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Organizational Design in Action

SOM Alum Mat Chow ’14 visited campus last week to speak to students about how IDEO helps organizations innovate.

After graduating, Mat, a former Design and Innovation club co-leader, went on to work as an Organizational Designer at IDEO’s office in San Francisco. Because organizational design is a relatively new sector of work at IDEO, Mat said that his coworkers and he are at the forefront of developing the research and process behind it.

IDEO uses a process called “design thinking” to craft innovative products, experiences, and systems for their clients. Human empathy is a critical part of design thinking because it enables you to put yourself in the user’s shoes to understand their feelings, beliefs, and behaviors as they relate to the question at hand. While working on a project for Kaiser, an IDEO employee actually admitted himself into a Kaiser hospital and videotaped his experience, staring at the blank white ceiling. This kind of real customer journey provides IDEO with invaluable insights that helped shape their recommendations to Kaiser.

IDEO approaches organizational design by first getting a deep understanding of the company’s purpose and then understanding what levers to pull within the organization to address the issue at hand.  In order to understand what levers IDEO can pull to help companies be more innovative, they engage in a “looking in” process where they interview a variety of employees within the company and a “looking out” process where they research organizations that are achieving excellence in the area they are looking to address.

Throughout this process, IDEO isn’t looking for a single silver bullet to solve the company’s problem, but instead they are coming up with recommendations that “could be cool” and could enable the company to be innovative. IDEO’s clients are typically very good at optimizing profit, but they tend to need some inspiration to start along the path to innovation.