You may have heard about design-thinking? The concept has exploded in recent years and is a popular word to for showing that you can “keep up” with innovation and new ways of working.

The term is derived from Herbert Simon’s book “The Sciences of the Artificial” (from 1969) and by Robert McKim book “Experiences in” Visual Thinking ” (1973) and his work at Stanford University in the 80s and 90s.
Today, we usually use the term Design Thinking as a way of thinking and a creative process to design something. It was derived by Robert Faste who based it on McKim’s theories and by David M. Kelley who built on Faste’s work and also started the company IDEO.

In our previous article we talked about how Airbnb as a disruptive and innovative company redefined HR to be a department that focuses on employees’ experiences. This week we want to look at IDEO, the company that is widely known to be a leader in the concept of Design Thinking and that despite the fact that they’ve been around for 25 years, have a highly innovative and engaging work culture.
IDEO is an international design and consulting company, established in Paulo Alto in 1991. The company uses Design Thinking methodology to design products and services, environmental and digital experiences. Their client case studies range from Apple’s first mouse, Swiffer by Procter & Gamble and Palm V PDA for us who have lived long enough to know that product.

What are the guidelines for IDEO’s innovative corporate culture?

Playfulness is allowed
Through playfulness and games, the bond between staff strengthens and they are willing to take greater risks and co-create across the organization. Experimentation is not only allowed, but also actively supported. There are toolboxes for brainstorming in each meeting room that allow people to express themselves in different ways. Another ritual of engagement is to create animated gifs and enclose them in emails sent to all employees. The gifs tell a story, build an emotional environment and encourages dialogue.

A common purpose that is tailored
IDEO’s mission is broad and ambitious: “Positive and disproportional impact on the world through design.” Although it inspires, there might not be enough to support the employees and help them to associate what they do for corporate purposes. Therefore, IDEO customized purposes for different cultures, markets, and also different offices in each market. Office for food and drink in San Francisco has, for example the following purpose: “To build a bridge between the culinary world and research to solve the world food challenges”.

A social contract
IDEO has 7 shared values which makes their culture; be optimistic, learn from your mistakes, embrace ambiguity, talk less and do more, take ownership and finally; support others’ success. These values are the foundation of IDEO’s social contract and are of great help in how IDEO develops their employees.

Innovation bottom up
The best ideas come from a person’s commitment and passion for a subject and IDEO have seen that rules or guidelines from top down has not worked optimally. The best strategies are created when people in the company can make it their own. The main idea here is that the projects have a clear goal and that the need for the project is well explained to all who are involved.

We hope IDEO’s four guidelines are an inspiration to you as a leader. And maybe you would be interested in using one of these strategies in your next team meeting?