Overcoming Innovation Fatigue at HP

Chapter 8 of Conquering Innovation Fatigue deals with some challenges faced 5-10 years ago by some  engineers at Hewlett-Packard’s Boise offices.  The story, based on an interview with an HP innovator from that era, provides important lessons about unintended consequences of seemingly logical corporate policies, and warns that innovation can be damaged even as a company strives to ramp up innovation. Since that time, there is evidence that HP has worked to strengthen innovation and address some of the demoralization that infected its ranks. For example, a couple recent articles suggest that HP may be on an innovation rebound:

  • HP’s Cultural Revolution” by Reena Jana, BusinesWeek, Nov. 15, 2007. This article acknowledges the demoralization that occurred during the time frame covered in our book, but relates the efforts that have occurred since under the new CEO, Mark Hurd, to bring about a revolution in innovation at HP. Clearly some signs of progress.
  • HP inventor infects others with desire to ask ‘Why?’” by Cheryl Hall, The Dallas Morning News, March 6, 2006. This describes the inspiring work of Christian Belady, Hewlett-Packard’s “steward of innovation,” a prolific and obviously energized inventor.

Of course, we recognize that change takes time. Regaining trust, rebuilding the culture of innovation, and revitalizing innovation-related systems can take years. At the same time, HP has faced serious challenges in sales with a painfully poor forecast. CEO Mark Hurd is striving to avoid layoffs, taking a 20% pay cut for hiumself while asking most employees to take a 5% pay cut. If HP can get through the challenging times they now face and maintain their innovation momentum, they could be in terrific shape. Much depends on the details within, and on the macroscopic events outside. We wish them success!

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