Haas School of Business

Leading Through Innovation

IDEO General Manager, Alumnus Tom Kelley Helps Berkeley-Haas Advance Innovation

IDEO General Manager, Alumnus Tom Kelley Helps Berkeley-Haas Advance Innovation

Paris and its many charms beckoned, but IDEO General Manager Tom Kelley, MBA 83, had other priorities. He was watching passengers navigate the turnstiles leading from the Charles de Gaulle air terminal to the train station. Kelley spent 15 minutes watching as people tossed bags over, slid them under, or passed them to a partner on the other side of the turnstiles–somehow designed without acknowledging luggage as de rigueur to the airport experience.

"These gates have been in place for decades and apparently no one anticipated or has since seen the problem," Kelley muses as he recalls that trip to Paris. Indeed, even when on vacation, Kelley can't help honing in on long-ignored problems in search of innovative solutions.

Kelley knows what it takes to innovate. Since 1997, he has served as general manager of IDEO, a global design firm that has worked with clients to innovate more than 5,000 products, services, cultures, environmental spaces, and even solutions to social issues. Kelley has shared the insights gleaned from this work in two best-selling books, The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, and in talks on human-centered design philosophy around the world.

For his contributions to advancing the understanding and practice of innovation, Kelley became the second recipient of the Haas School's Leading Through Innovation Award in Fall 2010. The annual award was established to celebrate Haas alumni who embody the school's emphasis on innovative leadership and serve as exemplars to others in the Berkeley-Haas community.

The Importance of "Vuja De"

Kelley became the Haas School's first executive fellow in 2007 and has shared his insights each year with students as part of the full-time MBA orientation week. He applauds the Haas School's emphasis on building innovative leaders: "Top business schools have done an excellent job of developing the left-brain, analytic capabilities of their students," he says. "This is all to the good–the world certainly needs analysis. But if you want to prepare the leaders of tomorrow, you have to give them tools that go beyond analytical ones. Equip them to apply design thinking to some of their challenges and they'll have a broader array of tools available to them."

Design thinking, as Kelley and the folks at IDEO see it, is an approach to problem-solving that draws upon intuition and empathy and borrows liberally from non-business disciplines, such as anthropology. "Design thinking means asking, 'What do people seem to need?' rather than 'How do we increase market share?'" says Kelley.

Answering this question and developing solutions requires each of Kelley's "Ten Faces of Innovation." They include "hurdlers," who are trained for obstacles; "cross-pollinators," who share ideas from outside the team; and "storytellers," who wrap data in a compelling message. First to find out what people need are those Kelley calls (and who often literally are) "anthropologists."

"Anthropologists are masters of 'vuja de'–being in a place for the millionth time and feeling like they've never been there before," says Kelley. "Seeing something familiar with fresh eyes leads to the discovery of unsolved problems." IDEO anthropologists have helped launch innovations in everything from children's' toothbrushes to checking accounts by watching how the intended customer truly interacts with a product.

Making a Difference by Design

But IDEO is more than a product design powerhouse. In recent years, the firm has also applied its expertise to services and social challenges. "We've gotten to this point where we can synthesize the techniques, the mindset of creative work, and apply it even more broadly–to world issues," says Kelley.

This is exemplified by innovations such as Open IDEO, an online community where people can create solutions to tough global challenges, such as raising kids' awareness of the benefits of fresh food. Community members can contribute anything from inspirational observations to business models, with IDEO helping to frame the challenge, prototype, and encourage the conversation. An IDEO partnership with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy resulted in Bedsider.org, which offers comprehensive education about birth control methods, opt-in reminder services, bilingual information by phone, and iPhone apps.

Kelley is thrilled to be a part of these efforts and sees connections to work at Berkeley-Haas. "At IDEO we've seen a general trend over the past decade of young people being increasingly interested in the legacy their generation will leave the world," Kelley says. "This concern leads to the desire to help your clients or company create lasting and meaningful value, which leads to preparing the next generation to do the same–through education–all of which leads to preserving the environment around us so that the cycle can continue."

[Back to top]