Innovating Out Loud: The Benefits of Contagious Curiosity

Greg Ratcliff •

In this blog series, “Innovating Out Loud,” I discuss 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. These behaviors are described in one of my favorite books on the topic of innovation, “Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization.” In this post, we’ll focus on how we spark curiosity and place employees in environments that cater to their interests, as well as their departments, to allow them to feel comfortable exploring new ideas and establish an innovative mindset.

As Chief Innovation Officer, I often think about how we can inspire and nurture curiosity and make it contagious among individuals who may not be intrinsically curious. With a rapidly changing digital world, finding the time for our engineers and developers to be curious is no easy task. They work diligently to meet our dynamic customer needs on a daily basis, which doesn’t always leave time for “big picture” thinking. To help facilitate more innovative ways of thinking, a big part of my job is overseeing our Technology Scout program, where Vertiv team members are encouraged to think beyond the work in front of them and find new ideas and technologies that both pique their interests and stand to benefit the future of Vertiv. I recently had my own moment of random curiosity that I’d like to share.

During a recent check-in with a Vertiv technology scout, I noticed a prototype intelligent fan sitting in our skunkworks lab. What struck me was that the prototype fan had intelligent connections and transducers for vibration. We discussed the potential of monitoring the vibration through Vertiv systems for increased reliability. This, coupled with intelligent power consumption and tracking of energy usage, would allow for a somewhat predictive system that could understand if a fan was in distress or failing long before it failed entirely.

Although these kinds of sensors can be added after the fact, having them fully integrated by the manufacturer seemed very innovative. During this moment of curiosity, we explored potential ideas to directly connect these to future Liebert® iCOM™ cooling unit controls. Below are some of the ways we try to inspire this kind curiosity within our team through our scouting program:

 

Make “Innovation Soup” for Diverse Collaboration

Last year, Vertiv introduced its Technology Scout program to monitor changes in the technology landscape and identify relevant innovations that could potentially enhance our offerings. The basis of the Technology Scout program was to get scouts away from their usual day-to-day routine and have them scout in areas where they have interest. Another way we try to broaden their perspective is by mixing the scouts up not just by department, but by also by their various cultural, educational, and career backgrounds. My hope is that this creates what I call “innovation soup,” or diverse collaboration where these scouting groups are exposed to new avenues of thought that can help solve some of the technological problems they’re seeing in the field. For example, we may mix a scout specializing in critical power with someone in thermal management to help solve concerns in the industry, such as deploying liquid cooling solutions to handle rising rack densities.

 

Provide a Better Platform for Sharing Ideas

With the launch of the Technology Scout program, it was important that our innovation office not serve as a locked suggestion box for new ideas. Instead, one of the strongest incentives for members in the program is that it helps ensure their ideas will be heard and considered by colleagues and stakeholders within the company. And, since scouts know their contributions will make their rounds among leaders in the company, I expect we’ll see high quality and well-presented ideas.

 

Seek Out the Idea Generators with an Innovative Mindset

It’s important to inspire curiosity in those who aren’t naturally curious, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the individuals who put in the extra time to explore their intellectual curiosity for the betterment of the company, as well as the industry. What’s special about our scouting program is that Vertiv employees dedicate time beyond their usual schedules and workloads, so the group is comprised of individuals motivated not by a paycheck, but the opportunity to express and listen to new ideas in hopes of creating something great. We want scouts who are driven to find solutions that will drive real change, and in order to reward these efforts, we try to recognize and empower individuals who frequently contribute to our scouting reviews and idea submissions.

 

In the next blog post, I’ll discuss the importance of focusing on the customer, because if an invention doesn’t create value to a customer, it’s not innovation. If you have any thoughts or comments on the topic of innovation, please get in touch. I’d love to hear your ideas.

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