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IDEO – The Art of Innovation – book review

A few weeks ago I finished reading The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm by Tom Kelley, Jonathan Littman, Tom Peters. This is a book I’ve heard referenced in many different contexts. IDEO is a firm world famous product design firm; their work is at the Cooper Art Museum in NYC. I was also inspired to read it because IDEO is just down the street from where I live — it’s a place that where I’ve dreamed of working.

At the halfway¬† point I thought it was a good read. Being an innovative company requires changing the way we work – can most companies do that? Letting go of authority and creative, “hot”, teams is essential. The descriptions of the work environment and culture at IDEO had me thinking about where I wanted to work next. If you want to imagine a place that is hardworking and respects creativity — read this book.

After finishing the book I think the best parts are in the first half — descriptions of how to do brainstorming and how to create hot teams. A good read for those 2 sections.

A couple insightful quotes:

  • “too much square footage, like too large a budget can dissipate energy and discourage more immediate emotional connection.” (p.82)
  • “success at innovation is like putting together the perfect golf swing” – there are 17 things to get right, each one simple on its own, but it’s complex to put together in real time.(p.293)

Overall I enjoyed reading this book, though I found many of the stories repetitive — as if they were cobbled together from many different essays and presentations. It needed a good edit.

Brainstorming Rules:

  1. Sharpen the Focus – ask edgy, tangible questions that focus on the customer need
  2. Playful Rules – don’t critique or debate ideas, go for quantity, encourage wild ideas, be visual
  3. Number Your Ideas – help to set a goal for quantity (i.e., go for 100)
  4. Build and Jump – keep the energy up, jump back to an earlier path, encourage small variation
  5. The Space Remembers – power of spatial memory, process of capturing ideas (facilitator whiteboard), physical movement around the space
  6. Stretch Mental Models – warm-ups, content-related homework (background lecture, toy stores)
  7. Get Physical – sketching, mind mapping, diagrams, stick figures, bring in objects, build things, bodystorming

Hot Groups: groups at IDEO are often ad-hoc, often come together on a project-basis and availability. Below are listed types of characters that can be key to “hot” teams.

  1. Visionary
  2. Troubleshooter – doesn’t suffer fools gladly, fix-it person
  3. Iconoclast – contrarian
  4. Pulse-Taker – heart person, making a personal connections
  5. Craftsman
  6. Technologist – a maven
  7. Entrepreneur – often goes off and creates sub-teams or companies
  8. Cross-Dresser – self-educated, self-motivated, enthusiastic


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Continuing the Discussion

  1. 2010 - Predictions and plans | wander@will linked to this post on January 16, 2010

    […] I think this all started with Tom Kelly’s IDEO: Art of Innovation book back in 2005 (see my review of this book) and continues with Tim Brown’s Change by Design. On IDEO’s blog, design thinking is […]

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