Posts Tagged 'Invent'

June 16, 2011

An Exercise in Innovation

Some of the best ideas come from people who think "outside of the box." SoftLayer was born in a living room six years ago when we decided to look at the staid hosting industry from a new perspective. We said, "We don't want to build a company to meet customers' current needs. We want to build a company to meet the needs our customers don't even know they have yet," and that's one of the biggest reasons the SoftLayer platform has IPv6, KVM over IP, private network, out-of-band management and standardized pod-based data centers.

Only people with a certain level of "crazy" can recognize opportunities for innovation, and because SoftLayer's motto is "Innovate or Die," to incubate innovation, we have to create an environment that enables employees to take their "crazy" and run with it. Speaking of "crazy," meet Phil.

Phil plays guitar, tests software in non-standard ways, and has a bobble-head of himself. Some would say he marches to the beat of a different drummer – a drummer that may or may not be overdosing on caffeine.

Phil was tasked with a 12-week project: If SoftLayer is built for what our customers are going to need tomorrow, figure out what customers will need after "tomorrow." He'd have access to people and resources up and down the organization to build his idea, and the experiment is set up to incubate his innovation:

  1. Because there are no bad ideas in brainstorming, anyone helping Phil should do so without questioning the logic or "sanity" of what he asking for help with.
  2. Phil can spend up to 20% of his work hours building his idea.
  3. Anyone who helps Phil can spend up to 10% of his/her work hours to build his idea.
  4. Phil can have space in H2 to build his idea.
  5. Regardless of apparent success or failure, the project will conclude at the end of 12 weeks. From there, we'll evaluate the "good" and "not as good" ideas from the experiment.

It'd be impossible to guarantee the success of any kind of project like this because it's a little like catching lightning in a bottle, but I was interested to see what kinds of operational changes he came up with over the course of the three months. We might see the evolution of the next brilliant idea in hosting, or we'd see a lot of hilariously terrible ideas.

Then I saw his first installment:

By the time I got to "circumstantiate," I had the phone in my hand to call off the project. What I didn't expect was Phil's tearful pleading to take the idea down a different path. They say you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and despite the fact that this first impression was pretty awful, I decided to give him another shot (with a much more limited scope):

  1. Apparently there are bad ideas in brainstorming, but anyone who helps Phil on his "new path" should try to be supportive.
  2. Phil can spend up to 5% of his work hours building his idea.
  3. Phil can't take anyone else from SoftLayer away from their jobs during work hours.
  4. Phil can have space in the Houston office to build his idea.
  5. The project is scheduled to run for 12 weeks. There's no guarantee that it'll make it through next week.

If you have ideas for Phil, feel free to contribute. He'd probably appreciate the help.

-@lavosby

Subscribe to invent