#15/111: The Art of Innovation

What is it about?

The makers of Apple’s first mouse and Palm V talk about inventing new products. Tom Kelly, who is General Manager at IDEO, explains the basic principles of IDEO’s work. Each of these principles is supported by several short anecdotes.

Key points?

Build Hot Teams: The less inertia the better. Let your staff work on projects as project teams. These project teams are Hot Teams if they have one purpose and a defined deadline. After this project the Hot Team is ready to split up and build new teams with other people.

Observe: Watch people using the existing product, to explore what could be improved. What works? What doesn’t? What could be added or removed? Particularly the last one is maybe too hard to answer by its actual users. So, use your knowledge and ideas to find answers.

Brainstorm: Tom Kelly thinks that Brainstorming is more a mindset than an activity. Brainstorm often, freely and without (too much) restrictions.

Prototype:  If you build a new product, you should test it at fast and much as possible. Build some prototype and show them to your customers/boss and ask them what they like and dislike. Using this information build the next prototype and iterate.

Use verbs not nouns: Your product shouldn’t just be a thing, it should be a experience. If you think about Hawaii, you probably think of beaches, sunshine and hula girls. If you think about Volvo, you probably think of safety. It’s a experience, not just a car or an island.


This book is just terrific. Each chapter is full of different stories about the work process and life at IDEO. Furthermore, it is very well written and divided into small sub chapters. If you are a creative person you will love this book. There is so much inspiration and flow and so little bureaucracy and rules.

Stamina and Simplicity

Yesterday, I’ve read an other chapter of Founders at Work. It was chapter 8 about Evan Williams founder of blogger.com, later twitter.
The story of blogger.com was really tough, especially after all employees and his co-founder left the startup because they didn’t have any money anymore. But Evan stayed and kept up the server and the service. In 2001 Evan started adding some paid-services for blogger. And two years later Google acquired Blogger.com.

“Simplicity is powerful.” – Evan Williams

He showed this with both blogger and twitter.
I think these are powerful ways of doing things: stamina and simplicity. Often it don’t have to be complex. Complexity has some bad side effects. I think everyone who had worked on a bigger project, source code or organization knows this.

“Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien à retrancher.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Translation: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This could be a way to get simple and great (business) ideas. Take your first sketch. Try to make it simpler. If it will remain too complex, maybe you can’t put it into practice. Then try another idea or think harder to make your old one simpler.

There are several pros of simple ideas.

  • Your idea isn’t so prone to small changes
  • You can manage it without 90 people in administration
  • More people will understand (and use) it
  • The chance to survive is higher

“Must I be an inventor?”

The idea is not that important. Google did not invent search engines. Apple did not invent mobile mp3 players. Microsoft did not invent operating systems. So you should/must be an innovator.

Google said “Hey, search engines are great, but the results suck. We need a better search algorithm.”
Apple said “Hey, mp3 players are great, but they are not stylish and easy to use, make them look cool and easy to use.”
Microsoft said “Hey, IBM is looking for a new operation system for their new personal computer, we know where to buy one.” Oops, bad example.