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Management article
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Reference no. R0103L
Authors: Michael Schrage
Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Published in: "Harvard Business Review", 2001

Abstract

Lots of companies say they use brainstorming, hot teams, and other techniques to foster innovation. But for IDEO, the successful design firm in Silicon Valley, that work is its bread and butter. In The Art of Innovation, IDEO general manager Tom Kelley explains how the firm works. Reviewer Michael Schrage, research associate at MIT''s Media Lab, extols the book for its engaging style and comprehensive coverage. But he warns readers that what really drives the company is not fancy methodologies but an underlying "cult" of innovation. As a result, IDEO has come up with many great new products, but it''s had much less success in teaching client companies to be innovative themselves. The book may suffer a similar fate. This cult of innovation is what allows IDEO to get beyond the political gamesmanship that stifles many traditional companies. The firm''s employees believe passionately in innovation, a focus that enables individuals from diverse backgrounds to argue about alternatives but still unite in generating an effective design. And the company''s emphasis on prototyping gives people concrete things to play with, so they don''t get bogged down in mere talk. The back-and-forth within these hot teams-- and ideally with clients--helps the firm settle on creations that are likely to succeed in the marketplace. IDEO''s culture allows it to be very innovative about the process of innovation itself. But the overwhelming majority of organizations can''t afford to make faith in innovation the cornerstone of their cultures. IDEO is as much a cultural outlier as Virgin or Southwest, says Schrage. Ignore at your peril, but imitate at your own risk.

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Abstract

Lots of companies say they use brainstorming, hot teams, and other techniques to foster innovation. But for IDEO, the successful design firm in Silicon Valley, that work is its bread and butter. In The Art of Innovation, IDEO general manager Tom Kelley explains how the firm works. Reviewer Michael Schrage, research associate at MIT''s Media Lab, extols the book for its engaging style and comprehensive coverage. But he warns readers that what really drives the company is not fancy methodologies but an underlying "cult" of innovation. As a result, IDEO has come up with many great new products, but it''s had much less success in teaching client companies to be innovative themselves. The book may suffer a similar fate. This cult of innovation is what allows IDEO to get beyond the political gamesmanship that stifles many traditional companies. The firm''s employees believe passionately in innovation, a focus that enables individuals from diverse backgrounds to argue about alternatives but still unite in generating an effective design. And the company''s emphasis on prototyping gives people concrete things to play with, so they don''t get bogged down in mere talk. The back-and-forth within these hot teams-- and ideally with clients--helps the firm settle on creations that are likely to succeed in the marketplace. IDEO''s culture allows it to be very innovative about the process of innovation itself. But the overwhelming majority of organizations can''t afford to make faith in innovation the cornerstone of their cultures. IDEO is as much a cultural outlier as Virgin or Southwest, says Schrage. Ignore at your peril, but imitate at your own risk.

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