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Former HP CEO Talks About Corporate America and Why Constant Innovation Drives Success

by Tom Johnson on May 22, 2007
categories: general

Carly FiorinaCarly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP), makes some interesting reflections in this iinnovate podcast (a podcast dedicated to innovation and entrepreneurship). A few things struck me. Carly said corporate America can be confining and limiting after a while. Now that she's out of it, she feels free. As a CEO, she said you're never free. I think everyone in a large corporation can relate to that (hence the popularity of Dilbert cartoons).

But more important, she said large corporations that hit upon success must keep innovating. Even if you're successful now, if you stop innovating, five years from now you won't be successful. You can't rest on your laurels. Constant innovation drives success, and that's why Google and Yahoo are companies that are always innovating. It's not enough to make a couple of smart moves and then ride the waves to eternal fame. You have to incorporate innovation into your everyday operation and outlook.

That's tough because many people fear change. Change is not always for the better, and sometimes change moves you backwards instead of forwards. And it is counterintuitive because if you've done something right, why change what you're doing?

Other leaders on previous iinnovate podcasts have echoed the same advice, explaining that if you want to succeed in today's market, you can't always follow what worked in the past. The conditions for success aren't the same.

Fiorina also said leadership is change. That's what you do as a leader -- you change things; that's your job.

Wow, this was an incredible podcast. It's also a videocast, if you prefer that format. Coolest of all, she was a medieval history / philosophy major in college. She said her most valuable academic exercise was condensing thousands of pages of text into two-page summaries.

Real World Applications

Her encouragement toward innovation really struck me. Although I'm not a CEO, I am a chapter president of a local group of 150 technical writers communicators. We've been slogging away at a tech pubs competition for 15 years in our chapter, and I just polled the members to determine what they perceive to be the greatest value/benefit of the STC. No one said tech pubs. (If interested, here's the results.)

I think Fiorina would say we should innovate and try something new, like giving away the competition to another chapter and focusing our efforts on a service members want: job listings. Yet this change will certainly disgruntle a few old-timers (who are not without presence and influence in the chapter). Still, it is my duty as chapter president not to just carry on the president's torch, but to use it to start lighting fires.

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