We all make things. And we’re making things all the time. It starts when we notice something and develop an idea, when we start a conversation with ourselves and with others. It doesn’t have to involve wrenches and hot glue guns.
In The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley shows that creativity is not an exclusive talent, and that instead, creating great products, services, ideas is something we all can do. Kelley, a partner at IDEO, breaks down the steps to creating meaningful, useful, and delightful things. It starts with understanding the situation and constraints, then observing real behaviors, visualizing possibilities, evaluating and refining those prototypes, and finally implementing the best ideas. Of course, it doesn’t truly end there…Kelley makes it clear that a productive team doesn’t stall. Something is constantly in progress, something new is always being tested, something else is being planned already.
“Fail often to succeed sooner,” goes the IDEO saying.
But making things almost inevitably involves others, and Kelley recognizes team dynamics as a critical component to the process of innovation. Leaders who believe in their team members (and show that confidence) set the tone of trust and expectation. Leaders who spontaneously give silly or symbolic (but always thoughtful) gifts to their team create a space for playful, prompt, personal recognition. Leaders who deemphasize their role of the boss as one to initiate ideas and action build an environment where everyone realizes that they are welcome and expected to contribute. Leaders who purposely choose a small workspace for their team enable more transparent collaboration and bonding.
Ultimately, the work isn’t just about the work—it’s about the people we do it with. Innovations are powered by collective energy.
From observing different people to thinking in verbs rather than nouns, the key to preventing energy stagnation is to develop a habit of exploration. A posture of curiosity and openness to discovery. An addiction to connect with others and share ideas. And that’s because we cannot learn enough from only scrutinizing our competitors or others in our industry. But if we go beyond our bubble, we begin to see new ideas, parallels, and opportunities.
After many years of watching projects succeed, flounder, go viral, disintegrate, and morph, Kelley notes some common elements to creating great products and services:
- Make a great entrance
- Make metaphors
- Think about things that cross between work and home environments
- Color inspires; think about color early on
- Give backstage passes; let customers know what’s going on as they wait
- One click is better than two
- Make it goof-proof; offer an undo option
- Make it safe and easy to use
- Follow a checklist of basic features within industry standards
- Have fabulous details that delight
So the magic of innovation isn’t simply in creating something. It’s in creating an experience that we know will serve someone, and that we’ve created it with people whose energy amplifies our own.
This is goes far beyond work. This is the art of innovation.