Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thinking, sadly, is often under-rated

"Just like a fish doesn't know he's wet," David Kelley, founder of IDEO says, "we didn't realize that our real contribution was that the companies we worked for didn't think like us. And when they did, it really had a lot of advantages for them."

Fast Company's profile of David Kelley published in February of 2009, is the classic profile piece of a CEO overcoming adversity. What is odd to me, is how standard an approach Linda Tischler, the author, used to describe a guy whose thinking differently is synonymous with the value both Kelley and his firm IDEO consistently delivers.

Don't misunderstand, Linda writes well. She tells the story with authenticity, and though I'm in no position to judge, accurately. The emotional notes she strikes are appropriately toned, not too sharp and not too dramatic. There is enough variation in her prose that the composition, if written with musical notations, would sound lovely. I imagine it as a melody more memorable than easy listening but not very original or memorable.

Its the absence of originality that hit me as I began to think about the larger context and the essence of who is being profiled. David Kelley, the how and what he does is strikingly memorable. Linda's piece has made that clear. Still in spite of the time she spent with this icon of design--yes, I believe people can be icons though their thinking is probably iconic--Her style and process appears to have been unaffected.

How striking can Kelley then be if there is no enthusiasm or overt evidence in the piece? Is Kelley's essence and really just another CEO profile?  What thinking, which for me is the gist of the purpose and legacy of Kelley, is at work in her writing? Was it merely enough to synthesize a workable narrative, use her established thought processes to reinforce her existing competencies as a reporter, story teller and/or writer? But wait, this article appears in Fast Company. In spite of the originality of its conception, and the topics of content which I certainly appreciate, the magazine rarely models the very objects and findings that appear between the front and back covers. Since its founding, my own readership has varied from loyal, regular to now occasional. At present, I can't recall a single piece that demonstrated, escorted or personified the Fast or envelope pushing philosophies or ideas that they write about.

Is it any wonder that the world doesn't seem to think or understand innovation enough to actually be innovative? I'm not trying to be cranky, I'm just noticing that the mechanisms and institutions that are failing fail because they continue to apply their thinking in very limited domains. A different approach  offers a chance to capture opportunities and gain new advantages--ones that David Kelley's thinking notices and politely states is lost by many organizations who become clients.  The benefits are clear.  It may be work, but expanding our thinking activities can't hurt and David Kelley is eager to teach.

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