By Tom Kelley & Jonathan Littman
Design firm and idea factory IDEO has developed ten personas for innovation. These talents, or roles, help teams focus from different points of view to create more useful solutions. These ten “faces” are not just theories on the advantage of seeing things from different viewpoints. They are practical, tested methods that help create better solutions, more insightful team members, and a culture of innovation.
Each persona represents a unique approach to looking at innovation and solving problems. The ten “faces” are categorized into three categories: learning, organizing, and building. These three categories are the basic building blocks of the innovation process, and the personas fine-tune the approach to take with each phase.
The Learning Personas
The first three personas are learning roles focused on the continuous need for new information. Each of these roles is designed to avoid the stagnation that plagues many organizations. Their focus is typically external because they understand how fast the world is changing and how important it is to keep up. These personas aren't afraid to question accepted views, even when they are their own, and are open to new ideas and new insights. The learning personas are responsible for laying the foundation for the rest of the innovation process with solid information and progressive ideas.
This persona focuses on the human factor to discover new knowledge and insights that affect different areas of an organization. How people interact and connect with services, products, and spaces develops a deeper understanding of the customer experience. These cultural observers fulfill their role by putting themselves in a variety of real-life situations.
Experimenters take a curiosity or “what if” approach. This persona develops new prototypes using “experimentation as implementation,” learning by trial and error. They take calculated risks and aren't afraid to take on established practices. BMW reaped the benefits when they took the experimenter view with their successful short films. The car company turned away from their usual advertising channels and created theater-quality films to promote their brand. They had no guarantee that the approach would work, but the risk paid off when the films became a huge success.
By exploring other business cultures and industries, cross-pollinators can bring revelations that can only be found in a different environment. Being able to connect and combine ideas and objects is essential for innovation. Organizations can only learn so much within the confines of their own routines and structures. Innovation requires seeing possibilities that couldn't exist without combining familiar and unfamiliar ideas or products.
The Organizing Personas
The next three personas are all about organizing. These personas understand how organizations move through the innovation process and their job is to pull things together. The roles here require the ability to create strategies that keep the focus on the product or idea throughout the process. They understand that even the best ideas compete for attention, resources, and time. Organizing roles use the information from the learning process to create a strong plan for the building phase.
The hurdler understands that innovation requires the ability to overcome obstacles. Roadblocks and unexpected delays are just part of the process, and this persona focuses on getting past those obstacles. The 3M worker who invented masking tape had the idea rejected in the beginning, but he stuck with it and kept the idea alive. Since his budget was $100, he used a series of $99 purchase orders to buy the equipment he needed to produce the first run. By bending the rules, he created a product that made the company millions.
This persona focuses on bringing groups together, serving as a sort of hub for the whole project. The collaborator creates new combinations of personas to create a variety of solutions. Kraft Foods collaborated with Safeway to redesign the transfer of goods from supplier to retailer. By combining different viewpoints, they were able to decrease labor and carrying costs which resulted in greater sales. Capri Sun juice drink sales increased by 167% as a direct result of this collaboration.
Just like in the movies, the director puts together a talented cast and crew and focuses on bringing out their creativity. This persona knows how to pull together a team with diverse skills and point them in the right direction. A Mattel executive used the director persona to build a team of project leaders and designers. After three months of hard work, a new $100 million toy platform was created resulting in significant profits and recurring revenue.
The Building Personas
The last four personas are building roles that combine the insights and knowledge from the learning phase and the road map from the organizing phase. These personas are responsible for taking the results of the first two phases and setting the innovation process into action. Building personas understand the relationship between customers and a product or service. Their emphasis is always on the customer and how to innovate in ways that benefit the customer. This focus on the customer combined with the skills of design, psychology, and intuition give builders the tools they need to turn ideas into products.
The Experience Architect
This role focuses on the connection between customers and products. Experience architects understand the importance of the entire customer experience and how it can make or break a product or service. Cold Stone Creamery uses showmanship to prepare their frozen desserts, turning a common task into an elaborate and fun performance. This well-designed customer experience creates attention in marketing and allows the company to charge premium prices.
The Set Designer
The set designer creates a stage for innovating teams that inspires and motivates them. They see the physical environment as a tool for influencing behaviors and creativity. Google is one of the best at using the set designer persona. They create work spaces that are very different from traditional spaces.
The spaces at Google range from quiet, solitary corners for deep contemplation to fun, boisterous common areas for building excitement and camaraderie. The company understands how creatives work and builds the very best stage for displaying their talents.
This persona typically focuses on services by anticipating customer needs and dissecting current services. Caregivers naturally take the customer viewpoint to identify opportunities and areas that need to be improved. Wine retailer Best Cellars uses the caregiver persona to increase sales and profits by taking the typical snobbery out of wine shopping by making the process simple and fun. By appealing to a different type of consumer, they increased their market share and profits.
The storyteller persona creates internal and external narratives that strengthen a brand or product. Using the power of basic human values and reinforcing specific aspects, they create a personal connection between customers and products. Starbucks uses stories about their history and innovative corporate legends to enhance their brand and build strong connections within their teams. Medtronic, a leader in product innovation that consistently experiences high growth, uses firsthand narratives from patients to tell their stories about how their products benefit consumers.