Book Takeaways: The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley

Written and based on the experiences of Tom Kelley, the general manager at IDEO, this book is a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone involved in product management.

  • Send the Devil’s Advocate to hell

The Devil’s Advocate is one of the main reasons why ideas never foster. Be critical and analytical about innovation in your organization but take the inherent negativity that comes with the Devil’s Advocate persona out of the innovation process. As Kelley points out, “the Devil’s Advocate encourages idea-wreckers to assume the most negative possible perspective, one that sees only the downside, the problems, the disasters-in-waiting.” And I must agree with Kelley the Devil’s Advocate is just a copout for idea-wreckers.

  • Develop a sense of “Vuja De”

The key to problem solving is to be able to identify the problem in the first place. It sounds intuitive and simple yet many research projects have flaws in the problem statement. To recognize problems one must be a good observer – one without prejudice. Good observers experience things with a “beginners mind” and they approach fieldwork with the principle of Vuja De, which is exactly the opposite of déjà vu. Vuja De is a sense of perceiving something for the first time, even if you have experienced it many times before.

  • It’s all about t-shaped people

A t-shaped person is someone who knows a little bit about a lot of things and is also a specialist in a specific subject. Kelley suggests that this is what they look for when they hire at IDEO and I believe one should aspire to be a t-shaped individual. Knowing a little about everything seems easy to me: just read the news everyday and add some diversity to the people you hang out with and voilà. On the other hand, becoming a true specialist at something takes time, dedication, and passion.

  • When creating something new-to-the-world focus groups are useless

My best marketing professors all disliked focus groups and they were always happy to list all the reasons why: small sample size, dominant personalities, biased settings, skewed results, and so on. Kelley doesn’t express such a strong adverse opinion of focus groups and seems to believe that sometimes they may be appropriate. But when you are creating a new-to-the-world product Kelley believes in “Unfocus Groups.” These groups feature extreme people that are passionate about a product. Unfocus groups use props, prototypes, observations, and brainstorming to inspire innovative themes and concepts.

  • Implement innovation programs no matter what your company does

I must say that The Director chapter was my favorite because it gave me some concrete ideas that I can try to implement at work. This chapter suggests that companies schedule brainstorming sessions that get all the employees involved in the product development process. The chapter offers many benefits from such an innovation program and there are several recommendations on how to structure it. If you are involved in product management or development I strongly recommend you take a look at this chapter.

  • Map the customer journey

The importance of understanding your customers and their experience with your products can’t be emphasized enough. Kelley offers some insight from his background, “the journey nearly always has more steps than people first imagine.” It is also important to look at the entire customer journey, which sometimes may begin before the customer purchases your product (just like it can end after you have delivered it). Make sure you are looking at the entire picture.

  • And finally, don’t forget to smile

Smiles are free and they go a long way, especially with customer service.

Fernando Elizalde


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