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Thought Leaders in Corporate Innovation: Anita Sands, Board Member of ServiceNow and Symantec (Part 2)

Posted on Wednesday, Jun 20th 2018

Sramana Mitra: What you said reminds me of an anecdote. We have a close relationship with Intuit. This is probably a few years ago. Snapchat was incredibly hot then. I was talking to the Chief Innovation Officer of Intuit. He said, “In our innovation program, a project like that came up. We chose not to pursue it.” I said, “Why are you saying this as if you regret that? You made the right decision.” Snapchat or equivalent should not be part of Intuit’s innovation agenda. It’s contextually irrelevant.

Anita Sands: That’s right. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean that you should pursue it. I actually found it was very important to bring people on to the same page relative to what innovation is and isn’t in a given firm. My working definition was that innovation connects what’s possible to what’s valuable. Just because something is possible, it wasn’t going to be valuable to Intuit’s customers. That’s a very important point for corporations to be disciplined around.

At the end of the day, they may have a lot more resources to pursue innovation than a startup has but they don’t have infinite capacity in terms of time. They’re still trying to run a successful growing organization as well. You actually have to be quite disciplined about making sure you’re focusing on the value that your innovation can drive.

Sramana Mitra: Another point that you and I have talked about in our offline conversations that I would like to pursue a little more diligently here is, as you know, One Million by One Million has an innovation program. We work with various corporations. Part of that is Incubator-in-a-Box which enables corporate innovation in the context of intrapreneurship.

One thing we have seen is, a lot of projects that come out of intrapreneurship projects could be incremental projects. It could be process innovation that improves the process. It’s not going to create $5 billion worth of revenue but it is an innovation. It is something that creates tremendous efficiency within the organization. It may not be glamorous, but it’s valuable.

Anita Sands: Exactly. You’re right. That’s exactly why the context matters. If you’re dealing with the Oracle’s of the world, they have a lot of stuff that’s working well. If you can incrementally improve something that’s already working quite well, you can potentially retain all of that intrinsic value and add to it. That was another thing I used to try and focus people around. Innovation is focused on adding new value and not just necessarily new things.

Often, the combination of a couple of things that you have inside a company like Oracle could release incremental value. I really do think that it’s an important element of an innovation program. Focus on small changes. The reason why I think that’s important is you talked about generating this notion of intrapreneurship.

That’s cultural as much as it is a practice of a policy. When you get people into a mindset of continuous improvement and incremental change, you are generating that culture. You’re indicating that we value people that are looking for continuous improvement. We value people that are willing to challenge the status quo and to not necessarily accept things as we’re doing them today.

It’s very important that you make innovation everybody’s job and that you encourage your employees to seek innovation in everything they do. Therefore, if you’re working in finance or as an engineer, you have an equal role to play in driving innovation. Programs focused on giving people those skill sets are tremendously valuable and really helps to create the right culture and the right mindset and also the right notion that innovation is, in fact, everybody’s job.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Thought Leaders in Corporate Innovation: Anita Sands, Board Member of ServiceNow and Symantec
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