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).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: The Myths of Innovation

written by Graduate Student Rob Kubiak

Scott Berkun, through copious notes, interviews, and references, has put together a great book that debunks the myths of innovation. Throughout the book he uses myths and presents examples to help explain how innovation happens, or the factors involved which do not allow for innovation to happen. He also explores some of the reasons for why myths are popular and then provides insights on how to approach aspects of innovation without necessarily faltering along the way.

The book was a fun and enjoyable read for a variety of reasons. Each chapter Berkun explores one myth and brings examples from history into present-day analysis. The book begins with a preface that explains what his aims are for the book: (1) identify myths about innovation; (2) explain why they’re popular; and (3) explore and teach from the truth. His approach and writing style have a sense of humor to it. At times it brought a light chuckle, but at other times, I wish he would have stuck to some facts to drive home certain points rather than amuse himself with his own writing.

In the opening chapter, Berkun sets the stage for the book by explaining a recent tour he took at the Google headquarters. He tells the story of Google having various gadgets for employees to play with, having outlets for laptops in odd places like stairwells, and other descriptions of the Google environment that fosters creativity such as bean bag chairs, Ping-Pong tables, laptops, and Nerf toys. Two men who were on the tour take in the scene at Google and one man asks the other, “I see them talking and typing, but where do they come up with their ideas?”

This sets the stage for the premise of Berkun’s book. From that point forward, he take time in each chapter to debunk myths of innovation and uses stories of Newton’s “discovery” of gravity, Einstein’s approach to defining problems before working on them, Archimedes’ “eureka” moment in his bathtub, and other interesting anecdotes to get his point across.

The chapters outline each of the myths of innovation: The myth of epiphany; We understand the history of innovation; There is a method for innovation; People love new ideas; The lone inventor; Good ideas are hard to find; Your boss knows more about innovation than you; The best ideas win; Problems and solutions; Innovation is always good.

For those studying the field of creativity or innovation, there are plenty parts of the book that you can highlight and find useful to refer back to from time to time. One such example for me included a section on 3M, and the philosophy of William McKnight, 3M’s general manager, who was able to capture his management philosophy in a simple speech that he gave in 1948 (

The book is a fun read, and Berkun has a very witty writing style. His stories and personal experiences help to explain some of his counter-intuitive deconstruction of myths. For the casual reader who likes to breeze through a book, Berkun’s style of using numerous footnotes to add context to his writing may detract some people from finishing the book, but oftentimes the footnotes contain valuable information and identify opportunities for the reader to learn more.

Overall, I enjoyed Berkun’s book and his debunking method of the myths of innovation, and would recommend the read to both the casual reader wanting to learn more about innovation, as well as members of the creative field who want to take a break from more heady topics.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: Well Being

written by Graduate Student, Ashley Goodwin

Well Being and Creativity share one important factor, Mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to approach the world with childlike wonder, to play with new concepts, ideas, and to see things from a different perspective. The limitations of everyday life can make engaging in new activities difficult, but through mindfulness, you can look at old things with fresh eyes.

Well Being by Tom Rath and Jim Harter was an awesome book to read. I found the book to be beneficial because it discussed various points regarding the significance in taking care of one’s self. The five Essential elements discussed in the book were Career Wellbeing- which is how one occupies his or her time in liking what he or she does each day, Social Wellbeing- which is having strong relationships and love in one’s life, Financial Wellbeing- is described as effectively managing one’s economic life to reduce stress and increase security, Physical Wellbeing- is having good health and energy to get things done on a daily basis, and Community Well being is the sense of engagement and involvement with the area where one lives.

With the purchase of this book an online assessment is offered. Each book includes a unique code that cannot be replicated. The code is a key to an account where one can take the Well Being assessment. The assessment is very precise that includes numerous detailed questions. The questions are framed around personal values, perspectives, workplace environment, social life, rest, diet etc. The assessment does take quite a bit of time so I suggest taking it when you have 20-25 minutes of free time to dedicate. Even though it is a lengthy assessment, the results are well worth the wait. I learned many things about myself from reading this book. My Career, Social, Community well being are very strong where as my Financial and Physical Wellbeing need some development; Being strong in the latter areas go hand in hand because if I was more financially stable it would cause less on my mind and my body (Physical Wellbeing).

This book also covered external factors like work and other environments that may affect your well being. One of my favorite topics in the book described the importance of having a best friend at work. I still think it is important to have someone at work you can relate to, talk to, and count on. It makes time go by quicker and makes your day much brighter. Sometimes having a friend at work is the reason many people stay at a job they hate.

Well Being is an absolute must read. In my opinion it deserves 9 out of 10 light bulbs. I really enjoyed reading the book as well as taking the assessment. However before reading the book I highly recommend taking the assessment first. Once you know what your assessment results are, the book can help you strategize on areas that reflect on your strengths as well as recognize areas that warrant growth and development.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Review: Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

Critique written by Ismet Mamnoon

Talent is Overrated is a comprehensive discussion and in depth analysis of the secret to success. It is a book where Geoff Colvin carefully dissects the components of success and through research based and anecdotal evidence lays down a case for his argument that talent is over credited. He offers an alternate theory and provides evidence to support this theory. He further expounds on the implications of his theory of Deliberate Practice for individuals and for organizations.

Geoff Colvin lays the groundwork by first evaluating evidence to support the widely held beliefs about what elements contribute to success. He cites research that seeks to prove these correlations and is unable to do so. He examines the relationship between success and innate talent, and between intelligence and success. He also looks at other contributing factors such as experience and hard work. The conclusion drawn from a review of evidence presented in the book is that – The secret to outstanding success is “Deliberate practice”. “Deliberate practice is hard. But it works. More of it equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance” (Colvin, 2010, p. 7).

The book not only builds a credible case for deliberate practice, it also expounds on what deliberate practice looks like in action and how it makes a difference to the outcome. Colvin’s use of many examples of outstanding performers such as Tiger Woods, Jerry Rice and Mozart adds to the credibility of his discussion. The stories from the lives of these men and many other individuals and organizations that have used deliberate practice keeps the material relevant and engaging.

One of the key areas that the book addresses are the driving forces that provide the impetus when faced with the amount of effort that underlies deliberate practice. For this area Colvin references the work of scholars who are well known in the field of creativity, such as Csikzentmihalyi and Amabile, as he draws the conclusion that passion is the overriding force that fuels deliberate practice.

Geoff Colvin is a senior editor at Fortune magazine and also a bestseller author and presenter. His skill in the art of persuasive writing is evident throughout the book and the message is compelling. There are few books that I can credit with significantly impacting my life – this book is one of them. It has raised my personal standard for effort and the application of deliberate practice in the areas of my life where I wish to improve my chances of success. For anyone who wishes to harness their best potential in any arena – this book is a must-read.

Based on an rating scale that considers – Ease of reading, persuasiveness of the argument, evidence offered, value and relevance of the material, this book scores 5 stars on scale of 1-5.

Colvin, G. (2010). Talent is overrated: What really separates world-class performers from everybody else. New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.