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Business leaders provide studies in innovation

By Steven Overly
Monday, September 6, 2010

"Innovation." As business terms go, it's one of the more nebulous. To some companies, innovation is at the core of their values. To others, it's a recession-inspired euphemism for cutting costs.

The Download asked five local business leaders how they define and implement innovation. Here's what they said:

Dave McQueeney

chief technology officer, IBM Federal

Contractors' definition of innovation can often be colored by the needs of their clients. For IBM Federal, that typically means the nexus where invention meets the government mission.

In 22 years at IBM, McQueeney has been evenly split between client relations and research and development." 'Innovation' as invention applied to create mission value is really what our clients are seeking," he said. "I would say the only sustainable advantage an organization can have is the ability to innovate faster than your adversaries."

But when left to the often-overactive mind of a researcher, an order to innovate can overshoot that key junction and fail to meet a client's need. To compensate, McQueeney said IBM restructured its development process. Researchers now sit face to face with clients "to make sure the researchers see the customers' problem firsthand and can bring knowledge of those problems back to the research division," he said.

Tim O'Shaughnessy

chief executive, LivingSocial

Employees at online coupon purveyor LivingSocial have the principle of innovation driven home right when they begin work through what O'Shaughnessy called company credos.

One credo: "If people don't make one decision a month that they are sweating about a little bit, you're probably not pushing the envelope forward," said O'Shaughnessy, the son-in-law of Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham.

It's a notion he said many new employees, particularly those from major corporations, don't immediately understand. He said executives have to give them permission to try something new.

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