Today we take a look at innovation at IDEO, one of America’s most successful and well-known innovation companies. The insights in the podcast come from one of its founders, Tom Kelley, in his book The Art of Innovation.
There are many excellent insights from this book that can help you in your business. Today I’m going to focus on two areas of insights from his book.
First, we take a look at the five basic steps of their innovation methodology. In one way or another these five steps can help you in your innovation programs. Second, we take a look at their deep insights on brainstorming – yes brainstorming. When we get to this section of the podcast I will share some perspective that goes well above and beyond what Tom shares in his book.
As background, my company Innovate2Grow Experts was hired by a client to develop a major breakthrough product. We knew that that breakthrough product would involve highly innovative packaging and systems. After talking to several external innovation companies, we chose to work with IDEO. I led this project for the client. This involved every week or every other week meetings at their Palo Alto offices with their team and our team. As a result of this intensive experience, I developed a personal understanding of how they approach innovation and, in my opinion, their strengths and challenges.
Let’s start with the five basic steps of their innovation methodology. These steps certainly have some application to a client company – a company like yours. But there are also some differences. They are an external company that takes on a client project at some point downstream from when the original idea or strategy was developed for an innovative product or service. The client has already determined by the time they arrive at IDEO that there is a very good foundation for their direction and there is a range of possibilities that appear to have meaningful and even significant potential. After the client has reached this point, they are then ready to knock on the door of IDEO and companies like it to get their proposals.
The first of their five steps is to understand the market, the client, the technology, and the perceived constraints on the problem. In my experience with the project we worked on, they did a very good job of searching worldwide for examples that had varying degrees of relevance to the project we were working on. Viewing these examples immediately triggered additional thoughts, which led to additional exploration. Most of this exploration featured visuals which are very powerful stimulus for new ideas. They also work to understand the client – their business and innovation strategy, the basis for the need, why they believe there is a possibility, the direction they want IDEO to help with, and the always present budgetary parameters. They probably spend most of their time trying to understand the clients perceived constraints and challenges regarding the direction they are interested in pursuing. IDEO’s perspectives from having worked on so many major projects and seen so many perceived constraints can be exceptionally valuable in expanding the client company’s perception of what is possible and not possible. This can make the first step a powerful leap forward in the very beginning of the project.
The second of their five steps is observing real people in real life situations to find out what makes them tick on the product category. You will recall from the Kari McNamara podcasts that she did a very good job of getting down to the nitty-gritty of what a product is with customers and in one case with manufacturing. This is not just reading research reports. This is going out into the real world and talking with real people often in their homes. In our project, we went into people’s homes and saw everything from the preparation of the product to where ingredients were stored to equipment they used to the care and personalization they went through. In the course of this you learn things like what confuses consumers, what they like and what they hate, and what needs don’t seem to be addressed by current products and services.
The third of their five steps is visualizing new to the world concepts and the customers who use them. There are several ways that this can be done. One of the more popular ones is to visualize success from a consumer perspective. For example, visualizing the consumer having their problem fixed and what that would look like and feel like. Wha t is life like with the new product you are going to invent? This process is a well accepted method for focusing a group so they can clearly understand what success looks like.
The fourth of their five steps is to evaluate and refine prototypes in a series of quick iterations. While this varies for various products and services, this is a well accepted innovation best practice. You want to get to prototypes, even very rough looks like prototypes, as quickly as you can and then dive into customer learning and feedback. In later podcasts, will talk more about the prototyping process, but for now remember two things – rapid prototype versions and using looks like prototypes if you need to.
The fifth step is to implement a new concept or product for commercialization. They can be a tremendous amount of work involved here including things like selection of the right materials and manufacturing process.
Each of these five steps includes basic principles and insights that you can use in your innovation program. Focus on the principles and the insights and adapt them to your business need without losing the critical learning that comes in each step.
Let’s move now to the second topic which is brainstorming. Tom identifies what he calls the seven secrets of better brainstorming. As you know from previous podcasts, quantum idea generation is a process that generates at least 12 X more ideas than brainstorming. When I was working on my project with IDEO, I took Tom to dinner to explain how quantum idea generation was so, so much better than his brainstorming. I even invited him to a demonstration of in one of the steps of our actual project idea generation. Suffice it to say that he was most comfortable in the existing box he operated in.
I’m not going to go into all seven of his secrets. I will focus on some that I think have good application anytime you need to generate new ideas.
The first of these is to develop a carefully crafted statement of what the problem is that you want to solve. It can be a question. You want to make it what he calls “edgy” instead of being fuzzy. They found that the best statements focus outward on a specific customer need or service enhancement rather than focusing inward on some organizational goal.
A second one is a warning that a brain storming session to not the best time for the critique or debate ideas. This is consistent with what we talked about in quantum idea generation. There will be a time to evaluate ideas, but the actual brainstorming session is not the best time to do that.
The third one is that they like to have the facilitator write down ideas as they emerge in a brainstorming session. They are written on a visible medium of some sort – flipchart, giant posters for the walls, butcher shop paper on tables, etc. This is generally a good idea since it serves as stimulus for people during the process. One idea can remind them of another version of it or they can jump to an entirely new idea.
A fourth one is that they like a warm-up practice. They actually did some qualitative testing of three different ways of doing this. In one group people did some background reading and listened to an expert lecture. Another group spent half an hour at a local toy store looking for and purchasing some interesting products to serve as visual stimulation. A third group had no preparation. Not surprising to me, the top performing group was the one that went to the toy store. It’s not surprising to me because it provided the richest form of stimulus. You will recall in quantum idea generation that stimulus alone can double or triple the number of ideas you get from brainstorming alone. While stimulus is done differently within quantum idea generation, the principle of stimulus is what you want to remember
The fourth one is to create visuals of ideas as you create them. In my work with companies we’ve brought graphic designers into a creative session when we believe product form and/or product packaging could be an integral part of a breakthrough new product. In other sessions, I have brought about 100 magazines into an idea generating session. After initial ideas have been developed, I asked people to work in groups of two and the search the magazines for visuals that they can cut out and paste onto a board. This creates a story about their idea and the potential customers that can often be very provocative and developing additional ideas in the group.
In this podcast I’ve only covered a small part of Tom’s book on The Art Of Innovation. I’ve covered the five steps of their innovation process which either in its exact form or an adapted form can help you greatly with your internal innovation program. I’ve also covered some key points they make to support brainstorming that I think also are relevant to the quantum idea generating process we discussed earlier.
Bottom line, you have some well proven insights and processes you can immediately start using in your innovation program so that you can sell more and make more.
In future podcasts I will draw more relevant and helpful insights from this book. There’s a lot more benefit to be had!