Insights into Innovation



By Wilson Farrar
ASK Silicon Valley

This is the fifth installment in a series of Insights into Innovation featuring interviews with some of HP’s top creative thinkers. Among them are Senior Vice President of Research, and Director of HP Labs Prith Banerjee, HP Fellow Chandrakant Patel, Director of the Social Computing labs Bernardo Huberman, Director of New Business Initiatives at Hewlett-Packard Andrew Bolwell, Vice President and CTO for Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group Phil McKinney and CTO of HP’s EDS Division Russ Daniels.

This conversation is with Russ Daniels, CTO of HP’s EDS division. The previous installments were with Senior Vice President of Research, and Director of HP Labs Prith Banerjee, Vice President and CTO for Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group Phil McKinney, Director of New Business Initiatives at Hewlett-Packard Andrew Bowell and Chandrakant Patel.

Define your problem and ask the right questions

Russ Daniels, CTO of HP’s EDS Division

Russ Daniels, CTO of HP’s EDS
Division

Innovations happen all the time. The challenge is, deciding which ones matter most.

Russ Daniels, CTO of HP’s EDS Division, humbly calls himself, “management overhead”. He doesn’t actually do the innovating himself, he says. Instead, Daniels creates environments where innovation can occur. Then he helps identify which innovations matter most so that they can get the resources and attention they need to move them forward.

There is a process of bringing innovations to market. Daniels explains that, “You have to connect the dots, get the business units interested in the opportunity or understand a business need and help the technologist understand where and what type of innovations would be relevant.”

The real challenge, however, lies in how to go about solving problems when you don’t understand them well enough to get to a viable solution. This conundrum doesn’t seem to faze Daniels at all. In fact, he seems to thrive on it.

Daniels has found that when you are trying to solve unidentified or complex problems there are things that can be helpful. There is the concept of Dialogue Mapping and “Wicked Problems”. When you don’t have a clear enough understanding of the problem to create clear solutions, you have to iterate.

Daniels explains, you start with a problem statement, go and try and solve that, and then go ahead and go back and restate the problem more completely and more effectively to refine the problem statement.

Daniels adds, “The language that you use is important. You start with an open-ended question, ‘What should we do about this?’ Rather than, ‘should we do this or that.’”

A few years ago, HP Executive Vice President Shane Robison was meeting with Division CTO’s, the head of HP labs, and one or two other people. Daniels tells the story of how “Shane framed up the question, ‘What’s beyond Web 2.0?’

“They just took that as a question, what do they think is going on, and a working group was started. They put together some ideas, talking about trends, positing theories about where all this stuff might go and from that evolved this point of view that we talk about, ‘everything as a service’.

“What’s interesting,” adds Daniels, “is that these trends add up as a future where every aspect of human experiences will be facilitated, augmented, enhanced in some way through technology enabled services, and those services will be delivered in the changing circumstances that you find yourself in as you move throughout the day.

“And it can be relevant to your personal life, work life, to the communities that you participate in. And that concept of everything as a service was really the outcome of this exercise that we framed up around, ‘what’s behind web 2.0’. Ultimately, this is what has become Cloud Services.” Up until his recent promotion, Daniels was CTO of Could Services.

When asked what inspires him, Daniels said, “ideas. I love to talk about ideas. Ideas that will have an impact are much more interesting. Ultimately it’s about delivering those ideas to market, ideas that benefit other people.” The trick, of course, is deciding which ones are most important.