IDEO’S CEO Discusses Innovation

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, was recently interviewed in the The McKinsey Quarterly. IDEO is the gold standard in providing design solutions and creating brealthrough innovations for companies. So it was great to hear what Brown has to say about innovation. In many ways, Brown reinforces the new management imperative that I call “Turn Innovation Into A Continuous Process.”

Here are some quotes from Brown that I found to be particularly interesting:

If you don’t have a process for choosing projects, starting projects, doing projects, and ending projects, you will never get very good at innovation.

My take: Formalized processes provide innovation with the appropriate visibility, funding, and allotment of time and attention.

You really notice a difference in organizations where the senior leadership immerses itself in innovation… by, for example, playing an active role in reviewing the innovation that’s going on at various levels in the organization in order to give people permission to take risks.

My take: Most ideas don’t work out; if you want to cultivate great ideas, you need to embrace some failures.

The antibodies that organizations naturally have to fight new ideas win out. It’s often the role of senior leadership to defend new ideas until they’re actually out in the marketplace…

My take: It’s easy for people to keep doing what they’ve always been doing, so there’s often a strong constituency for the status-quo.

The biggest barrier is needing to know the answer before you get started… Wanting to know whether you’ve got the right idea—or the assumption that you’ve got to have a business case—before beginning to explore something kills a lot of innovation.

My take: Early stage ideas often need to be cultivated until they’re understood enough to develop a realistic business plan.

It’s better to have a bigger ecosystem for innovation than a smaller one. You’re going to get more ideas and increase the likelihood of better ideas. The more people, all other things being equal, the better for innovation.

My take: Innovation can’t just “live” in an R&D organization.

In the end, all businesses exist to serve some kind of human purpose. If you can’t somehow frame what you do in terms of having an impact on the world, I don’t see how you can have a very effective business… People want to work on things they believe in.

My take: A key theme in my discussions about leadership is that executives need to create a strong sense of purpose. That’s why one of my 6 New Management Imperatives is to “Provide a clear and compelling purpose.”

The bottom line: Innovation takes strong leadership

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

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