Innovation As A Team Sport


IDEO's Strategies for

Beating the Devil's Advocate &

Driving Creativity Throughout

Your Organization

By Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman

Currency/Doubleday; 276pp; $29.95

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Editor's Review

Star Rating

The Good Tasty morsels for managers hungry to boost their companies' level of innovation

The Bad All insights are filtered through only one design consultancy, IDEO

The Bottom Line Helpful in building processes for an idea-generating culture

Like many people these days, I only have time for books during airplane trips. And I measure how long they take to read by mileage. Tom Kelley's The Ten Faces of Innovation is a coast-to-coast, five-hour affair. But unlike the mostly unsavory food served on transcontinental flights, this book delivers some tasty morsels to managers hungry to boost their companies' level of innovation. It is funny, insightful, and chock-full of surprising examples. If you take it on a flight from Los Angeles, you will have something to use at work by the time you land in New York.

Kelley begins by breaking down the process of innovation and debunking the notion that it is somehow magical and the stuff of individual genius. "Innovation is a team sport," he says, then proceeds to lay out the 10 personas, or types of people, who bring their talents to a winning team. There's the Anthropologist, who goes into the field to observe how people interact physically and emotionally with products, services, and spaces. The Experimenter is the team member who transforms new ideas into working prototypes, taking calculated risks on something different. The Collaborator has the skills to lead multidisciplinary teams and win over skeptical "buyers" within the corporation. One of my favorites is the Experience Architect, who designs compelling experiences that go way beyond functionality to connect with consumers emotionally, as in the cases of Starbucks (SBUX ) Corp. cafés and Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL ) iPods. Each player is important to innovation, but the only way to raise your company's overall score is to build a great team.

My favorite section is Kelley's examination of brainstorming. To generate new thinking, companies expend huge amounts of time in meetings -- much of it wasted. Meetings tend to be too big, last too long, start with banal pep talks, and take place in the dullest of rooms. And there's almost always a joker who wants to undermine every new idea. Kelley takes direct aim at the devil's advocate, which he regards as the enemy of innovation, and offers advice on how to counter negativity. This is important: Brainstorming is vital, and most companies are new to it.

Kelley also talks about how companies can build their own innovation labs. The hot new thing, these are places set aside to let people focus on new projects and encourage creativity and new-design strategies throughout an organization. Procter & Gamble (PG ) calls its lab "The Gym," Mattel (MAT ) had "Platypus," and Eastman Kodak (EK ), Steelcase (SCS ), and many others have such centers. Kelley's advice? Keep labs small, with room for 15 to 20 people max, and physically separated from where daily work goes on. There should be lots of props to provoke conversation and ample wall space for sketch boards and visuals. Meetings there should shoot for a large number of possible ideas. Are Kelley's tips obvious? Perhaps. Yet it is amazing how many managers don't know how to shape a gathering that generates ideas. A good hour-long session can come up with 100, and often the wackiest turns out to be the best. DVDs by mail? A mop that doesn't use water? An Apple retail store?

Kelley's book is also a trove of pointed stories. One, offered by Henry Ford, concerns the danger of listening too closely to customers. "If I had asked my customers what they wanted," Ford said, "they would have said a faster horse." Customers don't envision the future, they inform the present. Another tale concerns the 1921 birth of masking tape. It involves one Charles Richard Drew, a banjo-playing college dropout and lowly lab technician for 3M (MMM ), which was then an unprepossessing maker of sandpaper. While delivering sandpaper to an auto-body shop, Drew observed a worker struggling with glue and butcher paper as he attempted a two-tone paint job. Eureka! Drew envisioned masking tape. Unfortunately, 3M would have none of it. But, working in secret, Drew found a way to make the tape. The lesson? Observation and imagination -- plus insubordination -- can be great for innovation.

For all that it delivers, Kelley's book has one severe limitation: The author's insights are all filtered through a single design consultant, IDEO, where he is general manager. This account is filled with references to IDEO's work. That's fine up to a point -- the cutting-edge company is one of the largest innovation and design consultants in the world. But there are many others doing great work -- ZIBA Design, Design Continuum, Jump Associates, Stone Yamashita Partners, Peer Insight, and Involution Studios, to name a few.

Still, Kelley's volume is a helpful reminder that innovation has changed. In the '90s it involved dealing with vast technological shifts that disrupted and threatened companies. Today it means building the processes that promote an idea-generating culture. You can learn a lot by flying.

By Bruce Nussbaum

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