Tom Kelley

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12 design thinking rules from David Burney


One of my business partners at New Kind, David Burney, is an exceptional facilitator of design thinking sessions. David introduced me to design thinking and the work of IDEO (where many of the concepts behind design thinking were developed and applied to the business world). David taught me everything I know about facilitating projects and sessions using a design thinking approach.

At the beginning of any design thinking project, David shares a set of rules that help get every participant on the same page. The rules apply to everyone (including executives) and help create an optimal environment for creativity. If you are planning to run a project using a design thinking approach, you might want to consider sharing these rules with your group before you get started. I’ve used this list many times, and I promise, it really helps keep things on track.

1. Avoid the devil’s advocate: The devil’s advocate is someone who (purposely or accidentally) shoots down the ideas of others without taking any personal responsibility for his actions. The devil’s advocate often begins his objection with the phrase “Let me be the devil’s advocate for a second…”. The devil’s advocate often intends to be helpful by pointing out flaws in an idea, but ultimately this focuses people’s attention on what won’t work rather than exploring unexpected ways that it might work.

2. Make agendas transparent: Every participant should make their personal agendas as clear as possible.

3. Leave titles at the door: No one person’s ideas are worth more than anyone else’s.

4. Generate as many ideas as possible: During ideation, you are not trying to generate the best ideas; you are trying to generate the most ideas.

5. Build on the ideas of others rather than judging them: If someone else has an idea you like, build on it. If you don’t like an idea, share another one rather than critiquing.

6. Stay on time: Don’t let your ideation session spiral out of control. Each ideation session should be timed and should have a clear ending point.

7. State the obvious: Sometimes things that can seem obvious reveal great insight from their simplicity.

8. Don’t sell or debate ideas: Selling and debating ideas takes time away from generating new ideas.

9. Stupid and wild ideas are good: Sometimes the craziest ideas lead to the best ideas.

10. DTA stands for death to acronyms: Avoid acronyms—they are exclusionary because people who don’t know what they stand for will quickly be lost. If you must use an acronym, write what it stands for somewhere everyone can see it. Keep a running list of all acronyms used during the project or session.

11. Always understand in which stage of the process you are: When you are ideating, you are not critiquing ideas. But when ideation is over and you begin the process of selecting the best ideas, you’ll need to discuss the merits of each idea in a more traditional, analytical way.

12. Play is good, have fun: The more fun you are having as a group, the more creative ideas you’ll generate.

If you’d like to learn more about design thinking and how you can use it in your projects, I recommend any of the following books.

From the amazing team at IDEO:

The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley
Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown

Other great books to consider:

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin
Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Thomas Lockwood

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OpenIDEO: a new experiment in open innovation


This week, those smart folks over at IDEO launched a new project they are calling OpenIDEO. If you aren’t familiar with IDEO yet, you should be—they are the poster children for design thinking specifically and 21st century innovation more generally.

IDEO has been responsible for groundbreaking designs of everything from computer mice to toothbrushes to brand experiences, and it is the home of superstar thinkers like Tim Brown (author of the recent book called Change By Design) and Tom Kelley (author of The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation).

What is OpenIDEO? Here’s what the website says:

OpenIDEO is a place where people design better, together for social good. It’s an online platform for creative thinkers: the veteran designer and the new guy who just signed on, the critic and the MBA, the active participant and the curious lurker.

So it is basically an experiment in open innovation, a place where IDEO can be the catalyst of a conversation among really smart folks from different disciplines that might lead to solutions for big, complex social problems.

If you are a skeptic, you might immediately wonder what’s in it for IDEO. One person asked whether IDEO planned to make money with the “crowd’s” ideas, and Tim Brown answered like this:

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Three tips for escaping the creativity peloton without giving up on collaboration


If you’ve ever watched a road bike race like the Tour de France, you know the peloton is the big group of riders that cluster together during the race to reduce drag. It’s a great example of collaboration in action. But let’s face it: the people in the middle of the peloton may go faster than they would otherwise, but they don’t win the race.

When it comes to creating and innovating, most companies (and employees) are in the peloton. They are doing enough to survive, but they are stuck in the pack. And if they stay in the pack too long, they lose.

Escaping the peloton is tough. Often, you see a cyclist break away, sprint for a while, only to get sucked back into the main group over time as the pressures of making a go independently prove too much.

You’ve probably felt this way at work. You come up with an amazing idea, one that will change the company forever. But little by little, people—even the well-meaning ones—chip away at its soul, until the idea goes from being amazing to, well, average. You end up being sucked back into the peloton.

After this happens one too many times, you may feel like you want to stop collaborating and try to make things happen on your own. Don’t do it. Even Lance Armstrong could rarely break away from the peloton without his teammates’ help.

Instead, here are three tips to help you escape the creativity peloton without giving up on collaboration.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Is the traditional business world at war with creativity?


Earlier this week some colleagues and I attended a fantastic gathering of business and political leaders called the Emerging Issues Forum. The theme of the forum—interestingly enough for a bunch of business folks—was creativity, and speakers included some of my favorite thinkers/authors who analyze the future of business:

During their talks, I couldn’t help but notice all three touched on a similar thematic: the crucial role that inspiring creativity plays in driving innovation.

[Read the rest of this post over at opensource.com]

Reporting live from the front lines of the war on creativity


Today I spent a great day at the Emerging Issues Forum, where I’m proud to say my home state of North Carolina attracted some of the top business minds in the world (the Twitter stream is going crazy here). This morning featured two Dark Matter Matters all stars, Roger Martin and Tom Kelley (who I have written about previously here and here), but there was also an incredible lunch session where Charlie Rose interviewed husband and wife creative geniuses Nnenna Freelon (the 5-time Grammy nominated jazz vocalist) and Philip Freelon (architect extraordinaire), and plenty of other enlightening stuff.

The theme of the conference is Creativity, Inc., and from what I can tell from many of the attendee and host comments, the theme of this year’s event is very different than years past. But the undercurrent of many of the comments from this morning seemed to take a clear point of view on this theme.

My interpretation? For years the business world has been waging a war against creativity… and creativity is beginning to fight back.

It’s about damn time.

Roger Martin is one of the most eloquent speakers in the world on the need for change in business. Some key points from his talk today:

Martin talked about two types of industries– clustered industries (where much of the industry is in one part of the world, Silicon Valley for high tech being one good example) and distributed industries (where the industry is dispersed all over, hair salons and pizza places being two examples).

Martin’s research shows that clustered industries have a higher percentage of the creative class of workers. The average salary for a creative worker in a clustered industry? About $70,000 per year. But for a creative worker in a dispersed industry? Only about $56,500 a year. Pretty big difference.

So what does it mean? According to Martin, income disparities will continue to grow unless we can figure out what to do with routine jobs in dispersed industries.

He calls this one of the greatest policy challenges of the 21st century: How can we increase the percentage of creativity we use in all jobs? How can we make use of the whole human being in work environments?

I love this thought of us figuring out how to use the whole human being– how many jobs do we see that leave tons of creative potential on the table, at the expense of not only innovation, but also employee happiness? Too many, in my experience. And at all levels in business, from executive on down.

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The top 10 books behind Dark Matter Matters


Books are important to me. Growing up, almost every free wall in my parents’ house was lined with bookshelves, some of them stacked two deep.  I spent most of my pre- Red Hat career in book publishing, first working during college at The University of North Carolina Press. After college, I went to work for a literary agent named Rafe Sagalyn in Washington DC. Working for Rafe was a great experience because he built his reputation on big think/idea books and business books.

His first big book was the huge bestseller Megatrends by John Naisbitt back in the early 80s. When I was there, I personally got to work with, among others, Bill Strauss and Neil Howe on their great books about generational patterns in society (check out The Fourth Turning… very prophetic these days) and Don Peppers, author of some books back in the 90s like The 1:1 Future about relationship marketing that were the grandparents of today’s books on social media marketing.

I also got to play agent and author myself too. As an agent, I represented some of Tom Bodett’s work (yes, he is the Motel 6 guy, but was also a commentator on NPR) and sold a wonderful novel called The Frequency of Souls to FSG. As author, I helped Rafe write two “cutting edge” books about getting free and open access to government information (they have not aged well, I’m afraid).

Fast forwarding to today, Rafe actually was the agent for two recent big think books that I love, Authenticity and A Whole New Mind, so he is still making things happen.

After I left book publishing, reading became fun again. I read novels and travel literature for a while, nothing that made me think too much. But when I got to Red Hat, I relapsed and started reading the big think books like the ones I used to work on with Rafe. I thought it might be worth taking a few minutes to try to remember the books that have been the biggest influences on my thinking, and get them all down in one place, so here goes:

Top 10 Dark Matter Matters books

Without these ten books, Dark Matter might not even matter to me.

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