How to Nurture Creativity and Innovation in the Work Place - Page 2

Mar 17, 2011

Drew Robb

“Customers, engineers, sales people and support should all be looked at as part of the research and development team,” said Patterson.

Innovation, thought, doesn’t have to only be something you are born with. Matt Starr, CTO of Spectra Logic actively works at the establishment of a systematic way to create and nurture innovation. The company, for example, has sent most of its engineering leaders, the CEO and most of its product managers through formal innovation classes.

“To nurture innovation you end up needing a small team people that are really focused on incubating startup ideas,” said Starr.

He accepts that innovation holds the element of risk. You have to be willing to accept the wins and the losses. On the plus side, the company has built the highest density, lowest power tape library around, while a removable RAID pack that didn’t sell well.

Large enterprise edition

It’s an oft-cited problem for companies that become the giants in their field: how do they stay ahead of a nimble pack of startups eager for their market share? There are many answers to that question. Companies like HP have invested in multiple startups, even spinning of good ideas originated internally into new ventures. Other companies set up development centers all around the world to foster bright ideas.

What is EMC’s solution? It attempts to facilitate what it terms "inclusive innovation.” This means everyone in the business lines across the company are encouraged to become involved in some way in discovering and advancing new ideas. An annual EMC Innovation Conference includes a dozen or more local events around the world on the same day, and features a global innovation competition open to all employees to contribute ideas and comment on one another’s.

“We also spend a lot of time in our local research programs in conversations with university researchers and founders of startup companies finding out what they’re thinking about,” said Burt Kaliski, director of EMC Innovation Network. "We involve our customers early on in these conversations, as well.”

Rather than seeing EMC’s size as a burden, Kaliski see it as an advantage: The knowledge you gain in one part of the company can benefit people in so many other parts as they work on their next solution.

“In busy corporate environments, there may not always be the time or channels to connect freely and fully about new ideas or to rapidly transition ideas into practice,” said Kaliski. “Some companies limit themselves by relying solely on their technical community to create new ideas instead of bringing in the broadest possible collection of perspectives. They need to understand that innovation takes on a myriad of forms and should find its source in every employee regardless where they live or what title might be on their business card.”

This factor can also play a big part in keeping headhunters at bay. Kaliski believes that employees invest their time where they can make a difference and when they feel engaged. Also, spend time with university research communities. The outside and forward-looking perspective that academic researchers provide can help bring business and technology leaders together across various parts of the company and enable them to solve problems more effectively.

“Make the incubation of new ideas a business priority, having formal processes in place to discover, create, and rapidly bring new ideas into practice,” said Kaliski. “It doesn't take much investment to figure out whether a new idea will work and where it belongs in the organization, but unless there is a formal process in place for doing so good ideas won’t become a reality.”

Drew Robb is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles specializing in technology and engineering. He has a degree in Geology/Geography from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment, as well as hundreds of magazine articles.

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