Success Drives Adoption of Changes

A conversation with Esther Baldwin, Research Proliferation Manager, Intel
By Jo Grogan
Esther Baldwin is truly a global innovator. As Intel’s chief of Research Proliferation, she has led innovation efforts in the United States and in China.

She established a culture of innovation while starting the Intel Innovation Center in Shanghai, working closely with the Chinese to embrace the “innovation mentality”. She considers the Chinese to be very innovative and adaptable and has found her work in China to be among the most rewarding of her career.

Baldwin also is the co-author (with Martin Curley) of Managing IT Innovation for Business Value: Practical Strategies for IT and Business Managers (IT Best Practices series). She is very committed to Intel and its culture of innovation, and enjoys the freedom to foster and drive innovation in Intel’s products.

Jo Grogan (JG): Tell me the key elements you used in establishing a culture of systematic innovation at the Innovation Center in Shanghai.

Esther BaldwinEsther Baldwin: We managed it as a process. At Intel, our IT organization leads the innovation efforts, but everyone is committed to innovation. IT is innovative at its core, and is very process driven.

We learned at Intel how to drive culture changes through the quality movement, which was led at Intel from the top down. That level of commitment was essential for our team to take innovation seriously. Following the quality movement, where we learned that measurement was important to managing and achieving desired changes, we embraced the safety movement, which impacted the bottom line. We benchmarked the best practices for our safety processes, and evolved our applications to achieve world class status in a very short time.

When we began our projects in China, we thought, “why not try the same processes?” We modified what we learned through both the quality and safety movements and imbedded innovation in our daily activities, from leadership communications and commitment to tools to measure and assess our “Innovation IQ” we embraced innovation at the very heart of what we do.

JG: What is the importance and the role of innovation in today’s global economic environment?

Esther Baldwin: Our senior executives believe in investing in innovation through the downturn, because we have found innovation to be very good for our financial and production positions. Intel provides the needed financial backing and leadership vision, and our company is successful through downturns as a result of our innovation practices.

Our leaders walk, talk, measure, reward, and recognize innovation. That commitment is evident to all on our team.

JG: What tools do you use in your innovation processes for ideation and problem solving?

Esther Baldwin: When we began our innovation efforts at Intel, we looked around to see what was available of the shelf and found very little for ideation. We attended conferences and networked with experts. We developed our own internal ideation tool and tweaked it as we learned from our mistakes. The bottom line for the success of our innovation at Intel lies with the buy-in from our Senior Leaders.

At the beginning, there was some dispute and concern regarding the management of innovation as a process. Internal successes helped in this regard. We held an internal innovation conference (which is now an annual conference), where our VP’s presented their Vision and celebrated early successes, establishing, publicizing, and rewarding innovation in a public forum.

We use virtual workspace and ideation tools for our internal campaigns. We ask open-ended questions and involve everyone, anonymously. Anonymity helps overcome the embarrassment some people experience when they share ideas in public, and leads to more idea generation. Suggestion boxes do not work. Internally driven campaigns seem to work best. We also use trees tools. Our innovation tools are excellent for virtual ideation and collaboration across geography and time. We have Global Development Teams who work in India, the U.S., and Israel. It is important for them to work virtually and to asynchronously bridge time and distance.

We also use a prediction tool to help visualize the value of an idea. We revisit the results of the prediction after an idea has been implemented to determine the accuracy of the tool in its prediction.

JG: What innovation practices, training and theories do you ascribe to at Intel? (e.g., Six Sigma, DeBono)

Esther Baldwin: DeBono is very credible, he understands the mind and how it is best used and harnessed for innovation. That said, one solution is dangerous. Find the theory or set of theories that work for your company. Find what works for you and use it. We bring in world-renowned consultants for training and workshops.

We brought in Larry Keeley, president of to talk with us about his ideas on innovation, and we have found his ideas to be very helpful to us as we mature in our innovation practices.

One thing to remember when we are talking about innovation at Intel, we are an engineering company. Most of our employees are engineers, even in our HR department, we have engineers. We benchmark to find out if anyone else has solved the problems we are trying to solve, what direction others are taking. We do exploratory research and adopt and implement good ideas readily.

JG: Do you use outside resources for solving problems, such as experts found at

Esther Baldwin: We use outside resources primarily for our training efforts. For deep engineering and technical problems, we rely on our own expertise. We have an extensive network of experts in all fields for problems we may need help solving.

JG: What books or other training materials do you require or recommend for Intel staff?

Esther Baldwin: We have created a program called “Innovation 101”, which is a basic introduction to innovation and includes exercises and videos. We also conduct a “Systemic Innovation for Teams” workshop, where participants submit problems in advance of the workshop, and gain hands-on experience in using innovation tools and techniques to solve them.

JG: Do you have any further comments or ideas about innovation you would like to share with us?

Esther Baldwin: Innovation takes time, tools, and commitment to be successful. It also takes persistence. Remember when video conferencing came out? There is a study that said that it took 7 hours of someone using the technology before they could be productive in using it. People resist change that they are not familiar with. Celebrate successes. Success drives adoption.

Feedback Welcome: If you would like to comment on the above article, please feel free to contact me. If you would like to suggest other innovation decision makers for me to interview, please just let me know.

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