NYT, October 25, 2009
IDEO is a fantastic design company that we feature in our Driving Organic Growth class an as example of the importance of process. They are experts in the process of innovation. The following is a revealing interview with the CEO Tim Brown:
"Q. What were the most important leadership lessons you learned, and how did you learn them?
A. That is something that I’ve continued to really believe — that you don’t know where the best ideas are going to come from in the organization. So you’d better do a good job of promoting them when they come and spotting them when they emerge, and not let people’s positions dictate how influential their ideas are.
Q. And how does that manifest itself in the way that you run IDEO?
A. I’ve gone to great lengths to try to encourage what I call an emergent culture at IDEO, where people understand that it’s essentially their responsibility to have good ideas. Not about the work they do every day — we all have to do that — but about new ideas for the company. What are we going to do next? What fields are we going to work in? What are our new big things?
Q. But answers are often rewarded more than questions, right?
A. That was one of the things that used to make me feel very, very insecure as a business leader — thinking: “Am I supposed to have all the answers? Because I know I don’t.” Then I finally came to realize, well, nobody else has all the answers, either…… But I’m personally perfectly comfortable admitting that I don’t know the answers and that I’m more interested in the questions anyway
Q. What’s changed about your leadership style in terms of interacting with people?
A. For a long time, my mode of operation was to get very excited about other people’s ideas and work really hard to kind of build them, which meant I often took ownership of them….. And I think I’ve learned over time, slowly, that in fact it’s much more effective to let them keep ownership of the idea.
Q. What else are you looking for when you hire?
A. There’s this idea that McKinsey first articulated many years ago of the T-shaped person, which is somebody who’s got some deep craft — a great writer or a great designer or a great architect, engineer or whatever they might be — and that’s the vertical stroke of their T. But then the horizontal is that they’ve got clear empathy and interest in engaging with other disciplines and doing other pieces of the process or playing other roles.
Q. What’s your best interview question for job candidates?
A. One question I always find helpful is to ask who they’ve done things with. And if they can very quickly give you lots of examples of what other people did, then you’ve got some hint about how collaborative they are.
If, however, the answer is, “I did this and I did that and I was responsible for that,” and you get no sense of who they worked with and how they worked with them, then I worry. Because then I see somebody who probably isn’t very collaborative, probably isn’t very good at promoting the ideas of others and probably isn’t going to bring talent out very effectively."