jump to navigation

Review: The Ten Faces of Innovation February 11, 2011

Posted by berniegeuy in Uncategorized, [Books] Leadership & Change.
Tags: , , , ,

The Ten Faces of Innovation, by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman

Review by Bernie Geuy, EWMBA class of 2012

The Ten Faces of Innovation provides a prescriptive approach to building successful design teams by focusing on key roles that members can play in the overall design process.  Tom Kelley debunks the myth that creativity only flows through specially trained professionals and defines IDEO’s successful design process as a team sport that includes participants with very diverse interests, talents, and backgrounds.  He makes the design process more accessible to the non-design professional by describing ten contributing roles that people can readily identify with.

I have summarized the Ten Faces of Innovation roles below and my interpretation of how to engage in each practice:

Role Characteristics In Practice
Anthropologist The ethnographer who goes out into the field, observes first-hand, talks to people, the customer and their customers, and sees what others do not see. Adopt the Zen principle of a “beginner’s mind” and willingly set aside what you “know” and have a truly open mind.
Experimenter The classic inventor, who loves to play, to try LOTS of different ideas and approaches, learns from failures, and ultimately makes an idea tangible through prototyping. Fail often to succeed sooner. Break the rules and challenge assumptions.
Cross-Pollinator A translator that sees connections across disciplines and who can create something new through unexpected juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated things or ideas. Break down the organizational silos; hire people with diverse backgrounds and “T-Shaped” people (breadth of knowledge in many fields and depth in at least on area).
Hurdler A tireless problem-solver and risk-taker that overcomes obstacles with ease, does more with less, and pushes the limits when others give up.   Challenge the status quo, and reward entrepreneurship.
Collaborator The cheerleader and project advocate that brings people together and creates teams. Build and coach a team that includes all Ten Faces of Innovation.
Director The go-to person for sparking positive change who can lead a brainstorming activity and who lets others take center stage. Challenges people and creates a safe space for risk taking and recovery from failure. Practice contagious enthusiasm.  A good director knows “directing is 90 percent casting.”
Experience Architect An empathetic person who focuses relentlessly on creating remarkable customer experiences and who can identify what is truly important to a customer in their overall encounter with your product and/or service. Map the customer journey and learn what is most important along the way – customize, personalize, and improve the service.
Set Designer Facilitates creativity through careful attention to the work space of the team and understands the power of place. Change things up. Provide flexible spaces and remember “sometimes changing the arena can change a team’s performance.”
Caregiver They make you feel you are the only customer in the room, they have empathy and they show rather than teach.  Caregivers nurture relationships. Look for ways to simplify and humanize care.
Storyteller A person who easily captures our imagination with compelling narratives and persuasive ideas. Find the narrative behind each project and tell it often through words, show-and-tell displays, and in good design.

Tom Kelly describes The Faces of Innovation as a strategy for competing with the idea-killing devil’s advocate role.  I think the real value of the book is how Kelly demonstrates and illustrates the impact of including different ideas, motivations and perspectives into the creative process.   I think the book provides a different organizing principle around the process of design that is translatable into many business innovation settings.

A professional designer, architect, or engineer, may see the ideas as amateurish and totally inappropriate for traditional design projects like developing plans for a new building or an airplane part, but this book is addressing innovation processes that are trying to find new solutions to often everyday problems and engage the people that may be best equipped to relate to the needs of end users.   

As we begin work on our team design project, there is value in reflecting on the roles described in the book and identifying who on the team can play what role and if there are any gaps.



1. Jon Pittman - February 14, 2011

I think the real contribution of this book is in the articulation of different roles and perspectives needed for successful design and innovation. None are embodied in any one individual. The challenge of successful teams is in striking the right balance of roles and blending them into an interdependent whole.

2. alisonm273 - February 18, 2011

I like the way you summarized each of these roles; it’s helpful to pinpoint which ones I gravitate toward. Is the book organized in a way that you can read up on specific roles rather than all of them? I wonder if identifying how we fit in these roles would be useful for our team rather than assigning functional roles (i.e. project manager, notetaker, etc.).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: