Influencing Your Innovation Potential

by Steve Todd

Interview – Steve Todd of “Innovate with Influence”

I have the pleasure of knowing Steve Todd (the Rockette on the left), a Distinguished Engineer for EMC Corporation with a hand in generating over 140 patent applications and billions of dollars in revenue. Steve has a great sense of humor and is the author of “Innovate with Influence – tales of a high-tech intrapreneur” – a new book that tells the story of his intrapreneurial adventures and quest for innovation. I had the opportunity to interview Steve about innovation, influence, and needs of the innovation workforce.

Here is the text from the interview:

1. When it comes to innovation, what is the biggest challenge that you see organizations facing?

Some organizations struggle to identify and tap into the expertise that exists outside of their organizations. Individual employees are at their innovative best when they can learn and collaborate outside of their own teams. Unfortunately, the working reality for many employees is to focus on productivity solely within their business unit. Corporations can help by encouraging employees to lift their heads up and explore new areas of interest. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the employee to take a few risks of their own.

2. Any other tips you have for innovators on how to build their influence?

My quick tip for innovation is an easy-to-remember mathematical equation: Innovation = Productivity + Initiative + Collaboration. Always be productive on whatever tasks you are given. Get them done early and then take the initiative to learn something new. During your learning process, seek out experts and collaborate with them on new ideas.

3. What are some of your favorite tips for limiting your meeting participation?

I typically don’t bring my laptop (or any other device that is web-enabled) to any meeting. I do this to give my full attention and engagement to the topic at hand. If I am tempted to bring my laptop, this means that I’m not very interested in the topic, or that I have more productive ways to spend my time. In this case I will double-check the agenda with the meeting organizer, and often ask them to post their agenda on an internal forum and add my comments in lieu of attending. If I can’t wiggle out of a questionable meeting, I will attend remotely, set my phone on mute, and get some work done in parallel.

4. Do you have suggestions for effective cross-border virtual collaboration?

I use my corporation’s social media toolset (known as EMC ONE) and shy away from corporate email. I’ve been working with St. Petersburg, Russia and Shanghai, China on some new product ideas, and I always attempt to make those conversations public. Somebody else in the world is always interested and has a unique perspective that can only be brought to the table using EMC’s intranet. Since I work in EMC’s Corporate Headquarters (Massachusetts, USA), I will usually try to entrust project ownership of the collaboration to my foreign co-workers. They like nothing better than to deliver something that they dreamed up in the initial stages.

5. Do you ever feel that you’ve limited your influence by limiting your executive visibility?

No. I’m in my third decade of delivering innovation and my lack of executive visibility has rarely limited my influence. I rely on building strongs bonds between my manager and his/her superior. THEY are the ones that have executive visibility; my team and I are the ones that deliver the end result to the customer. If this “chain of three” (myself, my manager, and his/her superior) are united in building an idea that brings great value to a customer, then selling an executive on a new idea is fairly straightforward.

6. What are some of the biggest barriers to innovation that you’ve seen in organizations?

The biggest barrier to innovation is the relegation of research into “ivory towers”. Large corporations that sponsor dedicated “innovation centers” are often removed from the pain of customer problems. Ideas that flow out of a research center are often rejected by the developers in the trenches. Everyone has the passion to create. Innovation expectations should not be limited to people that work in a specific research facility.

7. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation workforce of tomorrow, what would it be?

I would encourage teachers to search out opportunities for global student collaboration. Partner with students in China, Russia, South America, etc. Students are used to this type of dialog with their friends; get them used to doing it in the classroom. Focus on world-wide issues that are important to our times, and encourage the students to propose their own ideas to their global peers. Students will quickly realize that they cannot innovate to the fullest in the workforce of the future unless they participate in global collaboration.

My book review of “Innovate with Influence” can be found here.

Braden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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