I was chatting with my colleague Suzanne recently and she told me about a friend of hers.

Adam is a creative soul. He’s well-read, plays music, cooks elaborate meals, and is highly engaged in arts and culture. He’s an engineer by training, and has worked in senior roles in multiple companies, but he’s frustrated that he hasn’t been able to find the space to be creative at work.

In his late 40s, Adam was musing about going back to get another Master’s degree. But with two kids on their way to college, the idea does not seem feasible financially.

I’ve met a lot of people like Adam who are craving new challenges and new ways of thinking and working. They’re lifelong learners, and they’re interested in amplifying their craft — whether they’re doctors, engineers, designers, researchers, filmmakers, architects. These are motivated leaders who want to stay nimble and sharp, and are finding ways to do it despite their busy schedules.

For this group, there are a number of different offerings. They can take business and design courses at places like General Assembly, or get retraining in technical programs like Udacity’s Nanodegrees. Khan Academy is great for anyone to learn just about anything – from art history to computer science to finance. And for a hit of inspiration, millions of people go to TED Talks.

Traditional higher education is also finding a way to stay relevant to lifelong learners, with online schools like HBX CORe and Stanford’s NovoEd.

Some of the most intriguing opportunities are coming from private sector businesses. For example, the New York Times has announced it will provide communications classes with CIG Education Group. The Economist is also sharing its trove of knowledge through online courses.

With LinkedIn acquiring Lynda.com, we will likely start seeing closer alignment between people learning new skills and companies finding relevant talent.

This is just the beginning. As the breadth and variety of online learning keeps growing, we are exploring this as well, with the launch of IDEO U. We understand that learning has to accommodate people’s lives in a realistic context. We still have much to learn about how best to deliver learning experiences about creativity in an online environment. No doubt there will be more innovation to come in this arena, but we hope many people like Adam will benefit from learning how to unlock their creative potential and sharpen their problem-solving skills.

What are some ways we can create learning experience that fit into people’s lives and serve deep desires, such as being more creative?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

The Art of Not Quitting

April 1, 2015 — 9 Comments


The last time I quit a job, I was 15, and it was my newspaper delivery route. Other than a few internships with fixed terms, I’ve worked at just one company since leaving graduate school: IDEO. So what do I have to offer about the topic?

Quitting an organization and quitting a job are not the same thing. While I’ve never quit IDEO, I have quit roles within the company several times. And this is why I think the distinction matters: If you find a place and a group of collaborators who bring out the best in you, leaving that behind just to find the next career opportunity is a big price to pay.

This was the case for me. The creatively confident, collaborative culture at IDEO has inspired me and brought more out in me than I ever thought possible. It started from day one and has never let up. Over the last two-and-a-half decades, I’ve gone through multiple job titles and even more roles. Even since taking on the mantle of CEO some 15 years ago now, I’ve done my best to redesign the job every few years so that I continue to grow my impact and learn.

Reid Hoffman describes this as doing “tours of duty” in his 2013 HBR article. Whether or not your organization officially embraces the idea of tours of duty, there’s nothing to stop you from doing it. Consciously anticipate quitting your current role and design what you want the next one to be. If it can be in the same company, great. If not, at least you’ll be in the position of understanding what you’re looking for out in the world. For most people, this is the way it works out at some point – or many points – in their career. But my experience shows that it doesn’t have to be that way. Staying with the same company can be just as exhilarating as switching to a different one.

Back when I joined IDEO (actually, it wasn’t even called IDEO back then), my plan was to work for my mentor Bill Moggridge for two or three years, then venture out to set up my own company. But I found that the creative culture at IDEO was far too valuable for me to give up. Ever since, by consciously trying to design my next job, I’ve never had to leave the organization I love.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)


If you’re reading this post on LinkedIn, then you already understand the power of communities working together to create new possibilities. But as we head into 2015, it’s worth underscoring the importance of community collaboration.

When Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank, his innovation was not so much the idea of lending small sums of money to poor villagers in Bangladesh; it was the idea of lending to small groups of women who could help each other make the best use of the loans and ensure repayment. The community was the big idea.

Communities have long been the key to building things that an individual or family might find beyond their resources. Think about the barn raising tradition. Communities came together to help farmers build over a few days what may have taken months to do individually. A modern example of barn raising can be found atLocal Motors where automotive enthusiasts come together in micro-factories to design and build off-road vehicles faster, and at a fraction of the price, of conventional manufacturers.

Two years ago, I wrote about the importance of making others successful at IDEO. We have found that for our own brand of design thinking, collaboration is essential. It’s the only way we can tackle the kinds of complex challenges that we think most need solving. At IDEO at least, better together is a fundamental business strategy.

This basic insight — the power of collaboration — led us to create OpenIDEO, our online community that enables anyone to use design thinking to address pressing global issues collaboratively. We have been blown away by the passion and commitment of the community that has participated in more than 25 challenges. And we’ve learned that the idea of community collaboration is especially valuable in three different ways.

  • Better understanding of users. By involving a broader community in the research phase of a challenge, everyone gains a more complete understanding of all the stakeholders and variety of use cases. For example, an OpenIDEO participant from Uganda assembled a team to interview parents and educators in rural villages to get first-hand insights about the most pressing needs for early childhood development.
  • Relevant place to prototype ideas. Rather than designing in a vacuum, working with communities in need adds that magic formula necessary to come up with solutions that directly affect those who will benefit from it. You’ll also have a readymade place to try out and improve your ideas. For example, after realizing the need for safe recreational spaces for women in Istanbul, participants of OpenIDEO’s Women’s Safety challenge tested their idea through a prototype in that community.
  • Built-in motivation to implement the idea. New ideas need lots of prototyping and work before they’re ready for launch. If communities are collaborating to solve their own problems, it’s much more likely that they’ll be motivated to carry the idea forward and to implement the ideas. What’s more, the idea might be picked up by an entirely different group – maybe even in another part of the world – than the one who created it. For example, college students in New York City worked with an NGO in Nepal to develop a new project that helps low-income women support each other in Kathmandu.

If you want to see how some of these ideas are playing out, or contribute to one yourself, check out the latest community-based challenge on OpenIDEO, the transition to renewable energy.

This challenge is relevant to just about everyone on the planet. How can your involvement in this community push the effort to the next level?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)


Looking back on your college years, what would you change about your experience? Would you head to college straight out of high school? Choose a sensible major? Power through and get your degree in four years?

Sarah Stein Greenberg, executive director of the Stanford Design School, offers a provocative alternative to our existing higher education system. In her compelling talk at Wired by Design, Greenberg asks: how can we go beyond redesigning higher education — how can we fundamentally change it?

To foster creative thinkers and problem solvers – people who will have to tackle complex challenges like the ebola epidemic, data security breaches, climate change – Greenberg and her colleagues set out to learn what students want and need from their college experiences. They asked students to interview each other, and used insights from their research to propose radically different models for higher education. These are just some of their ideas:

  • What if students could loop in and out of university and work in the real world over the course of six years? Or what if they could move through college at their own pace, with the ability at different points to explore lots of topics broadly, then focus and gain expertise, as well as practice in the field?
  • What if students could build college transcripts that emphasize skills rather than a record of classes?
  • What if students could declare missions, not majors, such as the School of Hunger or School of Renewable Energy?

How do you think your career – or even your life – would have changed, if any of these defined your college experience?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

tb_big_ideas_2014Some say the world is divided into humanities people and science people; artists and geeks; intuitive types and analytical types. You’re either one or the other, and our culture, education system, workplaces and news media do their level best to reinforce this divide. But throughout history, it’s been proven over and again that if you want to be truly innovative, reaching across the divide between the sciences and the arts is the starting point for triggering the boldest ideas.

From Leonardo Da Vinci to Frank Gehry, some of our greatest achievers have balanced that territory between art and science, or, as Steve Jobs repeatedly stated, the intersection between technology and liberal arts.

I’ve just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s wonderful new book, The Innovators, in which he charts the 150-year history of the computer revolution. Among one of the many important insights he has about this collection of technical pioneers is that many of them also embraced the arts. The very first of these, Dame Ada Lovelace (1815-52), was passionate about mathematics and poetry (she was the daughter of Lord Byron), and it was these combined passions that led her to see the real potential behind Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the predecessor to the first computer. In letters between Lovelace and Babbage, she explored some of the basic concepts that would drive the development of computers, including the idea that machines could be programmable and that computers could go beyond calculation and act on anything that might be represented symbolically.

Lovelace received a rigorous education in both mathematics and the arts, which was unusual for that time. More than 150 years later, this idea seems more important than ever, if we are to realize the potential of science and technology in the interests of our own and other species.

There are signs that attitudes are shifting. In response to the need for more creativity in engineering, Sir John O’Reilly argued in a recent lecture at the U.K.’s Royal Institution that engineers should embrace the arts. Similarly, John Maeda, formerly the President of the Rhode Island School of Design and now a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, has been arguing that a focus on STEM (science, education, engineering and math) education should expand to STEAM to include the arts.

For me personally, I was considered to be a difficult student in high school because I was equally interested in physics and art. I made the choice to pursue industrial design partly because I saw it as a place where technology and art played together. I remain convinced that many of the most interesting artistic breakthroughs come at the frontiers of new science, and that the most impactful technical breakthroughs occur because they have been elegantly considered, not left to happenstance.

If your passion is science and engineering, do not ignore the arts. Embracing them will equip you with the creative skills that are absolutely vital to great innovation. Equally, if the arts and humanities have captured your imagination, do not ignore the sciences. The sciences are often majestically beautiful in themselves (think of the cosmos or the wonders of genetic code) but they are also the keys that can unlock new artistic possibility.

How will you experiment with your other half, artistic or scientific, in 2015?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)