Innovation & Creativity


I’ve kept Tom Kelley’s The Art of Innovation out from the library long past the time I sat down and inhaled it in one weekend but now that I have to give it back and that I’ve just started his second book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, I figure I should sum up, compare and move on. Tom Kelley is part of Ideo, a leading design firm known not only for its cutting edge designs of everything from computer input devices to medical equipment to services and environments for all kinds of companies but also for its unique approach to fostering innovation and creativity. I got interested in it because of a Nightline episode chronicling its method (called The Deep Dive I believe) and because of a committee at work looking at innovation. So, the book:

IDEO’s methodology for observation:

  • Understand the current situation
  • Observe real people in real life situations
  • Visualize new stuff and who will use it (brainstorm, simulate, storyboard, etc)
  • Evaluate and refine prototypes (quickly! no one perfect model and get input from everybody)
  • Implement the new design

Other points:

Observation (not focus groups or what you or experts think your market needs)–this made me think of the continuing OPAC and database dilemma where librarians tell vendor reps to make incremental changes and addons, the kind of feature creep that has nothing to do what users need (which users wouldn’t be able to articulate if you asked them either). IDEO suggestions: take notes on an experience when it is new to you and immerse yourself, observe lots of different (even crazy-seeming, rule-breaking) real people (I thought about U of Rochester hiring an anthropologist), ask “dumb” questions, consider the human story, sometimes mall changes make a big difference, think of things as verbs (things people use for tasks) rather than as nouns (just objects), make people the heroes of their own stories (I thought about John Beck’s You’ve Got Game and his assertion that millenials want to be heroes of their own stories).

IDEO on brainstorming:

  • Start with a well-stated (not fuzzy) problem or question (not too specific or fuzzy). Focus on cutomer need or service enhancement rather than organizational goal
  • Don’t critique first or you’ll kill ideas
  • Number your ideas (100 ideas in an hour?!)
  • Watch for energy changes in the session and prompt at plateaus
  • Write up ideas so everyone can see them as they emerge (can be post its, flip pads, whiteboards, etc)
  • Warm up to brainstorming in new, infrequent, or distracted/pressured brainstorming grups (word games or show and tell) and in all groups get physical (sketch, mind map, show and tell, act out or build)

Don’t: Let boss speak first, require everyone to get a turn or be an expert to speak or have to com up with very serious ideas, write everything down or only brainstorm offsite

IDEO on hot groups/teams: dedication to end result, some pressure on deadline, respectful of diversity and nonhierarchical, empowered to do what it takes to get it done (small groups and no inertial standing committee!), make your own fun and energy, passion and call to excellence, group problem solving and shared space, good team dynamics, no all-controlling “they” who regulate what can and can’t be done. I was interested to read that IDEO recommended “crazy deadlines and seemingly unreachable goals” in some cases. But when does this become a help rather than a demoralizing hinderance? The examples that Kelley gave seemed tobe when the challenge was external (another competitor, an unexpected flaw, new field or personal challenge) rather than internal willfulness. I also liked the “three implicit questions” from Lou Holtz, football coach at Notre Dame: “Do you care about me? Can I trust you? Are you committed to the success of the team?” Good teams make people feel special from the outset and reward them often (with experiences not just tokens), meet often to exchange and celebrate, brand themselves and welcome characters (like USA Networks). So much of this reminds me of work; no wonder I like it!

IDEO on prototyping: Get things done and now (not perfectly and too late –oh boy do I need to remember this!) or prototype, prototype, prototype. Problem solve, sketch, model. Do incremental reviews to get feedback early in the process. Put your bad ideas out there to get them out of the way and have something to shoot down. Ask forgiveness rather than permission.

IDEO on office environment: Create neighborhoods and community interaction; let everybody have a say in designing their space; make it fun, flexible, and nonhierarchical; use basic building blocks and keep it simple; merge process and play; brand areas and make sure you’re walking your talk in your physical arrangements; tell your stories in public; use your random stuff (the Tech Box of neat stuff for inspiration)

IDEO on the unexpected and the power of serendipity, timing, quick responses to unexpected uses, “cross-pollination” from other fields and areas (again brainstorming with the Tech Box, browsing magazines and the Web, playing “film director” to sharpen observation, holding informal open houses (again with the show and tell), inspiring and listneing to advocates for various viewpoints, hiring outsiders, and trying out different perspectives and new training)

IDEO on barriers to innovation: individual and company mindsets and false assuptions; cultural divides and social norms; S-curve adoption; “FUD factor” [fear uncertainty doubt]–Regis McKenna, marketing expert; legal issues. How to deal? Increase creativity by making sure org is: merit-based, autonomous, familiar/family-like; messy; full of tinkerers (those willing to experiment). Try new skills, look for design opportunities, realize the power of ritual, evangelize, be persistent and go th eextra mile (sometimes literally)

IDEO on experience design: Not just products or a tangible end goal but a better-designed experience. What steps do you have to take? How can I fix an unpleasant experience? How do I make it fun (and effective and human)? How do I tell an authentic story? Resist featuritis and realize veen small changes count.

IDEO on fast innovation: Challenge yourself by playing or competing to learn (IDEO does the Sand Hill Challenge).

IDEO on risk taking: “Fail your way to success” but use something that has small consequence (as Kelley pointed out, juggle with beanbags not rocks first). Easier to risk when you have nothing much to lose (which is why new, small companies often dominate later) but big places can innovate by creating smaller spinoffs, discourage bureaucracy and rules, open things up to everyone. BUT don’t go off into the wilderness completely.

IDEO on v.2.0: No featuritis; keep directions simple; focus on the part you touch most; simplifying take time and fighting some uphill battles. Make a great first impression; create a useful metaphor; make it useful at work and at home; use color; let people know what’s hapenning under the hood; make it simple, fast, error-proof/forgiving, and painless; make sure it fulfills your checklist of must-haves; include valuable extras.

IDEO on the future: change happens at different rates in different areas; look outside your field; empower people and observe and talk to them; try concept projects, film mini-movie trailers, read widely; think ten years from now.

Final tips:

  • Observe cutomers, noncutomers, enthusiasts.
  • Play with your physical space
  • Think verbs not nouns, experiences not objects
  • “Break rules and fail foward”
  • Encourage human scale orgs and hot groups
  • Connect org departments, workers and customers, old and new
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Using the metaphor of Schroedinger’s cat (given a cat in a box, the cat may be dead or alive (exists as a possibility of either) until you actually open the box and observe it, which fixes its state. It’s the act of observation, measurement that makes it one or the other. Schroedinger used this to describe how electrons were both waves and particles but Wheatley uses this explain how observation and measurement affect organizations and their information flow.

“. . .the participative univers, aplace where the act of looking for certain information evokes the information we go looking for—and eliminates our simultaneous opportunity to observe other information.”

Notes the numbers mania in organizations and posits that “no form of measurement is neutral”—contextualism. “How can we trust that we get the information we need to make intelligent decisions? How can we know the right information to look for? How can we remain sensitive to and retrieve the information we lost when we went looking for the information we got?”

States that a participatory approach can help answer these questions—multiple points of view from all over the organization can capture different interpretations, rather than all information filtered and collapsed down to interpretation of single or few top managers interpretations. Gives greater richness to data.

Participation also helps with buy-in, “ownership.” “. . .it is impossible to expect any plan or ideal to be real to employees if they do not have the opportunity to personally interact with it.” And later, “. . .we cannot talk people into reality because there truly is no reality to desribe if they haven’t been there.” Thought his metaphorical ‘kick of the tires’ can be slow and contentious, it is necessary to have everyone make a shared commitment.

Idea of organization as rich network of relationships—a jointly created reality arising out of the process of interaction. Organizations more as process where “structures come and go as they support the process that needs to occur” rather than as fixed, hierarchical entities. Roles in organizations as “minimally bounded, as focused on interactions and energy exchanges”–actions and reactions.

Wheatley says that “information organizes matter into form”-information creates the structures it needs (rather than vice versa). Chaos generates the most information and that information self-organizes; there is no need to constrain or control it if the system is open to self-organization. Acceptance of that chaos is difficult for organizations; they are more apt to shield themselves from it rather than tolerate it. “We have a hard time with lack of clarity, or with questions that have no readily available answers.”

The idea of generative, open organizations is repeated here in that her emphasis is on organizations as flexible, living, responsive entities that are open enough to receive feedback (information) on all levels and self-organize accordingly. Therefore good communication is vital to an organization’s continued health.

Focus on total system rather than parts. It is not necessary to have direct control or effect on a part to affect it; you only need to understand how the system as a whole functions. Wheatley recommends playing with and observing nonlinear models to see what happens, to understand the “web of activity and relationships that comprise the system.” In the same vein of “the web” she mentions, she says that complexity as manageable because it doesn’t need to be handled linearly (like the brain, neural nets in AI, or, my example, the Internet). Part is the whole, whole is the part.

“Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation rises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before. When this information self-organizes, innovations occur, the progeny of information-rich, ambiguous environments.”

Wheatley mentions future search conferences as a planning model-it generated a lot of information and a complex self-organizing structure but from initially simple information fed back into itself. “But when the organization is willing to give public voice to the information—to listen to different interpretations and to process them together—the information becomes amplified.”

Strategies to create new information or feed existing information back on itself:
• Bring people together in new ways (work teams, job rotations, task forces—autonomous and unconstrained by rules or preset expectations)
• Allow conflicts to surface and encourage people to hunt for trouble spots and discuss at various levels
• “Understand the importance of relationships and nonlinear connections as the source of new knowledge. Our task is to create organizational forms that facilitate these processes.”

Example of GoreTex—“roles and structure are created from need and interest; relationships, exchanges, and connections among employees (almost everyone bears the title associate) are burtured as the primary source of organizational creativity and success.”

Thinking at all levels is necessary as well as self-organization, naturally unfolding processes that interweave (top down and bottom up) rather then structured and built up in hierarchy. “. . .we are engaging in a fundamentally new relationship with order, order hat is identified in processes that only temporarily manifest themselves in structure.”

Adaptive or single loop learning vs. generative or double loop learning:

Adaptive learning “focuses on solving problems in the present without examining the appropriateness of current learning behaviors,” on making “incremental improvements in existing products, markets, services, or technologies—often within the context of the firm’s preexisting track record of success.” Organization and thinking are often holdovers from previous environments or time periods and, because of this, these firms are often blind to current and changing realities. This often happens with successful and established organizations. Generative learning “emphasizes continuous experimentation and feedback in an ongoing examination of the very way organizations go about defining and solving problems.”

Generative learning needs to take place on several levels at once (by examining the external world, the manager’s own actions and problem-solving processes and the “organizational consciousness” that includes all of the former areas). Strong bureaucracies, excessive reliance on statistics, and a vertical flow of information all impede that broad view and the associated generative learning.

5 key needs for managers in generative learning organizations:
Openness: (letting go of the need for control; not believing your area and expertise is best (“cultural/functional humility”); cross-functional teams; ability to get as well as give candid feedback to employees; development programs that include mentorship, job rotation, and internal and external educational experiences; “absence of jargon, turf and expert domains; conflict-surfacing, conflict-resolving skills; ready availability of information to all members”)
Systemic thinking: “the ability to see connections between issues, events, and data ponts—the whole rather than its parts. It means framing structural relationships that resemble dynamic networks, as opposed to static, patterned interactions or relationships predicated on one’s position in the hierarchy.” Other traits: shares accurate institutional histories for continuity, recognizes importance of affective and intellectual relationships as well as traditional authoritative hierarchies; removes distinction between line employees and staff (or professional/academic staff and paraprofessionals/non-librarians, as the case may be); pays attention to interrelationships between organization and external world as well as across parts of organization.
Creativity: personal flexibility, willingness to take risks, tolerance for ambiguity, ability to change behavior to meet current challenges, willingness to fail. “Management in a learning organization requires an orientation which sees failure as feedback contributing to further creativity.” Ways to encourage: “long term rewards policies, mobility across divisions and functions, growth-oriented personal development, a supportive ‘clan’ culture”
Personal Efficacy: belief that you can and should influence your world. Traits: active self-awareness and proactive problem-solving. Typically managers have strong sense of goals and values but limited feedback from others about impact of their behavior. 360 degree assessment-not just manager assessing employee or employee self-assessment but also peers and subordinates and your supervisor’s supervisor. Also not a performance review but a “focus on people’s potential and capability.” Should let employees know what they do “makes a difference in specific ways.”
Empathy: Must have “motivation and means to repair relationships”—communications breakdowns, losses of confidence and trust, etc. Increasingly important in an internetworked world where informal networking is on the rise. Empathy helps prevent blaming others when things go wrong and resigning yourself to undesirable situations-2 common managerial tendencies. Managerial traits: strong sense of ethics in internal and external dealings; active corporate citizenship; recognition of employees’ external contributions; willingness to take responsibility for relationships