You must defer to the boss.
Chaos is discouraged.
Climb the corporate ladder.
Status is everything.
All of the above beliefs are fast disappearing, but it’s companies like IDEO that were challenging these beliefs back in 1999. The words of IDEO’s founder and chairman, David Kelly, do a fair job of summing up their work atmosphere, “If you go into a culture where their’s a bunch of stiffs walking around, I can guarantee that they’re not likely to invent anything.” ABC news did a story on this global design consultancy, and the company’s method of working together is fascinating.
Basically, everything we use was created to fill a need, but the goal is for the “thing” to have both attractive form and efficient function. For example, floss was an invention that had good function, but the decision to put it in a box with a small piece of metal at the top for cutting off the amount you want was the form. (It’s a great product, but I’m going to abstain from asking who actually flosses on a regular basis.) IDEO’s job is to design that form.
“We’re not experts in any given area; we’re experts in the process of how you design stuff.”, says Kelly. Someone could ask them to design a space shuttle, a chair, a toothbrush, or a shoe – it doesn’t matter. It’s not the idea itself that matters, it’s the process of making that idea better.
Isn’t this how it should be with your art? You may have a great or a lousy idea for a project, but neither is going to go anywhere without the knowledge on how to make the idea a reality. A fantastic idea that’s poorly executed still makes a bad product.
The process that Kelly talks about involves heavy teamwork, but there are some very specific differences between the IDEO team in the video and what a team from a traditional work environment might produce. For example:
- In an IDEO team, there is a noticeable lack of “status” or “title” for group members.
- The team leader is leading because he’s good with groups, not because he’s superior.
- The group itself is a mix of very different individuals. For example, it includes, a Harvard MBA graduate, an engineer, a psychologist, a marketing expert, a biology major, and a linguist.
Can you imagine a work environment where everyone is given the same amount of respect? David Kelly explains his take on it in the quote, “In a very innovative culture, you can’t have a kind of hierarchy of ‘here’s the boss and then the next person down and the next person down’…” He says that this is because it’s impossible that the boss would have all the experience needed for any and all projects. In other words, other members of the group have different experiences and that valuable insight gained from such experience won’t be accessed if everyone is relying on the boss’ ideas alone.
Secondly, have you ever been in a situation where responsibility or leadership was given to someone just because of their status, even though they have zero skill in that area? At IDEO, the reason the Stanford engineer (who had worked at the company for just six years) was chosen as group leader was because he was really good with groups. This is what it means to take advantage of the skill set available and simultaneously throw over-sized egos out the window.
Lastly and quite possibly, most importantly, the group consisted of people with extremely different backgrounds and expertise. When forming a group, it’s often standard to choose people who do what you do and think like you. But if your team is more eclectic, you’ll have more resources, insight, and experience to draw from. Kelly says it simply in the quote, “You’ve gotta hire people who don’t listen to you… I don’t think corporate America wants to hear that right yet.” It’s a given that you still need to maintain a sense of order and respect, but the idea is that you need people who don’t just accept everything you say. If you only work with those who believe everything you believe, how will you grow? How will you improve and broaden your ability?
Watch the full video below: