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Organic Team Crowdsourcing

An Interview with Luke Thomas, Sr. Tech Evangelist, HP
Jana Pijak
September 25th, 2022

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As a Sr. Tech Evangelist at HP, Luke Thomas understands the crucial role consumers play in innovation. In addition to listening to ever-changing consumer needs, Luke relies on another important consumer segment–his own team at HP–to extract organic insights into tomorrow’s next big ideas.

1. What does innovation mean to you?

At HP, it’s primarily about missions and enhancing that user experience and convenience while going beyond expectations. For me, it’s about creating a wow factor for an end use product that consumers didn't even know could be done.

2. How do you and your team generate new ideas?

First, we want to understand the external market landscape, and then we try to map to what we see outside to our internal capabilities. Once we understand that, we figure out how big the market is because for a company like HP, we won’t go after anything less than at least a $1 billion addressable market. So we really try to understand what new markets we can look into.

At the same time, we want to understand trends that are growing and accelerating at an exponential pace. We try to ensure that we can capture those trends across all the products and services that we’re launching over the next 18 months. Recently, we captured all the trends surrounding the rise of people working from home. As a result, we came up with a lot of products and services in the hybrid workspace, and you can see a lot of influence around that from HP.

3. Do you have any specific rituals for resetting your team to be creative?

My team likes to explore and test a lot of hypotheses. We ask ourselves if this were to be the case in the future, how do we go about understanding the pulse of the market? Internally, we try to come up with the top five trends that we think would be very disruptive by 2030. We then create a rationale and some kind of justification for why we think they’re going to be important. At the same time, we want to be aware of what external markets and our competitors are saying to see if we’re the only ones thinking out loud. What we’re really trying to figure out is people’s aspirations and the pain points that need to be addressed. Then, we start looking at how we can explore them internally or through partnerships with startups.

It can be challenging at times because sometimes everyone has their own thought process, but having a team with different points of view makes the whole creative process more interesting.

4. Can hearing all of these different perspectives present challenges during the ideation process?

I love the fact that there is a lot of diversity on our team, and that everyone comes in with their own thought process and their perspective on how the future is going to evolve. As a leader, the challenge is distilling all these ideas, which come from everybody, and figuring out what makes sense and what doesn't. As long as you can back ideas up with justifications and numbers with rationale behind them, it’s easier to see technical feasibility and market feasibility. Getting those diverse views is always exciting, especially from the younger generation, and I think that's where the key for innovation and creativity lies.

It’s really about understanding and listening to customers more than ever before, because they’re not your traditional customers. Internally within HP, we prioritize listening and tweak our products and services as quickly as possible to meet evolving consumer needs–rather than having something launched once in 18 months.

5. How do you identify trends and what resources does your team use to spot trends and consumer insights?

One answer is staying on top of futuristic trends and Trend Hunter helps with that for sure. We also all look at trends by going to a lot of conferences and by talking to participants out there in the market. We want to understand what they're seeing and how they go about addressing those challenges and those market opportunities.

The other way we’re identifying trends is by talking to our workforce internally. We have a big workforce within industry and there’s also a good customer segment out there. We ask them about what they’re seeing. How are they looking at products and services, not only the products that we have, but what products would they want to save up for? So we take advantage of people’s individualism and this organic source of insight.

We then think about what we can do to provide those kinds of products and services? Internally, we have something like a sandbox where people put in ideas and where we can get a good understanding of where they're coming from. Through that platform, we can then work to develop more of these products and services.

6. Does HP rely on any other unique team building rituals?

I think one of our most important team building rituals is doing cross functional workshops, and understanding where the business units are coming from, what their long term plans are, and what their short term plans are. Our team is very futuristic and lives in the moment, but at the same time, we need to be very realistic as well.

My goal is to figure out what the immediate requirements of the business unit are at the end of the day, so what we do is a lot of cross-functional workshops internally. This allows each group within that to understand what they can offer. Later, we all come together to determine what makes the most sense to invest time in in the next 18 to 24 months.

7. Has team building been a challenge post-COVID with the rise of hybrid work?

When Covid struck, there was a lot of ambiguity whether people would come back to the office or would they want to even come back to the office. So I did a lot of projects on the future of work and we had some extreme thought processes. I didn’t think people would come back to work as they would have in the past simply because there are things that they would have enjoyed doing while at home.

I’ve heard it takes ten days for people to get used to a habit. And now for most of us, it’s been close to two years plus. You're kind of used to that experience at home, so if you have to bring someone back to the office, you have to provide them with an experience that they did not enjoy at home.

If you cannot afford to provide that service, people are not going to conform to that. I think it’s important to understand everyone’s perspectives internally right now, even if it doesn't make sense. It's during these situations that we can take advantage of new opportunities.

Looking back on the smartphone, people initially thought they could use their front camera for video calls. That's how the phone vendors and the telecom operators actually targeted it once 3G networks came in place, but then you had the selfies market and then you had Instagram creating a whole new opportunity. I think it’s crucial to keep an eye on these trends in order to tap into the next billion dollar market.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?

The biggest challenge is people believing what you're saying at the end of the day. It’s about taking those risks in order to fund those projects because you need to have an executive to sponsor those innovations.

From a mission standpoint, it's a journey that takes time. Getting an executive to understand that and deliver that and be passionate about what we're talking about is very, very important. When you have that support from an executive to help the team go ahead with innovation, it makes others believe in it and motivates the team to work a little harder.

Some of the incubation that we are doing now is a podcast discussing opportunities in a metaverse and how it could be a dominant player in the space through our 3D print capabilities. It started just as a podcast between me and two other guys. Through that, we got some money to incubate thanks to an executive who actually believed in that project. That’s a great example of overcoming that challenge and getting the acceptance to believe in what you're saying.

9. Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced innovation at HP?

I would definitely say the smartphone industry. We went abroad and saw what was happening with the smartphone boom. Eventually, HP acquired Palm but couldn't execute the way we wanted. Regardless, we got a lot of learnings out of that whole project and acquisition.

Ultimately, that’s what helped us get to where we are today as a service, and has influenced hybrid work and all the verticals that we're focused on. I think that acquisition of Palm in the mobility space helped drive some of the stuff that we're doing right now–from rethinking our business models and selling a subscription-based service rather than just selling a product.

10. What makes an innovative culture and how do you create that culture of innovation?

At the moment, we’re seeing more and more people working from home. I believe that an innovative culture relies on us leaders, and any project or product manager should strive to come up with products and services that touch people's lives.

Once you can translate that to your team, that itself will drive the individual culture within the organization because the reality is that people are going to spend more time entertaining themselves at home. That's where you need to have people believe in the products and services they’re involved in.

What we’re trying to do within industry is foster that culture not only internally but also externally. Saying that, when people use our products and services, they know their data is safe. So we are not in the business of selling data and giving that assurance to people in today's world is a very big thing, especially with growing concerns surrounding privacy. So I would say that this is actually one of our competitive advantages.

11. Looking to the future, how will HP continue to be a leader in innovation?

We have something called five plus one. We are looking at gaming peripherals, the consumer market, the workplace market and also 3D print and industrial graphics. Those are five plus one areas that we are focused on, and we have horizontals obviously like cybersecurity as a big part of that.

We’re leaning on our intuition and our energies in those areas while looking at partnering with startups or investing in startups since as a big company, we cannot do it all alone. We’re spending a lot of time, energy and money in these growth opportunity areas. And culture is also very important because our partners have their own culture as well. So we're learning a lot of things from them–from their innovation process to their workflow.

At the end of the day, with all the five plus one areas we’re focused on, partnering with startups and investing in startups is where we think we will continue to be a leader in the innovation space.
References: hp