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on 21 April 2001
It has been a good year for students of innovation. First Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point" described how ideas and concepts grow and are absorbed into society. Richard Leifer and his colleagues then followed up with "Radical Innovation" exploring the barriers to innovation within large organisations and how to break the mould. Jeffrey Pfeffer then followed in "The Knowing Doing Gap" with a blue print for breaking organisational inertia. Michael Schrage in "Serious Play" demonstrated the virtues of rapid prototyping and the provocative effect on thinking of a progressive prototyping method. A leading innovation practitioner Tom Kelley in "The Art of Innovation", (not Art through Innovation as it is confusingly catalogued by Amazon) now amply demonstrates and reinforces the key themes advocated by these experts.
The key strength of this book is Kelley's hands-on experience that crackles through every page. This book is not permeated by academic detachment but a bubbling and infectious enthusiasm.
He provides practical guidance as to how to get the best out of brainstorming. His list of pathologies that are bound to kill off a brainstorming session will seem familiar to many.
Kelley advocates prototyping as the shorthand of innovation, together with the benefits of direct observation and reconnaissance. IDEO recognise that people are their greatest asset and go to great lengths to live their values. He describes the pivotal conjunction of people and teams and context and how these are all are geared to maximise interaction - IDEO's Munich office was opened by an employee who sought forgiveness rather than permission. As an organisation IDEO has to impress its clients with its avant-garde image du marc. Whilst Kelley and friends have an impressive list of product successes under their belt their greatest achievement has to be creating the paradigm that is IDEO - or in the words from "Flash-dance" "take your passion and make it happen".
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on 14 November 2002
There's some good thought provoking ideas that are well structured, but at times you feel a little swamped by the sheer number of IDEO case studies. Each section of the book has some good nuggets of information which are generally worded in a way to help you see their wider application. Overall it's a good balance between the theory and demonstrating practical application. Worth reading.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 20 January 2006
There are dozens of excellent books which discuss innovation. This is one of the best but don't be misled by the title, "Lessons in creativity from IDEO, America's leading design firm." Unlike almost all other authors of worthy books on the same subject, Kelley does NOT organize his material in terms of a sequence of specific "lessons"...nor does he inundate his reader with checklists, "executive summaries", bullet points, do's and don'ts, "key points", etc. Rather, he shares what I guess you could characterize as "stories" based on real-world situations in which he and his IDEO associates solved various problems when completing industrial design assignments for their clients. "We've linked those organizational achievements to specific methodologies and tools you can use to build innovation into your own organization...[However, IDEO's] `secret formula' is actually not very formulaic. It's a blend of of methodologies, work practices, culture, and infrastructure. Methodology alone is not enough." One of the greatest benefits of the book is derived from direct access to that "blend" when activated.
It is extremely difficult to overcome what James O'Toole characterizes, in Leading Change, as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." He and Kelley seem to be kindred spirits: Both fully understand how and why truly innovative thinking encounters so much resistance within organizations. Whereas O'Toole suggests all manner of strategies to overcome that resistance, Kelley concentrates on the combination ("blend") of ingredients which, when integrated and then applied with both rigor and passion, may (just may) produce what Jobs once referred to as "insanely great." What both O'Toole and Kelley have in mind is creating and sustaining an innovative culture, one from within which "insanely great" ideas can result in breakthrough products and (yes) services.
"Loosely described", Kelley shares IDEO's five-step methodology: Understand the market, the client, the technology, and the perceived constraints on the given problem; observe real people in real-life situations; literally visualize new-to-the-world concepts AND the customers who will use them; evaluate and refine the prototypes in a series of quick iterations; and finally, implement the new concept for commercialization. With regard to the last "step", as Bennis explains in Organizing Genius, Apple executives immediately recognized the commercial opportunities for PARC's technology. Larry Tesler (who later left PARC for Apple) noted that Jobs and companions "wanted to get it out to the world." But first, obviously, create that "it."
Kelley and his associates at IDEO have won numerous awards for designing all manner of innovative products such as the Apple mouse, the Palm Pilot, a one-piece fishing mechanism for children, the in-vehicle beverage holder, toothpaste tubes that don't "gunk up" in the cap area, "mud-free" water bottles for mountain bikers, a small digital camera for the handspring Visor, and the Sun Tracker Beach Chair.
With all due respect to products such as these, what interested me most was the material in the book which focuses on (a) the physical environment in which those at IDEO interact and (b) the nature and extent of that interaction, principally the brainstorm sessions. In the Foreword, Tom Peters has this in mind when explaining why Kelley's is a marvelous book: "It carefully walks us through each stage of the IDEO innovation process -- from creating hot teams (IDEO is perpetually on `boil') to learning to see through the customer's eyes (forget focus groups!) and brainstorming (trust me, nobody but nobody does it better) to rapid prototyping (and nobody, but nobody does it better...)." Whatever your current situation, whatever the size and nature of your organization, surely you and it need to avoid or escape from "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." Granted, you may never be involved in the creation of an "insanely great" product but Kelley can at least help you to gain "the true spirit of innovation" in your life. I join him in wishing you "some serious fun."
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on 3 February 2009
This is a great book. Probably the most inspiring book about innovation that I have read in a long time. I defy anyone not to be moved to action by such infectious story telling.

The book is a collection of case studies and vignettes that illustrate how IDEO view innovation. One of my favourites is the shopping trolley challenge. The brief was to completely redesign the old, familiar shopping trolley in just five days. The almost blow-by-blow account of those five days shows you what can be done with a clear focus and a dedicated team.

The IDEO beliefs are clearly presented. Chapter 3 is called "Innovation begins with an eye" and describes how they rely on observation-fueled insight and why they are not big fans of focus groups. IDEO also believe that innovation is a team sport, indeed that the myth of the lone genius can actually hamper a company's efforts in innovation and creativity. The story of the start-up of Amazon is a lesson in rapid prototyping. And there's much more.

There are also some terrific descriptions of the early days of portable computing and handhelds. Of course you'll find the ubiquitous Apple tales but in many ways I found the Handspring and Palm cases to be more interesting. There's a helpful index too so that you can find them again when you need a good story for your next workshop.

The one I find myself retelling the most is the kids Oral-B toothbrush. For decades kids toothbrushes have been smaller versions of adult brushes. The IDEO team put brushes in the hands of children and they quickly noticed the "fist phenomenon". Little kids grip the brush with their whole fist, unlike older kids and adults, who use their fingertips. The insight that smaller hands need fatter toothbrushes seems counter-intuitive until you see them in use. Today you would struggle to find any kids toothbrushes that are not chunky and fun for kids to hold.

My only quibble is the Amtrak case study on designing a new train. Anyone who uses the words "Amtrak" and "innovation" in the same sentence needs their head examined IMHO! Why they went to all that trouble to mock up a train carriage when they could have flown to Japan, Germany, or France and simply copied a bullet train, ICE or TGV is beyond me. Perhaps this is evidence that some of the cases in the book have been touched up a little in order to make a point. There is also a little too much "isn't IDEO incredible" about some of the stories that some readers may find mildly annoying.

Anyone familiar with ?WhatIf! will recognise many of the principles, beliefs and concepts in this book. What makes The Art of Innovation different from Sticky Wisdom (the ?WhatIf! book) is that it lets the case studies tell the story. In the end, that is the power of this great book; to read how so many people have invented so much is truly inspiring. By the end, you believe that you too can invent anything and you cannot wait to get started.
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on 9 November 2001
It's not without reason that Tom Peters always mentions IDEO as most innovative company. Having seen their funky and innovative offices but more important being involved in the way they work I can tell you; these guys know how to be innovative. In his book Kelley has very well succeeded in transferring that knowledge in a clear and non-boring way.
The book is an excellent combination to read with Clayt Christensen's Innovators dilemma that goes into why established companies are having a hard time dealing with innovation. If you add Alex Loudon's Webs of Innovation to that, this book goes into how you can set up new ways to innovate in established companies, you got a power pack to make sure your company has got all it takes to be innovative. Because these days the theme is innovate or evaporate.
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on 13 April 2008
I am a Product Designer working for a London based Design Consultancy.

I bought this book because of my personal interest in innovation and the design process, wondering how a global professional design consultancy process may differ from another firm.

It was fun to read how IDEO started out, where they came from etc, however, it seems to be a book more of case-studies and promotional material of their own projects, rather than discussing the design process and what a designer/ engineer/ management team do in the different stages of the projects.

I found it a well written and easy to read book, but that said I was a little disappointed as the content as for me did not live up to its potential.
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It is sad to say that, as a business writer, I read few business books. The reason is that the vast majority are bad: either they wildly exaggerate the novelty, hence the effectiveness, of some new technique or "movement," or they are supremely dull. Either way, the reporting in most of them is bad and conforms more to the ideology of the reporter than to any reality. A really good business book - one that stimulates genuine new thinking and that reports the facts freshly and accurately - are few and very far between.

I am happy to report that Kelley's book is positively excellent. Not only did it get me to re-think certain things I took for granted, such as the effectiveness of traditional marketing techniques, but it actually got me to imagine a different way of conceiving products, the "Ideo way." From now on, when I think of the flaws in things that I buy or processes that I encounter (and pay for), I will immediately question whether they could be better designed. As banal as it sounds, this book got me into that mode of thinking like virtually nothing else I have read in the business genre. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I found the book genuinely inspiring.

Even more astounding, the book reports accurately about a truly remarkable company, Ideo. It is a design and engineering company in Palo Alto, CA with offices worldwide, that designed the first mouse for Apple as well as an array of products that are working their way into the consumer mainstream (e.g. heart pacemakers, thick-handled toothbrushes, and the Aerobie football). From Kelley's telling of it, the place is full of creative individuals, healthy competition, and zaniness: with virtually no hierarchy or bureaucracy, they sit around playing and brainstorming and joking, coming up with innovations in great flashes of insight and lots of hard work. To put it mildly, I was skeptical: it sounded like many of the places that mediocre reporters extol as the "future" of innovative companies with ridiculous regularity and that are merely booster science fiction, complete with its own vocabulary ("Think verbs, not nouns"). When I went to the company for a writing project, I expected to find the ugly underbelly that went little reported, the "reality" that was typically hidden from all but those who worked there. Instead, I was delighted to find that I was being too cynical: I witnessed an organization that blended talent, discipline, and fun in its own unique way, the secrets of which Kelley attempts to pass on in "The Art of Innovation."

There are far too many nuggets of wisdom to summarize here. Regarding traditional marketing, for example, Kelley (and co-author Littman, who has a wonderful, clear writing style) argues that "observation-fueled insights" - both personal and via tests - will lead to more innovation than merely asking consumers what they like and want. This is, in my opinion, a fascinating insight that requires far more thought than the reader may imagine. All too often, market professionals take at face value what consumers say, rather than questioning whether they are trying to please the interviewer or don't really know their preferences. The key, Kelley asserts, is to anticipate their desires. He also shares the Ideo experience on the "perfect brainstorm" - and I watched them in awe myself - as they think outside the normal barriers of out thought. But there are many, many other subjects, such as their ideas on the control of personal space in the organization.

Nonetheless, in spite of their inspiration and irrepressible enthusiasm, Ideo engineers are not dreamers. They are down to earth businessmen and they know the limits of how far they can go in search of the "next big thing." Kelley continually warms the reader not to get carried away, not to become unmoored from deep-seated consumer preferences: as he puts it, "color outside the lines, but...stay on the same page." While a hit product combines good design and cost-efficiency, he warns, they also need good timing, which is extremely difficult to predict: you need some luck as well. In other words, there is substantial risk in what they do, and they fail often. Interestingly, Ideo employees are allowed to fail so long as they learn thereby to stay at the cutting edge or to take their idea and apply it in some new way in another product.

While most business books peter out long before the end - some do not even merit getting beyond the book flap - this book just kept getting better for me. The concluding chapters were just as interesting as the earlier ones, making new points and offering sound advice rather than merely recapitulating some banality. For example, at the very end, Kelley talks about one way that Ideo employees try to see the future: rather than seek to pull something out of thin air, they attempt to find "early adopters" of cutting-edge technologies that are not yet well known (or "distributed"). This is a subtle insight that I will study in the years to come. Indeed, this book seemed better to me on the second reading, which virtually never occurs, at least for me, in the business book genre.

Recommended with enthusiasm. I do wonder at times how much Silicon Valley is about hype. But this is an amazing company.
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on 10 March 2011
What are the topics that inspire me:
- Innovation begins with an eye - the importance of consumer observation to innovate successfully
- 7 secrets for better brainstorming - some great tips to improve our collaborative creativity
- How to create hot groups - as they are the core to successful innovation
- Barrier jumping - how to manage external and even more threatening internal barriers to progress great ideas
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on 24 August 2008
This is a little gem of a book for anyone interested in innovation. It focuses on the work of IDEO (one of the most renowned and innovative design companies in the world) and provides an endless number of insights and anecdotal information (although some of the technology examples are starting to look a little dated now.

If you are looking for a book that provides academic insights into the innovation process, this is not for you. If you are looking for a practical and pragmatic approach to innovation, then carry on reading.

Having read the book from cover to cover, I suspect it is the sort of book you could re-read time and time again and glean something new from it every time. As well as providing an insight into the inner workings of IDEO, it covers the cross-over between design and innovation. This is an important aspect of innovation and something that is often overlooked. A great read. Highly recommended.
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on 9 May 2010
This is a great book, telling IDEO's story about how to innovate. In a sense, it is like the biography of a company. Because of that, it is very helpful if you want to make your contribution toward making your own company innovative too: it is full of ideas, how-to's and real-life examples of how to be innovative.
And these are more than hints, for they are not implicit in a "be like us" way. Instead, this reads almost like a recipe.
Since I read this in 2006 I have helped implement many of this book's examples in my own company: in innovation management, in innovation projects themselves, in brainstorming sessions and in training courses on the subject.
This is definitely the best book to read if you want to know how the best guys do it and how you can do it yourself.
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