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The Ten Faces of Innovation – Tom Kelley February 26, 2012

Posted by Gaurav Shetti in Uncategorized.
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“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity- not a threat”. We all are innovators in some sense or the other – be it while designing a plan, while cooking something new, forming novel techniques to study, etc. These roles are inadvertently played by each one of us. Kelley has brilliantly analyzed distinct chambers for these roles and has defined them in his book ‘The Ten faces of Innovation’.

 

Anthropologist

“The person who can learn by observation can create his own culture.”

Experimenter

“The combination of experience and experimentation will ultimately yield a personal sound.” – Mark White

Cross Pollinator

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.”  – Albert Einstein

Hurdler

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” – Martin Luther King Jr

Collaborator

“There is no “i” in team but there is in win” – Michael Jordan

Director

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King Jr

Experience Architect

“Art is never finished; only abandoned” – Leonardo da Vinci

Set Designer

“If you’re quiet, you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy and colorful and lively.” – Mel Brooks

Storyteller

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”  – Brandon Sanderson

Caregiver

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King Jr

After having read the book, I could relate much of these examples to my life. During my experience as a search Engine developer, a simple scenario of a meeting conducted by me helped me tweak the search engine algorithms by reducing the load time from 120 seconds to less than 4 seconds. Though this was deemed impossible, I attribute this success to the Anthropologist and Experimenter that dwelled within me. It was after reading this book that I realized that one of roles that dwelled within me was that of an Anthropologist.In this book, Kelley defines 10 personas who are innovators in true sense. He describes how each of these personas adopt techniques to contribute to the pool of innovation. He gives industry examples to explain the cerebration of these innovators. For instance, while explaining the role of an experimenter, he quotes an example of TellMe (a voice application) to state the importance of real time experimentation. TellMe rolls out new changes rapidly to cover the gaps that might exist or to experiment with new features (I personally loved this example) and is also a crucial factor for its success. Likewise the author states the importance of each of these 10 personas and how every industry/organization needs most of them (if not all) to inculcate the passion for innovation.

On a lighter note, another example of an anthropologist stands out while entertaining kids. One generally leaves the kid alone and watches him/her for a minute or two. The object that entertains him/her the most becomes the key for the Anthropologist to unlock the kids’ entertainment.

I like the way Kelley has divided these pool of innovators into distinct personas. He does an excellent work giving traits/characteristics of each of these personas and how they bring out innovation. But little does he talk about how one can identify others’ persona. Without a lucid explanation for this reverse mapping, I feel there exists a gap which annihilates the practicality of this book and renders it as a bedtime read. For instance, I might know I am a Director/Collaborator if I do certain things mentioned in this book. But how can I identify those traits in someone else whom I may want to hire.

The book also raises the question of certainty. For instance, I can think like an anthropologist and execute like a director. According to this book, I assume the roles of 2 personas. But are these personas individually helping me to bring out the innovation factor or is the synergy created by hitting the right combination of personas doing the magic. If it is the latter, I would attribute myself to an 11th persona. So I cannot certainly attribute success to a particular role. Also, what if the above method fails and I try again using a different approach (Anthropologist and Collaborator). Would I be categorized as an experimenter for trying again or would I fall into Anthropologist and Collaborator together. What if the success achieved this time was due to my innate talent and not because of these roles I had assumed. There is no definite answer for this. The ten distinct boundaries which separate these personas starts fading when questions like one persona depending upon the other, three personas co-existing as an atomic unit are pondered upon.

Leaving aside the identification and reading more about these personas as a whole, I loved the examples which Kelley has mentioned for each of these distinct innovators. The fact that each persona contributes to the success factor in a different way as explained with the help of these examples paints a happy picture. I would have certainly married these concepts if there was an equal mix of examples from the outside IDEO world as well. Currently it feels as if IDEO is being publicized in the book rather than the ten innovators who have the potential to change the world.

This book would have been more interesting if they author could have explained in brief the striking similarities and contrasted the different roles as a whole. But nevertheless, I would certainly recommend this book to others for the different flavours of innovation it introduces.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

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