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Case Study: IDEO's Culture of Helping & Creativity

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  • 0:04 Generating Creativity
  • 0:48 IDEO & Collaboration
  • 1:56 IDEO's Process
  • 2:37 HBR Survey
  • 3:39 Results of the Survey
  • 4:41 Takeaways
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Want to boost creativity in your organization? Lend a hand! In this lesson, we'll chronicle the case study of IDEO and the way they have ingrained a culture of helping to enhance team collaboration and creativity.

Generating Creativity

When you think about being more creative on the job, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Reading a book? Surfing the Internet for inspiration? Indulging in some creative outlet that gets your creative juices flowing?

How about simply asking for help? In today's culture of complex jobs that require lots of different types of knowledge, asking for help or pitching in and helping can make executing ideas easier and enhance the outcome of projects and business success as a whole.

Let's take a look at the case study of IDEO, a global design and consulting company that's been around since 1991. They know a thing or two about how helpfulness can nurture creativity if it is a part of your organization's culture.

IDEO & Collaboration

IDEO has had its hand in some pretty cool and creative projects; the first mouse for Apple, projects for Coca-Cola, and one of the first personal digital assistants created by Palm Computing. They've worked in projects spanning a variety of industries, from computing to furniture and toys to automotives. It stands to reason, then, that you'd either need to hire a lot of experts in a lot of different areas or find a way to work collaboratively to pull the best creative ideas from the best sources.

The latter is exactly what IDEO has done. IDEO's management has infused a culture of helping behavior into its workplace. Collaboration is the norm, not the exception. IDEO's leaders contend that supporting each other's projects leads to better outcomes for its clients.

Collaborative helping is not a natural byproduct of a workplace, unless that workplace makes it a focal point for its workers. IDEO CEO Tim Brown and other senior leaders have worked to nurture this type of atmosphere, combating the natural feelings of competitiveness, distrust, and ego that tend to crop up in a work setting.

IDEO's Process

To start, IDEO began at the top with its C-Suite leaders. Instead of leading from afar or being standoffish, IDEO's leaders engaged with employees at all levels of the organization. They would attend brainstorming sessions and help employees work through different ideas for projects, eliminating silos in the company. They started by building an atmosphere of accessibility.

Next, they worked to eliminate the notion that asking for help is the sign of a weak or incompetent employee. That helped change the dynamic of looking for helpers, whether it was throughout the life of a project or one-off opportunities. They also taught employees how to find the right person with the right information to ask.

HBR Survey

In a survey published in Harvard Business Review, researchers looking into IDEO's way of doing things asked each employee to identify his or her top helpers in the organization. In doing so, employees had to look at how competent their choices were, how much they trusted them and how accessible they were when asked for help.

What the survey uncovered was that trust and accessibility in a helper was nearly as important as his or her expertise. Why? Because accessibility meant they were approachable and willing to contribute, and trust helped employees feel comfortable talking about a project's ideas and challenges.

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