Ideo executives tout ‘creative confidence’ in the workplace

  • David Kelley, founder of San Francisco design consulting firm Ideo, says companies benefit when they encourage employees to create and innovate. Photo: Lacy Atkins, The Chronicle
    David Kelley, founder of San Francisco design consulting firm Ideo, says companies benefit when they encourage employees to create and innovate. Photo: Lacy Atkins, The Chronicle

Bay Area brothers Tom and David Kelley are known for pushing innovation and creativity.

David helped start the 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. 


Aamir Khan: Talk-show talent on Satyamev Jayate 2


AAMIR KHAN is one of India’s most sought-after actors and has become known in recent years for taking on roles dealing with social and political issues. In the Oscar-nominated “Lagaan”, for example, he played a poor farmer stuck in drought-ridden Gujarat, fighting off taxes from the British. In “Rang de Basanti”, he was a jaded 20-something who discovers his civic duty after playing an Indian freedom fighter for a British documentarian. And in “Taare Zameen Par”, also Oscar-nominated, he was a thoughtful art teacher captivated by a dyslexic student.

At first glance, his recent foray into television seemed to be an extension of his films. Two years ago he launched “Satyamev Jayate” (“The Truth Prevails”), a one-hour talk show that dug into India’s problems: sexual abuse, female feticide, domestic violence, medical malpractice, shortage of water and more. It was the first Indian television show to appear on both STAR, a private channel, and Doordarshan, the national broadcaster. Some wondered about the public appetite for a socially conscious, Sunday-morning talk show. But nearly 9m people tuned in to see the first programme.

This month Mr Khan returned with a second season of “Satyamev Jayate”. We spoke to him before the first episode.

What did you learn from the first season of “Satyamev Jayate”?

My biggest learning from season one was that the root cause of a number of the problems that we face today is our patriarchal thinking. The second learning was that wherever we found people working as a community, where the individual was thinking for the larger group and not exclusively for his or her own good, there we found communities happier, more prosperous, more progressive and more sensitive. 

Several members of government approached you after the first season. Can you give examples of concrete actions that came out of the television show?

After our episode on female feticide, the government of Rajasthan set up fast-track courts to hear cases against doctors who had been caught on camera indulging in illegal sex-selection abortion. In a country where court cases can stretch to over 20 years, this move resulted in 31 doctors being convicted within a period of 18 months.

Then the government of Maharashtra conducted raids on illegal clinics and doctors indulging in illegal sex-selection or sex-selective abortion. 38 doctors were arrested and 317 cases were filed against unregistered sonography clinics. 

After our episode on child sexual abuse, Parliament passed a bill on child protection that had been pending for close to two years. 

And, after our episode on untouchability, I met the prime minister regarding the issue of manual scavenging [removing waste from dry toilets that do not have a flush system] and he promised action. Approximately a year later, the government amended the present law and made it much stronger. According to this law, the definition of “manual scavenger” has been widened to include a person engaged or employed for manual cleaning of human excreta in an insanitary latrine, an open drain or pit, on railway tracks, etc. Rehabilitation has been included in the act, and scholarship for children of manual scavengers, and training in another profession along with a stipend. 

What is your goal for the second season?

It is the same as for season one, which is to sensitise people, empower them with information and knowledge, and share with them rich emotional experiences and the learnings of people who have been working in a particular field for decades.

At the end of season one, you shared a story about the “Mountain Man”, who dug a road for 22 years in remembrance of his wife. She died because she couldn’t get to a clinic in time, given the bad state of roads in the area. He didn’t want anyone else to endure that loss. So, to remember him, you will be launching season two at that road in Bihar, correct? What does his story mean to you?

Dashrat Manjhi and his story was the last story that we highlighted in our last episode of season one. We wanted to make our announcement of season two from where we left off. Also, the story of Dashrat Manjhi is an extremely inspirational one. It’s the story of one man achieving the seemingly impossible through perseverance. I, too, am inspired by him and hope to move ahead with “Satyamev Jayate” with the same perseverance. 

Does all this travel, learning and reporting compel you to start your own foundation or social programme?

I believe that my strength lies in communication, so rather than concentrate on any one issue, I prefer to research numerous issues and share with people what comes before me. I am doing “Satyamev Jayate” as part of my responsibility as a creative person. 

In one of the promos, you point to the power of the mobile phone. How will “Satyamev Jayate” incorporate them?

We have started a campaign termed “Vote for Change”. The device used for this is “missed call” on a toll-free number. At different times during the episode, when a certain solution emerges, or when I want the opinion of people to be recorded, I invite people to give a missed call on a toll-free number. This enables us to understand what the viewers’ opinions are, and it gives viewers an opportunity to engage better with the show.

After one episode which looked at the state of the police in India, we received more than 40 lakh (4m) missed calls in less than 72 hours. 

Full interview posted at


An End to Polio In India?


For the complete article, please go the New York Times.

On Jan. 13, 2011, a case of polio was discovered in the Indian state of West Bengal. India has been a hotbed of polio, often exporting strains to polio-free countries such as China. What’s remarkable is that this case, three years ago, may be the last ever discovered in India. This year, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) will officially remove India from its list of polio-endemic countries, leaving just Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

India’s routine immunization rates — for measles, rubella hepatitis B, TB and the like — were last recorded in 2009 at 61 percent nationally. India accounts for a third of the world’s measles deaths. Public health is dismal, and India’s per-capita spending on health care is among the lowest in the world. Yet with polio, India achieved 95 percent coverage.

The success of India’s polio effort has turned it into a blueprint for large-scale health campaigns. Now India is using what it did with polio to boost rates of routine vaccinations.

Read the rest at the New York Times.


Does India Need Its Own ‘Impact’ Investors?

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For the full story, please go to  

The sun has appeared in Delhi.  The “fog,” that clogs Delhi mornings in the winter, or as locals joke, less fog, more smog, has gone for a hiatus today.  Perhaps in celebration of the “do-gooders” who are gathering to discuss the challenges of investing in India.

About 100 venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and want-to-be entrepreneurs have gathered on the lawns at Adianta School of Innovation in Chhatarpur, South Delhi.  The dress code is Silicon Valley meets Nehru: jeans with smartly fitted, collared vests reminiscent of India’s first “architect.”

The venture capitalists here are India’s new architects.  Investments, not votes, is their tool to better healthcare, ease transportation, and produce alternative energy models for the country.

Entrepreneurs, however, complain that India’s venture capital scene, particularly for “impact” investments, is limited.  That is, investments which produce some social benefit to the society.  Most of the capital for these investments comes from abroad: Omidyar, Acumen, Dell Foundation, for instance, operate funds in India.  Other US-based funds such as Gray Ghost Ventures invest heavily in Indian entrepreneurs.  But, the capital trails back to the US.  So where are the Indian investors for homegrown social entrepreneurs?

In 2011, there were about eight impact investors in India.  That list has grown to approximately 35 funds as of 2013, including more local investors.

Note, the question of Indian investors is not merely nationalistic.  Rather, the Indian government prohibits foreign investors from taking debt in a company, explains Arun Gore, managing director of Atlanta-based Gray Ghost Ventures.  Thus, financing options are limited to equity, leaving entrepreneurs with few choices.  Consequently, can these entrepreneurs branch out beyond impact investors and still fundraise for a social venture?

There’s a dynamic debate taking place, here.  Does India even need “impact” investors?  The telecomm industry, and the rise of companies such as Airtel, which enabled the rural market to connect via mobiles was not a “social” investment, argues Ashish Gupta, co-founder and managing director of the Helion Venture Partners, a $605-million, India-focused fund.

“I wonder at the entire logic of impact investing,” says Mahesh Murthy, co-founder of Seedfund, which focuses on early-stage tech-loving companies.  “Arguably the digital innovations that have had the most impact on our planet, including bringing down governments and saving lives, are Google, Twitter, and Facebook.  But these are regular investments, and not “impact investments” by any yardstick.”

Srikrishna Ramamoorthy of Unitus Seed Fund says, he has heard the comparisons to Airtel and other tech giants before.  But he’s not sold.

“There is no doubt Airtel is creating impact, but that wasn’t the explicit reason that they were setup for in the first place,” he says.  “One could argue that had competition not come in and policies not forced call costs to drop, mobile penetration in low-income India (urban and rural) might not have happened as quickly as it has. It might have stayed a luxury product.”

He is, perhaps, the odd man out in this conversation, working at Unitus Seed Fund, a social impact fund that began last year with $25 million, $10 million of which comes from Indian investors.  He says, jokingly, that the terminology matters in enticing investors: “Use ‘social’ less, ‘impact’ more.”

To create some parameters on what constitutes an “impact investment,” last year, India established the Indian Impact Investor Council (IIIC), a self-regulatory body.  This was inspired by the blunders of the microfinance industry in 2009, in which the money-driven philosophy of “doing well by doing good” got in the way of noble intentions.  The council, compromising of 9 top funds, will help define impact investing in the country.  For one, to be a part of the community, an impact fund’s portfolio needs to deal with low-income populations only.

Bombay-based Ronnie Screwvala, Managing Director of Disney-UTV, is a part of the IIIC.  As the founder of a new $100 million fund, Unilazer, which includes a mix of impact and non-impact investments, and a trustee of the Swades Foundation, a philanthropic program to provide clean water and health services, Screwvala has seen both ends: the commercial and the so-called social.  He rallies for smarter investments that are more concerned with scale and viability, less with just social good.

“For real scale to happen in the impact sectors, you need a lot of funds turning their attention to these sectors and that will happen when the business and the innovation is looked at from a commercial point of view,” he says.

One sector that straddles both social and commercial well is healthcare.  

Read the rest at


Why Tech Alone Can’t Solve All The World’s Problems

Please go to for the full story.

The mobile revolution in the emerging world saw a spike of SMS-based applications to “solve” development problems: lack of sanitation, access to financial services, education, and more.  Yes, there are more cell phones than toilets, as the International Telecommunication Union, reports.  But social enterprises are finding that SMS is not always the easiest way to communicate.  Rather, the solution involves something even more basic, low-tech, and cheaper.

Anand Shrivastav, 57, is the founder of Beam, an SMS-based mobile money platform, that’s recently partnered with MasterCard to offer “debit cards” to India’s nearly 40 percent unbanked.  Beam enables users to store “cash” on their cell phones to buy rail tickets, pay bills, and do remittances.

Anu Sridharan, 26, is the founder of NextDrop, an SMS-based water tool, that’s received funding from Knight Foundation to find a solution to India’s water woes.


Valvemen, such as the one pictured above in Hubli, South India, are responsible for orchestrating water distribution in the country.

They both have the same problem.  “SMS is not the solution,” says Sridharan, as she bounces along the bumpy roads outside of Bangalore to Whitefield, where Hindustan Unilever’s offices are situated.  Sridharan has been tinkering away at NextDrop for the past three years; she spent one full year doing household surveys in South India, trying to scale a pilot.  Grassroots level work has shown her that SMS has its limitations.


A Conversation With: Deepak Kapur, Chairman of India National PolioPlus Committee

This originally appeared in the New York Times.

Deepak Kapur, chairman of the Rotary International’s India National PolioPlus Committee.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Rotary Polio Plus India Deepak Kapur, chairman of the Rotary International’s India National PolioPlus Committee.


On Monday (January 13th) , India completes three years without a single new polio case. India is finally on the brink of being polio-free, nearly 30 years after the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was established. Celebrations around the country will mark this feat in global health, with cities like Lucknow, Hyderabad and New Delhi lighting up their landmarks.

Deepak Kapur, the chairman of the Rotary International’s India National PolioPlus Committee, has been at the helm of the campaign since 2002. He spoke with India Ink about the end of polio in India and next steps for the country to ensure that the disease doesn’t return.


How would you explain the significance of this campaign on a larger scale for the global health community?


The success of India, the fact that India can do it against all odds and expectations, is a phenomenal achievement. Now, the lessons from India can be transferred. And it proves that it can be done elsewhere. For instance, Pakistan has a similar mindset amongst the civil society and similar conditions, so they can learn very profitably from the Indian experience.

People used to fret that India would be the last country to do it. Even the global experts felt that India may not be able to do it given the huge population, poor sanitation, impure drinking water, malnutrition and presence of disease. It made it the most fertile ground for the virus to breed in.

In 2002, we had a mini-outbreak of 1,600 cases. I remember Dr. Bruce Aylward of W.H.O. [World Health Organization] was visiting Delhi at the time. He said, “You [India] are holding the world to ransom. Unless you get your act together, it’s going to be terrible for the world.” Then last year, in Abu Dhabi at the Global Vaccine Summit, he said, “You proved me wrong.”


What was the game changer in your opinion?


There were a couple of things that were significant:

One, engaging the Muslim clerics, the ulema, by bringing them under one umbrella given that most of them don’t talk to each other. But we brought them together under the Rotary Muslim Ulema Committee, and that melted away the resistance by Muslim households.

Two, the introduction of the bivalent vaccine — the two strains of polio, P1 and P3, could be addressed with just one vaccine.

Three, the whistle-blowing by Rotarians. They went to the chief minister in U.P. [Uttar Pradesh] and the political authorities in Bihar and said they had to place more emphasis on the polio vaccinations. They were very receptive, which was very unexpected. The authorities took action quickly, and that helped immensely.


Will India continue to carry out the immunization rounds in the same manner, now that the country is polio-free?


Yes, there is always the risk of reintroduction. Look at all the countries that have had outbreaks recently — Somalia, Tajikistan. They were polio-free countries. The disease is just a flight or a bus ride away. So we have to keep up the supplementary immunization rounds. Our routine immunizations have only reach 60, 61 percent nationally. And in some of the high-risk areas, it would be even lower. So we need to still press forward with them.

There are other questions that we have to address. Such as how long should we continue with the Oral Polio Vaccine? But we cannot shift to I.P.V. [inactive polio vaccine], the injectable, so easily. We would have to train people to give it to 174 million kids with syringes. That’s too difficult to execute.

The only solution is to rapidly get rid of the virus from the rest of the world so we don’t have to fear reintroduction. Bear in mind, that for every one polio case, there are 200 who are carriers of the virus but don’t manifest the disease. So it’s tricky.


How can this infrastructure be used for other public health campaigns?

It’s already begun. The National Polio Surveillance Committee and W.H.O. are utilizing the infrastructure to improve routine immunizations. We are asking all Rotarians in India to focus on routine immunizations and alongside polio, focus on promoting other diseases.

The polio model will be in vogue towards the end of this decade for a host of other diseases and social needs.


What are some of the innovations that have come out of the polio campaign, given that it’s been such a learning experience for the global health community?


There are quite a few. For instance, advocacy. In the U.S., it’s much more celebrated and the norm. In India, it was much more frowned upon. You can now have advocacy with senior politicians and senior bureaucrats, which wasn’t the case before. Given a social cause, now it’s an accepted practice to advocate to politicians and religious figures.

Rapid development of vaccines: the monovalent and the bivalent. The way that they came up was just the need of the hour, and the world responded to the request so quickly.

And then small things: the black ink used to mark the pinky to note children who had been vaccinated or the cold chain transportation system.


Polio is a water-borne disease. How do you address the root of the problem, dirty water and poor sanitation?


No government can do it on its own. It has to be a public-private partnership. It has to include civil society. It will be a much longer campaign than was polio, and that’s been long enough.


Will the upcoming elections impact the polio program in any way?


The polio program will continue, no doubt. It will simply involve more advocacy to new political leaders and encourage them to keep up the fight against polio.

Esha Chhabra is a freelance journalist based in Delhi. Ms. Chhabra’s reporting was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington. Follow her on Twitter @esh2440.


India Celebrates 3 Years Without Polio

This originally appeared in the
Bikas Das/AP

On January 13, India completed three years without a new case of polio. Six days later, the country conducted the first of two annual National Immunization Days. After 29 years of slogging away at this campaign, health workers were rejoicing this time when Immunization Day arrived. For the partners in polio—Rotary International, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control—polio’s end in India is the start of a new effort to push for routine immunizations throughout the country. Successfully eradicating polio can translate into better care overall.

Dr. Sunil Bahl, technical advisor to the National Polio Surveillance Project with WHO, refers to the polio program as the “gold standard in microplanning,” which will now serve as a blueprint for other immunization campaigns. The polio program in India built the meticulous infrastructure necessary for vaccinations. Now it’s being applied to measles, rubella, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

On January 18th, health workers rode through the main streets of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, informing residents of the upcoming immunization round.

Copyright Esha Chhabra

Children adorn communication tools. UNICEF, in charge of the polio program’s marketing, created masks, visors, whistles, and toys. While fun, the toys are also a tactic to spread the word about the polio campaign.

Copyright Esha Chhabra
Copyright Esha Chhabra

The bivalent vaccine, which hits at two strains of polio (P1 and P3), continues to be deployed through an oral vaccine.

Copyright Esha Chhabra
Copyright Esha Chhabra

Female health workers continue to serve as the backbone of the campaign.

Copyright Esha Chhabra

Health workers encourage families to keep their immunization cards in a safe place, i.e. next to their ration cards. Still, that proves to be difficult as families see little value in the cards.

Copyright Esha Chhabra

Markings are made to last till the next vaccination round; the inked pinky indicates that a child has been vaccinated for polio.

Copyright Esha Chhabra

Health workers keep track of the number of children vaccinated within a neighborhood. The paper-pencil model is later transferred to a digital database as WHO conducts intensive monitoring, surveillance, and data collection to identify gaps in the vaccination rounds.

Copyright Esha Chhabra

“Influencers” or local religious leaders have been incorporated in the polio campaign, given that their voice is respected in the community.

Copyright Esha Chhabra

While no new cases of polio have been detected, those who contracted the disease earlier are now aging, and still struggling. Usha is the last reported case of the P2 strain of the polio virus in the world. She contracted the disease in 1999; now she is 15 years of age. She has had one polio-corrective surgery but still relies on a three-wheeler to go to school.

Copyright Esha Chhabra
Copyright Esha Chhabra


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