The HP Garage Initiative and The Birth of Silicon Valley

One of my favorite Innovation Superstars is HP, and in particular, I’m impressed with the “HP Garage”.

I’ll never forget my first “” consulting engagement at the very beginning of the boom. The first day of that engagement I sat in on one of their ideation sessions. They were developing an online messaging system, an idea somewhat new at the time. It was interesting to listen to some smart “kids” with some big ideas. As it turned out, basically my role was one of “adult supervision” to help them create systems that would likely result in a scalable product that could provide a return on investment for themselves and their investors.

Even though this company created some extremely cool technologies, the fact of the matter was – it was easy! They didn’t have a legal department, a human resource department; they didn’t have a new product development system in play – they had no idea what risk management was. They had no infrastructure whatsoever.

It was a group of very smart people getting together to do something very cool.

That is easy, and that is why I love HP. Why? Because it is extremely hard to be able to create a complete cycle of innovation while confronted with all of the issues and structure of a colossal multinational corporation.

So HP created what they call the “HP Garage” initiative, referencing to the physical garage where the company was born in 1939. What I really liked about HP from the beginning was discovering how much they care about what employees think about the quality of their work life and the variety of processes and methods they’re required to use each day. They know that their most important asset is their employees , so they are extremely conscientious about making sure they understand how their employees feel about the various systems that they are forced to use. That’s not easy in the bureaucracy of large corporations.

Read more about the history of the HP Garage here:

The other thing that’s amazing about HP is that, like Adobe, they allow each one of their organizations to use variations on innovation management systems in order to meet the specific and unique needs of their product or business in each division. That is really hard for corporations to do. Most love to be legalistic; most love to find a one-size-fits-all solution to all of their businesses – and HP has systematically resisted that.

The HP Garage initiative allows people at the front end, who deal with customers every day to post ideas and to comment on ideas that are currently in development. That is so important Innovation Superstars know that they need to listen to front-line personnel to make sure they understand how customers are using and accepting different technologies and where there are opportunities to improve. They also have the opportunity for service technicians to be able to chime in and post comments regarding certain opportunities to increase the quality and reliability of a technology or to add new innovations.

I’ve discussed the difference between “innovation capitalism” and “innovation socialism” – One of the biggest challenges with large corporations as it relates to the innovation function is to avoid becoming “socialistic,” that is, to demand that there be rigid and legalistic tools that their departments must comply with. HP is an innovation capitalist; each one of their innovation champions is like an individual entrepreneur. They’re given the freedom, and they have the enthusiasm to create technologies.

Also, HP is still in love with its customers, and cares about what the customer experience is all about. Unfortunately, most corporations have lost that customer connectivity, something that is indeed very hard to keep up when you’re a colossally large company like HP. HP stays committed to its customer communities through user groups and annual symposiums to hear what their customers are thinking, are experiencing, and want, and then they take that information and do something about it. That takes commitment, and that’s what makes HP an Innovation Superstar.

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