For a human-centered organization, it of course makes perfect sense that our inner core, the magma at the center of our earth, is our people. Put most simply, IDEO is all about our talent: finding, supporting, keeping, growing and nurturing them, not to mention, inspiring, supporting and enabling them once they’re inside. That’s you, or hopefully you, if you’re reading this - it’s now official: you are literally the center of our universe.
And let’s deal with something out there right off the bat. We are all in the business of design and innovation, and our overall success is dependent on the overlaps between everyone’s skills. We are, all of us, creative people at IDEO. All of us. Some practice design, some do not. Whether you work in operations, finance, marcom, design or IT, you have a vital role to play in keeping us great and helping achieve our purpose of creating impact.
So, referring back to the phrase: “IDEO is the country.” What are the values that we as citizens of that country all share, or more subtly, should start to expect from each other, and dare we suggest it, even hold one another accountable for being…or not?
One thing that excites us all is the collective excitement that we all have for well, pretty much everything. IDEO is a place where possibility meets tangibility, and that is what our clients are asking of us – they are asking us to be optimistic about their future, believe, as optimists do, that doing good begets doing good, and believing that something is possible will somehow make it so. And most times it does. One of the best business quotes of all time is from Jay Chapman, the CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) of Prêt a Mangér, the British sandwich chain, who famously said: “You can’t hire someone who can make sandwiches and teach them to be happy. So we hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches.” We are extremely lucky at IDEO: we have both happy people and we happen to make great sandwiches.
This is the one we always get asked about because people can’t believe it and it sounds too good to be true, and ironically it’s also the one that has the simplest and most powerful answer. We’ve all sat in studio lunches where work has been presented, and realized at some point that nobody has actually used the word “I,” right? Instead, every single person, without exception, goes out of their way to acknowledge everyone around them, using the word “we”. We can be accused of a lot of things here, but not wholeheartedly supporting one another through the complex emotional minefield of our client projects is absolutely not one of them. Our most powerful asset in the arsenal, by far – the word ‘we.’
It’s kind of interesting how this follows collaboration, and how on some level they sit in tension. But collective interdependence also needs individual independence to underpin it. By which we mean: take responsibility for your bit, own it, and resolutely follow through on it. So the unwritten social contract here is that individual ownership supports collective responsibility. Own that.
Imagine you and your teammates are in a rowing boat, on a lake, and it’s foggy. You need to collectively row together, not knowing when you will hit land, but knowing that eventually you will. Your job is to support one another, not jump overboard but pull together in one direction. If our clients were coming to us with anything other than life-changing problems with complicated and nuanced outcomes, we would be bored. This is the other side of that: getting comfortable with the uncomfortable-ness that ensues.
Southwest Airlines’ charismatic CEO, Herb Kelleher, has a famous quote: “Yes, we have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” Bravo. Design is about making things tangible, rolling your sleeves up, getting your hands dirty and getting real. Nothing is a bigger buzz-kill than over-intellectualizing, theorizing and postulating when drawing, making and building can tell a much more powerful story. So don’t be a theorist, be a pragmatist.
Nobody ever got fired from IDEO for trying, or for being reflective about why something didn’t work out and learning from it. We always encourage people to “ask for forgiveness, not permission,” and we are really lucky that people take this at face value and live it. Let’s be honest, what we do is really hard, we are constantly going into uncharted territory and if we were not trying new things that failed occasionally, we wouldn’t still be in business. When it happens to you, (which it will), own up, take a deep breath, have a glass of wine with your team and try to figure out what you have all learned and how to help others learn from it, so that we can all, well, learn together.
This is the mother lode of all IDEO values – genuinely wanting success for others and going out of your way to help them get there is the secret sauce. It is something that can’t be replicated, that nobody else can copy and all of us will benefit from at some point in our careers here. When someone else, without asking, goes out of their way to make sure that you are seen, helped, acknowledged, and recognized – it’s powerful stuff, and like Christmas, is as good to give, as it is to receive.