Insights into Innovation – Bernardo Huberman

By Wilson Farrar
ASK Silicon Valley

This is the sixth and final installment in a series of Insights into Innovation featuring interviews with some of HP’s top creative thinkers.

This conversation is with Bernardo Huberman, director of HP’s Social Computing Lab. 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, HP Fellow and director of the Sustainable IT Ecosystem Lab Chandrakant Patel and CTO of HP’s EDS Division Russ Daniels.

Seeing things differently

Bernardo Huberman Director of HP's Social Computing Lab

Bernardo Huberman
Director of HP's Social
Computing Lab

When was the last time you saw things differently, really differently?

Innovation is about coming up with something that no one else has. But how can you innovate if you don’t see things differently yourself? When was the last time that you had a quantum shift in your perspective?

Bernardo Huberman, Director of the Social Computing lab at HP, has made a life long pursuit of seeing things differently. For Bernardo, it was a childhood dream, “doing something with his mind that would eventually give him a changed view of the world because of what he did or what he read”. He wanted to say that, “Because he went into the deepest strata of the physical nature of the world, he knew something or saw the world differently from others.”

As the person responsible for the social computing labs (within HP Labs) Huberman works with a team of people whose job it is to have a different understanding and perspective on things. They solve problems that people might not even realize exist.

It’s this unique perspective that enabled Huberman to co-invent CloudPrint. People have asked him, “How did you come up with the idea? How do you think of these things?” Huberman explains that, “you have to (almost) become slightly irrational. You have to suspend critical thinking.”

When Huberman was just fifteen years old he discovered that he could have new ideas by suddenly saying, “What if?”, and the “What if” might violate everything, even the laws of nature.

“You can go into that state and combine things that are rather unusual. And every once in a while you think, “Ah, that’s interesting”. It’s another way of looking at something from a totally different angle. It’s like putting on a new set of glasses, or the first time that you fall in love: Everything that was there was there before, but suddenly it’s in Technicolor. It’s all nice.”

Huberman is also an optimist. He places importance on optimism as part of vision and the ability to succeed. Huberman notes that, “Optimism is immensely important. You have to be an optimist and say, ‘yes this is possible’. You need to be an optimist because you need to believe that the germ of an idea is possible.”

And Huberman loves new ideas. But he thoughtfully points out that at his lab, the mantra is “Show me”. “The power of showing things is immense. And it is so intrinsic to the company. The issue of innovation is complex. You can have lots of great ideas. But great ideas don’t necessarily make it into the market. We are proud to get things done, and we show them. We didn’t just think about CloudPrint and draw slides, we built it.”

Fortunately at HP, they are highly receptive to new ideas, particularly in upper management. It’s part of the culture.

It’s because of this receptivity that Huberman is able to make things happen quickly. Bernardo described how he and a colleague came up with the CloudPrint solution in a day or two. Within a week they showed it. When upper management saw it they liked it, and “the whole project became the real thing”.

It takes the ability to see things differently to innovate; and the optimism to think that something might be possible to actually make it happen.