March 8, 2012

Field Seminar to Silicon Valley

Post By:
Erica Hanson,  MS-MBA, 2013
Eric Whitney, MS-MBA, 2013
Eli Mather, MS-MBA, 2013

During winter break, a group of MS-MBA students traveled to Silicon Valley and San Francisco in order to learn from company leaders, entrepreneurs, professors, angel investors, and many other people. This course was a one week intensive held in Silicon Valley. 

The course was designed to achieve two objectives -- first, to develop an appreciation for the role of Silicon Valley in Digital Innovation and, secondly, to examine how digital innovations are impacting key shifts in specific sectors. This year, the course focused on three sectors: Healthcare, Energy, and Digital Content/education/media. Students were placed into teams and were expected to develop specific insights as the basis to engage in interactions with corporate executives, alumni, and follow classmates. Teams also visited leading companies involved in each sector and developed and presented their team's perspective on key digital trends and leadership challenges for their sector. 

Some of the companies that we visited were:
Our visit to Kaiser Permanente's Health Care Innovation Center was a remarkable demonstration of utilizing physical space to drive innovation. In modeling a hospital floor, patient rooms, and a home setting, Kaiser Permanente enables healthcare workers, patients, and even building contractors to test out new ideas on all their respective roles in defining the healthcare experience. Instead of doctors trying to understand what their working environment will feel like from looking at a floor plan, movable walls and full-scale mockups of medical equipment allow instant comprehension and feedback.

Chevron demonstrated their commitment to out-of-the-box thinking with their Innovation Zone lab. Innocuously tucked inside one of the many office buildings on the sprawling Chevron campus in San Ramon, the space breaks down traditional barriers of thinking to foster creative and innovative problem solving. Innovation Zone director Jack Anderson demonstrated how Chevron teaches employees concepts such as the Innovation Cycle, and how thoughtful approaches to better understanding the problem at hand result in increased idea generation and intellectual breakthroughs.

For over a year now, we have been exposed to the hottest technological advances to reduce energy consumption. From electric cars to thermostats that adjust themselves based on room occupancy, when we sat in the conference room at Trilliant, we were exposed to a leading company in the smart grid area. The following two hours were critical in our understanding of how the industry functioned from a governing perspective. This is the side that is most often glassed over, but the truth of it is that the regulatory framework of the energy industry is the largest barrier to developing a measure of global energy consumption. Until that is addressed, we may only continue learning about new technologies instead of using them.

“Last night I got in my car after a long day at work. As I drove, I let my house know that I was coming home. She (I had programmed a female voice) asked me if was cooking dinner. After registering my ‘yes,’ she turned on the oven off the microwave to save energy. A few minutes later, I decided to order take-out. I told my house and promptly, she turned the oven off, microwave on, and asked me if I wanted my normal selection from my favorite Chinese food restaurant ordered. 15 minutes later I arrived home, food in hand. As I walked in, my favorite music began playing, the lights went on, and after I sat down on the couch, the music was replaced by my favorite television show. What a welcome home!"

That scenario is not reality… yet, but that is one of a couple amazing technologies that we saw at Ericsson’s Experience Center. The crazy part? Most of their innovations had working prototypes, meaning that these seemingly fictitious scenes are closer to reality then we think! About 1½ years ago, Ericsson created an internal innovation area to keep their products forward focused and create a more innovative place to work. They work off the IDEO method and through a brainstorming exercise with the director and staff member of the Innova team, we got to explore how it works.  What an inspiring visit at Ericsson!

NextBio enables users to systematically integrate and interpret public and proprietary molecular data and clinical information from individual patients, population studies and model organisms, thus applying genomic data in novel and useful ways, both in research and in the clinic.

Before our week in Silicon Valley, we felt that the point of innovation experimentation was to test applications of disruptive technologies and push the promising ones into the marketplace. Now we see that strategic experimentation can be used to anticipate market shifts and build out capabilities required as roles shift. Thus, to manage risk, you could simultaneously build a platform around yourself and decouple your product offerings. Building these capabilities will allow you to drive shifts in the market and be prepared for the ones you can’t foresee. 

Corporations such as Chevron, Ericsson and Kaiser Permanente are divorcing business process from innovation in order to prototype and test new ideas gradually. Entrepreneurs are teaching each other about the lessons they learned the hard way, yet they are the ones most risk-tolerant and willing to challenge the status quo. Similarly, Venture Capitalists are betting that one or three entrepreneurs will be able to make a difference and they are betting for them.

Erica Hansen is a second year MS-MBA with a concentration in Marketing and a passion for all things digital. She is an officer in the Marketing Club and MS-MBA Association. Outside of school life she enjoys great friends and conversations, and can't wait to spend more time traveling!

Eli is proud to be a second year M.B.A and M.S. in Information Systems candidate at Boston University's School of Management.  Professionally, Eli has launched three brick and mortar distribution warehouses with retail showrooms and has experience consulting on design challenges.  As an advocate of locally produced foods and crafts, you can find Eli walking his dog and playing Ultimate Frisbee around Jamaica Plain.

Eric Whitney is pursuing dual degrees from Boston University’s School of Management, including an MBA with a concentration in nonprofit management as well as a Masters in Information Systems, and is the President of the Public & Nonprofit Management Club. In his second year of the program, Eric is consulting with several nonprofits on their data management strategies to identify and track metrics for measuring organizational and program success. 

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