IDEO: The Business of Creativity, Reflection No. 2

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I have a crush. A business crush, that is. I had never dreamt of “being” with a business until I met IDEO.

Sure, I imagined working for Disney when I was a child. There was magic there and I wanted to know how it was made. In high school I fell in love with Pixar. In my brief teenage ardor, I bought the jumping lamp. I collected Woody and  Buzz Lightyear puppets from McDonalds, only to later give them to my young niece without a spot of remorse.

But with IDEO, it’s different. It’s a grown up business crush, one that could last to infinity and beyond! IDEO is a global design company at the forefront of modern day corporate innovation. They are committed to creating positive impact.

“My dream for the future of IDEO is the same as it was back then: that everyone at IDEO finds their calling, that being here feels like working with friends, that we are all enjoying our lives, that we are engaged in what feels like important work we were personally put on Earth to do.” —David Kelley

IDEO has not only designed and innovated many of today’s technologies, they do so by fostering creativity both in their company and beyond! They started with the first Apple mouse, and moved on to creating answers to complex challenges from healthcare,  government, and education. The employees of IDEO are experts on the process of innovation. They come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, including psychology, anthropology, linguistics, biology, and fine art. A business or marketing degree at IDEO, while useful, is not the standard. These diverse groups of people innovate new ideas for companies, and they are not picky. They will dive into creating a better toothbrush with the same open mind they use to design space shuttles.

I am currently reading (or shall I say devouring) Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate & Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. Kelley is the general manager at IDEO and the author of several books on innovation. In this book, Kelley shows us how all those diverse educations at IDEO come together to springboard creativity and innovation for their clients. He presents ten kinds of personas that have a specific viewpoints for addressing the process of innovation.

“The Ten Faces of Innovation is about how people and teams put into practice methods and techniques that infuse enterprises with a continuous spirit of creative evolution.” ~Tom Kelley

Kelley divides the personas into three subsets, Learning Personas, Organizing Personas, and Building Personas. He  does make it clear that these personas are not limited to a specific kind of person, that anyone can adopt a particular viewpoint  (or several) to push an idea forward. These personas work to combat the negativity of the Devil’s Advocate viewpoint, the stance that excuses idea bashing by “side-stepping individual responsibility for the verbal attack” and “torching” a fledgling concept before it can be fully realized.

At IDEO, while there are hierarchies of management, there appears to be a common respect for all manner of abilities. They are perfecting the process of innovation beginning with a creative idea and ending with a viable product. As an artist who truly loves the journey of creating art, I am excited to learn about the Ten Faces of Innovation and how to use them to prompt other to think creatively.

5 thoughts on “IDEO: The Business of Creativity, Reflection No. 2

  1. Joy,
    I too have had great admiration for IDEO. I learned about this company while taking a cross disciplinary course during my bachelors degree. We watched the documentary about the shopping cart redesign on Nightline. I was captivated by the integrated team approach that allowed the free flow of ideas. Having an integrated cross disciplinary team is invaluable in this process because it allows us to look at a product or service from so many different points of view. If you step back and look at it this in action you can really see how blind a designer or design team is without this added incite. The other great thing that comes from this approach is the development of more ideas that branch off into other things the team members are working on.

    I enjoyed reading your post and like how you pulled some of quotes form Tom and David. You may also love this book and blog by David I bought it a few years a go and have read it several time. I think it is a great book to have on hand for a creative entrepreneur.


  2. IDEO as a whole seems to be an excellent company with an excellent book. Through diversity in ideas, the workplace that IDEO has developed has put them at the forefront of innovative technology. The process of innovation is something that has helped IDEO greatly. I believe that as a leader, Kelly has empowered his employees to think further than they would have at a company that doesn’t foster as much creativity.

    Tom Kelly’s book about IDEO and your thoughts about his writing was interesting to read. I think I might have to pick up this book myself! Your ability to write is quite profound! I look forward to reading your next post!


  3. Joy,

    Outstanding reflection. The layout is very clean and I love the way you spotlighted the quotes by presenting them in a different way than the rest of the text.

    It really sounds like IDEO gets it, although there is a clearly defined command structure it sounds like they have done a great job at suppressing individual ego’s for the good of the company. I love the notion that innovation and development can come from any level of the company.

    One thing that I am starting to notice, after reading through a few different blogs, is that there are a lot of entrepreneurs touching on the thought that you should rely on input from a variety of sources when designing a new product.

    In Ellie McIntosh’s review and Jarrett Bailey’s reflections they both talk about finding new perspective when it comes to design and innovation, much like you do when reflecting on IDEO. The way IDEO utilizes cross-disciplined people and not only the traditionally trained marketing people is very much how Ellie describes using occupational therapists to help design a wheel chair and not just engineers. As Jarrett says when reflecting on “Sacred Cows Make The Best Burgers”; “The author Robert J. Kriegel creates a metaphor using the term “sacred cows” to represent the old drawn out methods that once were successful for companies but are now the very thing holding them back. In the first chapter of the book, he breaks down how the old habits are no longer useful because they have not been revamped by a newer perspective or vision.”

    I definitely agree with all three of your reflections. When it comes to innovation you must break the chains of traditional thinking and explore the limits of what is perceived as normal.

    Again, great reflection, I look forward to following your thoughts as you make your way through “The Ten Faces Of Innovation”



  4. Hi Joy,

    I had never heard of IDEO until reading this post. It sounds fascinating. What are the highlights that draw you to them? What type of person do you think would do the best working for them? I found it interesting that you mention that most of their employees do not have business or marketing degrees. I’m curious how healthy their financials are? Who is keeping their business healthy and compliant without the fundamentals? Maybe they were referring to their design roles more than their functional roles. I found an interesting article that talks about them selling a portion of their business to enable them to take on more significant business. I wonder what impact the sell had on their culture? It also brought up the idea of corporations using internal vs. external design talent.

    I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for sharing!



  5. Good afternoon Joy! It sounds like IDEO is an amazing environment to work in and provides a unique experience.I’m looking forward to learning more about the three subsets. Your creative writing skills are so good! I always enjoy reading your posts.


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