Learning by Exchanging Ideas

Interview – Rami Levy – Motorola Mobility

Learning by Exchanging IdeasI had the opportunity a little while back to interview Rami Levy, Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff at Motorola Mobility and Manager of the Motorola Open Source Technologies (MOST) Team about open innovation and its business possibilities. Motorola Mobility was a wholly owned subsidiary of Motorola that focused on mobile devices and set-top devices before being acquired by Google.

Here is the text from the interview:

1. Why is innovation so important to Motorola?

The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace, and the only way to keep up with this kind of change is to be flexible and innovative. Even the process of innovating must itself adapt to these new realities – which include new social network dynamics, information immediacy, and the ever-looming danger of information overload. The only way forward is to innovate.

2. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in building Motorola’s ThinkTank Idea Exchange?

Maintaining interest over the long haul is hard! The importance of making the idea market relevant and interesting to all of the stakeholders cannot be understated. The innovators, investors, and leaders of the target business units must be engaged, as they are often not aware of each others’ objectives, priorities, and constraints. Our efforts to accomplish this have centered around social media and crowd-based incentives, which include encouraging participants to “spread the word” by leveraging any number of delivery mechanisms ranging from individual emailed recommendations to discussion forums and microblog posts. This approach, along with keeping the system simple, allows us to leverage the crowd’s excitement in order to increase the chances of serendipitous exploration: the fortuitous discovery of new people and information.

3. What is key for you to unlock the greatest contributions?

The greatest contributions always occur when there is passion around an idea. The key to enabling this passion is openness and the resulting “contagious collaboration”: almost all ideas and their discussion forums in ThinkTank are openly viewable by any employee, allowing free and open discussions. Innovators are encouraged to use their creativity and social networking skills to reach out to other organizations and garner support or assistance. Within this framework, they kick ideas around for improving their concepts or working on suggested implementations.

4. What have you found successful in helping to drive increased collaboration?

There is no collaboration without openness. The innovation systems we support are keenly geared towards breaking down organizational barriers, eliminating “NIH (Not Invented Here) Syndrome,” and allowing people to extend their own reach through internally open systems that include broadcast-type systems, such as blogs and microblogs. In addition, we provide what we call the “Three R’s” – Rewards, Recognition, and Recreation – as a way to drive collaboration and incentivize participation in our collective intelligence market of ideas. The rewards are generally intrinsic and market-based (extra play money), while recognition is done via leader boards and microblogs. Recreation (fun) is critical to strong and continued participation – which also improves the chances of knowledge sharing, relationship building, collaboration – and ultimately successful decision making.

5. What is the most important culture change for organizations to make in order to support innovation?

In many organizations, an open innovation system is unheard-of. For these, innovations are submitted in secret via a confidential system to which few have access. While this mechanism may have merit for legal and IP (intellectual property) reasons, it’s an important culture change to realize that not all innovations are patentable or “protectable” – but that doesn’t mean they cannot be profitable or otherwise valuable to the organization. A good internal innovation policy leverages both patentable and non-patentable ideas to provide organizational value-add.

6. What are some of the biggest barriers to innovation that you’ve seen in organizations?

In some larger organizations, a “silo” mentality develops among internal groups. This is often exemplified by reduced communication, unnecessary information “protection” mechanisms, and a fierce competition for resources. The result is a lack of knowledge sharing, as well as duplication of effort. If this doesn’t stifle innovation, it certainly can significantly slow it down. Another common barrier to innovation is lack of funding or appropriate resources. The innovation process must receive C-suite (executive) support in terms of both funding and communication. That support must naturally trickle down the organization and be evident in planning and portfolio processes.

7. What skills do you believe that managers need to acquire to succeed in an innovation-led organization?

The ability to trust and to step back out of the way of the team. Innovation cannot be led; it must be allowed the freedom to happen. A manager has to recognize that not everything needs to be (or even can be) tightly controlled and must learn to trust their team. If the team is not allowed the freedom to explore something new, or a different unproven approach, then where is the innovation supposed to come from?

8. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation workforce of tomorrow, what would it be?

Connect kids with the material to be learned. There is no question in my mind that the current educational system is badly broken; it seems to focus on passing tests and memorizing knowledge, instead of actually internalizing and understanding it. Perhaps instead of a light understanding of everything, students should be taught more selectively. Doing a few deep dives into a subject, getting your hands dirty, exploring and physically experimenting with what-if scenarios, learning how to fail (and learn from their mistakes without penalty), and actually visiting historical sites to “experience” them first hand – these are some of the ways I believe kids will find true connections with the material at hand. If these spark interest and excitement they will explore more on their own. Visual and tactile learning seem to work best – but these sorts of changes take time, money, and political will.

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.

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No Comments

  1. Edison Avenue Consulting on December 5, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I have been working with Mr. Levy for almost the last year helping to replicate the MOST tools to Motorola Solutions. He is very correct that keeping all levels of the organization interested in an ideas exchange market if very hard. I can only hope that the Solutions Side of Motorola will continue to use the excellent ground work that Rami and his team has created.

  2. AVS Projects on December 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Great interview. Fantastic insights. We totally agree with “The greatest contributions always occur when there is passion around an idea”. Looking forward to you next article. All the best from Germany!

  3. Stephen B @ InventionAddict.com on December 6, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Nice Interview. I had the privilege of working with Rami at Motorola for a few years before I was downsized.

    I really like the “Three R’s” – Rewards, Recognition, and Recreation. I’m going to have to run that past my management at my new employer.

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