Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Book Review: The Art of Innovation

This is a great book. Probably the most inspiring book about innovation that I have ever read. I defy anyone not to be moved to action by such infectious story telling.

The book is a collection of case studies and vignettes that illustrate how IDEO view innovation. One of my favourites is the shopping trolley challenge. The brief was to completely redesign the old, familiar shopping trolley in just five days. The almost blow-by-blow account of those five days shows you what can be done with a clear focus and a dedicated team.

The IDEO beliefs are clearly presented. Chapter 3 is called "Innovation begins with an eye" and describes how they rely on observation-fueled insight and why they are not big fans of focus groups. IDEO also believe that innovation is a team sport, indeed that the myth of the lone genius can actually hamper a company's efforts in innovation and creativity. The story of the start-up of Amazon is a lesson in rapid prototyping. And there's much more.

There are also some terrific descriptions of the early days of portable computing and handhelds. Of course you'll find the ubiquitous Apple tales but in many ways I found the Handspring and Palm cases to be more interesting. There's a helpful index too so that you can find them again when you need a good story for your next workshop.

The one I find myself retelling the most is the kids Oral-B toothbrush. For decades kids toothbrushes have been smaller versions of adult brushes. The IDEO team put brushes in the hands of children and they quickly noticed the "fist phenomenon". Little kids grip the brush with their whole fist, unlike older kids and adults, who use their fingertips. The insight that smaller hands need fatter toothbrushes seems counter-intuitive until you see them in use. Today you would struggle to find any kids toothbrushes that are not chunky and fun for kids to hold.

My only quibble is the Amtrak case study on designing a new train. Anyone who uses the words "Amtrak" and "innovation" in the same sentence needs their head examined IMHO! Why they went to all that trouble to mock up a train carriage when they could have flown to Japan, Germany, or France and simply copied a bullet train, ICE or TGV is beyond me. Perhaps this is evidence that some of the cases in the book have been touched up a little in order to make a point. There is also a little too much "isn't IDEO incredible" about some of the stories that some readers may find mildly annoying.

Those of you familiar with ?WhatIf! will recognise many of the principles, beliefs and concepts in this book. What makes The Art of Innovation different from Sticky Wisdom (the ?! book) is that it lets the case studies tell the story. In the end, that is the power of this great book; to read how so many people have invented so much is truly inspiring. By the end, you believe that you too can invent anything and you cannot wait to get started.

Twitternovels version: IDEO's inspiring innovation stories

The Art of Innovation by David Kelley

No comments:

Post a Comment