Fit for Human Beings

Inside Stanford's creativity factory

August 17, 2012: 10:52 AM ET

After spending decades training executives and design professionals, David Kelley conceived of a school that could produce a generation of design innovators.

Hasso Plattner Institute of Design

By Polly LaBarre

(TheMIX) -- This summer, it's Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs' singular genius that seems to be propped open on beach towels, in hammocks, and at every third airplane seat.

As fascinating as Jobs' person, career, and legacy are, the intense interest in his insane greatness raises a question: What if we directed that level of focus toward awakening the genius (if slightly less great and hopefully less insane) inside of each and every one of us?

What leader doesn't want his or her organization to be more resilient, inventive, and inspiring? What leader hasn't called for the full ingenuity, passion, and initiative of every person in their organization? Yet how many organizations are designed to unleash and mobilize the full potential of the people who work inside them?

Those were the questions on the table when David Kelley, the founder and chairman of design and innovation firm IDEO, joined Stanford professor Bob Sutton onstage at the recent MIX Mashup, our first-ever gathering of management innovators earlier this summer. Widely recognized as one of the world's leading design innovators, Kelley has all of the titles and awards to show for it (Stanford professor, member of the National Academy of Engineers, National Design Award), but more importantly, he has dedicated his career to making creativity accessible and routine -- and to releasing that native quality within individuals and organizations.

After spending decades re-training executives and design professionals, Kelley conceived of a school that would get it right from the start, one that would produce a generation of innovators prepared to meet the challenges of the day. He founded the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, or "d.school," at Stanford in 2005 as a multi-disciplinary mashup of design thinking principles, real-world projects, and collaboration. Today, some 800 Stanford engineering, business, science, law, education, and other students flock to the humming studio-meets-kindergarten d.school building to take one of 17 classes a quarter. As an early team member and faculty of the d.school, Sutton brings equal fervor to the project of revitalizing the "supply side" of the creative economy.

MORE: Exposing management's dirty little secret

While the d.school classes run the gamut from "Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability," to "d.compress: Designing Calm," to real-world projects for big-name companies like Procter & Gamble and Google, the curriculum is essentially a journey to what Kelley calls "creative confidence."

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