SPSTC Keynote: Dean Halstead on ‘Innovation at Microsoft’

Dean Halstead, Visualization Architect for the Microsoft Federal Team, presents the keynote at SPSTCDCDean Halstead, Visualization Architect for the Microsoft Federal Team, provided the opening keynote at SPSTC this morning, addressing the topic of innovation at Microsoft.  In getting a sense for the makeup of the audience by a show of hands, the greatest number of hands raised identified themselves as being "new to SharePoint, trying to learn as much as they can."  Dean explained an underlying theme of his presentation would be to demonstrate "SharePoint as a platform for innovation," defining innovation as "driving [knowledge and ideas] to a competitive advantage."  Dean said that, at Microsoft, they've realized that there exists "a gap, in which the execution of innovation versus what is wanted [by the customer] is not the same," and they constantly strive to close that gap.

Dean said that a "holistic approach to innovation" is required between an organization's commitment and its execution, and plugged Steven Johnson's book, Where Great Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, sharing some of its primary theories.

Dean then shared the six core tenets defining how Microsoft innovates:

  • A balance of invention, reinvention, and evolution
  • Hiring the best people
  • A commitment to openness and partnerships
  • A long-term approach
  • A focus on scale
  • Embracing disruptions

The culture at Microsoft, Dean shared, is to execute as a mature company, but explore like a start-up, and to make innovation programs accessible to all employees.  Their organizational approach to innovation involves three tiers:  early investigation, operationalizing for the customer/market, and a deep understanding over time while executing the long-term vision.  At Microsoft, there are eight different internal innovation programs and groups, and the results of innovation from those programs often land in one of Microsoft's publicly accessible labs, such as  Office Labs, Education Labs, FUSE Labs, and Microsoft Research.

Addressing the notion of social collaboration, Dean pointed to the Idea Hub, which began internally at Microsoft, and was later packaged and delivered to partners.  The Idea Hub is deployed on top of SharePoint "to provide a crowdsourcing capability" for employees across the organization to funnel qualified ideas to upper management.  To illustrate its usefulness, Dean related the story of "Project Natal," which would ultimately become Xbox Kinect.  The ideas behind object recognition and human body tracking came together as Kinect, matching technology with a need.

Dean touched on organization and process around innovation, crediting the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program (TAP), in which Bamboo has proudly served as a member.  Getting customers and partners involved (via the TAP) to provide early feedback helps Microsoft address blind spots and sparks further innovation through collaboration on developing technologies.

Dean defined the "four E's of innovation in the enterprise" as being: Engage ("really around social networking"), Evolve ("into a business collaboration casework"), Evaluate, and Execute.

Dean closed by stating that here's no magic formula for innovation, and "really, people is where your most important ideas are coming from," and that it's just an issue of organizing and empowering those people in a manner that fosters a culture of innovation. 


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