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 Gurusonline.tv,
The 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 Gurusonline.tv.
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
Site of the book: www.tenfacesofinnovation.com
«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
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
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
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'
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
- a human power micro-irrigation pump for farmerpreneurs
in rural Africa - we worked on with KickStart.org, 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.
A PLAY WITH TEN FACES
|The learning personas||The organizing personas||The 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 www.tenfacesofinnovation.com/tenfaces/index.html