Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley

Top of the List
The crowded marketplace and high competition in today’s commercial world have driven the quality of innovation to the top of the list of required core competencies needed for most jobs. This adds weight to the importance of Tom Kelley’s book, The Art of Innovation.

Some people are blessed with bright ideas in their genes and like Alice in Wonderland, they have that uncanny ability to believe or dream up six impossible things before breakfast. Author and General Manager of IDEO, Tom Kelley, ardently embraces the conviction that innovation and creativity can be learned and mastered.

Innovation IDEO Style
The Art of Innovation studies the innovative practices of IDEO, America’s leading design firm, the company that invented stand-up toothpaste tubes, all-in-one fishing kits, high-tech blood analysers, flexible office shelves and self-sealing sports bottles.

At times one reads about IDEO ad nauseam as it seems like the book is written as a promotional tool but Kelley alludes to scores of other industries and products that illumine and provide insight—like this story about the golfing legend, Tiger Woods.

Textbook on Creativity
This is an interesting and comprehensive text for individuals who want to grow their creative muscles. Kelley writes about developing the keenness of the eye, careful observation (check out this example of what Larry Miller produced when he did this), getting close to the action and playing dumb so you ask lots of elementary questions.

This is not a book with rigid prescriptions of how things must be done for the hundreds of examples highlight the different approaches that can take people to the same destination.

You might think that you brainstorm ideas effectively, either alone or with your team, but Kelley’s ‘Seven Secrets for Better brainstorming’ will make you think you have not mastered the art or plumbed the depths of what can be dredged from a bevy of stimulated brains.

The Art of Innovation is a book that CEOs must read, as Kelley writes of the futility of hierarchical organizations and illustrates the beauty of flat staffing structures where every worker is valued.

While Kelley recognises the need for creative people to have thinking time and solitude he torpedoes the myth of the lone genius, believing that “great projects are achieved by great teams.” He elaborates on how to build a team, getting the right mix, identifying the characters that all good teams need, how to build and maintain morale and suggestions for team empowerment. To get more of a taste, read this story on the great football coach, Lou Holz or discover the way conductor Benjamin Zander gets the best out of his Philharmonic Orchestra.

Does Your Office Need an Overhaul?
Kelley examines not only the innovative individual and the creative team but the positive environment and how a leader sets the tone and cultivates a climate for discovery.

The IDEO work place was dubbed by the Wall Street Journal as “imagination’s playground.” Kelley has much to say about creating the right spaces, colours and other items that offices require to spawn innovation.

Creative Potpourri
The Art of Innovation is a potpourri of stories and ideas. It is written in an enthusiastic and an energetic style. One needs to pick it up and read it every so often, especially when you need to be fired up.

Whatever field of endeavour you are working in, this book will connect and give you the principles to take and transform your work.

Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman, The Art of Innovation: Lessons and Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm (London: Profile Books, 2001).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 70.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of The Art of Innovation; Tom Kelley.

Further Stories from this Book:
Get on your bike: Success Breeds Complacency, Stories for Speakers
Snowboarding: Fear Doesn’t Get You Down the Mountain, Stories for Speakers.