Archives For Tim Brown

 

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Hunter Gatherer, one of the inspiring international company examples in Leading for Creativity.

The world of business has never been more volatile or unpredictable. Sources of competition and disruption can appear anywhere—not just disruption in products, services, and technology, but also in channels to market, policy, talent, brands, and supply chains.

In order to survive in today’s complex world, organizations need to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. That takes creativity and a creatively capable workforce. It’s the secret sauce, or in evolutionary terms, it’s what keeps you fit. Organizations without it can’t compete.

When we first think of creative organizations, design firms, advertising agencies, or tech startups typically come to mind. Building a creative workforce takes more than hiring a bunch of designers and hosting happy hours. It requires a mindset shift that begins with leadership.

I’ve observed leadership styles across diverse industries: teams in financial services, working with frontline customer support; healthcare organizations, improving patient experiences; and tech companies, learning new ways to retain talent. These team leaders didn’t come from “creative” backgrounds — they weren’t innovation experts, designers, or writers; they were sales leaders, human resource specialists, and software engineers. And they led their organizations in ways that allowed every individual to participate creatively and arrive at better solutions, even when the path was unclear.

Creative leadership isn’t about leaders simply becoming more creative. It’s about individuals leading for creativity. That means you, as a leader, must unlock the creative potential of your organization, no matter the industry. It’s your job to set the conditions for your organization to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. It’s a competitive imperative that will keep you ahead in the marketplace.

Holding a curious mindset is a great starting point when you’re leading your team or organization. If you’re in a truly new space, you won’t always know the answers. Your team won’t either. You’re going to venture into the unknown together. Asking questions is one of the best ways to practice a curious mindset—questions that challenge assumptions, inspire others, open up a broader context, and cause reflection.

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Supporting creativity requires a suite of approaches that empower individuals and teams to search for solutions and take ownership of what they do.

  1. The explorer. Leaders need to have an inspiring vision and set the course for a new direction. If they don’t, people won’t follow their lead. They hold to that vision and take risks to get that much closer to their destination.
  2. The gardener. Leaders need to set the conditions for creativity to thrive, such as providing inspiration when energy is low. When challenges crop up, they act swiftly to address them and make necessary adjustments.
  3. The coach. Leaders need to stay present and engaged. They’re on the field, at eye level, offering guidance on the fly. They help their team navigate ambiguity, learn from mistakes, and ask the right questions.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to explore on this topic. If you want to continue this conversation, I hope you’ll join my course, IDEO U’s Leading for Creativity, and help your organization thrive in today’s complex world.

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This week, school principals across the globe are lacing up their sneakers and toting their brown bags to school as part of Shadow a Student Challenge, a program to help school principals better understand their students’ experiences.

As of Monday, more than 1,200 school leaders have taken the challenge in all 50 states in the U.S. and in 24 countries. Looking at the tweets coming from these experienced school leaders, it’s fascinating to see their revelations from standing in the shoes of their students for a day. Turns out being a student is hard work!

“2 classes, two 40+ question tests so far…the kids are such troopers! I’m exhausted already!” tweeted Jonathan Adel (@jonathanadel).

“Health to ELA to Math…Communicable diseases to Text Features to an Algebra 1 test on Multi-Step equations = worn out :)” wrote Ed Gettenmeier (@egettenmeier).

“Spanish, Eng, math, now government…my head is spinning. I was so lost in math,” wrote Bradford Hubbard (@hubbardbradford). He followed up, “Feels very vulnerable to say, ‘I don’t know.’”

This is what empathy is all about. Not just sympathy for someone else’s circumstances, but the deep intuition for what it feels like to live their lives. When they sign up to follow a child for a full day during the week, these school leaders are clearing their calendars to commute to school, attend classes, and eat lunch alongside their students to see the entire school experience through their eyes.

The organizers of the challenge — IDEO, the Stanford d.school, and the Hewlett Foundation — are providing resources to help school leaders, who are asked to hack potential solutions where they find a need during their days as students.

There’s a big idea here for all of us who play a leadership role (and most of us do in some way lead others) — to try shadowing our own “student” for a day. Of course, it doesn’t have to literally be a student, per se, but someone who you may have responsibility for, someone whose daily work life you haven’t experienced.

If you manage a store, for example, try ringing up customers at the checkout. If you run a logistics center, try working on the warehouse floor. If you manage project teams, sign up to be a regular project team member for a day. Whatever it might be, go experience the day of someone you lead.

Just as with the principals, you may find it harder work than you imagined, and it may give you insights into how to create better experiences for your colleagues.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

You may have heard that IDEO has joined the kyu collective (a unit of Tokyo-based Hakuhodo DY Holdings). kyu was formed by a group of diverse companies including SYPartners, Sid Lee, Digital Kitchen, C2, and Red Peak Group. It’s an exciting moment for us, and we wanted to explain why.

Since IDEO started over 30 years ago, we’ve walked the gangway from industrial products to digital experiences (which we started working on in 1985, when co-founder Bill Moggridge coined the term “interaction design” — a considerable improvement over soft-face, which he had come up with the year before to describe the application of industrial design to software products) to our current interest in designing complex systems. The rate of change has been dizzying, and today’s advanced technologies — AI, genomics, robotics, data science, the Internet of Things — have so outpaced our industrial-era organizations and infrastructure, they end up hitting institutional cul-de-sacs. The technologies don’t come to a halt, of course, they simply move on, seeking out other places where they race ahead. If our institutions are to survive, they’ll have to create new roadways.

That’s a design problem — one that requires new rules of engagement with a broad set of collaborators. We’re excited to have found those collaborators in a few like-minded design firms. Now we’re joining forces to form a creative collective called kyu.

Why now? Is it because we’re caught in the much ballyhooed death spiral of the independent design firm? Not so much. But we have learned a few things about what it takes to tackle today’s toughest systems challenges. Namely, that bringing human-centered design to education, government, healthcare — the sectors that need it most — requires a few important culture shifts:

1. We need to bust out of siloed design practices.
2. We need to develop ever-broader capacities, taking an interdisciplinary, deeply collaborative approach.

Take one example from recent work: it required a multidisciplinary team with a wide-ranging set of knowledge and skills to realize the vision for Innova, a K-11 school system. We built the school system’s curriculum, teaching strategies, buildings, operational plans, and underlying financial model from the ground up. In February of 2015, Innova became the largest private network of schools in Peru, with almost 20,000 students and 1,200 teachers and growing. It’s uplifting the middle class and helping give Peru’s next generation the chance to compete in the global economy.

That kind of project is what gets us out of bed in the morning. It emboldens us to work at greater scale. We’re not used to designing for and communicating to millions of people, but with new capacity, we’re hoping to get there. We turn our own questions on ourselves: What if we could help design education that readies today’s kids for the technologically enhanced (and challenged) environment they’ll grow up into? While we’re at it, what if we could then start addressing the very policy that shapes those educational institutions? That kind of moonshot systems thinking requires both agility and scale — it requires networked organizations and creative collectives. It requires designers who never stand still.

Another thing we’ve learned, largely from the open-source movement and the sharing economy, is that when individuals with their own aspirations and talents come together to build upon each other’s work and drive toward a greater goal, we can gain traction on much bigger challenges — and find new ways forward.

Of course, large corporations know this, too. They’ve realized design’s importance in nearly everything they do, and are either acquiring independent firms, or developing their own internal capabilities. We’re excited that design has become the keystone of doing business. That’s good for everyone. But when a company of tens or even hundreds of thousands hires a few hundred designers, the practice is still being treated as a tool, not as a core competence. That makes the longevity of independent design companies—and collectives that have creative mastery at their core—all the more important.

You see, even when you have a pack of designers roaming your halls, it’s hard for analytical cultures to integrate creative ones. The reason being that analytical cultures traditionally start with an answer, and then break the problem down into its constituent parts, whereas creative cultures start with questions and look at problems holistically. We’re not delivering a verdict here that one approach is superior to another, just that one invariably ends up being dominant. From the very beginning, IDEO has been a culture that starts with questions. It’s the only way we know how to uncover pressing human needs and design toward them. That’s at our core.

But for us, those questions can’t be limited to digital experiences. We’ve been working on those for 30 years, and our hunch is that they’ve reached a “peak design” moment. That’s not to suggest that digital experiences are unimportant or can’t get any better, but simply that they’ve become commoditized at this point. It’s time to apply our collective design practice to greater challenges, namely:

1. Serving the needs of the global poor
2. Designing new approaches to health, including aging and the end of life
3. Designing healthy and profitable food systems that can serve the needs of all
4. Designing citizen-centered government services
5. Designing the future of our urban communities
6. Anticipating the opportunities and challenges of over-the-horizon technologies
7. Designing the future of work and the corporation itself

Those are the edges of design and it’s where we feel a gravitational pull. Organizations and systems must be redrawn so that they are able to make use of today’s technological capacity in ways that help humans, not hurt them. The sci-fi specter of A.I. that outsmarts us or an Internet of Things that controls us can only come true if human-centered design is not present at the drafting table. Bringing others to the party who feel the same way just makes us faster, stronger, and able to build things of which today, we can only dream.

(Posted also on Medium)

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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)

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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)