S Eriously Silly

Freedom to play breeds innovation--and productivity. Just ask the founder and CEO of IDEO

At fabled product-design company IDEO, acting goofy is all in a day's work. Employees play miniature golf and toss Nerf balls in the hallways and race desk chairs in the street outside the company's Palo Alto (Calif.) headquarters.

Isn't "fun workplace" a bit of an oxymoron? Not to David M. Kelley, CEO and founder of the now-350-employee business. He thinks play ignites the innovative spirit. With more than 3,000 products under IDEO's belt over two decades--including Apple Computer Inc.'s first mouse and a stand-up toothpaste tube for Crest--Kelley is clearly on to something.

These days, Kelley, who teaches at Stanford University's Product Design Program and consults on innovation to companies large and small, wants to invent thinkers, not just products. Kelley talked to reporter Charles Butler about creative culture and how small fry can exploit their freer, less rule-driven environment to foster innovation.

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