Invent, but Don't Innovate?

When I was at Bell Labs, my job was to invent and create, dream up solutions to problems that did and did not exist.  Some of these problems we thought up ourselves, others were ‘given’ to us by AT&T corporate product management and marketing.

For the most part, though, we didn’t get to see problems firsthand--as in, real live customers. At that time, corporate didn’t understand the need for us to see, hear and learn through people. We worked only with empirical data.

This led to a tense relationship between our two organizations – a lack of trust on our part and corporate’s frustration with our constant questions.  The result? Products and services designed more for us than for real customers.

Not a good thing.  There was a clear gap between invention and innovation.

Eventually, for one exciting, highly competitive project, I was able to visit a real live customer – and what a difference that made!  How did this happen? The product manager and I were friends.

It all started with a trusting relationship, at a very fundamental level. It was that simple.  And the project resulted in a patent and a very profitable service for AT&T.

Where are the disconnects in your organization? How can you leverage existing relationships between people in difference functions and areas to increase communication, knowledge flows and learning?

Please share your thoughts and experiences!