinary solutions. When a customer-service man­ager wins over a skeptical corporate buyer to the idea of brain­storming new forms of cooperation, and the resulting new program doubles their sales, he’s playing the role of a very successful Collaborator.


6       The Director not only gathers together a talented cast and crew but also helps to spark their creative talents. When a creative Mattel executive assembles an ad hoc team and dubs them “Platypus,” launching a novel process that creates a $100 mil­lion toy platform in three months, she is a role model for Direc­tors everywhere. Her story is told in Chapter 6.




The Building Personas


The four remaining personas are building roles that apply insights from the learning roles and channel the empowerment from the organ­izing roles to make innovation happen. When people adopt the build­ing personas, they stamp their mark on your organization. People in these roles are highly visible, so you’ll often find them right at the heart of the action.


7 The Experience Architect designs compelling experiences that go beyond mere functionality to connect at a deeper level with customers’ latent or expressed needs. When an ice cream shop turns the preparation of a frozen dessert into a fun, dramatic per­formance, it is designing a successful new customer experience. The premium prices and marketing buzz that follow are rewards associated with playing the role of the Experience Architect.


8       The Set Designer creates a stage on which innovation team mem­bers can do their best work, transforming physical environments into powerful tools to influence behavior and attitude. Compa­nies like Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic recognize that the right office environments can help nourish and sustain a creative culture. When a business team doubles its usable output after reinventing its space and a sports team discovers a renewed win­ning ability in a brand-new stadium, they are demonstrating the value of the Set Designer. Organizations that tap into the power of the Set Designer sometimes discover remarkable performance improvements that make all the space changes worthwhile.


9       The Caregiver builds on the metaphor of a health care profes­sional to deliver customer care in a manner that goes beyond mere service. Good Caregivers anticipate customer needs and are ready to look after them. When you see a service that’s really in demand, there’s usually a Caregiver at the heart of it. A Manhattan wine shop that teaches its customers how to enjoy the pleasures of wine without ever talking down to them is demonstrating the Caregiver role—while earning a solid profit at the same time.


10 The Storyteller builds both internal morale and external aware­ness through compelling narratives that communicate a funda­mental human value or reinforce a specific cultural trait. Companies from Dell to Starbucks have lots of corporate legends that support their brands and build camaraderie within their teams. Medtronic, celebrated for its product innovation and consistently high growth, reinforces its culture with straight-from-the-heart storytelling from patients’ firsthand narratives of how the products changed—or even saved—their lives.


The appeal of the personas is that they work. Not in theory or in the classroom but in the unforgiving marketplace. IDEO has battle-tested them thousands of times in a real-world laboratory for innova­tion. Every year, we work on literally hundreds of innovation projects. And where once the bulk of our clients were start-ups or technology companies, today some of our biggest clients are progressive leaders of the Fortune 100. They seek us out not just for help with a single inno­vation but for a series of innovations. They come to us to tap into the insights and energy of a talented team, adept at playing roles like Cross-Pollinator, Anthropologist, and Experimenter.


The more important innovation is to your organization, the sooner you should read The Ten Faces of Innovation. A  lack of facts and weak case studies means that readers will have to accept Kelley’s ideas on faith. Given IDEO’s success, his message is worth listening to.



Steve Hopkins, January 25, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the February 2006 issue of Executive Times


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