How to bring more humanity back to the innovation table – 6 tips from IDEO’s Owen Rogers

IDEO senior partner, Owen Rogers, tells the Ad:tech Australia audience to think like a designer and pump creative muscle to transform our world, writes Mary van de Wiel.


Imagine being immersed in a deeply human process every day where we can straddle two worlds simultaneously: the intuitive world that inspires, and the rational and analytical world that keeps us on track. This is what renowned global design and innovation consultancy, IDEO, calls ‘design thinking’, and according to its senior partner Owen Rogers, it’s one of the best ways to transform our world (and organisation) because it coaxes out the innate abilities we all have.

Rogers was one of Ad:tech Australia’s keynote speakers this week. It’s the first time he has spoken in Australia. His company has created many icons of the digital generation – the first mouse for Apple, the first Treo, the Humalin insulin pen, the thumbs up/thumbs down button on Tivo’s remote control, and many more. Ideo’s belief is that organisations can impact through design.

What’s more, its mandate is to create products, services and experiences that have meaning in people’s lives. It’s exactly why they do what they do.

I’ve been playing (I mean, working) in the brand intelligence space for years, and I’m always inspired when I hear people talk about the human process, creativity and what makes people tick. After all, the last thing you want to do is to fall into the trap of a Dead Brand Walking. So, after listening to Rogers share his insights, I was blown away by how simply we can all raise the pulse of our brand and pump our creative muscle. Here are his six tips:

1. To gain new insights, move and change your perspective.

There’s nothing quite like cross fertilisation of people and ideas. When a project comes in, IDEO selects teams with an intentional diverse mix of talent – a biologist, architect, environmentalist, writer or anthropologist – to explore and solve the problem. This is one of the reasons why everyone who works at IDEO has their own specialty and depth of expertise. What’s more, IDEO moves its people between their offices worldwide to keep creating this potent culture mix and keeping everyone on their toes. (Complacency is not an option!)


2. Create ideas with long tales.

If you’re longing to create an impact in the world, focus on ideas that just might have a legacy. Take Louis Pasteur, for example. Renowned for his discoveries around the principles of vaccination and pasteurisation, he created the Pasteur Institute – which continues to draw scientists (650 to date) and eight Nobel Prize winners who are researching and curing diseases. It continues to change medicine forever.


3. Remember you’re only human.

Design thinking involves three processes: technical, business and human. Guess which one is the most often devalued in organisations? Amazingly, it’s the human side. Think like a designer because it’s one of the most intuitive things you can do. It’s also the best way to start innovating in your organisation today. PS: A mix of creative confidence and luck does help.


4. We are all creative, so pump your creative muscle.

Sadly, companies and individuals assume that creativity and innovation are in the domain of the ‘creative types.’ Not true. It’s just a matter of identifying the principles and strategies that allow us to tap into our creative potential in our work lives, and in our personal lives, and allow us to innovate in terms of how we approach and solve problems. Creativity is the one thing that will turn companies around.


5. Get inspired. Get experience.

It’s important to go out into the field, look around and make something or even build something. Use your creative confidence and make stuff happen. Take Caine Monroy, for example. Caine is a nine-year-old boy who made a handmade cardboard arcade, located in his dad’s auto parts store in East Los Angeles. One day, filmmaker Nirvan Mullick dropped by. He was so moved by Caine’s arcade, he made a short film which has inspired a global movement to foster creativity in kids, leading to the launch of the Imagination Foundation to foster creativity and fun for children, as well as the annual Global Cardboard Challenge. Caine’s Cardboard Challenge has affected 85,559 people in 46 countries.

Check out Caine’s backstory and videos at


6. Build what you are thinking.

Brainstorming sessions are not meant to be a meeting. Everyone is fed up with strategy and talking. Instead, defer judgment, encourage wild ideas, build on the ideas of others, stay focused and be visual. Use your creative confidence to build a prototype – build what you are thinking. Take Karen X Cheng, for example. Determined to learn how to dance in just a year, Karen released a video that showed her journey. It went viral with 3.5 million views. Since then, Karen has quit her job, launched where people around the world are inspired to practice (and video) something for 100 days. It’s a game changer in people’s lives, and it’s had a profound effect on making stuff happen. It all came from one girl who wanted to learn how to dance.

Keen to exercise your creative muscle? Check out IDEO Tom and David Kelley’s book, Creative Confidence on:, and the blog where you can add bits of creative confidence from around the world:


Mary van de Wiel (call her Van) works in the brand intelligence space. She’s CEO of branding consultancy and lab and host of NY Brand Lab Radio.

Mary van de Wiel
BY Mary van de Wiel ON 21 March 2014
Mary van de Wiel (call her Van) is Brand Psychologist and CEO of branding consultancy and lab and host of NY Brand Lab Radio.