10 Faces of Innovation


I recently learned about the 10 Faces of Innovation, of course developed by Tom Kelly of Ideo, in the Stanford course on Design Thinking  I am taking and thought it warranted a post of its own.  There is a book on this concept available but also a very good overview of the personas on his website and I have placed them below for reference.

I found this method of looking at teams and individuals particularly interesting as it relates to Innovation.  At most companies we often use personality tests and models which are great for analyzing how we work in teams, but I believe this is a particularly relevant model for how teams can generate innovations together. Interestingly, many of the personas are similar to behaviors organizations already promote (i.e. the Collaborator)  and most represent skills and people that we informally select for our teams already (e.g. the Storyteller and the Director).  Having a mix between the three key styles, Learning Personas, Organizing Personas and Building Personas is key for both generating innovations and executing them and this is an interesting model to apply to teams who are driving innovation within their companies.

When I looked at the personas, I saw myself in many of them but mainly in the Learning and Organizing categories.  Primarily though, I see myself in The Hurdler and the Anthropologist.  This was an interesting self-exercise to determine what activities I enjoy and how I can seek our roles or opportunities that cater to that persona within the work I do.

The Learning Personas

Individuals and organizations need to constantly gather new sources of information in order to expand their knowledge and grow, so the first three personas are learning roles. These personas are driven by the idea that no matter how successful a company currently is, no one can afford to be complacent. The world is changing at an accelerated pace, and today’s great idea may be tomorrow’s anachronism. The learning roles help keep your team from becoming too internally focused, and remind the organization not to be so smug about what you “know”. People who adopt the learning roles are humble enough to question their own worldview, and in doing so they remain open to new insights every day.

The Anthropologist is rarely stationary. Rather, this is the person who ventures into the field to observe how people interact with products, services, and experiences in order to come up with new innovations. The Anthropologist is extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way, humanizing the scientific method to apply it to daily life. Anthropologists share such distinguishing characteristics as the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind; empathy; intuition; the ability to “see” things that have gone unnoticed; a tendency to keep running lists of innovative concepts worth emulating and problems that need solving; and a way of seeking inspiration in unusual places.

The Experimenter celebrates the process, not the tool, testing and retesting potential scenarios to make ideas tangible. A calculated risk-taker, this person models everything from products to services to proposals in order to efficiently reach a solution. To share the fun of discovery, the Experimenter invites others to collaborate, while making sure that the entire process is saving time and money.

The Cross-Pollinator draws associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts to break new ground. Armed with a wide set of interests, an avid curiosity, and an aptitude for learning and teaching, the Cross-Pollinator brings in big ideas from the outside world to enliven their organization. People in this role can often be identified by their open mindedness, diligent note-taking, tendency to think in metaphors, and ability to reap inspiration from constraints.

The Organizing Personas

The next three personas are organizing roles, played by individuals who are savvy about the often counter-intuitive process of how organizations move ideas forward. At IDEO, we used to believe that the ideas should speak for themselves. Now we understand what the Hurdler, the Collaborator, and the Director have known all along: that even the best ideas must continuously compete for time, attention, and resources. Those who adopt these organizing roles don’t dismiss the process of budget and resource allocation as “politics” or “red tape.” They recognize it as a complex game of chess, and they play to win.

The Hurdler is a tireless problem-solver who gets a charge out of tackling something that’s never been done before. When confronted with a challenge, the Hurdler gracefully sidesteps the obstacle while maintaining a quiet, positive determination. This optimism and perseverance can help big ideas upend the status quo as well as turn setbacks into an organization’s greatest successes—despite doomsday forecasting by shortsighted experts.

The Collaborator is the rare person who truly values the team over the individual. In the interest of getting things done, the Collaborator coaxes people out of their work silos to form multidisciplinary teams. In doing so, the person in this role dissolves traditional boundaries within organizations and creates opportunities for team members to assume new roles. More of a coach than a boss, the Collaborator instills their team with the confidence and skills needed to complete the shared journey.

The Director has an acute understanding of the bigger picture, with a firm grasp on the pulse of their organization. Subsequently, the Director is talented at setting the stage, targeting opportunities, bringing out the best in their players, and getting things done. Through empowerment and inspiration, the person in this role motivates those around them to take center stage and embrace the unexpected.

The Building Personas

The four remaining personas are building roles that apply insights from the learning roles and channel the empowerment from the organizing roles to make innovation happen. When people adopt the building personas, they stamp their mark on your organization. People in these roles are highly visible, so you’ll often find them right at the heart of the action.

The Experience Architect is that person relentlessly focused on creating remarkable individual experiences. This person facilitates positive encounters with your organization through products, services, digital interactions, spaces, or events. Whether an architect or a sushi chef, the Experience Architect maps out how to turn something ordinary into something distinctive—even delightful—every chance they get.

The Set Designer looks at every day as a chance to liven up their workspace. They promote energetic, inspired cultures by creating work environments that celebrate the individual and stimulate creativity. To keep up with shifting needs and foster continuous innovation, the Set Designer makes adjustments to a physical space to balance private and collaborative work opportunities. In doing so, this person makes space itself one of an organization’s most versatile and powerful tools.

The Storyteller captures our imagination with compelling narratives of initiative, hard work, and innovation. This person goes beyond oral tradition to work in whatever medium best fits their skills and message: video, narrative, animation, even comic strips. By rooting their stories in authenticity, the Storyteller can spark emotion and action, transmit values and objectives, foster collaboration, create heroes, and lead people and organizations into the future.

The Caregiver is the foundation of human-powered innovation. Through empathy, they work to understand each individual customer and create a relationship. Whether a nurse in a hospital, a salesperson in a retail shop, or a teller at an international financial institution, the Caregiver guides the client through the process to provide them with a comfortable, human-centered experience.


Being T-Shaped


IDEO is regarded as one of the top Innovation firms globally and one of their core practices is to find and develop “T-Shaped” individuals.  T-Shaped individuals will hold deep expertise in a certain field but will have broad experiences and interests that allow them to easily work in and understand cross-functional teams as well as develop unique insights specific to their experiences.

This mindset seems to be a necessary pre-requisite to innovation and collaboration.  Another analogy for a T-Shaped individual is that of a “Renaissance” man or woman, again a practice which focuses on development of something niche but also practice is many different and often unrelated fields to drive unique solutions and inventions.

However, this concept goes against much of what is developed in traditional corporations and schooling where we are rewarded for deep niche expertise.  Certain graduate rotation programs aim to create this cross-functional expertise, but the value is in having individuals who are truly interested in, and practicing, different disciplines as opposed to “doing their time”.  New programs are popping up such as Parson’s Strategic Design Management Program and Stanford’s d.school which mix business and design or the USC Iovine Young Academy which mixes art, business and tech.

It is important to focus on developing this skillset and there are ways outside of formulated programs to work on your “T”, though everyone’s “T” will be made up of different sets of experiences.  Determining your vertical I or mastery area is quite simple, and you need to actively develop and hone your skills.  For your horizontal T there are many great ways to explore other fields:

Read Broadly 

It can be easy to fall into the trap of reading what you traditionally like, I tend to collect non-fiction business books and read traditional business magazines.  I have challenged myself to explore new areas by reading new magazines ranging from topics on travel, architecture, poetry collections, science journals etc.  I also have incorporated into my daily RSS readings a whole set of feeds meant to take me out of my current field.

Take Courses

The best way to practice and actively develop skills is to take courses in new areas.  I have been taking advantage of MOOCs and the wide array of courses they offer.  I have taken a number of courses on innovation but also on art history, game theory and I am starting a course soon on “Stunt Writing”.


Everyone knows travel is a great way to broaden thinking and observe new ways of being.  I like to challenge myself to travel somewhere new and unexpected every year with my recent extended stays occurring in Guangzhou China, Medellin Colombia, and Marrakech Morocco.

Create a Credible Practice

I have a colleague who works in sustainability and his part-time hobby is ocean photography.  It’s a great complement to his work but very unique and inspiring.  Whether its creating a photo portfolio, a blog, writing a book on a topic, participating in competitions or otherwise it can be helpful to have a dedicated practice that  proves your cross-disciplinary interests.

Learn more:

Hackathons for Company Culture


I have been reading a lot about creating an innovative culture recently as part of my Innovation exploration.  This particular idea was highlighted on the new LinkedIn Influencers feature (check out my review of this awesome tool) where I stumbled upon an interesting approach that a start-up has taken to try and improve their company’s culture by leveraging the hackathon approach.

A hackathon is typically an event where a large number of people gather usually for about 24 hours and work to develop quick projects or ideas.  The goal is to create something concrete enough to be presented at the end of the hackathon but not necessarily a full fledged project.  The benefits include collective brainstorming, urgency and excitement about creating new ideas and improving team building in the process.

This company took the typical hackathon approach but applied it to their culture, a novel approach.  They generated a number of very unique ideas, straight from the employees, that could improve their workplace and with enough tangible ideas to give the HR team something to run with.  Some of the ideas included:

  • One team spent 16 hours interviewing colleagues about the culture, and distilled the results into overarching themes. They committed to producing a “living manual” in one month.
  • Two producers tackled the expense-reporting process to make it easier to use.
  • To help employees connect beyond their immediate team, they created an app called “Floc,” to set up simple events, like grabbing a coffee or lunch, for people who haven’t spent much time with each other before.
  • The company always has music playing in the office, and they built an app — called “Panishhh!” — so that anybody can quickly turn the music down if a client is coming in for a meeting

I think this is a really unique approach to developing ideas for creating or improving a culture but also something that could be applied to a number of functions. It is a great way to get HR, IT and employees together to come up with ideas that solve real employee pains but that could also be feasibly implemented.  It leverages a number of key Innovation principles around idea generation and networking.  Read more about the event here.