Innovation And Initiative
This week’s story is about initiative and how it relates to innovation.
Many years ago, I was a young and impressionable engineer. I sought out professional role models. In my mind a role model is someone who is an example to be imitated. In my early career mindset a role model was also a template for career success.
Fortunately, one day I found a role model sitting right in front of me. His name was Brian and he was the vice president of engineering of my employer. My best guess was that he was definitely nearing retirement age. However, he had the energy of youngster, but the wisdom of a sage. He took particular pleasure in spending time with junior staff and mentoring them.
Brian enjoyed setting aside time in his very busy schedule to have one on one chats with his crop of new and upcoming technical staff. He saw it not only as an opportunity to build a professional relationship, but also a chance to learn about career goals. He was a firm believer that staff development started early and needed to be nurtured.
At the end of our very enriching conversation, Brian asked me if I had any questions. My question set him back a minute. It was both profound and unique. It was a question that nobody had ever asked him before.
Brian, how did you become a vice president of engineering and what was the path you took?
Brain chuckled for a moment. He leaned back in his chair, and he told me a story that inspires me to this day….
Brian had been working at a semiconductor manufacturer. The company manufactured RAM chips. They were plagued with a problem. They had a high defect rate on their RAM chips which caused a high amount of chip failures. (A very expensive problem.)
At the time Brian was just starting his career. He analyzed the problem and collected data. Based on his observations he came up with a solution. A solution that would not only solve the problem, but ultimately save the company money. (Somewhere in the MILLION$ of dollars!)
Brian presented his idea to his immediate manager with the hopes of getting permission to put the idea into practice. Brian got a stern, “NO.” Brian tried in vain to explain that his idea could be a game changer for the company. His manager would have no part of it.
Undeterred, Brian stayed late every night. He worked in secret after everyone had gone home. He took his process, a secret sauce that would solve the high defect rate, and put it into practice on the manufacturing line. He kept the project a secret and off the books.
Within a few weeks, he had increased the quality levels and reduced the defects, and had the data to prove it. This time, he showed the results to his manager. His manager looked at all the data, and a short while later, Brian was promoted. This put his career into an immediate upward trajectory.
Brian told me very bluntly, “You have to take initiative. Nobody will ever give you permission.”
That wisdom stuck with me. People who innovate, don’t wait to be told what to do, or ask permission. They just go do it, and let the results speak for themselves. Brian’s innovation, a process improvement, yielded tremendous results.
Decades later, I used his wisdom to achieve many professional successes including my first patent. I never waited to be told what to do, or ask for permission – I took initiative.
Throughout history in technology companies, fortune favors the brave. It favors those who stick their neck out for an idea. In a later issue, I will tell the story of one such person, Percy Spencer – the inventor of the microwave oven. (A man who never even finished grammar school!)
About Mark Ross
Mark holds multiple industry patents. He is currently the technical director at an iGaming company based out of Las Vegas. He is the author of books, technical whitepapers, and an accomplished film director as well. Linked In.