The Innovative Interview #2: Corporate Backbone

by Steve Todd | November 23, 2009

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High-tech intrapreneurs that are looking to join a new corporation need to ask a specific set of questions during the interview cycle. These questions should focus on a set of key metrics for measuring corporate innovation. The deeper you go with these types of questions, the more you’ll conclude about your possibilities for impacting a potential employer with your ideas and influence.

In my last post I laid out a set of interview questions to determine whether or not a high-tech corporation places too much emphasis on “ivory tower innovation”.

My concern with the traditional approach of ivory tower facilities is that innovation should be distributed across all employees, especially the teams that are working in the trenches with customers.

When it comes to the ability of distributed employees to access the full range of innovative thinking within a corporation, however, I am not in favor of a distributed model. Employees need a centralized, well-known starting point for tapping into the pulse of corporate innovation.

I call this central location the “corporate backbone” of innovation. It should be run by one organization, and it should be well-understood throughout the company that innovation efforts are tied into this backbone. Given this backdrop, make sure you ask the first question below, and then use follow-up questions to probe more deeply.

Does your company have a corporate Innovation Network?

The answer to this question reveals whether or not the average employee knows where to get started when it comes to leveraging and promoting corporate innovation in a unified fashion. Make sure that you find out who is responsible for innovation within the corporation. For example, in my company (EMC), the EMC Innovation Network is run out of the Office of the CTO.

Does the Innovation Network sponsor communities?

Employees that have a passion for a certain technology (e.g. encryption, networking, and virtualization) benefit from joining on-line communities that feature the leading experts within the corporation and encourage participation from anywhere. Recently-hired intrapreneurs can quickly find and join these conversations; they can hit the ground running with their ideas.

Does the Innovation Network leverage social media?

When an intrapreneur is able to find specific user communities, they should also be able to leverage social media and collaborate with the experts. They must be allowed to subscribe to all of the activity within a given community. They should have access to all new proposals and be able to leave comments for the inventors. And finally they must have the ability to post their own blogs and discussions on ideas that they are interested in pursuing.

Does the Innovation Network track university and industry relations?

If you are working on a new idea there is a very, very good chance that a university or industry group is already working on a related or adjacent technology. World-wide university research should be centrally tracked, especially if the corporation has employees that are specifically partnering with a university. In a similar vein, every corporation sends technologists out to sit on industry panels and standards bodies. New employees can browse technology efforts and reach out to experts that are interfacing with these outside groups.

Does the Innovation Network contain an ideas repository?

If a corporation claims to have a “level playing field” when it comes to innovation, then every employee should have the opportunity to propose new ideas. These ideas should be public, and they should leverage any or all of the capabilities of the Innovation Network. They should be visible (and maybe even submitted to) specific communities. Blogs and discussions related to the idea can be started, and comments to collaborate on the idea should be encouraged. Ideas entered into the system can be referred to relevant university or industry research. Voting may also occur.

How do your customers participate in the Innovation Network?

This is the most important question (save it for last!). Customers should have access to this innovation network. They are the ones that have the problems and needs that you are trying to solve. Ask your potential employer about how they provide innovation access to customers while maintaining a firewall for critical intellectual property. My company, for example, has created public innovation portals for customers. In addition, customers also have open access to monthly innovation lectures.

It is very, very difficult for an intrapreneur to innovate globally when different facilities and geographies have their own internal innovation networks. Identify corporations where all innovation is centrally monitored and therefore globally enabled.

Steve
http://stevetodd.typepad.com
Twitter: @SteveTodd
EMC Intrapreneur

Filed Under: Technology

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