Book Review: The Art of Innovation


Some days ago, I started skimming through this book called “The Art of Innovation” by the GM of IDEO, Tom Kelley. I was drawn to it by its title at first, but also from the face that it was about the most successful design firm in the US, namely IDEO.

Usually, for a book of this size, it takes me afternoon readings of a week or so to get my notes down and analyze it. This one was much quicker, mainly cause it was filled with case stories which were not that “note-intensive”, at least not for my definition of what’s worth noting down.

The book itself is a nice history piece overall. It contains lessons learned by IDEO up to fifteen years ago, in multiple design projects. It felt like lots of the things in the book were relevant and independent of time, but still it was mainly about things that happened in a past feels too far away. On the other hand, if you treat past as a lesson for the future, this book is definitely worth a read. It should be on any must-read list for designers or entrepreneurs in general. And although I do not appreciate the books that are kind of saying “look how amazing we are”, this one is an exception to my rule…

In the book I saw what I also have as a rule, through reading some of the literature out there. I always felt that the lean approach (in general agile and quick product development), should be used side by side with design thinking. That’s what IDEO did actually. They used quick prototyping cycles to get quickly to a final product, also by brainstorming and observation which are two of the pillars of design thinking (three if you count prototyping).

Apart from that, I really support how central brainstorming is to the IDEO culture and how much they have invested into it. The way brainstorming also influenced the company hierarchy and work ethics is amazing as well. It seems weird how some companies encourage brainstorming sessions and similar interactions that are rankless and at the same time hold a really strict company hierarchy. It’s like creativity on an on/off switch which is a great paradox for me.

A personal highlight of mine were the six ways to kill a brainstorming session, which I would like to mention here (not exact quotes, so excuse any mistakes):

  1. The boss gets to speak first (send them out for coffee)
  2. Everybody gets a turn (you don’t need democracy)
  3. Experts only please (get people from the real world)
  4. Do it off-site (things have to work in the office as well)
  5. No silly stuff (you need silly)
  6. Write down everything (you don’t need a secretary)
Taken from:
Taken from:

Another highlight was the concept of the “Experience Economy” which I briefly analyzed here. Finally, another small thing that stuck with me was the fact that you have to think with verbs (not nouns or anything else) if you want to create truly amazing experiences. It was something I tried in a few cases and sentences and really made sense.

Although this was not my favourite book, I would definitely say that it’s worth a quick read at least, even skipping IDEO stories that seem trivial to you or that you know of already. If anything, this is part of the story of a company that has achieved a LOT, and it’s a presentation of its culture and methods that lead it that far. I am sure that any smaller company or startup or whatever can learn a couple of useful lessons.


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