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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Creating Innovation in the PARC

Interview - Mark Bernstein of PARC

Creating Innovation in the PARC - Interview - Mark Bernstein of PARCI had the opportunity recently to interview Mark Bernstein, Chief Executive Officer of PARC.

Mark Bernstein has been the head of PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) since 2001, when he led the firm in its transition from a research division of Xerox to an independent business. PARC is among the world's best-respected centers of research and innovation, and its relationships include client services for industry leaders in consumer electronics, information and decision systems, networking and communications, and renewable energy. Among the firm's current projects is Content-Centric Networking, a new approach to networking that addresses massive amounts of internet content to achieve better security, scalability and performance.

Here is the text of the interview:

1. Please briefly tell people about what PARC is today (versus its history)

Today, PARC is a center for commercial innovation - for other clients besides Xerox. (Historically, Xerox PARC was a captive/internal R&D center). PARC is driven by the desire to see its research results impact the world in important ways and across multiple industries. The vision for transformational impact is still alive, but now the understanding of what that takes also comes from our commercial partners, embedded business development, and/or market experts like EIRs.

2. When it comes to innovation, what is the biggest challenge that you see organizations facing?

They are limited by the problems they see directly in front of them and the capacity of the resources they have in hand to address them. These constraints are stifling when unfamiliar complexities become visible and breakthroughs are required.

3. What are the keys to successfully partnering with PARC or other organizations like yours?

From our experience, an open and genuine interest in alternative perspectives is an enormous asset for any organization facing challenges to their entrenched expertise or assumptions. And then an essential trait for adaptability is being capable of internalizing the consequence of discovery or responding to radical shifts. Look at the media and automobile industries! Organizations must anticipate the need for change, not be in denial of it or pursue ad hoc solutions...

4. What are the secrets to successfully completing a research project?

Deep understanding of the scientific principles that constrain what's possible, clear thinking and teamwork about the experiments that will lead to a new state of knowledge, robust engineering to demonstrate that development through an industrial-strength technology prototype. (This last feature is where PARC scientists really differ from university researchers, because they have to think about the manufacturing and other constraints to make the technologies scalable). But another important "secret" to successfully completing a research project at PARC is involving our social scientists/ethnographers early and throughout the development pipeline. Some would argue that's an ingredient of our secret sauce.

5. From your experience, what are some of the keys to increasing variability to help get the best ideas?

Increasing variability is NOT necessarily the primary ingredient for producing the best ideas! Integrating a diversity of perspectives from multiple disciplines has been successful at PARC for addressing a number of big, complex problems.

6. What are some of the biggest barriers to innovation that you've seen in organizations?

Rigid internalized realities, incremental thinking, disabled innovation investment models.

7. What skills do you believe that managers need to acquire to succeed in an innovation-led organization?

Exercising flexible perspective, projecting a positive attitude for change, encouraging "what if" thinking to define possibilities - and constraints.

8. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation workforce of tomorrow, what would it be?

Focused, distributed, and collaborative projects in the math, science, and humanities - using various media to fuse information and capture knowledge. Collective learning is a fundamental experience for what's possible and problematic for global understanding.

Editor's Note: Mark Bernstein will be speaking at The Economist's "Innovation - Fresh Thinking for the Ideas Economy" conference and Blogging Innovation will be covering this SOLD OUT event for our readers on March 23-24, 2010 here on our blog and as @innovate on Twitter.

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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