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What Style of Innovator Are You?

22 May 2018

Janie read The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley and was eager to learn more about the ten personas that IDEO considers so integral to fostering creativity and innovation in an organization.

Tags: design thinking, janie read

I wear a few hats at Allison Partners, but one of the largest aspects of my role is managing a leadership development program that incorporates design thinking tools for roughly 250 mid-level managers each year. If you’re not familiar with design thinking, this post will give you a good overview. I’ve often heard The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley referenced in our office and in the classroom, but I had never read it. A few weeks ago, I was perusing the shelves of our office library and decided to check it out. I’m so glad I did; it’s a fascinating read. Each chapter of the book is a deep dive into a different persona, like the anthropologist, the hurdler, the caregiver, or the storyteller.

With each persona, Kelley shares stories about famous historical figures and members of the IDEO staff who fit these roles and how they have used each persona to complete some incredible projects. One of Kelley’s arguments is that we’re best able to develop new solutions when we can approach a situation from a number of different perspectives, and that by actively thinking about how others might approach a situation, we’re able to create something new.

As I read, I found myself thinking back to some of the best and worst teams I have been on in my career. I also found myself thinking of some of my best teachers, the people who I think of as mentors. I could see so many examples of these different personas in their work.

One of my favorite descriptions was of the “Hurdler” persona. “…Confronted with a road ahead that looks too steep, they approach it from a new angle. Great hurdlers hardly let obstacles slow them down, much less stop them. Which goes to show a hurdle is only as high as you make it out to be.” I found this so inspiring, and it helped me start thinking of ways to reframe some of my “obstacles” as “opportunities.”

One of the central themes that I found in all the personas is to not be afraid to try something new and not let yourself be derailed if it doesn’t work. Learn from what didn’t work and move on to the next thing. Kelley shares a great quote from Thomas Edison, one of the most famous “Experimenters” in history. Edison said, “I have not failed, I’ve merely found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” What a wonderful attitude for focusing on continuous improvement instead of berating yourself when something doesn’t work the way you think it will.

If you’re looking for ways to increase innovation and creativity among your team, or just in yourself, I would highly recommend this book. It’s filled with practical tips and engaging stories. I also found it to be a great dose of both personal and professional inspiration.


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