Settings, Smiles, and Stories: Reflection No. 7


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The Set Designer, The Caregiver, and the Storyteller

In the final installment of my reflections from The Ten Faces of Innovation, by Tom Kelley, I would like to introduce the Set Designer, The Caregiver, and the Storyteller. These three personas, while last in the book, are definitely not least.

Innovation flows best in an inspirational setting, so The Set Designer becomes involved in the day to day experience of accessing the creative spirit. While this may involve a memorable experience (such as The Experience Architect may create), the main objective of the Set Designer is to “gauge how space behaves and make subtle adjustments to keep it responsive to your shifting needs,” striking a balance between collaborative and private spaces. What if you could endear your employees to a space the way stadiums boost the spirits of their home team? What if you could tap in to the energy and exuberance of a kindergarten? What if your courage could keep up with your imagination?

“Set Designers are dedicated to exploring a different  frontier you might call ‘inner space’             -the work and commercial environments where most of us spend the bulk of our waking hours” (p. 195).

Much like a nurse, doctor, or dear ‘ol mom, The Caregiver is the persona that seeks out and comforts the human aspect of innovation. The care, support, encouragement and love for people and their needs, is how this persona sets new ideas into motion. A large corporation seeking the skills of an IDEO team is likely to have a problem related to people, either working for them or buying goods and services from them. The Caregiver persona understands that you cannot remove humanity from the equation, on either side of the corporate wall. Many times, a product can be lacking, but superior customer service makes all the difference to the patron. Think about a product you use that feels almost perfect, like a great running shoe, and chances are The Caregiver persona is behind the innovation, ensuring the team considers all the needs the shoe-wearer has for a running shoe. In essence, The Caregiver knows how to leverage empathy for the human condition and they do it with an all-important, genuine smile.

“It may seem to be a small thing, but no serious Caregiver should overlook it. I daresay most of us (and most organizations) could do with a few more smiles” (p.240).

The Storyteller is the kind of persona that can make an intriguing story out of buying a loaf of bread. However, it is imperative in business that the story being told is the “right narrative with the right situation” (p.245).

“Business stories have focused purposes like sparking action, transmitting values, fostering collaboration, or leading people  into the future. Before you begin a story, it’s important to know what specific outcome you are hoping to attain” (p. 245).

Storytelling is imperative to innovation. The story of a product not only defines the parameters of the product, but attracts a specific range of customers, and informs the way a product will be branded. Keep in mind, Kelley did not title this persona The Writer. The Storyteller works much like The Anthropologist, stepping out into the field searching for the stories that will help catalyze an innovation. It takes patience and a good ear, not just a talent for captivating an audience, to be The Storyteller. That’s not saying The Storyteller cannot dream up a new way to tell the story. Sometimes in the face of change, it takes an outstanding story teller to propel people into a new way of seeing. Mythology and science-fiction, romance and mystery, even the fortune cookie are all ways of seeing the world. Stories make up our history, reality, emotions, and help make order out of chaos. No wonder this persona is valuable within and without an innovation team.

In conclusion, I would like to reconfirm my business crush on IDEO. On this path to entrepreneurship, I see the value in adopting certain personas in varying business situations. I often recognized myself in these chapters. Each new persona reflected a vision of someone I’d like to have coffee with, and I can see where I would find allies for my own strengths and talents.

Breakfast and a Movie: Reflection No. 6


The Director and The Experience Architect

We all know a good movie when we see one, and likely, we’ve all experienced the quintessentially American “dinner and a movie” date. Since having children, my husband and I prefer the slightly lesser known perfect date, which we call “breakfast and a movie.” I’m not sure which one of us was the Experience Architect on that one, but it’s a winner!

One thing we always consider when choosing a movie is who is the director. I mean, we are about to inflict double toddlerhood on a grandparent and invest cold, hard cash to have a few small hours to ourselves. It’s imperative to see a good movie, and a good director helps ensure that our experience is as pleasurable as we hope. As I continue reading Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation, I would like to introduce you to The Director and the Experience Architect. These two personas have pizazz!

The Director is a persona I can see myself adopting from time to time. The Director has the charisma to pull people out of their comfort zone, letting them shine, stepping back from the spotlight in order to see the big picture. In some ways, The Director is one of the more visionary personas. The Director is concerned with ideas, production, chemistry, and completion. Kelley lists five traits of a successful Director. They give center stage to others. They love finding new projects. They rise to tough challenges. They shoot for the moon. And they wield a large toolbox of skills. (p.145)

With these five capabilities, The Director is able to fully accomplish the single-most important task, which is to bring the project to its final goal.

One thing The Director truly excels at is building strong teams. They look beyond the basic skills known to a person to see the latent abilities they have to offer a group. Once a strong team is assembled, the most critical aspect to the project is getting started. The Director, who has taken the time to get to know the team members (and their diverse skills) face to face will have an uncanny ability to propel the group to action, inspire them to push boundaries, and generate momentum. Innovation thrives under strong direction. A good Director persona helps the group brainstorm by setting the stage, offering support, and then letting the team have the leeway to work independently towards group success.

“A good Experience Architect starts with the same raw materials as others, but then mixes in something original and memorable” (p.175).

The Experience Architect persona sets the stage for innovative new experiences. There are many way to do so, such as our adoption of breakfast and a movie instead of dinner and a movie. The main desire of The Experience Architect is to show the power of experience within a product or company.

In recent years, there has been a consumer drive to embrace the journey. The experience of a product draws in consumers differently than the actual need for the product. Little events in life, such as getting ice cream or buying a bottle of flavored water can be orchestrated to offer an experience to the consumer. The Experience Architect is capable of seeing how a one-size fits-all approach does not serve all products and services equally. Consumers are looking for authentic experiences, new and memorable ways to connect to their product. In a world of mass production, consumers want to feel a connection to the products they choose.

The Experience Architect is the one who believes in “the moveable feast.” They “have a talent for finding the experience in everything, even what might otherwise seem to be the most run-of-the-mill products” (p.168). They are creators and defenders of the extra-ordinary.

Together, The Director and the Experience Architect make memorable innovations for both the company and its patrons. When it comes to building teams in your company, be sure to find these personas among your team members.

Hurdlers and Collaborators: Reflection No. 5


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I am impressed by human feats of strength. I love to see amazing athleticism. My husband is always perplexed when he finds me avidly watching American Ninja Warrior. Let’s be clear here, I have very little athleticism, and I am not slick at having balls thrown in my direction, which is why I am so intrigued by other’s physical abilities. In a business realm, the impressive feats of human ability are personified in The Hurdler and The Collaborator. Both have awe-inspiring ability to propel a project forward with grace, agility, and the ever-elusive concept of finesse. They make hard work look easy. In Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation, The Hurdler and The Collaborator are strong catalysts for ideas and momentum.

The Hurdler is aptly named and associated with the track sport of hurdling. This persona has the ability to move quickly, leap over obstacles, and handle those challenges “the same way great athletes respond to tough competition” (93). They have been trained to think clearly, and without panic in the face of adversity. Before I label yet another persona as a “fearless risk-taker” (although The Hurdler does indeed excel at taking risks), I’d like to point out that they have a somewhat hardened sort of street smarts, which makes risk look a little less daunting to them. They can make a costly idea work on a dime. They make lemonade out of lemons. They look beyond the adversity and see the opportunity to succeed. I imagine The Hurdler persona would likely show up in a young, upstart unaware of the impact of risk or a wizened rebel who knows how to beat the odds. This persona is the maverick of your peers and coworkers. They tend to think outside of the bureaucracy, and rarely accept “no” for an answer. Indeed, this maverick Hurdler is a sight to behold, finding ways over and around the obstacles in a project.

“You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first…first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell….and oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward.” 

-Blind Seer, Oh Brother Where Art Thou

The Collaborator is another kind of persona that makes one sit back and stare in awe. The TED talk by Derek Sivers called “How to Start a Movement,” comes to mind when I think of a collaborator. Sivers shows how the leader of a movement, while important to beginning a movement, is not truly a leader until he has a follower.

“The first follower is what turns a lone nut into a leader.”

Being an avid people watcher, I would gather that the first follower is a Collaborator. The Collaborator persona likes to bring people together, to unify a group through a common understanding. Sivers goes on to explain that in group dynamics, “new followers emulate the followers, not the leader,” which brings momentum to a movement. The Collaborator is someone who knows how to get skeptics on board, allowing a project to move forward without as many nay-sayers to its success. This persona also has a keen sense of how to nurture relationships, encourage trust, and build strong connections among often diverse groups. They are proactive when it comes to problem-solving and they utilize cross-training to help people understand different aspects of the team and the project they are working on. The Collaborator has a natural ability to foster enthusiasm for collaboration. With every new success, the team becomes stronger and more unified in their common purpose. Again, going back to Siver’s TED talk, The Collaborator “remembers to nurture the first followers as equals,” and “as more people join in, it’s less risky.” Working together is a difficult task for many in this self-driven world we live in. Many of us could adopt the sensibilities of The Collaborator to share the burden of success.

Deep and Wide: Reflection No. 4

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Deep and wide, deep and wide

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

The Sunday school song lyrics pretty much sum up the next two personas in Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. Last week I talked about Kelley’s favorite persona, The Anthropologist. This week I would like to introduce you to The Experimenter and The Cross-Pollinator. These two personas seem very different from one another at first, but they do have some interesting commonalities.

The Experimenter persona reflects someone who loves to prototype. This persona is optimistic, unafraid of failure, and not particularly invested in a single idea because they are interested in breaking new ground. Failure is simply a step in the process of creating a better idea than the one that failed. Therefore, every failure is a chance to learn something and move forward. And IDEO has learned that the most important part about success is that you must fail many times to reach an innovative goalIt is easy to see how The Experimenter can be a very valuable asset when trying to make a breakthrough on a daunting project.

Because failure is built into the process, The Experimenter has an uncanny ability to maintain optimism in the face of failure. 

One of Kelley’s keen insights gleaned from The Experimenter persona is the courage it takes to not invest in a prototype until you have the very best one. The Experimenter persona doesn’t take the time and resources to fully tackle a so-so idea, only to see it fail. Instead, the persona will “pull a MacGyver,” if you will. (If not, here is a link to who the heck McGyver is and how he pulls things!) In essence, MacGyver solved problems with scavenged items, and he had a huge breadth of knowledge from various disciplines that allowed him to prototype quick inventions to get out of tight situations. The Experimenter does just that for the innovation team.

Speaking of huge depth of knowledge, the next persona also has a wide breadth of many subjects.

The Cross-Pollinator persona draws from their knowledge base to connect seemingly unrelated subjects in order to create or improve upon an idea.

The Cross-Pollinator is what Kelley calls a T-shaped person. They have a wide breadth of knowledge supported by deep knowledge of a particular subject. If you think of the lovable qualities of the bumble bee, then you have a pretty accurate description of the aptly name Cross-Pollinator. Usually, they have travelled widely and seen many variety of places and ways of being. They are willing to witness a place with a fresh outlook in order to spy beautiful ideas. They take these ideas back to their group and used them to inform the project. As Kelley describes them, The Cross-Pollinator “tirelessly spreads the seeds of innovation (89).

Like The Experimenter persona, having a Cross-Pollinator on your team can help the group maintain their optimism in the face of a difficult innovation task. Perhaps you’ve perused the Reddit subcategory, “Explain it Like I’m Five?” Well, first of all, that sub-reddit is chock-full of simplified profound thoughts, and second, The Cross-Pollinator persona has the ability to break down difficult tasks and information into something understandable. Similar to The Anthropologist, they are students of humanity and teachers as well.

At IDEO, their innovation groups are made up of these kind of resilient, deep thinkers. The Experimenter and The Cross-Pollinator personas come from all sorts of eclectic backgrounds, often within the same person! In fact, IDEO seeks out unusual applicants, with deep knowledge in one area and wide free-flowing facts in many areas. From this diverse group, flows fountains of innovative ideas. 

IDEO’s Anthropologists: Reflection No. 3

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Developing innovative ideas takes a certain je ne sais quoi, but the company that does know is called IDEO. In Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation he shares how IDEO cultivates an environment of innovation by defining ten types of personas that catalyze creative ideas into innovative products and services.

He divides the ten personas into three categories:

The Learning Personas, which include The Anthropologist, The Experimenter, and the Cross-Pollinator.

The Organizing Personas, which include The Hurdler, The Collaborator, and The Director.

The Building Personas, which include The Experience Architect, The Set Designer, The Caregiver, and The Storyteller.

“As you get to know the ten personas, keep in mind that they’re not inherent personality traits or ‘types’ that are permanently attached to one (and only one) individual on a team…These innovation roles are available to nearly anyone on your team, and people can switch roles, reflecting their multi-faceted capabilities.” Tom Kelley

Kelley seems particularly taken with The Anthropologist’s persona. He notes that it took him a long time to come around to seeing the value in this persona because the contributions of The Anthropologist are subtle. They are not the nuts and bolts builders of innovated products. They aren’t responsible for organizing data, only for reporting the data they collect.

“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 (8).”

I’d say The Anthropologist is the stunning wall flower of the personas. Much in the manner of a professional in anthropology, this persona takes the time to see a problem with fresh eyes, using intuition to sharpen their deductive reasoning so that they can empathize with the struggles they witness with a particular product or service. In essence, The Anthropologist is a people-watcher, observing how products function and how people interact with those products in order to improve the experience.

The Anthropologist may not hold the magic eight ball, but this persona learns a lot about the future by watching children and teens. Not surprisingly, children and teens drive the technology, services, and products of our future, so something that draws and holds their brief attention can offer great insight on how to move innovation forward.

Kelley admits “the Anthropologist role is the single biggest source of innovation at IDEO (16).” The Anthropologist has the hindsight to see the product in the past tense, the zen-like quality of  vuja de (basically the opposite of deja vu) to perceive the present, and the vision to utilize all avenues of information to predict the future of that product. What company wouldn’t value people who can time travel in their imagination, right?