Intuitive Surgical, Facebook, SRI & D.School

The morning of the second day of the CEO design tour gave us a glimpse into how great R&D can create value if executed well, and then after a fleeting visit to Facebook, we got our hands dirty in NASCAR competition at the d.school.

Starting early in the morning Intuitive Surgical demonstrated a number of things hinged around outstanding execution of brilliant IP. Intuitive develops robotic surgical equipment that is nothing short of an outstanding example of engineering, industrial design and superior manufacturing systems. The products are beautiful, but what struck me was the intensity and commentment to operational excellence and commitment to lean manufacturing throughout the organisation. Everything has its place and purpose which is why this company is worth $usd17bn and still thinks of itself as a startup.

Their manufacturing environment was the most professional and aligned environment that I have ever seen. Right through the organisation there is a focus, pride and dedication to continuous improvement and lean. We were lucky enough to have a play of the equipment which was amazing and a work or art, highlighting how technology is enabling the advance of medical procedures. I had a test run and was amazed of how intuitive it was, hence the name I guess!

Intuitive is able to manage it focus on excellence because of the attitude and culture in the organisation. Eventhough it’s now listed, the founders still lead the company and have been able to ensure that the start-up and challenger mentality remains in the business regardless of its success and value.

We then visited Stanford Research, a charitable organisation that focuses on the commercialisation of R&D, and Intuitive was it it’s successful exits. It was also responsible for Siri which was sold to Apple and recently launched on the latest iPhone, so they are feeling pleased with themselves. What struck me was how connected the R&D, Govt, VCs and companies are in Silicon Valley and how this cuts through the crap. They are rigorous and ruthless in their view that R&D needs to be commercialized in a pretty short time frame, knowing that if they take longer than 6-9 months it will be overtaken or lost. This is a flavour I picked up yesterday, that success is proven by commercial execution not holding the smartest IP unless someone values it and is prepared to pay money for it.

A great quote / insight from the day was to reminded us that it is critical to find the innovators in your organisation and get them talking to customers to identify innovation opportunities, and these people are rarely in marketing departments. Find out who your firms innovators are and connect them to customer’s if you want to drive innovation. Don’t rely on the marketing department.

After a quick and highly guarded visit to Facebook, we headed to the Stanford D.School where we participated in a team exercise to change a tyre of a NASCAR. Great team experience and the insight was that we kiwi’s love to charge into a task, get our hands dirty, but could remember to stop and observe what is going on around us to gather more learnings and undestanding of what others are doing, instead of sharing ahead. That said, we were very quick as a group if we were compared to other nationalities.

We also toured the d.school which highlighted the principles of putting attention into workspaces and having flexibility to encourage participation. My reflection into what I am seeing is a greater “movement” to mobility, flexibility and collaboration between people, and the “build to think” mentality cuts deep. Graduates of Stanford, who are an integral contributor to how these companies function have a different mode of working, and we need to consider this in our businesses. I think we too often pass this off as GenY characteristics, which is party true, but we need to be better at understanding and evolving our environments and processes to accomodate them. More on this later I suspect.

Sorry there are no photos yet. I will post these when I get back to NZ.

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