Tom Kavassalis

by, Tom Kavassalis, vice president of strategy and alliances, Xerox Innovation Group

Innovation is like a high speed race.  Speeding around the curves on a race track at high speeds requires more than skill and focus.   You have to have a strong belief in your crew, in the capabilities of your car and in yourself.    And sometimes it’s that optimism – combined with perhaps the mistakes of others that put you first to cross the finish line.

As a race car driver and innovation strategist at Xerox, I have found that these principals hold true for innovation. 

Why would I make such a bold statement?  History tells us that entire industries have been spawned by the collapse of firms which had held captive a large potential innovation capacity.  Indeed the birth of Silicon Valley has been attributed to the downward slide of Shockley Semiconductor which gave birth to Fairchild, Intel, AMD and probably 50 or more other companies.  The explosive growth of the world-wide-web and interactive media was accelerated by the cancelling of Apple’s Interactive TV project in the 90’s which set huge numbers of talented people in search of the next big thing.

So, if you accept that there is significant untapped potential within your organization what can you do to exploit that potential?  Below are some pointers on innovation from our experiences in the Xerox Innovation Group.

  • Inspect what you expect:  If you are expecting a high percentage of revenues to come from products that are new to the business and new to the world, then you should ensure your investments in R&D are consistent with that view.  We deploy active portfolio management and managed risk taking.  The existence of the Xerox Innovation Group affirms our commitment to an innovation oriented portfolio.
  • Remain flexible:  It’s never possible to know all of the good ideas during the annual budgeting process.  We hold back some funds to support ideas that are developed during the course of the year.  In fact, we let the employees themselves decide how those funds are to be invested through a peer review process.  You should think of these as internal angel investment funds.
  • You can’t do it alone:  The cycle time for new technology accelerates with each generation.  Opening up your innovation process to external ideas will hasten development time and expand market reach.  We have embraced Open Innovation and have tied it to strategy and our marketing activities and we actively build and leverage our partnership networks.  Customers then become part of the innovation ecosystem and contribute to ideation, validation and execution of new products and services. 

What tips might you have for the innovation optimist within your company?

Tom Kavassalis is Vice-President of Strategy and Alliances for the Xerox Innovation Group where he helps guide Xerox’s R&D investment portfolio.  Away from the office, Tom is a passionate auto and racing enthusiast, nature lover and a bad golfer.