The coolest place on the planet to work - IDEO

Way back in 1999, I was on a week long training course in Stanford which had been arranged by Enterprise Ireland. It was a fabulous week and I learned a hell of a lot about entrepreneurship, the mindset of Silicon Valley and what the hell VC was all about.

But the best bits of the trip were the site visits to various companies. Some were rubbish; Cisco sent in their Software Configuration Manager to tell us about version control. Some were a bit strange; SGI had loads of restaurants whilst in the process of nearly going bust; Excite let us have a go on their indoor slide and gave a bland presentation and then a week later sold for a couple of billion to @Home. Some were bloody interesting; Guidant showed us how a stent is made; We got a tour of Bill n Dave’s offices in HP; We had an eerie feeling as we walked around Genentech thinking all sorts of science fiction fantasies.

But the highlight for me and all the other geeks was IDEO. This is a very straightforward company in concept - they do industrial design on contract. But their approach to idea generation and innovation is utterly unique. These people simply have huge fun making some of the most interesting products you can buy.

They showed us the development cycle they went through for a few things like a portable defibrillator. They let us play in their “box of tricks” which contained tons of materials and objects that they found interesting for whatever reason (texture, behaviour, colour etc). Every aspect of the company is done in a way to encourage new ideas, lateral thinking, relaxation and most of all, fun. This is a word much abused by corporate drones who think fun is a P&L in orange and green. But these guys get it. Every year they are hired by a VC company from Sand Hill Rd to build their entry for the Soap Box Derby. They are paid to do this! I realised at that point that I had done the wrong degree…….

I know this may not sound particularly awe-inspiring but that changes when you find out some of the things they have developed over the years: The first production mouse for the Apple Lisa, the Palm V, the Humulin Insulin Pen, the original Microsoft Mouse, the Psion Wavefinder and one I particularly liked: the Berkley Fishing Reel Combo. These guys are design greats.

Tom Kelley, their CEO, wrote a great book a few years ago called “The Art of Innovation : Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm”. If you want to think sideways a bit, buy this book.

Tom Peters had just flagged that Kelley has a new book called “The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization”. I think I’ll be paying a visit to Amazon.

[tags]enterprise ireland, ideo, tom peters, stanford, vc, entrepreneurship, tom kelley[/tags]

Conor O'Neill

Tech guy who likes running slowly

Bandon, Cork, Ireland