23 February 2012
RALEIGH, N.C.–Everything in life and engineering is a balance and a series of tradeoffs. That tension is what makes great companies and kills others.
We convened another innovation panel here (continuous excerpts embedded below) to dig through issues around how to nurture great R&D, great teams and help customers understand complex markets.
Larry Steffan, vice president of product development at Consert, which makes load-management systems, has been around the industry and with startups for most of his career. To him, success is about balance.
"Everyone likes to play in the sand box, but at some point you have to commercialize it. So (the idea) needs to move from creation to a control process." That's where you need leadership that is able let the string out on the kite but pull it firm when it's time.(The question and Steffann's response starts at 18:15)
Finding the right people
An organization obviously needs a mix of these skillsets, which raised the question: How do you find those skillsets? The HR department is looking to match people to its job postings, but managers are often looking for people who not only have the right experience but also that "X Factor" that often isn't reflected in a CV.
You're looking for people who want to "build their own personal legacy," Steffan said. "They want to be part of birthing a company, birthing a product. The culture is more important than any kind of incentive programs." (12:00).
The issues that keep our panelists awake at night varied as much as their technology and markets of course. For Rodriquez and Small HD, one issue has been tackled: off-shore manufacturing in China. It didn't work, and now they've brought it home. "Our partner could make it cheaper, but we threw away 20% of our stock," he said. "Shipping costs were killing us." (29:41)
And for David Green, a vice president at smart meter company Elster, it's about ensuring that the customer's customers learn quickly about energy.
"Most consumers do not understand energy, and for 100 years…Energy cost the same. That's starting to change, but most of us, as consumers of energy, probably wouldn't understand a kwhour of energy, how it's used. The average consumer has difficulty relating that to their daily life."
Here's the complete version of excerpts from the innovation panel: