I came across an article in the NY Times this month that discussed the different organizational structures that large high-tech companies use to foster innovation. Being heavily involved in my own company's innovation culture I gave it a pretty thorough read and compared it to the culture of innovation here at EMC.
The article was called "The Corporate Lab as Ringmaster". What I found most interesting was the question proposed at the beginning of the article:
So, in the Internet era, what is the continuing role and comparative advantage of the corporate R.& D. lab?
Here's one answer to that question, coming out of the Sloan School of Management at MIT:
Its role will be smaller and its advantage diminished, suggests Michael Schrage, a research fellow at the Center for Digital Business at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. The idea-production process, according to Mr. Schrage, will continue to shift away from the centralized model epitomized by large corporate labs, going from “proprietary innovation to populist innovation.”
So in a sense, this direction can be viewed as a dismantling of the ivory tower approach to innovation, where a large team of people (often in one or two geographic locations) are set aside to work on innovative new concepts and proposals. The "corporate lab" becomes more of a coordinator. HP solicits grant requests from universities. A GE corporate lab team partners with the University of Pittsburgh. IBM opens "its labs to the outside world and to customers".
Comparing to EMC Corporate Innovation Culture
First of all, EMC doesn't have a corporate research lab per se. I mentioned this in a blog post about a year ago. When it comes to new product development, EMC has quite the geographic distribution of corporate brainpower (e.g. Russia, China, Israel, Ireland, US, France, Netherlands, Brazil). All of the innovators, developers, and customer support employees working in these facilities are typically assigned to product delivery and/or customer interaction.
The ringmaster of it all is the EMC Innovation Network (run out of the CTOs office). This team coordinates (loosely monitors) internal innovation activity (including contests) across all of these sites via the process of leveraging intrapreneurs. External innovation activity in universities and industry is also monitored by this central group, and the results and status of this activity are posted and shared via EMC's internal social network (EMC ONE).
I like this model. It emphasizes that the people that innovate are the same people that deliver the solution into the hands of customers, as well as the same people that are receiving the input (and pain points) from customers.