This summer, the Global Women in STEM conference was held in San Francisco. Leaders from Google, Uber, Salesforce, Nokia, and Roblox came together for a Women in Innovation panel. In this three-part blog series, we’re featuring the highlights from their discussions. Today’s topic: what innovation is — and what it isn’t.
Innovation is one of the most important — and most overused words — in Silicon Valley. What does innovation mean to you?
Grace Francisco, VP, Developer Relations at Roblox: A lot of us, when we think of innovation, think of disruptive innovation. But to me, innovation is about positive, impactful changes to process, products, and services. I like to think of it in an incremental way: it’s not just about huge disruptive innovation; it’s about everyday innovation.
Martha Galley, Vice President, Customer Success at Salesforce: Innovation isn’t a noun. It’s a verb. It’s how you think about the world you operate in. It’s the process of thinking laterally, putting yourself in other people’s shoes, solving a problem. It’s also about challenging authority — standing up to the way things are done today and challenging it. It’s collaborative and inclusive. Innovation is everyone’s job.
Mai Le, Head of Business Platform Engineering at Uber: It’s about looking at how you do things and improving on them. From a platform or product perspective, changing the way you compute. Returning a more personalized answer, making it faster. How can you innovate to make your product more impactful and engaging? Many things we do, we improve very incrementally. Often, you don’t want to make jarring, weird product changes. These incremental improvements, over time, become a leap.
Ellie Powers, Group Product Manager at Google: It’s about taking calculated risks: deciding when you want to take a risk, and when you don’t. A lot of it also depends on the lifecycle stage your product is in. When you’re at a startup where you have a new product and you don’t have a lot of users, you can take really big risks. If you don’t, you won’t get anywhere. You hear about a lot of startups pivoting, trying new and big things. It’s a very different situation from when you have a much larger product that people have been using for five or 10 years, with millions or billions of users. How can you take a risk? What would a risk look like? How can you experiment? How do you know if you’re moving in a right direction?
Azita Arvani, Head of Innovation at Nokia: Innovation is creating a new way of solving a problem. It could be inventing a new technology, a new business model, a new process. Or it could be a new combination of putting existing solutions together.
When the iPhone first came out in 2007, there wasn’t anything that was a breakthrough technology. But it was that combination of putting existing technologies together in a way that better serves users. Another kind of innovation is taking a solution from one domain and applying it to another domain. There’s a company in Palo Alto that’s taken the 3D vision of autonomous cars, and they’re applying it to home monitoring and surveillance.
Innovation to me is always about addressing someone’s problem in a very novel way. Innovation for the sake of innovation isn’t innovation at all. It has to be about solving a problem.