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The Death of the Devil's Advocate at the Hands of IDEO ideologist

A review of Tom Kelley's «The 10 Faces of Innovation» (Currency, 2005)

Interview by Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues, editor of, January 2006

Capa do livro The 10 Faces of InnovationThe late Australian novelist Morris West never thought that the fictional English priest of his best-seller The Devil's Advocate (1959) could be a character so popular in Corporate America nowadays. The Devil's advocate role escaped from the religious thriller and invaded business organizations. Morris West made his international breakthrough with the novel in the 1960's, but he never imagined that the method would jump for the management side and be used and misused as a tool against innovation in organizations a few decades after.

"Let me just play Devil's Advocate for a minute" - that's something you have already heard in the middle of a meeting, where someone from the dark, in a cynical aptitude, with an apparent innocuous phrase, just smashed a new idea and proposal. Tom Kelley, brother of the founder and considered the ideologist of design thinking company IDEO of Palo Alto, claims the urgent need of the Death of the Devil's Advocate role in corporate America. He wants a positive aptitude, even embracing critical thinking, contrarian spirit and hard talk, but avoiding cynicism and negativism. So, he invite us to assume a portfolio of ten human faces essential for the innovation process - he divided them in a taxonomy of three "classes" (see the box: A play with Ten Faces. You can take one or more "masks" that fits you better - even you can play each of them in different moments for different purposes. "I think most people have ALL these roles available within their range of capability and emotion", said Kelley, the general manager of IDEO, in this interview to

Kelley just wrote with Jonatham Littman The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devil's Advocate and driving creativity throughout your organization (Currency, 2005), a sequel of The Art of Innovation, published five years ago. He confessed that if he could only pick a single role it would be the anthropologist, but he feels attracted for others, like the experimenter, the cross-pollinator or the collaborator. And Kelley wrote that the caregiver, the tenth in the list, is the foundation of human-powered innovation.

Site of the book:


«I want to clarify that I am not arguing against either spirited debate or critical thinking. IDEO has an abundance of both of those things, and we encourage a lively conversation on all topics. What I am arguing against is the Devil's Advocate role as it is used, misused, and over-used in many companies: as the voice of negativity, always tearing down ideas, always foot-dragging, but never suggesting any helpful alternatives or making constructive proposals.»

What's the main difference between this new book and "The Art of Innovation" (2001)?

The second book builds on the first. Whereas The Art of Innovation was about the tools and techniques of innovation (we considered calling it "The Innovator's Toolbox"), the new book takes innovation to a more personal level. The Ten Faces of Innovation is about the roles or personas team members can play to accelerate the rate of innovation in their organizations.

Is this a new step forward in the F-L-O-S-S philosophy of your brother?

FLOSS was my brother's first attempt to articulate some of IDEO's philosophies and processes back in the late 1980s with ideas like "Fail sometimes" and "be Left-handed". I am sure that we could trace some of the concepts in both The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation to those early roots, though of course we have built on them significantly, based on 18 additional years of client work.

You always mentioned that creativity and innovation is a collective process - not a luminaries' miracle. In this book you describe the 10 human faces of that process. Which one or which of them impressed you more?

I really believe in all Ten Faces of course, but as I said in Chapter 1, if I could only pick a single role it would be The Anthropologist. I believe that a deep understanding relevant human behaviour can unlock all kinds of business opportunities.

Which of them "fits" better to you?

There are certain ones I am attracted to more (the Experimenter, the Cross-Pollinator, the Collaborator, etc.,) but I think most people have ALL of these roles available within their range of capability and emotion. We just haven't nurtured certain roles, or brought them to the forefront. And by the way, that means we all have a bit of the Devil's Advocate in us, too. The Ten Faces of Innovation is about nurturing positive roles in ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.

In the 1980's and 1990's people talked a lot - even the late Peter Drucker - about the entrepreneur or the intrapreneur as the central player in the business innovation. Why this character is absent from the 10 faces'list?

Although I didn't't use those terms specifically, the ten faces are really all about entrepreneurship. They are about generating new ideas, approaching problems from new directions, proactively initiating new projects, and ultimately bringing new things to life. And intrapreneurship -which I think of as a close relative of entrepreneurship- is specifically embodied in the organizing roles: the Hurdler, the Collaborator, and the Director.

Arguing so strongly against the Devil's Advocate Role is not an invitation to a yes-men culture?

I want to clarify that I am not arguing against either spirited debate or critical thinking. IDEO has an abundance of both of those things, and we encourage a lively conversation on all topics. What I am arguing against is the Devil's Advocate role as it is used, misused, and over-used in many companies: as the voice of negativity, always tearing down ideas, always foot-dragging, but never suggesting any helpful alternatives or making constructive proposals.

The book lights my fire again

From the stories sent by readers, which one has impressed you more?

In The Art of Innovation, we published my e-mail address as the last line, and I heard from over a thousand readers. What truly amazed me was how diverse they were. During the writing of that book, I had only really been thinking of business people as my audience, but I heard from what seemed like a cross-section of humanity: everyone from a Baptist minister to a Navy Seal. While some of the messages were very long, my favourite one had only 4 lines. Incidentally, it was from a Portuguese speaker-a man in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The first line was "Sorry my English," and the last line was "I have 39 years and the book lights my fire again." What more could an author hope for?

In the last 5 years, what was the business innovation story that impressed you more?

Google is an impressive story, and is one of the first companies I mention in The Ten Faces of Innovation, but the most impressive corporate innovation story I've seen first-hand in the last few years is Procter & Gamble. Although their industry may not seem as "sexy" as web-based or entertainment companies, their performance has been pretty remarkable. CEO A.G. Lafley and his executive team have built or renewed P&G's culture of innovation in a way that makes the company tangibly different from five years ago. Even if you don't visit their offices, you can see the different in their output of creative, successful products.

And in Europe?

IDEO has worked with some of Europe's most well-known and innovative companies like BMW and Virgin. Last year however, I encountered a remarkable European retailer that I was not previously familiar with. Originally a German shop that sold only coffee, Tchibo started selling other types of merchandise almost by accident. Now they sell a little bit of everything, but here's what makes them truly unique: they launch a new merchandising program 52 times a year, and then sell out the line in 7 days. One week it may be lingerie, and the next it could be telescopes, but no matter what the product line, Tchibo aims for a sellout, and succeeds most of the time. For example, their president reports that Tchibo recently sold more telescopes in seven days than had been sold through all retail channels in the country of Germany in the previous 12 months. I don't even fully understand how they do it, but Tchibo has built a very innovative concept, and their regular customers come by every week to see what the retailer has in store.

IDEO mutation: from product-centric design to design thinking

In the last 5 years since "The Art of Innovation", what was the main change at IDEO? You mention a big mutation, a more "expanded" IDEO due to a new bunch of clients and sectors. It seems that IDEO migrate from one specialization to a more broad area. What were the consequences of this extended scope of work?

In the past several years, IDEO has evolved from being a product-centred firm to one in which we help clients push forward their innovation agenda. I still love the new products we help clients create, but we also now get to play in a much larger arena. Some people at IDEO describe this transition as going from design to "design thinking." Design thinking involves tapping into the same whole-brained thought processes and human-centred methodologies that we have used for many years on product development but applying them to broader applications like improving healthcare delivery, reinvigorating organizational learning, or achieving more profitable growth through innovation.

Beyond the Apple mouse in 1982 and the Palm V in the 1990's, what you consider the most important product innovations you bring to the market, through clients' projects?

In products, I am really excited about medical devices like the LifePort Kidney Transporter from Organ Recovery Systems, which prolongs the time that a kidney can remain viable outside the body, providing hope for the thousands of patients awaiting donor kidneys for transplant. The LifePort Kidney Transporter was recently at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City, in a design exhibition. Another intrinsically rewarding product was the "Money Maker Deep Lift Pump" - a human power micro-irrigation pump for farmerpreneurs in rural Africa - we worked on with, which is changing lives in Africa by enabling Kenyan families to grow enough food not only to feed their children but also to sell produce in local markets. But some of the more interesting projects these days are not product-centric at all, however. We worked with the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning to create a technology-enabled environment for them to experiment with new teaching techniques. We helped the Mayo Clinic create a space and a process for evaluating innovations in patient-centred health care. We collaborated with Kraft on ways to fine tune their supply chain and improve communication and coordination with their key distribution partners-and double sales in the process. We are just now starting to work with cities on how to revitalize downtown neighbourhoods that have gone through a period of decline.

From today common tools like email, skype (or Voip), messenger, webconferencing, collaborative techniques, which is or which are the most used at Ideo?

Other than e-mail, which is very heavily used throughout the firm (partly explaining why I now get almost 100 emails a day), all of the other tools you mention are used by individuals on an ad hoc basis. I would add to your list lots of blogging, lots of use of wiki's and a high level of comfort with digital video editing for both prototyping and documentation purposes.

Do you consider IDEO a metanational company that manages talent and company knowledge around the world, wherever you are based?

We are still quite a small firm compared to most of our clients (about 450 people), but we have something like 40 nationalities, so maybe that makes us metanational or multinational. We are organized into global practices like Consumer Experience Design (CxD) and Tranformation, which try to focus our best talents onto a project or a problem, regardless of geographical constraints.

Do you intend to expand more in Europe and Asia?

We have recently opened an office in Shanghai, where we expect continued growth for many years to come. We already have solid groups in London and Munich which serve our European clients. No active plans to open more offices in the coming year, but we always remain open to new possibilities as they arise.


The learning personasThe organizing personasThe building personas
 · the anthropologist
 · the experimenter
 · the cross-pollinator
 · the hurdler
 · the collaborator
 · the director
 · the experience architect
 · the set designer
 · the storyteller
 · the caregiver

Check what they are at

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