Trying to innovate at a huge company? Step 1: Flee the country.


(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Over the weekend Nicholas Carlson published a telling look at how eBay has turned itself around. The Business Insider piece offers plenty of lessons in what it takes to shake up a huge company. The focus of the story is Jack Abraham, who reinvented eBay’s Web page as a feed, which has led to more visits, clicks and time spent on the site.

What’s remarkable is Abraham’s approach to the project. He recruited five talented co-workers to board a plane with him to Sydney, with no hotel rooms or a workspace booked. He just went for it, as Carlson explains:

 No one at the eBay office knew they were coming.

“Are you here to see someone?” the receptionist asked suspiciously.

Abraham leaned over the desk. “We’re actually here on a secret mission from [CEO] John Donahoe,” he told her conspiratorially, “and we’d just love it if we could get a conference room for a few days. Could you possibly help us out with that?”

For Abraham, getting out of his typical environment was essential. He wanted to be off the radar.

There’s a boldness, brashness and optimism to Abraham. He never appears to be thinking about what could go wrong. He doesn’t worry if everything isn’t planned out. His life mantras appear to be “move fast and break things,” and “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” For example:

 eBay had given the startup some prime office space on its Campbell, Calif. campus. But it was full of cubicles, and Abraham hated cubicles. So, at a meeting with all of Milo’s employees, he rallied the team to join him in tearing the cubicles down and tossing them out onto the lawn.

“I got a very angry call from facilities about that,” says Abraham.

Carlson describes Abraham’s moments of inspiration as “manic bursts of risk-taking and productivity.” That mania reminded me of the famous quote in an Apple ad: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” If you find yourself trying to do something big, bold and different at your company, remember Abraham’s crazy methods. They work.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland | February 10