I’m incredibly excited to share the ’60 Minutes’ television segment featuring David Kelley, How to Design Breakthrough Inventions! Besides his career, it focuses a bunch around David Kelley’s early relationship with Apple and his long lasting friendship with Steve Jobs. It offers only a quick overview of IDEO’s process, but I love how the beginning of the segment focuses on some of my favorite core values – building on the ideas of others, empathy and diversity in teams. These values are key to promoting creativity and innovation among teams.
In fact, the first thing I noticed when I flew to IDEO’s headquarters in Palo Alto, CA for my 10-hour long interview workshop was how supportive people were in conversations. This communication style wasn’t just used when coming up with ideas – it was a communication style that permeated almost every conversation I had at IDEO. This doesn’t mean people were ‘soft,’ on the contrary conversations discussing difficult matters would still be effective and had the unique ability to do so without reducing morale, creativity or productivity. I’ve written a few blog posts about this topic, the most relevant being Be Courageous: Look for Success and Feedback is Not a Four Letter Word.
Since I’ve already posted about HOW to do use this communication style, I’d like to share a few communications and development methods that are NOT effective for creativity, morale and productivity. After all, this blog post is titled ‘How NOT to Design Breakthrough Inventions:’
“Your Idea Sucks”
Actual wording can be anywhere from “not compelling or inspiring,” “that’s a bad or terrible idea” to “that’ll never work or that would fail.” This is what can happen when this method is used:
They may have worked hours on this idea and were very proud of it. Now they may feel like their hard work was poo-pooed on which can make them feel undervalued, like they wasted their time or that they suck at coming up with ideas. This type of feedback is unlikely to be a good experience for them. As a result, they may feel they are being unfairly criticized and become resentful. Worse, they may become fearful of bringing forth new ideas so they can avoid this negative experience in the future. Even if they do continue to work on ideas, they’ll have a hard time being creative since fear dampens the creative process. Don’t expect innovative new ideas from this person in the future.
My advice to you, give actionable feedback, empathize with your team and spend the time to teach and not scold.
“This Just Isn’t It”
This is a basic lack of feedback. This can happen by using phrases like “its not really want I want,” “come back with something else” or “this just isn’t it.” Without following up with detailed feedback, this method should rarely be used. This is what can happen when this method is used:
They are most likely eager to please you and probably tried to give you what you wanted. Now they may feel directionless, like they are spinning their wheels and are wasting their time. If this pattern continues, they may start to lose faith in the leadership since they may think you aren’t confident in your vision. Ultimately, they may feel like a drone following orders, lose their sense of ownership or feel their expertise is undervalued or underutilized. This kind of environment may make it difficult to hold a strong vision for the project. Without the core team member holding the vision, and without being motivated by ownership, the project will suffer. In the end, the person may spend their efforts just trying to get anything approved so they can move forward and to get out of the stressful loop – even if they don’t fully believe in it.
If you’re the manager, my advice to you is to have the confidence to give actionable feedback and spend the time to do so. The more you put into your employees, the more you will get from them.
“Let’s Pivot… for the 15th Time”
In fast changing markets sometimes pivoting is an important strategy, but pivoting too many times can lead to ineffective results. When this type of decision comes from above and when it becomes a regular occurrence, this is what may happen:
Similar to a lack of feedback from above, the person may feel they are spinning their wheels and wasting their time. If the changes seem arbitrary they may think you don’t have a confident vision in the product and may lose faith in your leadership. Again, the more time spent in the pivoting process, the less ownership they may feel and they may lose their vision. At a certain point they may begin to feel that any work they do complete will be lost in the next pivot and they may stop putting their heart into it. Whether the changes are arbitrary or valid, the more time spent in this stage, the further away the ship date becomes. Soon, competitors will have released multiple products in the time you’ve spent fumbling around with one.
My advice to you, settle on a clear goal before sending your team down any path. Remember the 80/20 rule – even if there might be something “not exactly aligned,” as long as the product is fun, it’s likely to be more beneficial from a commerce and a team morale perspective to settle on a direction and move forward.