Hanging out with the braintrust

Today was EMC’s third annual innovation conference, and as one of over 700 employees who submitted an idea I was invited to attend the proceedings at our local regional leg of the global event.

I won’t give a play-by-play of the event, but I will say it was energizing to see so many people so excited about bringing new ideas to EMC. It’s always humbling and inspiring to sit among intensely intelligent people who speak with confidence, poise, and command about complex ideas.  We spend so much time specializing in our day jobs — getting really good at doing the jobs assigned to us — that it’s easy to forget the rich backdrop of brainpower this is all built atop.

I had a chance to catch up a bit with some old colleagues, put faces to some names, and connect with some people I hadn’t met before.  The conference took place around the world, with one hour shared at all sites through videoconferencing, when the new class of Distinguished Engineers and Fellows was announced along with the awarding of prizes for top innovation ideas.  I was sitting next to one of the submitters of the top prize-winning idea, and it was great to see him receiving accolades and congratulations through the rest of the day.

The conference had a few speakers from outside EMC, including Dave Ritter from Innocentive.  They provide a framework for crowd-sourcing problem-solving, and Ritter had some fascinating insights into innovative thinking.  The notes I scribbled related to boundary objects and problem statements.  He echoed a lot of what I feel about diversity and effectiveness, and I look forward to reading more about what he and Innocentive are doing.

We also heard from a handful of executives during the conference, and it was refreshing to hear some of their no-spin commentary on where EMC is, what the company needs from us, and where it’s headed.  As something of a cynic, I expect to be suppressing a bit of eye-rolling during executive presentations, but they avoided the temptation to drown us in Kool-Aid and instead gave us some real insight into the business.

The event was a success on multiple levels, and I’m glad I could make time to attend.  The real question is how to make sure the spirit of innovation and engagement I saw everyone displaying gets spread throughout the company the remainder of the year.