IDEO’s Anthropologists: Reflection No. 3

FullSizeRender 13

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?

6 thoughts on “IDEO’s Anthropologists: Reflection No. 3

  1. Joy,

    What a thought provoking reflection – the whole idea of different personas is very interesting – something I have never thought of, I look forward to see more of your relfections and learn more about these personas.



  2. Hey Joy,

    IDEO appears to be a great company that utilizes many strategies for innovation. Tom Kelly’s thoughts on anthropology being subtle was interesting. Knowing that the ideas behind anthropology in innovation through not being the main factor of innovation but a key contributor to innovation helps shed light onto how this can be implemented for my entrepreneurial venture and for other entrepreneurs as well. Knowing how successful IDEO is and how the role of anthropology is pivotal towards the success of IDEO is amazing. I had little knowledge prior to anthropology and innovation before your post.

    Astounding work as always! Look forward to reading your next posts!


  3. Joy, what a fascinating book! I love the way that you break down what to expect. It helps give us a road map of where we are going. The last paragraph about time travel in one’s imagination is such a compelling idea. I can’t wait to hear more about your book.



  4. Joy,
    Thanks for sharing about the roles involved in an innovative environment. I’ve been hearing so much about IDEO through people’s classmates that I’m encouraged to find out more about them. I think it is really interesting the way that they have categorized the best fit personas. There seems to be a lot of psychology involved in the group dynamics expressed in this analysis. It’s interesting how important the understanding of group behavior is to a productive and innovative environment. It’s a good concept to keep in mind when managing a group of employees.

    Thanks for sharing,


  5. Hey Joy,

    The anthropologist is a very interesting persona. After reading your reflection, when I hear the term anthropologist I can’t help but think of the gnarled old veteran who has seen so many trends come and go that he can spot the next big thing from pure experience alone. I can relate this two the coach who has been around the game for 25 years and can tell from one practice which kids have the potential to develop into future major league players.
    I think it takes a very attentive yet objective person to be good in this role but without a doubt this is probably the most vital when it comes to creating an internal checks-and-balance system so you can keep the company on the right track.

    Thank you for sharing your reflection, I enjoyed it!



  6. Great post Joy! The learning persona is the category I’m most intrigued with learning more about, so I was excited and pleasantly surprised to learn more about The Anthropologist. While you did mention anyone can take on any of the ten faces, I think my strengths naturally pull me towards learning more about the learning personas. Hopefully in future you will find a way to highlight The Experimenter, and the Cross-Pollinator.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s