Calvin Smith – Principal Manager, Global Innovation, EMC
Question: How do you and your organization adapt to fast-changing times and trends?
Calvin Smith: Things are constantly changing and evolving today, and nowhere is this more true than in our industry (IT). Moore’s Law was actually created to describe how the best way to adapt is to continuously keep your finger on the pulse of trends. By casting wide nets, both internally (employee ideas across our 66,000 person federation of companies), and externally (academia, startups, our enormous customer/partner ecosystem), we’re able to canvas each environment and build educated predictions of “where things are going,” and then mobilize in advance of trends occurring.
Q: What’s one simple change an individual or business can make to achieve success today?
CS: I firmly believe in the importance of tapping your company’s greatest resource: it’s employees. Many organizations–both large and small–hire someone to fill a specific role, then ask that individual to take a somewhat myopic approach to their work. We say, “That’s not your job” or “focus on the task at hand” — that’s a very tactical approach to problems. It doesn’t empower the employee to think strategically about the company’s “greater purpose.”
If your company is publicly traded, in addition to their “day jobs,” it should be the objective of every employee to increase shareholder value. A company, like anything, is the sum of its parts, and the human capital is the most important “part.” If you have a complex problem to solve, you might be surprised by the kind of responses you would get, if you ask all of your employees for help in solving it.
Q: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
CS: The best “job” to fill is the one you write the description for. Find an organization or team that values you for what you bring to the table, and gives you enough leeway to propose and execute against new things. The most important thing is that you share a vision and common sets of goals with your team – both your management and the executives above you, and your reports. How you mobilize to best achieve that vision should be based on each individual’s passion, drive, and interests.
Q: The best way to deal with professional challenges or setbacks is?
CS: To take a deep breath and reassess “what matters.” Take some time to “reset,” as worrying about the same problem (especially if it’s something that’s already happened, or is beyond your control) over and over again is a vicious cycle that will not lend itself to anything good. You can never take yourself too seriously…and something which seems like a catastrophic challenge or setback now might end up leading you to make a decision which leads you on a much better path.
Q: What’s the trick to getting ahead in an increasingly uncertain world?
CS: To hedge your bets. Especially in innovation, not every project is going to succeed. The trick is to have so many things going on that if one or more of them fail, you have numerous others to fall back on. Put the most time behind the things you are strongly convinced are “the winners,” but don’t be surprised if the ones you were sure would succeed, don’t. Just be ready to pivot and transform something that failed, or move on to the next big thing.
Q: What do market leaders do differently that sets them apart?
CS: They take risks. All “large company” market leaders likely got there due to one or more big risks that ‘went right’ and enabled them to break away from the pack. The tricky thing is for a market leader to stay at the top. As a company gets bigger and bigger, the Innovator’s Dilemma becomes more of a problem. That’s why the companies which are able to consistently stay nimble, and emulate a fast-moving startup mentality, are often those which remain market leaders for the longest.
Q: When things don’t go as planned, what’s the best way to proceed?
CS: One of my favorite quotes, by William Arthur Ward, is, “The pessimist complains about the wind; The optimist expects it to change; The realist adjusts the sails.” I try to live by this maxim and actually have this quote hanging in my office. “Planning” is based on the future, which is, of course, unknown; so it’s always based on uncertainties. You can make the best educated guesses you can, but at the end of the day, there are always so many variables that it’s likely things won’t go according to plan. All that you can do is assess where things “went wrong”, and adjust the sails to make them “go right.”
Q: What’s the most important thing businesses should know about competing today?
CS: That today’s startups are tomorrow’s incumbents. We live in a world of unparalleled access to resources globally. The advent and rise of social networks, high speed internet, cheap web design, and 3D printers enables nearly anyone (with a rich uncle or other financial backer) to rapidly scale a business up. Be sure that you’ve got the right research in place to recognize the true “threats,” and the right resources to compete quickly and effectively.
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