Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Revisiting "The Ten Faces of Innovation"


Someone told me recently that I am a “T-Shaped” person. 

“T-Shaped?” I asked. “Don’t you mean ‘Pear-Shaped’?” 

 “No, T-Shaped.  You have a breadth of knowledge across disciplines, but yet you have a few deep areas of expertise.”  

I was both flattered and perplexed. This person really “got” me.  I am one who looks across disciplines to compare, contrast and apply multi-disciplinary approaches, while having a few deep areas of expertise.  And yet, this new shape wasn’t something I could take to the bathing suit shop.  Still, I wore that identity like a badge of honor, knowing that “T-shaped” people are essential to innovative organizations. 

Actually the most successful organizations have many types of personas. I was reminded of one of my favorite books, The Ten Faces of Innovation, by Jonathan Littman and Tom Kelley. The full title of the book is: The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devil's Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. 

According to Littman and Kelley, devil’s advocates aren’t those who provide constructive criticism. On the contrary, they are weasels who hide behind an external force (the “devil”) to destroy creativity.  The ten faces—the good guys—are personas, not people. One person can play many roles on a team.  Indeed, many startups may not even have ten people in total. It takes a blend of these roles to foster continuous innovation. 

The book itself is a fun read, with horoscope-like descriptions of roles people play and a lot of inspiring examples. Get the book and read it if you can. In the meantime, here’s an overview of the ten faces, broken into three groups: 

Learning Personas are people who continually seek external information to remain current and avoid getting complacent:
o   The Anthropologist is the one who goes into the field to observe how people interact with products, services, and experiences.  Anthropologists can observe with empathy and a truly open mind, seeing things that others don’t and finding innovation and inspiration in unusual places.
o   The Experimenter, a process person, tests and retests potential scenarios, is a calculated risk-taker and models everything. The Experimenter makes sure the process saves money.
o   The Cross-Pollinator  draws associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts, often bringing in ideas from the outside.

Organizing Personas are people who balance time, budget, and resource allocation in ways that promote effective and efficient results (vs. excessive bureaucracy):
o   The Hurdler tackles problems that have never been solved before with perseverance and optimism, clearing hurdles and accelerating successes.
o   The Collaborator values the team over the individual, breaking down silos and facilitating multi-disciplinary teams.
o   The Director takes the big-picture view, “setting the stage, targeting opportunities, bringing out the best in their players, and getting things done.”

Building Personas are those who make innovation happen:
o   The Experience Architect creates great experiences through products, services, or events
o   The Set Designer creates enlivened workspaces that foster creativity as well as a balance between private and collaborative space.
o   The Storyteller transmits values and objectives and provides narratives that spark both emotion and action.
o   The Caregiver empathizes with individuals, creating relationships and fostering a human-centered experience for the client.

The Ten Faces of Innovation puts a human face on organizational innovation, reminding us that people fuel creativity and success, and that when individual and teams work well together, great things happen.


Ivy Eisenberg is founder of Our IdeaWorks, an Innovation and Lean Customer Research™ consultancy that helps companies connect to customers and other stakeholders to discover business opportunities, accelerate growth, and build and deliver successful products and services.  Ivy has more than 25 years of experience in the Front End of Innovation, user interaction design, and software product and project management. She has worked in healthcare, financial services, B2B, consumer goods, and telecommunications sectors.  Ivy is also an award-winning humor writer and storyteller, with an MBA in Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Innovation from NYU’s Stern School of Business.

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