Inside Innovation at Intel

Innovation is an increasingly popular word, you see it everywhere. If you look back in time it has gone from the occasional appearance in articles and magazines five years ago to the current situation where every company from cookies to cameras has innovation in their mission statements, vision and product ads.

Innovation is also a personal passion of mine. After serving in a variety of roles at Intel for the past 20 years – ranging from teaching ASIC engineers about cell-based design and adding test methodology to their designs, to manufacturing and then a start-up business – I worked in the IT Innovation group and just moved to my current role doing Research Proliferation with the Intel Research team. I recently co-authored Managing IT Innovation for Business Value with Martin Curley, a book from Intel Press. It has a lot of information and tips for innovators.

So, is Innovation a Fad? Is it the latest buzzword?

I think that innovation is everything that all the smart authors say about it: disruptive, thinking outside the box, being creative, filling unmet needs, and more. It is the “more” I’d like to open a discussion about – the discipline, tools, process and research that are required for the value that innovation delivers. Innovation is all about value. Value to the user, the employee, the shareholder. Sometimes value is perceived – and I am beginning to believe “perception is 9/10th of the law.” A manager’s perception of innovation is the driving factor that determines if innovation tools and processes will be available to their employees.

I really hope innovation slogans aren’t being overused to the point where people tune them out, especially managers.

50 years ago people probably asked the same questions about Quality. Is it a fad, the new consulting industry, latest buzzword? If not for Craig Barrett saying “We will do it” Quality might have been a late discipline to Intel.

Innovation as a discipline – some may think that is an oxymoron. But you can use a process to achieve innovation. Talking to Amir Roggel in the Technology Manufacturing Group about TRIZ – I have no doubt that there are processes that result in innovation. The use of TRIZ in our manufacturing environment is tracking millions of dollars saved.

There are tools for measuring innovation: an assessment for teams, an index linking innovation indicators, and individual assessment. It’s not about scoring yourself on MENSA tests or just about creativity.

There are more tools: a process for generating ideas, a database for capturing problems and ideas, training and workshops; even Copy Exactly!, our manufacturing methodology, is an innovation tool.

People are the number one ingredient to innovation– experts in their subjects through experience, education and research combined with innovation instructors, and consultants bring diversity in order avoid similar thinking. People recognize problems or patterns that need innovation. I am really excited to see all the latest innovations at the upcoming Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai. If you are going to be there let’s chat face to face (check out the Open Innovation track). Amir and I will be there with other Innovation experts.

How about you, did you know Innovation can be measured? Is innovation as a process becoming part of your work DNA?

2 Responses to Inside Innovation at Intel

  1. Elia Rodriguez says:

    Esther,
    can you say more about TRIZ, in a nutshell? It sounds intriguing.
    I am having a really hard time understanding how innovation and methodology can go hand-in-hand. I work at a Fortune 500 company; we have plenty of methodologies and processes in place, but I don’t see how they encourage innovation at all.
    Thank you.

  2. Esther Baldwin says:

    @Elia, a process for innovation itself can get results even though when people hear “process” they often think “bureaucracy”. People are most familiar with brainstorming as an Ideation tool but there much more effective processes e.g. one course I went to leverages how our brains work. TRIZ has it’s foundation in a database of patents. If you follow the process you can identify solutions, even for old problems that were thought unsolvable. It is a little bit like pattern recognition – you look for the underlying principle or pattern and the TRIZ tools suggest solutions based on engineering principles. They have a process to reduce cost through innovation too. Very interesting.