Creative Leadership: Where are the new IDEOs?

Prof Cheng-Hock Toh

Prof Cheng-Hock Toh

The design consultancy IDEO has been rightly praised for its innovative and creative work. But where are the new IDEOs? We identify one candidate within the British National Health Service

IDEO’s fame has spread through its high-profile image and the advocacy of such management gurus as Tom Peters and Bob Sutton. Its brand image was also helped by a TV special, showcasing its creative ‘deep diving’ approach applied to invention of a new supermarket trolley.

IDEO deserves attention not just for its award-winning product designs, but also for its creative approach to generating innovative products. A Business Week article noted

From its inception, IDEO has been a force in the world of design. It has designed hundreds of products and won more design awards over the past decade than any other firm. In the roaring ’90s, IDEO was best known for designing user-friendly computers, PDAs, and other high-tech products such as the Palm V, Polaroid’s I-Zone cameras, the Steelcase Leap Chair, and Zinio interactive magazine software.

By showing global corporations how to change their organizations to focus on the consumer, IDEO is becoming much more than a design company. Indeed, it is now a rival to the traditional purveyors of corporate advice: the management consulting companies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting, and Bain. Management consultants tend to look at the corporate world through a business-school prism. By contrast, IDEO advises clients by teaching them about the consumer world through the eyes of anthropologists, graphic designers, engineers, and psychologists.

Where are the new IDEOs?

Where are the new IDEOs? They are out there, perhaps not yet as celebrated, but delivering creative and innovative results to their own ‘customers’.

This thought was prompted after an invitation I received to attend a Creative Leadership Forum meeting at MerseyCare, a National Health Service trust working out of the North West of England. The Trust had already drawn attention to its work, as reported in an earlier LWD post.

The Trust’s website demonstrates the pervasiveness of its innovative thinking applied to actions that make a difference.

The Creativity Forum

The Creative Leadership Forum describes itself as being designed for those interested in leadership, creativity and innovation, offering a range of stimulating, thought provoking and energising opportunities including:

Stories from leaders across a range of disciplines e.g. business, arts and science
Round table conversations on contemporary themes
Listening and contributing your own ideas
Creative events
Informal networking with colleagues.

The theme of the meeting [June 22nd 2009] was the relationship between arts and health.

The format was pretty much as described. The guest speaker was a soft-spoken and distinguished-looking gentleman who correctly conveyed the impression of being a senior medical consultant.

He was Professor Cheng-Hock Toh of Liverpool University, a pioneering researcher into intravascular coagulation (bleeding and clotting problems). This work led to the establishment of the Roald Dahl Haemostasis & Thrombosis Centre at the University’s medical school.

The Centre’s approach to comprehensive care was one focus of his talk. The other was the Centre’s engagement with the arts.
The apppropriately-named and successful New Blood exhibition captured the spirit of these ventures

It’s IDEO all over again

As I listened I was struck by the parallels with the philosophy of the IDEO organization, the that of the Creative Leadership Forum itself, and also that of such creative leaders as Professor Toh, who didn’t have to sell his ideas to implement them.

IDEO was among the first design organizations to hit on the idea of co-creation, heavy involvement of sponsors and product end-users in the creative design process. Nothing is totally new, and perhaps it is more accurate to say IDEO had re-applied some of the principles of the synectics invention approach introduced into ADL by George Prince and Bill Gordon decades earlier

No matter. The point is, that synectics, IDEO, and now networks such as Merseycare’s Creative Leadership forum, permit learning and changing work climates for innovative results.

As Proessor Yo put it when setting up his new Institute in 2001 “We just talked to people …then they wanted to help you”. The helpers included people from the Roald Dahl foundation, who listened and decided to do more than just provide their name among a list of sponsors.

Co-creation: In California and on Merseyside
Driving away I tried to remember what I had heard which was something else linked the IDEO approach. Professor Ho had talked about involving all his staff in creating a climate of care The Business Week article supplied the answer:

Kaiser Permanente, the largest health maintenance organization in the U.S., was developing a long-range growth plan in 2003 that would attract more patients and cut costs. Kaiser has hundreds of medical offices and hospitals and thought it might have to replace many of them with expensive next-generation buildings. It hired IDEO, the Palo Alto (Calif.) design firm, for help. Kaiser execs didn’t know it then, but they were about to go on a fascinating journey of self-discovery. That’s because of IDEO’s novel approach. For starters, Kaiser nurses, doctors, and facilities managers teamed up with IDEO’s social scientists, designers, architects, and engineers and observed patients as they made their way through their medical facilities. At times, they played the role of patient themselves

There are new IDEOs. You can find them in the most surprising places. I rest my case.

One Response to Creative Leadership: Where are the new IDEOs?

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