Innovation for more than a day

October 16, 2009

Last week, Steve Todd and I heard Gary Hamel challenge modern companies:

  • How do you build an organization where innovation is everybody’s job?
  • How do you build an organization that INSPIRES extraordinary contributions?

This week, EMC held its third annual global Innovation Conference.  For some background on the event and the contest, check out my previous posts.  It has been amazing to watch the growth and reach of the conference.  The first year was a single site, the second year was a single site with some remote participation, and the third year was over a dozen “globally local” conferences: two one-hour segments broadcast from India and the rest of the day was different at each site.  Not only are dozens of hours of material be posted internally (EMCers can find the Innovation Café here), but some information is being shared externally through blogs, photos, videos and soon on the ECN site.

Contest Winners

One of the primary components of the conference is to celebrate the teams of innovators and their submissions, and to choose the winners.  As a conclusion to the selection process, all three top winners this year were ideas that the selection committee, rather than the community, moved into the semi-finals.  The second place winner was a combination of two similar ideas (one of which was popular in the community voting).  The “People’s Choice” award was a tie between an idea from India and an idea from Cork, Ireland; not surprisingly, both of these ideas reached the semifinals through community voting.  Beyond the winners, I know that many people were inspired either by having feedback on their ideas, or even by being able to review ideas from others. The community involvement in voting greatly broadened the visibility of the contest and conference around the globe.

Day of Innovation

We had a stacked day which, thanks to much help from many people, went very well.  The innovation contests have helped to move towards Hamel’s goal of engaging everyone in innovation.  This can’t be done without strong support from senior management.  Here is a short video from some of our executives discussing innovation and the innovation conference (we were especially pleased to get a few words from new EMCers Pat Gelsinger and Frank Slootman):

The day was anchored solidly at the beginning (Vice Chairman Bill Teuber) and end (EMC RSA Division’s president Art Coviello) with live EMC executive presentations.  Polly Pearson spoke about how innovation is a brand value and key piece of EMC’s culture.  Our keynote speaker was Dave Ritter of InnoCentive whose presentation on open innovation resonated strongly with us.  Completing the rest of the day was not one, not two, but three panels (as my esteemed colleague and this year’s third place winner, Dr. Dave Reiner would say: two’s company, three’s a cloud).  The first panel was on how we are innovating locally (which includes how we connect globally); see panelist Jamie Pappas’ blog for more on this.  The other two panels were on cloud computing from the business and technical points-of-view.  Judith Hurwitz (consultant, analyst and author) and Wayne Pauley (EMC) did a great job of moderating panels which covered a lot of ground and went beyond some of the hype and blue-sky thinking of cloud.  Even though this was an internal event, we invited Judith Hurwitz and Christofer Hoff (Cisco) to give additional perspectives and to help keep us from talking in an echo chamber.

After the conference, about eighty of us got together to discuss the ideas of the day.  Gina Minks took some video for me, capturing some of the discussion.  For me, the highlight of the conference was that there was so much passionate support to put on this event.  “Innovation” related activities can brings out the creativity, passion and initiative of people for more than a day.

As a final note – a special thanks to Mary Henderson who took my offer to help out with this year’s conference and turned that into an amazing (if exhausting) journey of putting together the local event (with lots of help from her and some of our events experts) and help out the global team.  I know that I learned a lot and made new—and strengthened old—connections.

If you are interested in continuing the discussion on innovation, please consider subscribing to this blog.

Stuart Miniman

EMC Innovation Conference Update

September 10, 2009

We’re 1 month away from the Innovation Conference; here’s a quick update on the contest and view into next month’s conference.

Contest Update

In my last post on the EMC Innovation Conference, I discussed how this year, the judging was a mixture of a judging panel and community voting.  The semi-finalists were evenly split between the popular vote and the judges, with 1/8 overlap (high number of community votes and high ranking from the judges).  The judges then reviewed all of the semi-finalists to narrow down to 30 finalists.


Since there was a relatively low number of overlaps in the semi-finalists, I was impressed to see that ~1/2 of the finalist ideas (14 of 30) were community semi-finalists (and ~2/3 [21 of 30] were judging semi-finalists).  The finalists included a diverse population of EMC, including teams from 7 countries from a broad spectrum of the organization.  I’d like to offer special congratulations to 3 EMC bloggers who have ideas in the finals: Steve Todd, Barry Burke and Craig Randall.

Conference Update

EMC’s new Bangalore facility, which will be the primary location for this year’s innovation conference, has opened.  You can see a picture of the facility here (you will also note that it is a “LEED” certified Green Building).  BusinessWeek did a nice writeup:

EMC is signaling strongly that it seeks innovation from India—not just cheaper labor. When the company holds its third annual global innovation conference on Oct. 14, the main stage for the virtual event will be at the Bangalore campus…EMC is doing some interesting things to engage its global workforce. But, for now, the main point I want to make is that this company is doing the right thing vis a vis its Indian employees. It doesn’t treat them as commodity brains to be had on the cheap. It signals that it expects great ideas and work to come from them. I bet it will.

A key piece of the conference at each location will be a panel discussing local innovations.  Not only will this be great for the local conferences, but the sessions will be recorded so that they can be shared internally with the global workforce.

If you are interested in continuing the discussion on innovation, please consider subscribing to this blog.

Stuart Miniman

Popularity and Innovation

July 22, 2009

EMC’s Innovation Conference is, in large part, a celebration of ideas submitted by employees–particularly those that have progressed to become finalists. EMC employees have submitted over 1400 ideas to this year’s innovation contest.  This is the third year of the contest, and the process for reviewing the submissions has evolved with the tremendous growth in the number of ideas. In the first year, there were a few hundred submissions and a panel of judges narrowed the ideas to a group of finalists.  In the second year, there were almost a thousand submissions and a selection committee rated the ideas to help reach a group of finalists which could be reviewed by the panel of judges.

In the spirit of building on the innovation network, the entire EMC community has the opportunity to review and vote on all of the ideas that are in the system.  We had a long discussion on the EMC internal wiki site about how to make sure that the community vote does not become a popularity contest.  One of the outcomes of the discussion was that a selection committee chosen from the senior technical staff (see Polly Pearson’s post on the EMC Distinguished Engineer and Fellow program) will also review the submissions.  I’ve had the honor of being part of the committee (I’ve been nominated to help by a distinguished engineer) last year and this year.  2by2Ideas from both the community and the committee will be designated as finalists.  The panel of judges will then choose the winners.

But which is a better indicator that an idea is truly innovative: the finalists that get the most community votes, or those that the “experts” pick?  On the right is a 2×2 grid; one axis is popularity and the other is technical value.  The community defines popularity, and the selection committee should be able to determine technical value.  It should be obvious that anything that is neither popular nor of technical value (quadrant 1) does not need to be considered further.  Out of the remaining choices, would the overlap between the two groups (quadrant 4) be the best, since they are both popular and of technical value?  Should something that the community chose, but not the selection committee (quadrant 3) be eliminated for being popular, but not necessarily of high technical value?  Do we trust the selection committee to spot the innovation that is not high in popularity (quadrant 2)?  While the contest is not exactly a battle of wits to the death, it is inconceivable that we can simply choose one of the quadrants.

There is a large cross-section of ideas across not only EMC’s breadth of products and services, but also process enhancements.  Some ideas are incremental improvements, and some are adjacent or outside EMC’s current marketplace.  In general, we look to provide a climate where there is encouragement for all ideas.  While only a select few will win prizes, the contest and the conference help to make innovation a popular idea.

If you are interested in continuing the discussion on innovation, please consider subscribing to this blog.
Another great reference for this discussion is Hutch Carpenter’s “Tapping Communities to Accelerate Innovation

Language of Innovation & EMC Innovation Conference

July 20, 2009

I have discussed before that groups and cultures have specific terminology and language that build bonds and improved discussions through common education and use.  At EMC Corporation, we have created an Innovation Conference with a goal of fostering the engagement of all employees in the process of innovation.  For the third year, a contest is being held where all employees are encouraged to submit innovative product or process ideas (see Len Devanna’s post about the submission site).

EMC Innovation Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the first two years of the Innovation Conference, and they were fantastic events (see Steve Todd’s post about last year’s conference).  We brought together approximately three hundred people at a two-day conference to meet the finalists (who would share their ideas), listen to a variety of industry speakers and immerse themselves in discussions with others who are interested in innovation.  This year, rather than bringing all of the finalists and the entire conference to EMC’s headquarters in Massachusetts, we will be having a global day of innovation.  The conference will have a dozen regional sites around the world: each of EMC’s Centers of Excellence (the primary site being Bangalore, India) and a handful of other facilities.  Some of the content will be broadcast worldwide from India, and some will be hosted locally at each of the sites.  For employees who can’t attend in person, some of the conference activities will be available remotely. Much of the content from each conference will be recorded and made available internally on the EMC|ONE internal site. We’ve had strong participation from the various EMC sites, and the globalization will allow for much greater reach of the conference around the world, facilitating regional and global connections.  Many people who would never have considered themselves innovators, once exposed to the conference, get a basic knowledge of the innovation discussions – the language of innovation – and are more likely to participate in innovation-related activity.

Innovation is an ongoing process. Throughout the last year, certain topics have been shared externally through the Innovation Network Lecture Series; details can be found on the EMC Community Network (ECN) site (see  We will continue to grow the material and discussions on the ECN site.

If you are interested in continuing the discussion on innovation, please consider subscribing to this blog.