Innovation Mentoring Strategy – McKinsey, EMC

by Steve Todd

Innovation Mentoring Strategy, McKinsey and EMCThis year I’ve come across several thought-provoking posts regarding managing remote innovation. I’ve also written several blog posts about a new role I assumed in 2012: managing EMC Labs China.

There are two articles in particular that have been helpful:

I like these two articles because one offers corporate advice (McKinsey) and one offers individual advice (Murphy). In order to accelerate EMC Labs China innovation I am trying to draw the best out of these articles and push for change on both fronts.


The Murphy article taught me, first and foremost, to take care of my energy level. The twelve hour time difference leaves you tired. My co-workers in China need to see me as energetic. Murphy calls this indefatigable.

In addition, the Murphy article validated two behaviors that I was already practicing: (a) company evangelist, and (b) enthusiastic.

In regards to being a company evangelist, the team in China is well aware that I blog frequently on the capabilities of the EMC product line. The public evangelism evident on my blog naturally translates to internal evangelism to the team.

When it comes to generating enthusiasm, the team is also aware that I consider myself lucky. When I was developing products as part of an EMC business unit, I always had two or three innovation projects on the back burner. Usually they were pretty cool.  With the EMC Labs China team I’ve got a dozen projects on the front burner. We work on next generation product possibilities that span nearly all of our business units. It’s a playground for innovation. Being enthusiastic in this environment, for me, is easy.

Murphy’s article stresses that when these characteristics (along with several others) are evident in a remote manager, success often follows.


The McKinsey article highlights some very real threats to multinational innovation in China that I cannot solve as an individual. I can work, however, with EMC’s Executive team on making changes to management frameworks and philosophies. Here are some of the key points raised by McKinsey:

  • Multinationals often have a hard time building an innovation team in China due to attrition. The following quote advises multinationals to follow the lead of local Chinese companies: “Chinese companies, for example, excel at creating a community-like environment to build loyalty to the institution. That helps keep some employees in place when competing offers arise, but it may not always be enough“.
  • Career paths and company brand matter. The brand of a successful multinational can be an important retention strategy: “Talented Chinese employees increasingly recognize the benefits of being associated with a well-known foreign brand and like the mentorship and training that foreign companies can provide. So multinationals that commit themselves to developing meaningful career paths for Chinese employees should have a chance in the growing fight with their Chinese competitors for R&D talent“.
  • Multinationals with successful innovation collaboration frameworks have an advantage: “One area where multinationals currently have an edge is promoting collaboration and the internal collision of ideas, which can yield surprising new insights and business opportunities. In many Chinese companies, traditional organizational and cultural barriers
    inhibit such exchanges.”

This last point is an area where EMC is having a high degree of success. My co-workers at EMC Labs China are the most active global contributors to our yearly idea contest (EMC’s Innovation Showcase). Out of just under thirty winning ideas selected during this year’s Showcase, the EMC Labs China team was selected as the winner of more than twenty percent of them!  This means that out of 2200 ideas, global judges chose five EMC Labs China ideas as the best in the world, with several members contributing to a cross-cultural idea voted as “Best in Show”. It is incumbent on me to continue to strengthen this program. Indeed, our 7th Innovation Conference will be held in China next year (the sixth was held in Israel).

My biggest action item, however, is a combination of individual and corporate.

I’m flying over to China next week, and one of my tasks is to begin a mentoring relationship with a key senior contributor in China that has been a strong innovator for at least five years. Given the importance of career paths in China, interaction with EMC Fellows (such as myself) and Distinguished Engineers is highly prized.  I also have an action item to work with Human Resources on the establishment of a global corporate Fellow and Distinguished Engineer mentoring program. This community (over 80 people) can help scale the experience for not only China but other nations as well.

If you are interested in this topic, I recommend that you give both articles a thorough read. I’d also appreciate additional comments from readers who can recommend alternative approaches.

image credit:, imagine china/corbis

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Steve ToddSteve Todd is an EMC Fellow, the Director of EMC’s Innovation Network, and a high-tech inventor and book author Innovate With Global Influence. An EMC Intrapreneur with over 200 patent applications and billions in product revenue, he writes about innovation on his personal blog, the Information Playground. Twitter: @SteveTodd