IDEO & Philanthropy

Some time last year I started reading about the company IDEO. IDEO is one of the leading design firms globally (they designed the modern computer mouse!), but from my standpoint, it is their pioneering work in “design thinking” that caught my attention and got me thinking about the applications of their approach in philanthropy.

I briefly met IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown while we were both in Dubai last year for the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council meeting. A few months later I started writing about T-Shaped People in Philanthropy, a phrase Tim uses to describe the types of people IDEO hires. I later expanded on the idea in an essay I wrote for the Grant Managers Network about IDEO, design thinking and consilience.

But to tell you the truth, my sense that IDEO had something powerful to contribute to philanthropy was more of a hunch than anything else. But yesterday I had the pleasure of joining IDEO’s Social Impact group for an afternoon of brainstorming.


If you are involved with a large grantmaker or nonprofit, I strongly suggest you keep an eye on IDEO and start thinking about how you might be able to get them involved with your work. Luckily, there’s a brand new way for our field to get familiar with how IDEO thinks about solving social problems: a blog they are authoring hosted by GOOD Magazine.

The blog is called Innovation in Evaluation. The brainstorming session I attended yesterday was intended to help them decide which topics to write about. You’ll have to read the blog to learn more, but if issues like dealing with uncertainty, planning under dynamic conditions, the value of intuitive decision making and how to measure “the unmeasureable” resonate with you, this is a blog you’re going to want to watch.


  1. Megan says:

    Also of IDEO-related interest: their Human Centered Design Toolkit. It’s more focused on international development, but has interesting ideas for how to understand the people and places you are working to serve. I love the camera with instructions for each picture.

  2. Thanks Megan,
    For readers, here’s a link to the Toolkit Megan is talking about:

    IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit

  3. Alyssa Walker recently wrote a great piece in Fast Company on IDEO’s toolkit and the company’s culture of information-sharing. Here’s the link for those who may be interested.

  4. Mark Basnage says:

    Sean, I agree- IDEO does amazing work, and should be watched. Those who are interested in the power of design thinking may be interested in the work of Stanford’s (“d” for designthinking), which shares the same design thinking DNA as IDEO (and some people). The’s executive director just gave a great talk at the NY Chautauqua, which I wrote about here:

  5. Thanks Mark,
    Great link. I can’t wait to watch the video.