Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: The Art of Innovation

The Art of Innovation – The Power of WOW

Book Review written by Bonnie McKee

The overriding theme in the Art of Innovation is IDEO’s human-centered design philosophy and process. Overall, it’s a wonderful romp into the world of IDEO and a historical retrospective of design process with examples cited that are familiar to all. The lesson? That it takes more than a methodology to create great design, it takes a can do culture and a visceral awareness and belief in the power of possibility

Ever wonder where the ideas come from that lead to product innovations we now take for granted? Well, wonder no more. The Art of Innovation by IDEO general manager Tom Kelley (brother of founder David Kelley dubbed by Fortune the best inventor since Edison) allows you to peer through the looking glass of their award-winning firm, as they reveal secrets for fostering a culture and process of continuous innovation.

The book is an exposé of processes, behaviors, and dynamics that have lead to IDEO’s global success, told as a collection of case studies and vignettes, illustrating how IDEO fuels innovation and delivers design breakthroughs. At times obvious, at other times it’s sheer brilliance.

IDEO is the widely celebrated, award-winning design and development firm that brought the world the Apple mouse, Polaroid’s I-Zone instant camera, the Palm V, the kid’s Oral B squishy toothbrush and hundreds of other cutting edge products and services. The Wall Street Journal has dubbed IDEO “Imagination’s Playground,” describing IDEO as a company that is out there living and doing what they preach – and in so doing, continues to produce hit after hit.

The Art of Innovation is an easy read outlining best practices and strategies to nurture innovation in organizations. In many regards the story of IDEO reads like a recipe ingredients list (vs. a formula, which it not) leaving the reader wanting to test-drive its ideas.

The book also highlights some of the cultural influences that impact design and pays homage to innovations of the past, providing the back stories of some well established consumer products from the Palm Pilot or in-car beverage holder to the things we taken for granted like Kleenex. Entertaining anecdotes illustrate some of his firm’s successes (and failures) as well as pioneering efforts at other leading companies.

IDEO’s approach to success is a blend of methodologies, work practices, culture, infrastructure and guiding philosophy. Kelley shares IDEO’s 5-step process affectionately called the innovation decathlon that IDEO lives by including:
1. Understand – the market, the client, the technology and the perceived constraints on the given problem
2. Observe –insight fueled through an ethnographic lens, to discover key drivers and motivations and where the white space is relative to new products and services
3. Visualize – brainstorm to success
4. Evaluate/ Refine – prototype to learn (the shorthand of innovation) throughout the design process and take risks, essentially failing your way to success
5. Implement – for commercialization

Kelley underscores how the treatment of their employees (living the values) and teamwork (cultivating hot teams) is essential. Additional keys to success include:
• Innovation: as a team sport – collaboration, not isolation is key to unleashing creativity
• Diversity: in creating teams – gathering insightful, motivated people, with a range of expertise, with teams customized to specific projects
• Brainstorming: secrets and brainstorming killers
• Cross-pollinating: to find solutions from other fields
• Building innovation greenhouses: to foster exchange
• Fostering creative environments: that serve as incubators to foster creative connections, idea expression and play
• The power of limitations: crazy deadlines, unreachable goals and available resources to foster a can-do mindset
• Design simplicity – stripping out unneeded features
• 10 key ingredients – to create great products and services

A real strength of the book is Kelley’s hands-on experience that resonates through every page. If it had a failing it would be the obviously indescribable nuances of IDEO team composition who make things happen so consistently; good thing too – it leaves that up to the reader to do. Some might argue that it’s more conceptual than practical. However, from a strategic point of view, why would IDEO give it all away? Finally, one could question the disconnect between philosophy and action. For example in the redesign of the Amtrak interior, why didn’t the team simply fly to Japan, France etc. to view state of the art trains to garner learning vs. creating it anew? Given that intensive observation is one of their operating principles, this was somewhat of a surprise.

Overall, this is a great read for anyone interested in the study of creativity. It demonstrates in powerful and practical ways the long held principles of fostering creativity and championing challenges. Also that the IDEO process mirrors the essence of the CPS Thinking Skills Model at both the cognitive and affective skills level – but takes the deep dive to make the creative and innovation process come alive. Mostly it teaches us that creativity and innovation can be woven into the fabric of our businesses and lives. It’s the power of believing. Our world has never needed it more. Implementing just some of these strategies would likely result in noticeable changes in today’s workplace. Then most would have to agree – “Wow, what happened?

Great book. I’d highly recommend it.

Interested in learning more about creativity? Check out our website, like us on facebook (International Center for Studies in Creativity or follow us on Twitter (ICSCreativity).

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