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Melbourne is hot for Innovation

Posted by Vipul on 08 September 2008

The ingredients for innovation are: Openness, Collaboration, Multi Disciplinary thought, and Globalization. This was the central theme of a talk by Nick Donofrio, the executive vice-president of innovation and technology at IBM. On Sunday the 7th of September 2008, Nick spoke to members of the Innovation and Technology clubs at the London Business School.

Many years ago Nick estimated that we will live in a world where billions of people will use trillions of devices connected to the internet. Right now, two billion people are connected to the internet, but only about 200 million devices. So there is great scope for being innovative in creating and connecting new devices. Moving forward, devices will be connected in a “value-driven” manner and will largely be unseen. Your fridge might tell Tesco that you need more beer, and you won’t even know!

Another field of innovation is social programming.  IBM is a company of 400,000 employees. There are many efficient processes in place for managing them and the company is doing well. What happens when IBM expands to an employee base of 1 million? How do you manage a company that large? Topcoder (http://www.topcoder.com) employs the mmorg model for expanding its employee base. People from all over the world signup and compete for work. Their ideas and their code is compared against those of others and the best man wins! So, perhaps, in the future, the 1 million employees will be self managing, social beings. The gamers of today may well be the CEOs of tomorrow!

How does IBM capitalize on these innovative ideas? They have an executive VP of innovation! And they have a great focus on enabling innovation. For example, there is a program called the ThinkPlace. It is an intranet site that all employees have access to. Employees are encouraged to post their ideas there. There are full time moderators, who are responsible for assessing and replying to posts within 2-3 days. All this correspondence is visible to other employees, so there can be no cheating! Good ideas are passed along to people who can enable their implementation. The employee who came up with the idea, normally gets paid for it (if it’s good enough) and gets to work on its implementation.

IBM makes it a point to think laterally. IT consultants need not always be from an IT background. It is about T-shaped education versus I-shaped education. It’s about being able to think across disciplines, while specializing in one. And this T-shaped model has never been more important! IBM, like many big companies, uses its global wealth of intellect very efficiently. To do that, one has to be able to think outside one’s frames of mind!

The best part of the afternoon was when I introduced myself to Nick and told him that I used to work for IBM Australia. He said that he was pleased to meet me, and that if you want to be innovative, Melbourne is the place to be (note: NOT Sydney). So the message to take away is: think laterally, think globally, share your thoughts and move to Melbourne!

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