How can I enable innovation from thousands of miles away?
After twenty-five years of delivering IT products for EMC, I’ve spent the last fourteen months as the Director of EMC’s Global Innovation Network. The role has been a whirlwind of new responsibilities; my background as a software engineer was certainly helpful, but my day-to-day work contained little to no overlap with developing software.
During the month of April 2012 my role was expanded. I received an interesting new assignment: guide the efforts of several dozen software engineers. This new duty is unique in many ways, not the least of which is that the entire team is located in China.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the new role, however, is that the software engineers are all part of EMC Labs China. They are not tied to any business unit. They are members of EMC’s Office of the CTO, and therefore free to explore and discover new directions for the company.
I spent the first few months learning their efforts, skillsets, and personalities. I encountered a fairly staggering array of work that represents five years worth of maturity (EMC’s research presence in China dates back to 2007). Externally, the team is active in industry standards, university research, industry initiatives, and they attend tier-1 conferences. They’ve published papers and won awards (the latest one being the May 2012 “Best Demo” award for the PEACOD project at DASFAA).
With very little research background myself, I’m looking forward to having them teach me a thing or two about how it’s done.
Their internal work, however, allows me to climb back into the software saddle. They are currently driving a large number of software projects that will come to represent new EMC product offerings. As they transfer knowledge and prototypes into EMC’s business units, I have the unique opportunity to create a pipeline of new work that represents next steps for our company and our industry.
I have never managed a team of researchers (in fact I have never actually managed any software engineers in my entire career). I also have zero experience managing employees in a different geography. Within a few weeks I was struggling to formulate a management approach. Fortunately, the EMC Innovation Network has a straightforward vision: spark the creation and delivery of high-value ideas. The tasks at hand are actually very easy to articulate: communicate CTO vision to the team, work together to create a compelling pipeline of new work that flows to EMC’s business units, and provide career growth to the team.
Easy to say, hard to do.
I decided to work with Human Resources to kick start my relationship via the NMAP exercise: New Manager Assimilation Program. Every researcher in China provided anonymous feedback describing what they think about me as well as what I needed to know about them. My next step was to meet them face-to-face. I set off to China with four pages worth of feedback.
I touched down in Shanghai during the second week in July, where I would spend half my trip. The remainder of the journey would take me to Beijing (the team is distributed between the two cities).
I’m typing this post on my way back to Boston. I have many stories to tell. In fact, I have a series of stories that will likely take several weeks to blog my way through.
I made a pretty interesting discovery during my trip.
It’s not about the software. It’s about the relationships.
More to follow,
image credit: innovationplayground.com
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Steve Todd is Director at EMC Innovation Network, and a high-tech inventor and book author “Innovate With Global Influence“. An EMC Intrapreneur with over 180 patent applications and billions in product revenue, he writes about innovation on his personal blog, the Information Playground. Twitter: @SteveTodd
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