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JEON Young-Jae

A Beacon of Creativity

JEON Young-Jae

Mar. 2, 2005

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Not many Koreans are familiar with a design company called IDEO, but they will ignore it at their own peril. Ever heard of Apple Computer's "mouse" that revolutionized the way we use personal computers? Or Polaroid's i-Zone camera that allows us to instantly produce picture? Or Palm V "handheld" computer? How about the latest craze over "fat" toothbrush for children?

All these come from IDEO and its matchless ideas. They are iconic products of our age. And they are a proof to the testimony that only companies with the ability to be more creative and innovative can survive in this ever-competitive world.

IDEO first caught our attention through ABC's "Nightline" program. Before that, it was known only to its client companies or rivals. In order to test IDEO's reputation as the world's most innovative design firm, Nightline gave it a week to improve the existing shopping carts. It aired the IDEO's entire design process. It came up almost instantly with a way to solve the problem. People watching the program could see for themselves the process of creative idea turning into an actual product.

What was its secret of success? A thorough brainstorming process. Brainstorming, to most companies, is only a formality. But not at IDEO. There, it was a fundamentally different approach. Brainstorming is to a design firm what a religion is to people. Creative ideas, and their application and testing, are all promoted through brainstorming. IDEO regards brainstorming as a core process of corporate activity, not a simple sharing of opinions or unpacking of ideas. The issues at hand are always challenged as a means for motivating employees. they are kept constantly uptight to meet the deadline of task set very tightly.

Brainstorming at IDEO starts from clearly set question, not from vague one.

IDEO believes that creative activities come from group, not from individual. Creation is not the province of a lonely hero at IDEO. Even Thomas Edison, the world's most prolific inventor, did not do everything by himself. His inventions resulted from collaborative work, supported by a team of 14 people. Edison, in that sense, is a collective noun denoting the work of a whole group of inventors, not a common noun representing one individual inventor.

IDEO starts on that premise, insisting that even a highly creative individual could hamper the creativeness of an organization if he fails to work as a team member or refuses to share his ideas. Focusing on teamwork is the key to IDEO's innovation. All of IDEO's successful projects derived from excellent team work.

IDEO has a unique team called "hot studio." Each team composing the hot studio consists of specialists performing their task to utmost ability. It's like producing a movie: a director, actors/actresses, scenario writers all forming one single team. At IDEO, team members choose their leaders, not the other way around. It successfully applies autonomy and vitality that can be found only in small firms.

With knowledge-based factor gaining more importance in the economy, companies recognize the vital importance of creativeness. IDEO's innovative approaches, namely everyday brainstorming, pursuit of creativity through team work, and unique teams, should provide a lot of food for thought to Korean business: many acknowledge and stress the importance of innovation, but few truly accept creativity and innovation as a viable corporate culture. In this regard, IDEO is a beacon that practices what it preaches, a role model for all Korean companies.

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