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Book review: The Ten Faces of Innovation: Strategies for Heightening Creativity

Reading Tom Kelley’s second book on innovation, you get the feeling that Ideo, the design company run by Kelley and responsible for iconic designs from the iPod to the Virgin trains, is a big kindergarten and its staff a bunch of frightfully precocious children. I visited Ideo’s London office some years ago and can confirm that it is indeed full of playrooms, games, silly hats and a drum kit in one corner. Tuesday is band night, apparently.

Kelley once was one of the kids messing around with loads of cool toys but has graduated to be the grand orchestrator of organised chaos. His method, developed over years of doing innovation, is to identify ten personality types or hats to be worn in the innovation process.

He starts with the Anthropologist, the person who does nothing more than observe human behaviour. Kelley originally thought that professional Anthropologists—who generally call themselves consultants—were simple tricksters. But “picking up on the smallest nuances of your customers can offer tremendous opportunities,” he writes. A Polish soft-drinks company noticed train commuters stopped in front of their stand, glanced at their watches and then moved on. ‘No time to buy’ was the conclusion. A large clock installed on the stands reassured customers they could catch a cold one and not miss their train. Sales rocketed.

The Anthropologist can spot latent demand and hands the observations onto the remaining nine faces: Experimenter, Cross Pollinator, Director, Hurdler, Collaborator, Experience Architect, Set Designer, Caregiver and Storyteller.

Providing roles for people, even if they aren’t naturally inclined to such positions, provides freedom to act. It’s the same freedom, ironically, that Kelley says is experienced when someone adopts the role of Devil’s Advocate. His aim is to eliminate the devilish one and replace it with a range of roles that force the hat-wearer to find solutions, without needing to personally ‘own’ the whole project, like some sort of innovation superhero.

Creating a culture of innovation requires fewer heroes and more systematic approaches. Assigning roles, rather than systems, is a breakthrough that no accountant or system engineer would consider.

Ten Faces is a manual for innovation like no other. Full of encouraging anecdotes and practical tools, it has been written from the trenches of bitter and awe-inspiring experience. The best innovation book I’ve read in weeks—and I’ve read a few.