Archive for October, 2014

Bridging Silos

October 20, 2014

Bridging Silos

As we emerge from the Industrial age to the Age of Information, no longer will it be efficient to have core groups working independently toward a shared corporate goal. No longer will it make sense for any one person or team to have specialized skills and experience with only in one product, technology, geographic area. Indeed, globalization and the age of information has amplified and accelerated the range of our choices and opportunities, and only the nimblest will survive and succeed, leveraging technology to deliver customized solutions.

In this new age, teams must be global, even if they specialize in one geographic region, engineers must not only leverage their technical aptitude and skills, but also be business-minded and customer-focused, people must see things well beyond their current reality of training, background, experience and backgrounds, and leaders must facilitate the breaking down of silos.

This is no small challenge for any corporate leader, especially when processes, thinking and reward structures are still based on the old way of doing business. It is a challenge of seeing-beyond the data, and transcending what’s in front of you into an integrated opportunity bringing together people, groups, organizations and industries each of whom has a piece of the puzzle. But bridging silos will foster innovation in many ways:

It expands the vision for the product/service/team/organization.

  1. Everyone is immersed in her/his own reality. Be receptive to meeting people beyond yourself, your team, your role, your organization so that you can see beyond your reality, and a larger world of possibilities. For example, Blockbuster was so immersed in its volumes of sales, mass production and delivery process, efficient brick and mortar stores and warehouses, that they were to slow to adopt first mail order solutions and next the digital download evolution benefiting companies like Netflix and Amazon.
  2. Each person, team, organization has areas of specialty, and entertaining connections with others who don’t think and act like he/she does, who may have complementary areas of specialty may potentially expand the vision and possibilities for all. Indeed, the strategic executive conversations about where we are and where we want to go often include how to integrate different people, technologies, markets and even companies into the current direction to obtain a larger impact and reach.

Technology companies have an opportunity to leverage proven technologies in ways that better serve people and the earth. This is not just a great business opportunity, but also a great feel-good option.

  1. The processes and technologies successfully implemented in other industries can be applied directly in the education sector, supporting our students and teachers, facilitating engagement between students, faculty, administration and the community, while also reducing the complexity involved in delivering customized solutions.
  2. Technology companies are investing in saving resources, distributing and generating power, and serving the needs of a power-hungry world.
  3. Technology companies are leveraging software and technology to support our evolving and expanding healthcare IT needs, serving hospitals and healthcare organizations as well as patients and providers across the value chain.

It will better speak to the needs of the customer, and an expanding breadth of customers.

  1. Bridging silos of people and groups from a diverse range of geographic locations will help everyone understand the differing needs and interests of markets around the world, and addressing and anticipating them as they evolve.
  2. Bridging silos between genders and generations will also help all stakeholders better understand, anticipate and serve the evolving needs of the customers.
  3. Bridging silos between roles, particularly connecting entrepreneurs and marketing/sales departments will help both sides understand the needs of the customer, and create a tech-based solution that addresses these needs.

It facilitates a culture of diversity and tolerance which is healthy for your team, and attractive to new prospective members of your team.

  1. Every year, companies vie for the privilege of being the best place to work as it leads to the hiring and retention of the best and the brightest. Invariably the companies on that list also have exceptional programs that encourage diversity, the bridging of silos, the collaboration between business units, teams and people.
  2. This brand of being the best-place-to-work is a proactive cycle for improved hiring and retention: The more good and happy people you have, the easier it is to serve them, and improve your service to them, the better your ratings are, the more attractive you are to other people and the people already on staff.

Below are some suggestions for bridging silos in your organization:

  1. Embrace people, ideas and things that stretch your comfort zone, and explore why he/she/they make you feel uncomfortable.
  2. Reward collaborations and communications between silos.
  3. Put the right people in the right role to facilitate the bridging of silos. Leaders and managers who had previously succeeded may not be best positioned to now lead.
  4. Train high-potentials to go deep within at least one area, but float between different areas as well.
  5. Speak and encourage others to speak in the context of customer needs, no matter which silo(s) you belong to.
  6. Partner with academia to fund research, support instruction, share knowledge, address IT challenges, and support student innovators.
  7. Partner with entrepreneurs to foster innovative new uses of proven technologies and processes and to address anticipated needs in existing and new niche markets.
  8. Partner with policy-makers to support IT and process improvement needs and provide leadership on what you need to innovate.
  9. Collaborate with complementary competitors you trust when there is a win-for-all.
  10. See the problems around these silos and the opportunities if the silos were bridged.

The conclusion is that we have moved from the industrial revolution with its division of labor, manufacturing and supply chain management and specializing to an age of information, where technology drives sustainable and efficient processes to an ever-larger customer base. But the leaders in today’s new economy will move beyond that, and find opportunities to leverage what we’ve learned in the past to a new age of personalization, where companies will sustainably serve the customized needs of a demanding and expanding global customers. Breaking down silos is a fundamental requirement for remaining competitive in this new age.

Connective Behaviors That Spur InnovationThis post was originally published as a Chapter entitled ‘Bridging Silos’ from EMC’s eBook on ‘Connective Behaviors That Spur Innovation’, first published March 2013.


Walking Points

October 17, 2014

Walking PointThe September 2014 article The Four Reasons Working Relationships Fail highlights Dr. John Gottman’s University of Washington study identifying four behavioral indicators which led with 93% accuracy to the dissolution of a marriage: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.

It is our contention that there are ten unsurmountable behaviors, leaving leaders little option but to disengage when possible, or just hope for the best when not. We hope that defining these ‘walking points’, will help people think about what they can change and whether they should move on.

Expect Respect

  1. Respect for others is a requirement for leaders from any chair. Holding others in contempt for not thinking, behaving, acting, doing something like you should be done makes you difficult to be with, even if you are right. For it’s not about being right, it’s valuing the right for others to do things differently, and being open to thinking that things could or should be done differently.
  2. Feedback is a terrific learning tool, and delivered in a positive, constructive way is a great way to learn. But constant and continual criticism, especially when attacking character and things-that-can’t-be-changed is very hard to live by. The bottom line is that you yourself should decide what you should change and whether and why that should be changed, and if the other person thinks it’s her/his right to make that decision for you, there will be no winners.

Communicate Directly

  1. Direct communication is a critical component of healthy relationships, so refusing to engage and work through feelings and issues is counter-productive. Being defensive and acting the victim may continue to bring up old problems and issues, but will not help you and the other party figure out how to fix the problem going forward.
  2. Similarly, avoiding and withdrawing confrontations and denying that problems exist will not help both parties understand and resolve the issues at hand.

Timing’s Everything

  1. In a work relationship where roles are defined, one person may not be ready to assume the role she/he has been given. There may be a lack of maturity, understanding, knowledge, experience or ability to assume the role given, and both parties suffer. Unless both are able to change the way they need to interact with others, the relationship is doomed to fail.
  2. Similarly, it’s hard to separate work and life – life happens and someone perfectly reasonable and capable may not be emotionally, spiritually, physically able to get the job done. Unless she or he is able to recognize that and make changes, others who work with this person are required to carry the load, bail out the project, take the blame, etc.

No-Jerks Allowed

  1. People who are self-centered and selfish may be OK to work with in the short term, but in the end, their focus on themselves and their own self-interest, even putting it in front of the team, the company and others, will lead to their downfall. I hope that you’re not part of that journey.
  2. People who are not jerks by nature, but who are entrenched in how things should work and inflexible about adopting anything or anyone new wind up also dooming the company. It’s not your job to help them become more flexible – if you find someone inflexible, find another relationship or role.
  3. People who are not jerks by nature, but who lack the competence and experience to lead might find themselves indecisive and fickle when making decisions, and find themselves easily blaming others when things don’t go as expected.

Everybody’s Different

10. It’s all about chemistry. You could work with a stellar boss or co-worker and all pistons would fire no matter what you do together. And that same person can’t work successfully with anyone else. And vice versa! So if it’s just not working for you, no matter how hard you work to make it a productive, collaborative relationship, it might be time for one or both of you to move on.

These are our thoughts on behaviors that lead to failed relationships. What are yours?

Next month, we’ll talk about politics in the workplace – the games that people play and what to do about it.

The Next Generation Leader

October 13, 2014


We talked about how a collaborative, consultative leadership style will be favored in the Next Generation Workforce, as we emerge into the Age of Personalization, but what does that mean? What should you select for in the hiring process and whom should you groom? How do you know that you have the right person in the right role and entice the right people to join up? Below are our thoughts.

  1. Collaborative – The world will be filled with a wide range of stakeholders working within a dynamic ecosystem. It’s hard to know all the players and their motivations. Collaborating with a range of stakeholders and aligning on objectives and goals is an essential ingredient for successful leadership and management.
  2. Consultative – Consulting with the range of stakeholders to understand their motivations and perspectives will help you better collaborate with all, and get the engagement of all.
  3. Ethical – Leaders will be ever more in a fish bowl, under a microscope. Doing the right thing, having values that matter, advocating for customers and others, etc., have to be part of who you leader is, day-in and day-out. It’s not a mask you can put on, a costume you can don. It’s who they are inside, shining out. Select someone who is truly ethical, not just someone with a great veneer.
  4. Tech-Savvy – The world and the people in it will be driven by tech, as it’s the only way to deliver what the customers demand. Being tech-savvy enough to get-the-tech and how tech will drive the business are an essential ingredient for success.
  5. Customer-Focused – It’s about the customer – knowing them well and serving them well. There is no room for debate.
  6. Other-Focused – Ever putting others first is a path to growth and learning, no matter which chair you’re sitting on.
  7. Experienced – Look for a leader who has depth in at least one specific area, and exposure to a range of areas – technologies, products, markets, businesses, etc., Depth and breadth of experience will help leaders integrate the input and message from all the data sources and make measured, data-based decisions.
  8. Flexible – Pivoting will be part of all business models in an Age of Personalization, so leaders who are flexible enough to pivot, and intelligent enough to know why it needs to be done and how it should be done will prevail.
  9. Self-Aware – Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as well as the needs of the company, and constantly overlaying one with the other by being self-aware will help ensure that you’re right for the company and vice versa.
  10. Outspoken – Speaking your mind in a way that respects the input and rights of others will help set a direction that all can buy into – an essential leadership quality in the new age.

These are our thoughts on the qualities of a next-generation leader? Share your thoughts by e-mailing us at

Innovation Hurdles

October 13, 2014

Innovation Hurdles

In an age teeming with opportunities to serve tech-savvy, global, demanding customers, corporations are actually finding it much more difficult to innovate.

Pressure to Perform

  1. The pressure to make money for all stakeholders in the short term makes it much more difficult to fund people and programs even once removed from the immediate revenue path, which includes research and development.

Silos Abound

  1. Innovating for customers involves understanding the needs of the customer and collaborating with various internal departments, including sales, marketing, engineering, operations, support and finance and various geographical units of the organization in order to deliver what the customer wants.
  2. Unfortunately, collaboration between groups, divisions, roles, and geographies has not historically been rewarded, to the extent that for many people and companies, it’s difficult to meet and know others not within your team, location, level or role.

The Acquisition Path

  1. Partly because of the decimation of R&D budgets and the lack of communication and connections between internal groups, many corporations have elected to go the acquisition path in order to innovate and expand.
  2. Unfortunately, this M&A path is a mixed bag at best – the challenge becomes to integrate a new product/service/offering/operations/team with existing sets of same. This is generally never an easy task and few have done it well, particularly when companies get large.
  3. In fact, the divestments, spin-outs and going-private choices we’ve recently witnessed are testament to the fact that not all purchases and integrations work well. The market might not be there. The tech integration might be too big an obstacle. The strategy might not have worked as intended, or the execution may falter.

The Opportunity

  1. As we’ve stated in previous posts, the Age of Personalization will introduce fervent, demanding customers with high expectations for integrated, customized solutions that deliver exactly what they want and need, immediately, in every facet of their lives.
  2. Corporations need to bridge their silos and create an innovation path to serve these customers or become irrelevant and lose their market edge.
  3. Elements of successful offerings for the next age include:
    1. Big-data driven, for that’s the only way to individualize offerings efficiently
    2. Global, reaching customers where they are
    3. Modular, so that it can be integrated with other solutions
    4. Operationally efficient, for that’s the only way to deliver to the door cost-effectively
    5. Mobile and web-enabled, so you reach the platforms used by the customer
    6. Cloud-based, so that solutions can be efficiently managed, secured, and scaled
    7. Social, so that customers can easily spread the word and become ambassadors
    8. Collaborative, so that you can better coordinate within an organization and across stakeholder groups
    9. Dynamic, so that solutions can be easily updated based on feedback from any source
    10. Scalable, so that the solution can grow and satisfy customers, expand to new markets and even expand to new solutions

See a future post with more descriptions under each element above.

10.  Winning corporations need to be tech-driven, customer-focused and able to bridge silos and work collaboratively with partners across the ecosystem. Read our Connections at the Leadership Crossroads post for tips on identifying these types of leaders.

These are our thoughts on hurdles to innovation – what are yours? Your thoughts are welcome at

Women Leading Innovation

October 10, 2014


FountainBlue’s October 10 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Women Leading Innovation. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have a range of panelists from different companies, roles, educational and functional backgrounds, and perspectives on the table, all with such deep and successful experience around innovation. They shared their perspectives on what innovation is:

  • Innovation is sometimes in-elegant, taking a more circuitous path, rather than taking the planned course.
  • Hence failing quickly and failing forward is an essential component of innovating.
  • Innovation comes from the top down – leadership needs to believe in it and empower it from the bottom up.
  • Innovation comes from the bottom up, from any chair – leadership needs to encourage original, out-of-the-box thinking, no matter who has what role or title.
  • Exposing yourself to new ideas and people may lead to thinking, speaking or acting differently may lead to a innovative business solutions or ideas.
  • Collaboration is a key ingredient of innovation, whether it’s internal with your team and organization or with the ecosystem of partners, providers and customers.
  • Innovation is a moving target – what’s innovative today will soon get outdated. Continue to focus on technology advancements and the needs of the customer to help ensure that innovations remain relevant.

They generously shared their wisdom and advice about innovation.

  • Communicate the larger purpose and story, in order to receive the resources, people and funding for innovative projects.
  • Innovative leaders welcome a range of perspectives on to their teams and extended teams, so have an open mind-set and culture, team and organization attracts and retains the best innovators. With that said, it’s difficult to facilitate this out-of-the-box, rule-breaking mind set within a corporation, so walk that fine line so that you stay within the culture while lightly pushing the boundaries.
  • Take a customer-driven perspective and understand the needs, pains and problems of the customer, so that you can improve their user experience and support their objectives. (Women may have an edge here, as they are naturally more empathic and other-focused.)
  • Adopt an inclusive mind set, facilitate a culture of innovation for your team and organization, and help create tangible opportunities to share ideas and fund innovation facilitates innovation within corporations.
  • Be warm and accepting of yourself and surrounding yourself with others who support you for who you are will help create a more open, safer culture of innovation.
  • Focus on program innovation rather than project innovation so that you can coordinate across departments and deliver across the life cycle of the product, and continue to serve the needs of the customer. If you focus just on a one-time project development, you may not get the long-term support you need for the product to succeed, and you may not get integrated support from all departments throughout the product life cycle.
  • Manage how much energy is invested in any innovation idea. Make sure that it’s needed and practical now, or plan for adopting a concept in the future.
  • Define and communicate boundaries of time and energy to protect your personal life, while supporting the innovation goals for yourself and for your team.
  • Get the support you need to remain positive, flexible and innovative, whether it’s within your corporate women’s group, within an external growth, amongst your community and friends, etc.,
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable! Innovators buck the status-quo – that may make YOU uncomfortable, but it will certainly make many others uncomfortable, and successful innovators know how to manage that for themselves, their teams, their customers and sponsors.

In the end, successful innovators want to stretch themselves, stretch what technology can offer, stretch their view of the world – and others benefit from their successes.


Please join us in thanking our hosts at eBay and our speakers below:

Facilitator Christine Kohl-Zaugg, Founder & CIO, BluBubble

Panelist Serpil Bayraktar, Principal Engineer, Chief Architect’s Office – Development, Cisco

Panelist Tasneem Brutch, Ph.D., Software Architect and Director of R&D, Samsung Research America

Panelist Gayathri Radhakrishnan, Director Strategy & Corporate Development, Dell Software

Panelist Kirsten Wolberg, VP of Technology, PayPal