Firm Follows Form

Organisation Design Blog by Nathan Waterhouse

May 31, 2015

Eight tips on running a great team offsite

Eight tips on running a great team offsite

It’s been reported that corporate offsites cost companies millions every year purely in just employee salary time — that’s before factoring in the costs of gallons of cool aid and corporate getaways. Yet, if done well, I’m a big believer in the value of a team offsite, whether your team is distributed or centralised. Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful to bear in mind when planning and running them.

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May 31, 2015

OpenIDEO relaunches with new design

How to enable greater impact through collaboration relaunches with brand new design.

 Six years ago, a team of us at IDEO asked ourselves: if we are creating global impact with just a few hundred designers using IDEO’s design principles, what might happen if we open up the design process and invite hundreds of thousands of people to join us in tackling the world’s most pressing issues? By activating people from even more diverse backgrounds to come together, might we discover faster, better solutions? What if it wasn’t just industrial designers, economists, ethnographers, and business strategists working together on a common problem, but, well anyone? Inspired by this great potential for impact and opportunity for learning, OpenIDEO was born.

In its short history, this collaborative platform has led to some incredible impact. The community has grown to over 75,000 from almost every country in the world. Community-driven insights and ideas have led to lives being saved, countless social enterprises in action, hundreds of teams formed and even careers shifted through global collaborations.

Today we’re relaunching with a new responsive design that works on all devices. Version three of the OI Engine software that underpins OpenIDEO comes with some big changes, rooted in feedback from users. We stepped back as a team to explore the future of the platform, both for OpenIDEO and for other clients. Through this process, four themes stood out:

  1. With an increasingly global community, it’s important that everyone is able to participate. We want to make it possible for anyone to contribute regardless of the device they are using or their internet speed.
  2. The community is creating impact. We want to help them celebrate this with the world. We’ve made it much easier to track and add stories of impact to each challenge.
  3. The community is working hard. By enabling a greater focus on the task at hand, we can ensure a higher level of success. We’ve created a much cleaner design that makes it easier to add an idea or focus on reading others.
  4. The community knows the power of going visual. We wanted to create a space that supports visual communication as ideas evolve. Your beautiful designs and ideas can now be viewed in a new fullscreen browser mode.


New team and new approaches to collaborative impact

Founder Tom Hulme and I are super inspired by the growing OpenIDEO team and its leadership under Jason Rissman. They are exploring rapid-response challenge models for urgent social issues, like the Fighting Ebola challenge last year. The team is also experimenting with new partnership models as well as exploring new pathways to implementation for ventures that have emerged from the community. Check out their new impact website.

OpenIDEO as a platform

OpenIDEO has taught us a lot, and continuous experimentation has led to some incredible new and powerful initiatives. The Amplify program is now in its second year and already on to its third challenge of ten, in collaboration with the Department for International Development in the UK and I’m inspired by how it is disrupting the world of international development by making it more human centred and accessible to smaller entrepreneurs, rather than the same big names receiving aid funding.

We are now licensing the software behind OpenIDEO to organisations trying to do the same thing we did back in 2010. OI Engine is poised to provide the same great collaborative environment to help them innovate internally or engage their communities in collaborative problem solving. Though I’m now focusing on OI Engine, I plan to stay close to OpenIDEO as the community continues to create impact together. Maybe I’ll see you in the next challenge?

May 31, 2015

Dramatically simple tip to improve hiring at your startup

Dramatically simple trick to improve hiring at your startup.

One of the experiments we’re trying at IDEO’s collaborative problem solving platform, OI Engine.

 Investing time in finding the best talent for your startup is crucial. Yet if you’re an entrepreneur, time is your most precious commodity. So how do you maximise time spent searching for great people? Here’s a simple trick we’ve been using at OI Engine (collaborative problem solving platform from IDEO):

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May 31, 2015

The Impact of the Crowd

You might have spotted the name Caldas on your last visit to your local coffee shop. It’s a mountainous region in Colombia, known as part of the ‘axis of coffee’. But perhaps less well known is its ageing population, poor literacy levels, a lot of malnutrition, and that about 70% of people there live in poverty, 25% in extreme poverty.

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February 25, 2014

Collaborating to eradicate global poverty

In 2011, Sarah Fathallah, a consultant in Washington DC shared an idea to improve the health of low-income communities with no healthcare infrastructure on She could not have known at the time, but months later, this idea would be picked up by a team of doctors and development experts in Caldas, Colombia and brought to life to improve the lives of the people there, who are made up of 26% living in extreme poverty. Working with Grameen Caldas this entrepreneurial team refined the idea, with support from the global OpenIDEO community, got funded, and launched Bive, a social business providing affordable, quality and expedient healthcare services to low-income communities. Now, three years later, Bive serves 1,300 users with 42 different health related services.

Sarah is part of the global community on OpenIDEO who regularly take part in open innovation challenges to help tackle social and environmental issues. The community is now made-up of over 50,000 individuals from 185 countries, who come from a diverse range of backgrounds and skillsets – designers, social entrepreneurs, educators and consultants amongst other passionate collaborators.

In the time the site has been live, this community, which is open for anyone to join, has helped impact a range of different global issues. The OpenIDEO community’s ideas and actions have helped a team of students at Stanford increase the US national bone marrow registry by 115,000 new potential donors to help those suffering from Leukaemia.– one patient’s life was saved because of this work. The community has also helped design an app called The Panic Button for Amnesty International, which helps those at risk of being illegally detained. In other challenges, each addressing a specific issue and sponsored by a partner organisation, the community has addressed mass atrocity, lack of sanitation and disposal of electronic waste, to name a few and has seen similar success.

I work for IDEO, and when we started OpenIDEO we wanted to create a place where people with a wide range of backgrounds and skills could collaborate on challenges for social good. Recently we wanted to help the community create greater impact, so we teamed up with IDEO’s non-profit, and with the support of DFID, have started the Amplify Program.  Over the next five years, we will run ten challenges focused on a different international development issue, and open them up to everyone to take part. We aim to innovate the way international development is done by developing a participatory model. For the first time in OpenIDEO’s history we’ll offer grant funding and design support to  ideas that successfully make it through the process, plus we’ll be working with local beneficiaries to bring their voice to the platform, understand their needs, what’s already been tried, and to attract existing NGOs and entrepreneurs to join the process.

How do open innovation challenges work on OpenIDEO?

We start with a big question, something to get everyone focusing their energies on, and we launch the first of several phases, each one running for a few weeks at a time. The first of these is the Research phase, which is all about learning before jumping to ideas. In this phase we share existing solutions, interview end-beneficiaries, share personal stories, and look at adjacent fields for analogous research. Next comes the really creative part: the Ideas phase, where anyone can submit solutions to the problem, comment, and build upon each other’s contributions – and even form teams. Next, the most promising ideas move forwards to the Refinement phase, prototyping and end-beneficiary feedback is sought, and finally the most successful ideas are shortlisted and from that list, grants will be given, along with design support to secure real world impact.

The first Amplify challenge: Women’s & Girls’ safety

This month sees the launch of the first of these challenges and the question this time is How might we make low-income urban areas safer and more empowering for women and girls?. Although anyone can join the challenge, we’re specifically looking for anyone working in the international development space to participate, and here are a few reasons to contribute to the process:

  • We’re looking for existing ideas not just new ones – your projects could benefit from funding and design support
  • Raise awareness of your own work
  • Find new collaborators and partners from unusual sources
  • Find new ideas and inspiration for your work
  • Get feedback on your work and ideas

We’re currently in the Research phase. At this stage we are looking for existing approaches, personal stories and your in-depth understanding of the social sector to increase our collective understanding of the problem. Whether you’re working in a space relevant to women’s and girls’ safety or just want to check out this new approach to increasing collaboration in international development, you can join the challenge at

Also check out the video below to learn more about this challenge:

Introducing OpenIDEO’s Women’s Safety Challenge from IDEO on Vimeo.

December 10, 2013

Ideas are Cheap

Working in the world of innovation and creativity you hear a lot of talk about ‘ideas’. In the vernacular of innovation, the emphasis placed on ideas is overdone. It’s Saccharin sweet. You can see this in the cynicism some people have towards brainstorming: there’s a perception that it’s all happy clappy fluffy hot air and no action. Personally I think they’re right to be cynical. The real challenge is that most people are jumping to the middle of the creative process (probably because there’s a thing called brainstorming they’ve heard of and that’s what they associate with being creative in a team). All too often the start and the ‘end’ of the process are skipped over – the two most important place to invest time. – Read More –

September 3, 2013

Knight Foundation’s next challenge: Health & Data

Knight Foundation’s latest newschallenge launches its Entries phase today, seeking new ideas to improve the Health of communities by asking this question: “How can we harness data and information for the health of communities?” The platform is our first public instance of IDEO’s new open innovation platform OI Engine. Read on to learn more about the latest challenge and some of the stuff we’re learning about running open challenges with financial rewards.

– Read More –

July 31, 2013

Community Design Principles of Span Homes

Exactly a year ago I moved from sunny California to London and (with my wife and two kids) we now live in a lovely community – I jokingly refer to it as a commune to colleagues at work. We knew no one when we arrived and now we and our kids have new friends. I never thought I’d have such good neighbours in a big city like London. How is this possible? – Read More –

July 28, 2013

Designing new innate human skills

We recently had a new addition to the household: a Siberian Cat called Willow. We got him as a kitten and something struck me as interesting the other day: he has never had any real interaction with other cats and yet he knows exactly how to be a cat. He knows how to catch food, how to clean himself, how to walk precariously across a fence, and how to beg for love. We on the other hand, are born with inbuilt instincts and capacities but few innate skills or solutions that can be used almost immediately without supported development. If you left a baby to its own devices it would struggle to cope alone.

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