In this “Innovating Out Loud” blog series, I will be discussing Vertiv’s culture of innovation through the lens of five behaviors that help bring new and exciting ideas into the fold and strengthen a company’s innovation muscles.
Since stepping into the role of chief innovation officer in 2020, much of my responsibility has been to formalize and expand Vertiv’s innovation process. I do this through developments like the creation of our Technology Scout program, which recruits Vertiv team members to push away from their desks and immerse themselves in the outside world in hopes of discovering technologies and ideas that will impact our business in the future. In less than two years, the program has yielded hundreds of new ideas that may one day result in patents.
Through this process, I hoped to address a dilemma I felt we were facing as a company — one I’m sure most businesses are dealing with right now, especially in the wake of unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic and the continuing supply chain hardships. Too often, we don’t ask our engineers, programmers, or offering managers to take a step back and embrace a more curious, big-picture worldview. Instead, we rely on them to solve problems and develop solutions needed to help the company today, rather than two, five, or 10 years from now. This is just the nature of the business. But perhaps it’s time to recognize that for innovation to be born, there needs to be time and opportunity to not just put out fires but also invent better firehoses.
I thought about how I could nurture a more innovative mindset among my team, and it brought me back to a section from one of my favorite books, “Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization.” I’ve had the opportunity to meet author Scott D. Anthony and have long admired his approach to cultivating innovative ideas from those who may not be intrinsically curious or collaborative. One section of the book that particularly resonates with me is a chapter in which he identifies five behaviors that help improve culture and drive success for a company:
Curiosity: Putting employees in an environment where they feel comfortable exploring new ideas and in situations that cater to their interests, not just their departments.
Customer Focus: Recognizing that invention is only innovation if it is valued by customers.
Adeptness in Ambiguity: Adapting and preparing now by analyzing your current product offerings and how they can address industry needs despite being in the midst of disruptions brought about by world changes.
Collaboration: Creating an environment of diverse collaboration where ideas and information are shared at their inception.
Empowerment: Ensuring ideas are heard and that those contributing ideas are properly recognized.
Whether it’s analyzing what gases will be accepted in future computer room air conditioning units or preparing for a world where air cooling is no longer effective for addressing the heat load generated from the latest industry-standard chips, these are the types of behaviors I hope to instill in my team as we sit in our “skunk works” lab trying to map out how Vertiv can innovatively respond to these changes to help our customers succeed.
Over the next couple of months, I will delve into the importance of each of these behaviors in more detail and provide examples of how displaying them led to some innovative moments here at Vertiv. In the next blog post, I’ll discuss curiosity and the strategies Vertiv’s innovation office uses to spark curiosity within our team of Technology Scouts. If you have any thoughts or comments on the topic of innovation, please get in touch. I’d love to hear your ideas.