Last night I got together with EMC's Dr. Burt Kaliski, a senior member of EMC's Office of the CTO, and a rock star in the realm of collaboration with the top minds in global academia and tech.
(It was in a meeting with Burt back in early 2007 when we were planning our first Idea Contest and Innovation Conference that the light bulb went on my head on the power of Web 2.0 collaboration. My professional life hasn't been the same since.)
As we were going over the design of the 2009 Conference, Burt talked about how the size of EMC as a company is perfect for learning and application of knowledge. Really? I hadn't considered that.
He compared a company of our scale to a smaller company, where he used to spend his days. "Everyone there knows the same things," he said. He compared our company to a much larger entity, and said something along the lines of "That company is so massive, it would be miraculous if an internal collaboration network like our own could come off the ground. Ideas and people get lost."
Here, he tells the story through the lens of our innovation project at hand: (turn up your system's volume, please. My error.)
Juicy stuff. The type of thing, now that I think about it, that Steve Todd often writes about over on The Information Playground and in his new book, Innovate with Influence. Steve compares every new EMC invention and every new acquisition as a type of toy he gets to think about relative to what is in his toy box. What if he mixed this with that? Could that combination solve a customer problem in a new and needed way? I get that. I just never thought of it relative to the "have nots" or "have too much" companies of the world.
Career Choices and The Toy Box
It made me think of a conversation I had over the weekend with a friend, and former EMCer. He's at another company now. It has about 100 employees. This former EMCer's body language slumped visibly when he told me about all the collaboration they don't do, in part, because the company is so small. Everyone knows each other, and yet at the same time, they fear sharing. It is run in a total command and control manner. New ideas need not apply.
Can you imagine having a large toy box filled with diverse ideas to play with, and then having just one toy, one idea, one color, to tinker with, all inside of a box that someone else defined?
--------------------- Talk Back ---------------------
What is your experience in innovating, learning and company size?
I thought Burt's words, and the former EMCer's words were compelling relative to the EMC experience and triangulated well with the many interviews I have done with people where I asked them, "What is inspiring or compelling about working at EMC?" The most common answer is this: "At EMC, I get to innovate (or solve problems) every day." THAT is what people mean when they call EMCers "Intrapreneurs." Love that.