"Successful businesses build fresh innovation strategies into the fabric of their operations. They do it year-round and in widely differing parts of their enterprises. When the team’s creative engine is running at top speed, the momentum and synergy can keep a company ahead through bad times and good."
The practice of innovating is too valuable a skill to overlook. Businesses who downplay the importance of pushing the boundaries and asking the questions run the risk of becoming stagnant, inflexible, and irrelevant. What Kelly argues in The Ten Faces of Innovation is that “innovation” is more than a buzzword found on the covers of business magazines; it’s a lifestyle and your company’s best secret weapon. If we choose to try and remain ahead of the curve in business, championing it is in our best interest.
Before divulging the ingredients to the secret sauce of innovation, Kelly let’s us know that it’s not an easy task to bring this fresh concept into your professional world. There are people who are actively working against it, specifically The Devil’s Advocate. Through their toxic negative approach and outlook on ideas, Devil’s Advocates are “the biggest innovation killer in [the world] today”. These naysayers nip ideas in their formative stages for a multitude of reasons all lacking serious conviction: “too costly”, “no one will buy it”, “it’ll never catch”, to name a few. All of these are subtle attacks to be on guard against. After all, if given the proper chance, these ideas could have world-changing potential.
We know who the enemy of innovation is. But what can we do to breathe the passion of creativity and innovation into our organizations? Enter The Ten Faces of Innovation.
The Big Idea
Giving a Face to the Name
"Innovation [is]...‘People creating value through the implementation of new ideas’."
- The Anthropologist approaches any challenge with a people-first mindset. Their innovation and insights are gained from observing and becoming a part of those who they’re attempting to serve. They approach challenges with a beginners mind and feverishly record their observations for later reflection.
- When it comes to idea generation, The Experimenter embodies the spirit of ‘seeing what sticks’. They innovate by rapidly testing and editing ideas. Even though the early stages of their concepts often fail, they remain optimistic and view failure as a chance to try again. For The Experimenter, process trumps the end result.
- The Cross-Pollinator is the Bumble Bee of the project, taking ideas from seemingly unrelated sectors and transposing them—or pollinating them—into the project at hand. How Apple used the hospitality industry as inspiration when designing their stores is a perfect example of the Cross-Pollinator at work.
- The Hurdler is no stranger to hardships. This person understands the systems they work in and doesn’t take no for an answer. Their aura of stubbornness, coupled with grit and patience, allows them to turn walls into doors.
- The Collaborator is a natural team player with a knack for coaxing people out of their comfort zones. This person sees the best in people and unites them under one mission. They’re your teams greatest defense against the skeptics by utilizing their extra-personal skills to get them on board before contradiction can arise.
- The Director is the project lead (either officially or unofficially). While The Collaborator leads from within, The Director takes charge.This individual is often tasked with moving the project forward, even when faced with roadblocks and tight timelines. They are chemists—getting the right people in the room and creating magic between them.
- The Experience Architect shines in the realm of user-experience. Think of a website that’s difficult to navigate; it leaves the user frustrated and unlikely to return. The Experience Architect works to correct this, designing compelling experiences that “go beyond mere functionality to connect at a deeper level with the person’s latent or expressed needs”.
- The Set Designer sees the world as a stage and their team as the actors who perform on it. These individuals believe we are products of our environment and work to optimize spaces for greater productivity. Although their efforts benefit mainly their team members, their innovative minds will be tapped into by teammates looking to redesign spaces.
- The Caregiver is a customer service guru, focusing their efforts on understanding the needs of those who they serve through action and empathy. Where they differ from roles like The Anthropologist is that they focus on individuals, looking to understand their needs to make them feel honored and valued.
- The Storyteller is someone who knows that one of the biggest challenges isn’t getting your idea to its final stages, it’s convincing those outside the project why your idea is worth considering. Stories will help show not only how beneficial your project is, but just how genuine your companies values and mission is.
There’s No “I” in Innovation
"…the real payoff comes when you gather several roles together and blend them into a multidisciplinary team. Innovation is ultimately a team sport. Get all the roles performing at the top of their game and you’ll generate a positive force for innovation."
For innovation to become sustainable, habitual, and most importantly, beneficial to your organization, it must become part of everyone’s job description. Through his detailed case-studies, Kelly demonstrates that the greatest breakthroughs didn’t happen in silos. Quite the contrary. Ideas of a groundbreaking nature require a team of individuals who each bring a unique skillset to the table.
For the greatest impact, Kelly recommends that individuals working on a project should be from diverse backgrounds (think: upbringing, class, education, sex, personality, etc.). The greater the diversity, the more likely these individuals are going to relate to and empathize with the individuals they are serving.
Diversity isn’t enough, though. To make the most of a project, we must seek out those whose skills align with the project at hand. Be intentional with those who we ask to contribute. Diversity is good, but too many innovators can leave people frustrated, feeling useless and far less likely to contribute on future projects.
Building on this idea, Kelly argues that a team is crucial to success because no one person can embody all of these personas at once. Some individuals may wear two or three hats simultaneously, but thinking you or someone on your team can wear all of them is unrealistic.
Flex Your Innovation Muscles
"This book is…about the unsung heroes who work on the front lines of entrepreneurship in action, the countless people and teams who make innovation happen day in and day out."
Like anyone who has ever decided to start exercising, you understand that it takes time to see any results. Similarly, groundbreaking ideas don’t come with the first brainstorm. Developing the habit of innovation takes time and reaping the benefits of it takes even longer. Similarly, introducing these concepts to your company will be a time consuming and laborious process. Adopt the mindset of The Hurdler on this one and continue to practice patience and persistence. The rest, Kelly assures, will follow.
For readers who have influence at their organization, support the folks at your company who create ideas that push boundaries. While you don’t have to agree with everything that is pitched, build on it to help keep it alive and moving forward. Your collaboration and support will be even more contagious than that of the Devil’s Advocate.
For readers who may be at an entry level position within their organization and feel unsure of how these new ideas will be received, spend time each day ruminating on those “out of the ordinary” ideas. You don’t have to share every single one of them. But when you do, there’s a far greater chance that your bosses will appreciate the innovation and foresight.
If you’re looking to shake up your approach to projects, break out of a creative slump at work, or get a glimpse at the workings of one of the most progressive design firms on the planet, than this book is for you. The clean, simplistic layout akin to a high school text book might not appeal to all readers, but the content will hook you.
To leave you with a challenge, reader, try on these different hats Kelly has modelled for us the next time you approach a project or task at work or at home. Ask, “How would an Experimenter or Set Designer approach this?” After all, what’s the worst that could happen? You might stumble upon some truly unique ideas.