Bay Area brothers Tom and David Kelley are known for pushing innovation and creativity.
David helped start the d.school at Stanford University. Tom is the author of “The Art of Innovation” and “The Ten Faces of Innovation.”
David is also the founder, and Tom is his partner at Ideo, a San Francisco design consulting firm that has helped clients ranging from Apple to Procter & Gamble and Microsoft.
The firm’s most famous client, Steve Jobs, used Ideo to help create Apple’s first mouse. Wells Fargo has used them to create a new interface for online banking, and Ideo helped design what it calls a “better box of tea” for the family-owned company, Bigelow.
The brothers recently shared their experiences about how to foster creativity in their book, “Creative Confidence.” They answered some questions for The Chronicle about the “creativity myth” and whether it can be taught, implemented or is simply innate.
Q: Creative confidence is like a “muscle,” you write in the book. “It can be strengthened.” How do you strengthen it in a corporate setting?
DK: Some organizations get stuck at the planning stage when they should instead be seeking new insights from the field. If you’re new in the company, the people above you in an organization know way more about the corporate history than you do. So you have to go into the situation with something they don’t know, and what they don’t know is probably coming from the front lines.
We believe in planning, but only after you’ve jumped in and learned a lot more about what’s really going on. You’ve got to jump into the mess and go watch people, talk to people. Then you can go back to planning or calculating. So bringing in more empathy, bringing back data from the front lines, jumping into action – that can lead to more creative confidence.
TK: Or, if you’re the boss, you can strengthen creative confidence by remembering that everybody in your organization is watching when you react to either a small failure or to an idea that is not yet perfect. So if you’re too heavy with critique in the moment, then people will get that “Oh, you’re not really supposed to take risks, you’re not supposed to show your work-in-progress to this boss,” which means fewer creative solutions and new ideas have a chance to thrive in the organization.
Q: IDEO is one of the largest and most prominent design firms. How do you ensure that it stays true to its roots?
DK: It’s the new blood. The truth is, we have a flat hierarchy and we continue to hire the best designers we can find and let ‘em rip. We don’t stifle the young people, we let them have a voice. Status in the company is about your ideas, not how long you’ve worked here.
Q: Even if you’re a creative employee, how do you get past the bureaucracy in work environments? That tends to be the killer.
TK: There are a few ways. One is to double deliver: complete the project exactly the way the boss suggested, and then use a more creative approach to complete it again. Present both directions to the boss. By definition you’re going to have different solutions, because you’ll have different data feeding into your solutions. Yes, this is extra work. Yes, this will be worthwhile if you have passion about it. Any boss that appreciates innovation is going to notice that you’re coming up with different – and often better – ideas than the conventional ones. You may not be successful the first time, but you will win the boss over, because even the most skeptical boss loves success.
DK: Here’s a second option. Before you go into any difficult meeting, convene your personal advisory board. This is a bunch of people inside and outside the company that you’re willing to buy coffee or pizza for on a somewhat frequent basis to talk things over. The result is that you go into your meeting with five people’s points of view, and your ideas have already been improved upon by bouncing them off other people.
Q: Do you believe the “bottom line” and “creative confidence” can go hand-in-hand?
TK: Absolutely. Just look at Apple and Google, tremendously creative companies that are now considered the two most valuable brands in the world
DK: Of course, organizations must continuously focus on incremental improvements. But it’s the companies capable of new-to-the-world innovations that will keep coming up with the kind of disruptive products, services and experiences that positively impact the bottom line over time.
Q: What is your vision for this book – do you want to turn this into something bigger?
DK: We don’t get to decide if this turns into a movement, but we do believe in the idea of creative confidence far beyond the book. We started the hashtag #creativeconfidence as a way to open up the conversation, and so far #creativeconfidence has attracted hundreds of examples. That really encourages us.
TK: We’re also inspired to learn that the OpenIdeo Creative Confidence challenge has attracted more people than any other challenge in the history of our open innovation platform. The OpenIdeo challenge is currently in the idea-gathering stage, so we encourage people to join the party.
This originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.