Friday, March 6, 2009

The Art of Innovation

My friend Jenni, who is in design industry, commented my previous post saying one of her favourites among the management's grand challenges was how to

Further unleash human imagination.
Much is known about what engenders human creativity. This knowledge must be better applied in the design of management systems.

I started thinking about this and realized I have come across a perfect example some seven years ago.

IDEO Product Development is the world's most celebrated design firm. Its ultimate creation is the process of creativity itself. For founder David M. Kelley and his colleagues, work is play, brainstorming is science, and the most important rule is to break the rules... Can this formula for creativity work in other places? Some of the world's leading companies certainly think so.”

said FastCompany on the back cover of the book The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firmby Tom Kelley, General manager of IDEO and brother of the founder David.

I will let Tom Kelley speak for himself

What this all comes down to is actually not ”the design of management systems”, but the leadership and culture which support (un)management systems unleashing imagination, like at IDEO.

IDEO's culture is 20+ years in the making. Compound that number by the hundreds of people who have contributed over the years and you get a special mix. Our values are part mad scientist (curious, experimental), bear-tamer (gutsy, agile), reiki master (hands-on, empathetic), and midnight tax accountant (optimistic, savvy). These qualities are reflected in the smallest details to the biggest endeavors, composing the medium in which great ideas are born and flourish ”

And they really are good at this. Click the screenshot below to see what they are thinking about at the moment, or check their projects and how they have been awarded.

Again, I have more ideas than I can fit on one blog post. If you got interested, I will guide you to some great videos related to the topic of creativity and innovation at and Stanford University:

Young at Heart: How to Be an Innovator for Life by Tom Kelley, who presents five core practices that enhance creativity.

Nine Lessons Learned about Creativity at Google by Marissa Meyer. I have used two of these on my earlier posts about Ideas Come from Everywhere and Right People On The Right Jobs.

Do schools kill creativity? by Sir Ken Robinson, who makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

How creativity is being strangled by the law by Larry Lessig with a vision for reconciling creative freedom with marketplace competition.

I hope these help you, like they help me, to further unleash human imagination.


Anonymous said...

Hi Samuli,
Very interesting material. I happened to google similar kind of material yesterday at work :/. It's meant for couple of my ongoing projects under the the themes innovation and creativity.

Right now I'm busy with my regular "Saturday night program", you know, puttin kids to bed, but I will try to comment more tomorrow or at the beginning of the next week.

"If at first, the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it."
-- Albert Einstein


Anonymous said...

Hi Samuli,

I would like to raise a question relating to the innovation and creativity. I will use a little bit provocative way.

Isn't it a great risk for a company culture to use the so-called "Devil's Advocate Approach" to challenge and evaluate different strategic or tactical plans?

Here is a quote from an article "Let's Get Persian", written by Paul B. Carroll and Chunka Mui.

"Even if a devil’s advocate doesn’t arise naturally, a leader should consider appointing one, to increase the chances that all potential problems are considered."

The article itself is very good and interesting and I agree with most of the material, but I have some serious doubts about the Devil's Advocate Approach. Actually, I would like to use the Finnish saying here: "Siperia will teach", which has been translated somewhere as "learn the hard way."

After finding out Mr. Carroll's background I was honestly quite desperate with my own opinions and experiences as well.

Fortunately Mr. Carroll continued in the same article by saying:

"Better yet is to focus on building a culture where challenges come naturally, without damaging the internal conversations."

Even though I found out that Devil's Advocate Approach has been linked to many well known executives and companies, I have a strong reason to believe that it should be left behind as an old approach and method - yes, from 1600s. The general principle of evaluating decisions carefully and effectively doesn't have to be mixed with a person, who in worst case starts to act like a "watch dog", paralyzing all the innovation culture and spirit of an organization.

A quote from another article about the same topic, written by Mr. Katsuhiko Shimizu and Michael A. Hitt in 2004: "The role of the devil’s advocate is to question the
assumptions and alternatives presented. In this
way, alternative solutions are analyzed more completely and from many different vantage points. Such an approach can be particularly effective when managers are complacent, a decision-making team is relatively homogenous or even rigid in its approach to decision-making, or organizational inertia is high."

What else is missing here? The managers are stupid =)?

“Rarely is it possible to
perceive and define a problem, then design
an appropriate intervention and finally select
a single course of action. More often the
biggest challenge is making sense of what is
really happening and identifying those factors
which success or failure consists of. Shifting our thinking, or changing our perspectives to disruptive and visionary thinking would provide space for new insights and new actions.” - Mika Aaltonen

So, I quess Devil's Advocate Approach should be explained and used (maybe renamed also) in the context of a "company culture" instead of appointing someone to act in worst case like a real devil. To nominate a person or to nominate a special committee for that purpose - sounds more like a supervisory board set up of a state owned company.


Samuli said...

Dear Daddy,

the provocative approach comes so naturally, that Tom Kelley actually wrote another book after The Art of Innovation.

The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devil's Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization

"The role of the devil's advocate is nearly universal in business today. It allows individuals to step outside themselves and raise questions and concerns that effectively kill new projects and ideas, while claiming no personal responsibility. Nothing is more potent in stifling innovation as Tom Kelley points out in The Ten Faces of Innovation.

Over the years, Tom has observed a number of roles that people can play in an organization to foster innovation and new ideas while offering an effective counter to naysayers. Among these approaches are the Anthropologist, the person who goes into the field to see how customers use and respond to products, to come up with new innovations; the Cross-Pollinator, who mixes and matches ideas, widely disparate people, and technologies to create new ideas that can drive growth; and the Hurdler, who instantly looks for ways to overcome the limits and challenges to any situation."

I have both books in my book shelf, and need to check them every now and then.

Another classic book and approach to tackle this is the Six Thinking Hats where the Black Hat is similar to devil's advocate.

Understanding how to deal with the devil's advocate should enable what you said above - "Better yet is to focus on building a culture where challenges come naturally, without damaging the internal conversations."

Anonymous said...

Hi Samuli,
Interesting indeed. Thanks for your comments and the book tips.