If you have wondered what it means to do innovation at a large company, you are in the right place. I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Bernardi, IBM’s Chief Innovation Officer responsible for Cloud and the Internet of Things. She is also a startup founder & CEO, strategic advisor to large organizations, and author of the book “Provoke,” which is about the need for organizations to embrace a culture of disruption to promote innovation.
I caught her literally between planes so the audio quality is a little different than normal as I called her phone, but it’s still good for listening.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:
- How long have you been in your Chief Innovation role? Linda has been the Chief Innovation Officer at IBM for the last year, focusing on the Internet of Things and the Cloud and looking at where these are headed in the future. Her unofficial title is Chief Disruption Officer – changing the organization for real advancement and innovation.
- Give us a sense of what the role involves at IBM. The culture of the 103-year-old company has many strengths but also a strong sense of how things are traditionally done. Disruption is needed and is a natural part of growth. It is required because everything in technology is changing. IBM is thinking about change in terms of the products and services it develops as well as its culture. What is unique about IBM is its ability to solve very complex problems, and it has done so for over 100 years. Change is coming both internally and through external acquisitions. The IBM of 2015 looks very different than it did even five years ago.
- How are you being a disruptor at IBM? There are two components to that: culture and technology. Culture involves being able to think differently. The culture is changing from one that is selling IT products and services to one that is helping customers transform themselves. For those that have been at IBM, this can be an uncomfortable transition, while for the new hires who are not tied to the traditional ways of doing business, it is easy to adopt. The same is true for any change, such as switching hands you hold a toothbrush in. Any type of disruption brings about change and associated discomfort, whether it be personal change or large organizational change. Some people get paralyzed when they are disrupted, and being able to remain flexible is very important. To be a disruptor in an organization, sometimes it is necessary to take action and ask for forgiveness later. Technology has transformed from a series of organized and long-term steps, such as moving from central computing to client-server to personal computers, and now has erupted in choices (e.g., open source database systems versus proprietary systems) and mobile devices and expectations to have access to information from anywhere.
- What characteristics or attitudes make a person good at leading innovation? A recognition is needed that the business will change – it always does. There are many examples of companies that did not effectively deal with the change, such as Kodak, Nokia, Blackberry, Polaroid, etc. Each was excellent at what they did, but they did not effectively deal with the disruption that was occurring to their business model. Consequently, one sign of leadership for innovation is being willing to do new things imperfectly to identify new opportunities. The forces outside of a company – the market – are significant. The market is way ahead of what companies are currently doing. This is another significant disruptive force.
- How do you watch for and identify market trends? You have to be ahead of the game. While listening to customers is important, if you’re only listening, you’re reacting and behind of what is occurring. Companies need to create differentiating technology capabilities. IBM has deep assets in areas where the market is currently heading, such as cognitive computing.
- Why did you write Provoke? Linda wrote the book because she found herself having the same conversations with large companies about how to disrupt, innovate, and change. The book addresses the steps of resistance encountered when disrupting.
- Linda’s book, “Provoke: Why the Global Culture of Disruption is the Only Hope for Innovation”
- Linda’s website
- Search for her contributions to the Washington Post
“Fact: Embrace to be disrupted, or you will not be in business for too long!” –Linda Bernardi
Listen Now to the Interview
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