IDEO, a highly innovative Silicon Valley design firm, is the brainchild of founder David Kelley, who was recently interviewed on 60 Minutes. For more than 30 years, IDEO has been creating thousands of breakthrough inventions such as a needle-free vaccine for Intercell, a better Pringle for Procter & Gamble and revitalizing the bicycling experience for Shimano.
Kelley, a pioneer in “design thinking,” which incorporates human behavior into design, is addressing an eclectic and diversified group of “design thinkers,” which possibly includes journalists, doctors, opera singers and anthropologists. Kelley tells them that they have a creative confidence that, “when given a difficult problem, we have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before.” They have the track record to prove it.
The result of their group effort is design that is empathetic to people. “It allows people to build on the ideas of others,” Kelley says. Instead of having one thread, you have many and the collective ideas are woven into creative solutions.
Perhaps we have something to learn from this humble man full of wit and genius, especially when you observe the in-fighting of our elected senators and congressmen who suffer from SDD — solution deficit disorder. Kelley’s greatest achievement of all might just be his ability to rein in the brightest and best who collectively strive for creative and innovative solutions for the common good. How does he do it?
Priority No. 1: Create an environment of playfulness. Fresh ideas come faster in a fun place. One department is devoted solely to toys.
There are no titles, no seniority; everyone is the same, equal. When working on a new design, they go to people to find out what’s needed.
“If you want to improve a piece of software, all you have to do is watch people using it and see where they grimace and then correlate that to where they are in the software and then fix it,” he says. “And so the thing is to really build empathy, to try to understand people through observing them.”
In essence they work in a playful environment, which is referred to as “focused chaos.” And because it’s completely understood that several good minds are better than one, after they’ve gathered their people research they demonstrate and share everything they’ve learned.
“Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius,” Kelley said.
The walls of IDEO are filled with more words of wisdom:
» One conversation at a time.
» Stay focused on topic.
» Encourage wild ideas.
» Defer judgment.
» Build on the ideas of others.
» Fail often in order to succeed more often.
» Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
IDEO also works with clients globally using its trademark human-centered approach to innovation to improve access to safe drinking water in India and Africa, redesigning school systems in Peru and helping North Face expand its brand into China.
Kelley is a visionary whose insights can help lead us out of the mess we’re in. Working at the firm he built fits into his lifelong mission: “I really do believe I was put on the planet to help people have creative confidence,” he says. “I don’t have 27 agendas. I’m not the sustainability guy or the developing-world guy. My contribution is to teach as many people as I can to use both sides of their brain, so that for every problem, every decision in their lives, they consider creative as well as analytical solutions.”
This progressive company is solving problems. They get it done. They’re people-oriented. They collaborate. They have fun and are helping to transform the world one project at a time.
Crayons, tubs of colorful markers, pads of paper, a gumball machine and bubble blowers are arriving on Capitol Hill as I write — hopefully the cure for SDD.