Coaching innovation: An interview with Intuit’s Bill Campbell

by David Eckoff · 0 comments

A great article in newest edition of The McKinsey Quarterly entitled, “Coaching innovation: An interview with Intuit’s Bill Campbell.”

In this Q&A, CEO Campbell talks about the role of innovation in stimulating growth, as well as the management challenge of building and sustaining an innovative corporate culture.

Points I found compelling:

  • Campbell looks for founders, CEOs, and management teams focused on building durability and lasting value – not interested in a “quick in and out.”
  • Innovation can occur in a couple of ways. Some companies want to break new ground with products and services that haven’t been done before. In contrast, other companies, like Apple, over a period of time, figure out how to apply technology to consumer products that people want: a seamless end-to-end experience.
  • To foster a culture of innovation: start with giving the “crazy people” stature and make sure that the “lunatic fringe” has an opportunity to contribute.
  • Create a culture where engineers really are important. “Empowered engineers are the single most important thing that you can have in a company,” Campbell says.
  • Campbell’s sage advice for product managers: Don’t tell an engineer what features you want. Tell engineers what problem the consumer has and then the engineers will provide you with a way better solution than you’ll ever get by telling them to include a feature in a product.
  • To build a culture of innovation if you don’t already have it, Campbell describes: “You need a leader. You have to go out and recruit the best person you can who knows how to create an innovation culture. He or she doesn’t need to be personally the most innovative person, but he or she needs to know how to foster innovation. Then give that person license to hire. Go get yourself some teams. Recruit people who have the “DNA” that you want. For me, growth is the goal, and growth comes through having innovation. Innovation comes through having great engineers, not great product-marketing guys.”
  • On the role of the customer in the innovation process, Campbell says: “We have to be careful about the customer. I learned this from Steve Jobs years ago. When I came to Apple, I brought my Kodak research mentality, and Steve’s view was, “Stuff your research. Nobody’s ever going to give you feedback on something that they can’t conceive of.” And so we would argue those points. And I still joke with him and say, “A marketing person would never have conceived of a Macintosh. But a marketing person could have made it better.”

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