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The Time I Worked With IDEO

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Recently, I finished reading "Designing Your Life," written by Stanford Professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, which was recommended by my dear friend and former Wall Street colleague, Professor Zvi Bodie.

The book offers up a process of how to discover self-actualization (my term for achieving your best life without causing any harm to others, the environment or yourself).

Feeling enlightened by the helpful messages in the book, I reflected back on the fortunate time in my career when I was able to experience the paradigm-changing ideation and design process of the world-famous design consultant, IDEO (

For those of you who are unaware of IDEO, it is one of the world’s premier design agencies, and I would say many Fortune 500 corporations have hired them (like McKinsey, IDEO seems to be ubiquitous in Corporate America).

I was part of a team of experienced, talented financial services executives tasked with creating game-changing products and services for the retirement marketplace.

Someone much smarter than me had made the decision to hire IDEO to assist us with identifying the next big idea(s) in retirement. For IDEO, no task is too big, no topic too blue ocean. Same for the project’s costs - think millions of dollars here, people.

The IDEO Process I experienced was as follows:

The first part of the process assembled 40 top executives (including myself) from each division of the large, publicly-traded financial services company at which I worked.

For two days, we broke into groups and used different color Post-It notes as we brainstormed ideas.


In fact, there should not be censorship of ideas. Idea Generation is about quantity not quality at this stage.

At the end of the meetings, we all voted using colored dots to see which ideas would rise to the surface.

As we left the Manhattan meeting space and headed back to our normal lives and jobs, I think all of us were energized by the immense power of this design experience.

The second part of the process involved immersive human-centered observation and research.

Before we embarked on this step, we were issued Jane Fulton Suri and IDEO's book, "Thoughtless." The inside cover of the book is below:

IDEO had us fly to all different parts of the country (Boston, Detroit, Miami, LA and Vegas) and meet a broad variety of Boomers in their homes. Carefully selected, all of our field research subjects had differing ideas about retirement.

During your observation, what one looks for is not the most frequently-provided insight, but rather the most outside-of-the-box, unimaginable or even improbable. You see, the “edge cases” of life tend to provide the most unique insight; realizing this was one of the most profound lessons of my business career.

If you are interested in learning more, here is IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Kit:

The final part of the process involved intense iterations on the most prominent insights, which ultimately yielded five “big ideas,” which were presented to our CEO and the Board.

Unfortunately, the Global Financial Crisis hit, and we were unable to implement any of these ideas on a large scale. The time for innovation had passed, and everyone was in survival mode.

However, I took a great deal away from the year that I spent working with IDEO, and it will always be one of the more interesting and enlightening projects in my career.

Which takes me back all the way to the beginning. Professors Burnett and Evans do an excellent job of explaining in Designing Your Life how the design process can be used in your career, and also discuss how the same principles can be utilized in your personal life.

Taking a design approach to problems in life works even on a spiritual level. Don't they say that you learn the most from your failures? Hopefully, your colossal mistakes are "edge case events" and not the norm.

Therefore, it seems very plausible that we can learn the most from our failures or other painful disappointments in life if we wish to conquer our fears and objectively analyze them.

I will write more about this concept in the future, but would love your comments or thoughts. They are always appreciated.

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So much to think about. My head is exploding. Searching for my "edge cases" now and ready to get to work. THANKS.

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