Blogging from Silicon Valley: Incremental Innovation vs. Invention

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The Telfer Executive MBA Class of 2017 continued the momentum of our Silicon Valley experience with an enlightening visit to the IBM research laboratories in San Jose, a pivotal lecture at Stanford University, and a University of Ottawa alumni event.

University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management Executive MBA annual class trip to the Silicon Valley took them to Stanford University.

by Mohamed Eldery, Daniel Feeny, Tanya Gracie, Kyle Taplay and Andrew Wright

The IBM research labs were unassuming and hidden among the hills on the outskirts of the city, far away from the speed and intensity of downtown San Francisco. We were thrilled to meet some of IBM’s top research scientists who delivered presentations on their projects, many of which have the potential to impact our daily lives: sophisticated materials recycling, next generation energy storage, and collaboration tools that harvest tribal knowledge and enable context-sensitive information management for problem-solving teams.

Our key takeaway from the IBM experience was the stark contrast between the start-up VC fail-fast mind set where 60 start-ups share a workspace – versus the institutional rigor of research projects led by top scientists, physicists, and chemists over many years, often resulting in complex patents that span multiple technologies and industries. While the startup culture is focused on incremental innovation, IBM is focused on invention.

A short ride down the highway from IBM we arrived at Stanford University where we had a thought-provoking presentation by Richard Dasher, director of Stanford’s U.S.-Asia Technology Management Centre.

Mr. Dasher’s research and teaching focuses on innovation systems and the impact of new technologies on industry structure and dynamics. He stressed to us that the focus in the Valley is for startups to grow as much as possible, as fast possible, and then for the founders to exit quickly – and then repeat the process.  Failure is not only accepted, it is considered an important step in an entrepreneurs learning curve – proving resilience – particularly if the founding team sticks together in their next venture.

We wrapped up our busy day enjoying a glass of wine at a hotel not too far from Stanford where we mingled with an impressive group of dignitaries and uOttawa alumni. We were particularly impressed with the alumni who now call Silicon Valley home and are proud of their affiliation with the University of Ottawa brand.

This article is part of a series on the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management Executive MBA annual class trip to the Silicon Valley. The recetn trip was part of the EMBA curriculum on "Innovation and Entrepreneurship."

Organizations: IBM, Stanford University, University of Ottawa U.S.-Asia Technology Management Centre Telfer School of Management Executive MBA

Geographic location: Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Stanford

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