- EMC President and Chief Operating Officer Pat Gelsinger
- Senior Vice President and EMC Chief Technology Officer Jeff Nick
- EMC Executive Vice President of Human Resources Jack Mollen.
- EMC Chief Strategy Officer Mark Lewis.
- President of EMC's Information Intelligence Group Rick Devenuti.
- President of EMC's Backup and Recovery Systems Division BJ Jenkins.
- Greenplum Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder Luke Lonergan.
- EMC Chief Sustainability Officer Kathrin Winkler.
- Sun Co-Founder Scott McNealy.
Companies that start "Innovation Teams" usually find that these teams dry up and vanish after 3-4 years. Consider this quote from RPI Professor Gina O'Connor (brackets are mine):
"The average life expectancy of a New Ventures Group [ e.g. an Innovation Team] within an established, mature firm is approximately four years. Senior leaders grow impatient with the seemingly low productivity in these groups and shut them down."
One of the main reasons she cites for disbanding corporate innovation activities is lack of Executive support.
We don't have that problem.
Successful innovation efforts often point to a portfolio of "inventions" that have impacted the company. We have many such stories (I hope to profile them in future posts).
In this post, however, I'll focus on another side-effect of a great corporate innovation program: changed careers.
I didn't need my company to tell me how to innovate (or so I thought). I had spent my entire career working on teams that delivered cool ideas. My daily routine was show up, work hard, and go home. I didn't have time for corporate activities outside of my business unit.
In the summer of 2007 I received an email from EMC CTO Jeff Nick announcing an Innovation Contest. I could not believe my eyes. For those of us buried deep inside our business units, the invitation amounted to a complete waste of time. Many people rolled their eyes, pushed the delete button, and went back to work.
I tried to do that, but for some reason I started thinking about ideas that I'd long desired to build. These ideas always ended up on the back burner because they were usually outside the scope of my day job. To make a long story short, I decided to participate in the contest and attended the first annual Showcase in October of 2007.
The 2007 Conference
After more than seven years at EMC I finally took a day off to consider innovation.
I was encouraged to fly way, way out of my comfort zone.
Perhaps the best message I received that day was delivered by none other than Chuck Hollis. Chuck got right up into our faces at the Innovation Conference and challenged us to become involved in social media and start blogging.
People were incredulous. Blogging was a complete waste of time, more silly perhaps than corporate idea contests!
Why would EMC Executives spend so much money flying inventors in from all around the world to listen to a clown like Chuck say something so ridiculous?
What I discovered that day was that my company was trying to tell me something:
Innovate at the Corporate Level. It's better than your day job.
P.S. Don't ask permission.
I decided to give the blogging thing a try.
I took a few days off every month and started visiting universities.
I wrote a couple of books.
I started volunteering for the Innovation Conference Steering Committee.
And I'm having more fun than ever.
A watershed is an important transition between two phases. My post-2007 involvement with EMC's innovation activities brought me down a new path. In 2011 I left my career as a software engineer completely behind and became the Director of EMC's Innovation Network. My team and I sponsor and guide the implementation of the Innovation Conference and Showcase, the Fellow and Distinguished Engineer community, global university research, etc., etc., etc.
The 2007 Innovation Conference was my personal catalyst. My decision to innovate at the corporate level was the right one to make.
I find it surreal that today I'll share the stage with the likes of Pat Gelsinger, Jeff Nick, and Scott McNealy. I've got my speech all planned out.
I have a pretty simple message.
Turn today into a watershed moment!
Director, EMC Innovation Network