On design thinking
The book starts with tackling difference between being a designer and thinking like one. References to, thoughts on and examples of design thinking are prevalent in the book. To no surprise, since in recent years IDEO and Tim Brown in particular are acting as gospellers of it. For a quick review of the notion, refer to Tim Brown’s TED talk and/or article in Harvard Business Review.
On role of prototyping
One frequently expressed notion in the book is that of how much early (and frequent) prototyping is instrumental to design success (“fail early to succeed sooner” is a famous phrase by David Kelley). Tim Brown also argues that “time to the first prototype” can be seen as one of the measures of how innovative organization is. Furthermore, fast prototyping (over and over) allows for continuous feedback and improvement and at the same time saves the company from the trap of commitment since “the greater the investment in an idea, the more committed one becomes to it” (p.90) Few thoughts on prototyping (also dubbed as “thinking with your hands”):
In terms of a recipe for innovation, sure, Time Brow agrees there’s none. However, he argues innovation as continuum can be understood as a system of 3 spaces: inspiration, ideation and implementation, whereas any project can loop back through these spaces more than once as team refines ideas and examines new directions. One of the best tools in yielding great results across the 3 spaces of innovation is, again, prototyping:
- at inspiration (the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solution) prototyping has the capacity to inspire new ideas
- at ideation (generating, developing, testing ideas) it serves a perfect check tool to ensure incorporation of emotional and functional elements necessary to meet the demands of the market
- at implementation (going from project room to market) they are superb in communicating an idea with sufficient clarity
On user research
In terms of most often mentioned concepts (we haven’t counted, that’s just the feel) “design thinking” is somewhat losing to “human centered”. Now, to create anything human centered the team must first find out what humans want/need. Reading the book one gets the feel that IDEO never outsources this strategically important task of user research, and that the company favors qualitative rather than quantitative methods. What we particularly liked as methods for getting user insights are “unfocus groups” and extreme users. Bringing in people who fall on the extremes of certain product/service use (children and chefs for kitchen tools story on the p.44, for example) significantly enriches insights and inspiration. And same refers to unfocus groups, where instead of inviting “average” people, unique individuals (consumers and experts) participate together. For example, to gain insights on new concepts for women’s shoes, IDEO “invited:
On company (work) culture
Now we know few things about IDEO approach to innovating, but who are those people in the teams and how do they make innovations happen? Speaking of people Brown emphasizes the need for T-shaped personalities (reference to concept coined by McKinsey) successfully performing in teams since “all of us are smarter than any of us” (p.26). The author takes care to distinguish between MULTIDISCIPLINARY and INTERDISCIPLINARY teams, whereas in the former “each individual becomes an advocate for his her own technical specialty and the project becomes a protracted negotiation among them, likely resulting in a gray compromise”, while in the latter “there is a collective ownership of ideas and everybody takes responsibility for them” (p.27). In terms of work environment, the following thoughts were (we thought) interesting (all from p.32):
On innovation portfolio
The book presents “Ways to grow matrix” developed by IDEO (p.161) which combines innovation types with grow paths a company can take. Few pages explaining each quadrant lead to a logical conclusion: “though it might be tempting to focus on incremental projects in which business forecasts are easy to make, this shortsighted approach leaves companies vulnerable to the unforeseeable events of the type that Nassim Nicholas Taleb dubbed “The Black Swan” (p.165). A word of advise? “A company’s best defense is to diversify its portfolio by investing across all four quadrants of the innovation matrix”.