Today the Thunderbird Entrepreneurship Winterim (#eWinterim) spend the morning in Palo Alto at IDEO (Palo Alto is the company’s headquarters, but with other locations in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston, London, Munich, Shanghai, Singapore, Mumbai, Seoul, and Tokyo). IDEO is a global design consultancy firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow. We identify new ways to serve and support people by uncovering latent needs, behaviors, and desires. They do this by employing a range of skillsets–anywhere from anthropologists, to engineers, to human factor specialists are used on a given project depending on the requirements. How the design interacts with the user, though, is always paramount. We got to tour their design spaces, and see the evolution of famous products such as the Palm Pilot, the Microsoft Mouse, various medical devices (including a defibrilator that was redesigned from a two step process to a three step process because IDEO’s human factor specialists were able to prove that users preferred three steps, even when the third step was not necessary), and famous toys (their Toy Lab was quite the playground). The atmosphere was “Google-like” and the hierarchy relatively flat–when a Thunderbird asked about the chain of command, and if people had bosses, the tour guide exaplined, “well, I wouldn’t call them bosses.” The point is, though, that a reporting process does exist (maybe manager is a better term?).
According to IDEO, the design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces that they live by, and apply to all their projects: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the first step, and is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions. For IDEO, they really get into the problem itself to understand the challenges and hurdles associated with it (for example, for one project on rock and roll they bought a touring rock van in order to understand what it felt to live a musician’s life on the road). The second step for IDEO is ideation, which is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas. Implementation, the final step, is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.
IDEO also has a vibrant Global Fellows program to ensure new blood (and innovation) are constantly injected into the organization. We met with a few of the Fellows on the premises, and their backgrounds were quite impressive in their respective fields. IDEO maintains this Fellow network because the company believes that innovation happens through networks of inspired people, IDEO is able to collaborate at scale and effect meaningful change faster and more systemically than those who go it alone. IDEO also maintains a fellowship program for a handful of influential thinkers and practitioners who contribute to its culture of innovation, leading to sustainable social innovation.
And what does it take to work at IDEO? Massive chops in lots of things. When I asked an employee about what IDEO looks for in its employees, the answer was “a T shaped person.” This means somebody who has depth in one (or more things), and breadth in everything else. Sounds well suited to the Thunderbird community. 🙂