Are you ready to turn your industry on its head? Do you have plans that will make your name a byword for innovation? If you are new to this path or have concerns that your course might be veering in a treacherous direction, fear not. Daniel Beveridge, a director who helps drive innovation at VMware’s Office of the CTO, is here to offer insights on being an industry disruptor. He has 23 patents and 17 more filed as an accomplished inventor, including storage caching, business value-based hypervisor scheduling, instant-cloning for VDI, and several tablet technologies for the modern workspace. As a multi-faceted leader in engineering innovation, Daniel has built a reputation for introducing breakthrough designs in areas, including virtual desktop infrastructure storage design, user interface and ergonomics, datacenter efficiency, and cloud brokering. Daniel’s futuristic yet practical ideas have shaped VMware’s current and future end-user computing experience. He now oversees xLabs, VMware’s intrapreneurial accelerator, sharing his knowledge to help guide the next generation of innovators.
So here are the insights that have made his path as an innovator such an impactful journey:
Accept the hard news
Let’s start with acknowledging the struggle. Often, the more disruptive and game-changing the innovation, the harder it is to get adopted. Significant change quickly collides with cultural anxiety as it forces people to question their assumptions. Disruptive innovation requires taking risks and imagining a future different and better than today’s approaches. That is why industry disruptors, when first pitched, are generally met with trepidation, not enthusiasm. Implicit in disruptive innovation is the assertion that today’s thinking can either be radically improved or should be completely discarded, suggestions that require the audience to step aside from their current emotional and intellectual investments.
Additionally, these changes do not happen overnight. Departmental managers can change multiple times while a longer-term project is underway. Since it can take many years for the project’s outcomes to fully come to fruition, an innovator has to accept delayed gratification and focus on enjoying the journey, rather than an immediate affirmation for the work. Typically, this is not the type of endeavor that immediately wins accolades or promotion within a year.
Fortunately, Daniel has experienced both of these struggles first hand, and is ready to offer insight for those prepared to meet those struggles head-on.
Find an entry point
According to Daniel, the best way to achieve your goal is to take a step back from the grand vision. Instead, create phases that you can build to sell the idea to strategic partners. He acknowledged that this temporary sacrifice could feel demoralizing, like you are selling out. However, you are making your vision accessible and helping it gain visibility. These steps gain traction. From there, structure the momentum to lead to the end product. The broader vision is made more accessible to stakeholders by the completion of that first achievement. It’s often easier for people to get on board after the first proof point is clearly in view.
This incremental approach also allows for existing design or operational assumptions to be questioned and re-calibrated gradually over a longer time period, which is often easier for people to absorb. Yes, this approach takes some humility and flexibility, but it is much easier to gain support in steps than getting buy-in on the entire grand vision from the beginning.
Prepare for the long haul
Perhaps most importantly, Daniel says it is critical to focus on the right goals. His intrinsic motivation is a desire to shape the future and solve problems. He noted this is just as well since he has experienced first-hand that the accolades might not even come with completing a product. He told me, with a chuckle, about a project he initiated and patented. Six years later, when he witnessed this work presented at an internal tech-talk, his name wasn’t even listed as a contributor. He knew his role in shaping the outcome. He had enjoyed the multi-year journey, so this incident felt like the outcome of normal corporate processes and churn rather than a disappointment or injustice. The focus on intrinsic satisfaction as an innovator can help enable persistence and patience as a project takes many twists and turns before the outcome is achieved.
Yes, it would be amazing to be a part of the next Amazon, Google, or Apple. However, it takes the strength to put the grand vision on hold and create an accessible game plan. It is not easy to be countercultural and focus on your intrinsic values instead of getting your next promotion at work. To make a difference, you have to think and act differently. Here’s to making the hard choices and being people who disrupt the status quo.
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.