Work Culture

Work Culture and Design Thinking

You may have heard about design thinking?

The concept has exploded in recent years.  It’s a popular term and people use it to show that they  “keep up” with innovation and new ways of working.

The term comes from Herbert Simon’s book “The Sciences of the Artificial” (from 1969) and from Robert McKim’s 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. Robert Faste developed the idea based on McKim’s theories.  Later on, David M. Kelley built on Faste’s work. Kelley also started the company IDEO.

IDEO is widely known as a leader in the concept of Design Thinking. Despite that they’ve been around for 25 years, they still have a highly innovative and engaging work culture.
It’s an international design and consulting company, established in Paulo Alto in 1991. The company uses Design Thinking methods to design products and services, environmental and digital experiences. Their client cases include Apple’s first mouse, P&G’s Swiffer, and the Palm V PDA (for those of us who have lived long enough to know that product).

work culture
IDEO’s website gives an idea of the company’s culture.

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

Guideline 1: Playfulness is Allowed

Playfulness and games strengthen the bond between staff members. It increases there willingness to take greater risks and co-create across the organization. The culture does not only allow for experimentation  but also actively supports it. There are toolboxes for brainstorming in each meeting room. These help people to express themselves in different ways. Another ritual of engagement is the habit to create animated GIFs and enclose them in emails sent to all employees. The GIFS tell a story, build an emotional environment and encourage dialogue.

Guideline 2: A Tailored Common Purpose

IDEO’s mission is broad and ambitious: “Positive and disproportional impact on the world through design.” Although this inspires, it might not be enough to support the employees and help them to link what they do to corporate purposes. Therefore, IDEO customized purposes for different cultures, markets. It also has different offices in each market. The 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”.

Guideline 3: A social Contract

IDEO has 7 shared values which define its culture:

  • be optimistic,
  • learn from your mistakes,
  • embrace ambiguity,
  • talk less and do more,
  • take ownership,
  • support others’ success.

These values are the foundation of IDEO’s social contract. And they are of great help in the development of the IDEO employees.

Guideline 4: Bottom-Up Innovation

The best ideas come from a person’s commitment and passion for a subject. IDEO has seen that rules or top-down guidelines have not worked optimally. When people in the company can make them their own strategies, they create better ones. So the main idea here is that the projects have a clear goal and a well explained need.

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?

Tonje Elisabeth Aarøe

Tonje Elisabeth Aarøe

Founder and CEO of Growthitude. Expertise in digitization and transformation, employee performance and company culture

IDEO’s 4 Engaging Work Culture Guidelines.
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