By Dean Whittaker

“Innovate or die” seems to be the common mantra in business today. In the Internet age, products and services become commoditized at an astounding pace. Unless we continuously innovate our product or service we quickly find ourselves competing to be the lowest cost provider in a race to the bottom. Wall Street quickly recognized this situation as companies’ stock price dropped, reflecting their thinning profit margins.

NewNorth Center for Design in Business ( is a bold, two-year old non-profit organization attempting to instill innovation in the clients they serve through the training and education programs they offer. I am currently enrolled in their Innovation Methods Certificate program. The primary purpose of this one-year training is to teach us the skills to help organizations instill design thinking into their culture, especially to give us a global competitive advantage.

One of the books we are reading for the course is “The Faces of Innovation” by John Kelley. In his book, the author tells us about the personas each of us play in the innovation process, whether it is designing a new product/service or re-designing the organizations that employ us.

These ten personas are grouped into three categories: the learning personas that include the anthropologist, the experimenter, and the cross-pollinator; the organizing personas that include the hurdler, the collaborator, and the director; and the building personas that include the experience architect, the set designer, the caregiver, and the story teller.

By giving innovation a face, Kelley helps us better understand the process and the roles that each member in an organization play. Perhaps you see yourself in one or several of these roles. For me, my passion is the learning personas and is the role I enjoy the most.
Fortunately, others in my company are good at the organizing personas and the building personas.

Kelley warns of the “devils advocate” which is the “innovation killer” in an organization. One way to head off this saboteur of the innovation process is to ask if their intention is to kill the idea(s). This tactic often disarms them so as to allow the process to continue and help move the organization forward.

As each of us struggle to remain relevant both as an individual and as an organization, I think you would find Tom Kelley’s book “The Ten Faces of Innovation” a worthwhile summer read.