Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tom Kelley and David Kelley for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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What does it take to spark your creativity?
For Doug Dietz, the executive behind GE Healthcare’s magnetic resonance-imaging (MRI) equipment, it was seeing a little girl cry.
He remembers the day vividly. He’d come to a hospital to see one of his machines in action and was initially pleased. The scanner looked beautiful and was functioning well; the technician on duty had no complaints. But just as Dietz was about to leave, he saw a child, clearly distraught, crying and clutching her parents’ hands, terrified at the prospect of entering the MRI suite. When she couldn’t be calmed, an anesthesiologist was summoned. That’s when Dietz learned that hospitals routinely sedate young patients to get them to lie still for the procedure. The realization triggered a personal crisis. “I was so focused on the shiny object, the new features, how clever we’d been, that I missed the big picture,” he recalls. He resolved then and there to improve the MRI experience for pediatric patients.
He first shared his concerns with his boss at GE, who suggested he attend a customer-focused innovation class at Stanford’s Hasso Plassner Institute of Design, or d.school, which is where we met him. Fueled by that experience, Dietz then pulled together a small team of volunteers including childhood learning experts from a children’s museum and child life specialists from a local pediatric hospital to help him think holistically about how kids experienced the MRI technology. Soon, the group developed a prototype of what would later become the Adventure Series of GE scanners. The complex equipment inside the machine remained unchanged, but the outside, indeed the entire MRI room, was transformed with colorful decals suggesting a journey to outer space or a cruise aboard a pirate ship. The team also wrote imaginative scripts for the MRI operators so they could lead their young patients through the story — for example, telling them to listen closely for the moment that the rocket ship would “shift into hyperdrive” just before the machine makes what might otherwise be a scary, loud noise.
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Tom Kelley is the general manager of IDEO and the co-author of The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm (Crown, 2001) and The Ten Faces of Innovation (Currency/Doubleday, 2005). He is an executive fellow at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and at the University of Tokyo. David Kelley is the founder and chairman of IDEO and the founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, where he is the Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering.
One of our unique services at Creative Communication Network is our ability to offer training on important topics based upon the information that we derive from books that we present at the First Friday Book Synopsis.
We call these Crash Courses, and you can look for the first offering, focusing upon Change and Innovation very soon. Don’t miss the opportunity to register for this first course. We will send an e-mail to you that announces the date, time, location, and method for registraiton.
In these Crash Courses, we take principles from several best-sellers on a particular topic and transform these into skill-based activities, facilitated discussions, assessments, and self-reflection. You won’t find anything else like them anywhere. We are putting the final touches on this first course right now.
We have two major components in our first course on Change and Innovation, with these objectives:
Part One: Creative Thinking
Objective 1: Identify strategies to actively seek out and hire people with diverse backgrounds and thinking styles
Objective 2: Explore steps to effectively manage resistance to novel or experimental proposals
Part Two: Demonstrate how to develop processes, products, and services.
Objective 1: Describe how to evaluate new opportunities unconstrained by existing paradigms but keeping an eye towards organizational goals
Objective 2: Identify and describe steps to maintain the organization’s competitive edge with breakthrough solutions and disciplined risks.
In this Change and Innovation course, we draw upon principles from these books that we have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and others:
Kelley, T., Littman, J., & Peters, T. (2001). The art of innovation (lessons in creativity from IDEO, America’s leading design firm). New York: Doubleday.
Kelley, T., & Littman, J. (2005). The ten faces of innovation : IDEO’s strategies for defeating the devil’s advocate and driving creativity throughout your organization. New York: Currency/Doubleday.
Mauzy, J., & Harriman, R. A. (2003). Creativity Inc.: Building an inventive organization. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Sutton, R. I. (2002). Weird ideas that work: 11-1/2 practices for promoting, managing, and sustaining innovation. New York: Free Press.
Tharp, T. (2003). The creative habit: Learn it and use it for life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Look for information about this course really soon!
We hope you make plans to join us.
Here is my take on what Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson learned during a lengthy and probing study of the Pixar culture:
1. Celebrate failure with the same intensity as you celebrate success. View each setback as a precious learning opportunity.
2. Become a “prototype junky.” There is no project too big [or too small] to conduct a real-world test of it within a few weeks.
3. Develop your own “skunk works” within the organization. [click here.], At least form a small group and enable it to meet regularly to brainstorm how best to answer questions, solve problems, and respond to unmet needs…especially those identified by past and current customers.
4. Dream BIG. Ask team members to think of ten over-the-top, outlandish, eccentric, far-out, wacky, unheard-of, unorthodox ideas for a project.
Note: In the most innovative organizations (such as IDEO, Nike, Apple, and yes, Pixar), two quite different approaches are taken: generate lots of what Jobs calls “an insanely great idea” and then decide what to do with them, or, tackle an especially serious problem with a totally open mind.
5. Don’t cry poor. The best new ideas tend to be produced by groups whose members are world-class scroungers. External limits and constraints tend to inspire original thinking and below-the-radar initiatives.
6. Planning is OK but do not allow the process to be a distraction from achieving the desired objective. Beware of meetings and considerations devoted to “planning to plan.” General George Patton once said, “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan next week.”
7. Each project is a “work in progress” so establish a planning center (perhaps online) where evidence of progress is on display. Grab low-hanging fruit” ASAP and celebrate completion of “baby steps” to reassure everyone that progress really is being made.
8. Forget about lengthy meetings, reports, analyses, etc. What’s happening NOW? Why is it happening? What more needs to be done? Who will do it? Everyone involved must have a sense of urgency. John Wooden said it best: “Be quick but don’t rush.”
9. Assume authority and do whatever must be done and done NOW. If appropriate, ask for forgiveness later. That said, be sure to do your homework, consider all the possible implications and consequences, and be prepared to explain later why the initiative you took had risks but the decision to make it was rigorously thought-through and prudent. Also be fully prepared to explained what of value was learned, especially if action was unsuccessful.
I highly recommend Capodagli and Jackson’s Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground, published by McGraw-Hill (2010).
The best books on brainstorming, idea generation, etc.? Check out these two:
The Idea of Innovation
The Ten Faces of Innovation
If you need additional assistance:
A Knock on the Side of the Head
A Kick in the Seat of the Pants
Roger Von Oech
Thinkertoys (Second Edition)
Jump Start Your Brain
Six Thinking Hats
Edward De Bono
My blogging colleague, Bob Morris, has written about the difference between creativity and innovation. And there are many books, some quite wonderful, about creativity and innovation. But here is what hit me directly between the eyes about it this weekend.
It is a quote in Drive by Daniel Pink. Pink argues that extrinsic motivation (Pink: Motivation 2.0) – you know, rewards and punishments, the kind of motivation that was made famous and served workers well in the early part of the 20th century, does not help in jobs that require creativity and innovation. In fact, they can be counterproductive, practically de-motivating.
And in the midst of his discussion of the new approach to motivation needed in the workplace of today, is this quote:
“The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive – and autonomy can be the antidote.” (Tom Kelley, General Manager IDEO).
Kelley is an innovation guru, and his firm, IDEO, is an innovation factory. They are hired to come up with designs for products. So, everything has to be new.
But think about what he wrote. Innovation is cheap, because breakthrough innovations provide the next product/system/approach that leads to market share and maybe market dominance. In other words, if you want to discover what is really expensive, then fail to innovate. If you don’t innovate; if you don’t stay ahead of the next iteration and/or breakthrough, then your success of today will disappear in a heartbeat.
It is mediocrity – the failure to innovate when you could have, and you should have – that is so very expensive.
So, whatever else leaders need to provide, this is one thing they’d best not fail it – providing an environment that truly nurtures innovation.
That’s really what Pink’s book, Drive, is all about.
There are some really obvious truths. I have oft quoted this: “you are what you think about all day long.” The truth its obvious – what we fill our minds with creates who we are and what we do.
Well here is another obvious truth – what you see is determined by where you look and what you look at. And this oh so obvious truth has profound implications for leaders and what they accomplish.
The television show Undercover Boss would put CEO’s into everyday work situations in their own company. They would go out in the field, work in the factory, alongside their own employees. The employees would not know who they were. To a person, the bosses discovered all sorts of things about the work and about their employees that they did not know before. Why? They were looking in new places, thus they saw new things, and saw in new ways.
In the terrific Susan Scott book, Fierce Leadership, she calls on leaders to develop “squid eye.”
You need “squid eye” (squid hide among rocks that hide their presence) – you see many things that others cannot and do not see; you are an effective and efficient information gatherer…
For a person new to the task of finding and catching squid, this is a very difficult skill to master. Squid hide very well, and you have to look in between the nooks and crannies to see the little tell-tale signs that squid are present. She uses this metaphor to argue that a key task for every leader is to simply learn to look at people, processes, situations, much more carefully – look well enough to see what others miss.
In The Art of Innovation: (Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm), Tom Kelley describes the practice of “observing” that IDEO follows on all projects for all clients. I remember in one instance they were hired to design a new chair that would be more comfortable for women in the workplace. Their design team members literally crawled around on the floor at the office, looking at ways women sat in chairs. One discovery: many women were using the yellow pages as foot rests, leading to new design challenges.
Here are some quotes from the book, giving us a little insight into this practice:
In many parts of your life, you go through steps so mechanically, so unconsciously… When you’re off your own beaten path, however, you are more open to discovery: when you travel, especially overseas; when you rent an unfamiliar car; when you try a new sport or experience a new activity. At those times, you are more open to ask childlike “Why?” and “Why not?” questions that lead to innovation.
By studying people of all ages, shapes, cultures, and sizes we’ve learned that the best products embrace people’s differences.
You don’t just send your researchers out to do research and your designers to do design. You send your designers with researchers to do design and vice versa.
Finding the right people (to observe) helps.
Observe real people in real life situations to find out what makes them tick…
Visualize new to the world concepts and the customers who will use them.
Innovation begins with an eye: Inspiration by observation…
Make small observations, which lead to small improvements — keep that process up continuously, and you will find yourself at the head of the pack…
And though where you look “from” matters, just actually, simply looking really matters. In the Vaclev Havel speech I quoted on this site yesterday, delivered as he assumed the presidency of his country, he stated:
Allow me a small personal observation. When I flew recently to Bratislava, I found some time during discussions to look out of the plane window. I saw the industrial complex of Slovnaft chemical factory and the giant Petr’alka housing estate right behind it. The view was enough for me to understand that for decades our statesmen and political leaders did not look or did not want to look out of the windows of their planes. No study of statistics available to me would enable me to understand faster and better the situation in which we find ourselves.
And then he describes what he intends for his presidency:
To be a president who will not only look out of the windows of his airplane but who, first and foremost, will always be present among his fellow citizens and listen to them well.
Here are some lessons/reminders for leaders:
1. Actually look – at people, at processes, at products. (Think design, and the brilliance of Steve Jobs and Apple).
2. Look at people and products where they are actually used. Look when people don’t know you are looking. Simply observe.
Most of all, remember this: First You Look – Then You See.