The Five Tools of an Innovator

As the saying goes, change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not invented overnight, either. A lot goes into the practice of innovation. To become an innovator, it’s important to learn which tools belong in your toolkit in order to build the skills necessary to create and to execute your great ideas. Here, I share my key five:

1. Listening. As a high tech founder, I am being pitched by smaller companies constantly. A lot of those who pitch me have great products and great ideas. Start-ups innovate fast! There is a lot to be learned about an industry or product just by keeping my finger on the pulse of what they’re doing. In listening to their pitches, I hear industry trends, burning questions, and which ideas are coming fastest to market. Hearing what the world needs next is a critical skill, and it comes from careful attention to both clients and to the other companies trying to meet those clients’ needs. No company operates in a vacuum, and, if a client is pitching a widget that would go well with your gadget, there is some kismet to having executed the good listening skills required to pick up on that and then to bridge the two, enabling you to connect things to everyone’s benefit.

2. Reading and Writing. I value inspiration and mentorship a great deal and turn regularly to the writing of other visionary leaders for ideas on how to improve and expand my own thinking, leadership, and creative skills.  You can see how I put this in action by reading this piece, my response to Satya Nadella’s book Hit Refresh. Mindfully considering what other respected leaders of large tech companies have to say helps me to shape my own vision. Of course, I read industry publications and blogs, too, including Techcrunch, Business Insider, MIT Tech Review, Science Alert, and others. And part of the reason I write articles and blog posts myself is so that I can inspire others in turn. Writing down what works for me often gives me new ideas. In fact, if you’re ever stuck in a creative rut, try to write a description of what you’re trying to do. Typing is great, but remember that handwriting and drawing trigger a different part of your brain. Writing out and drawing out creative problems often lead you to picture new solutions.

3. Making time and space for creativity. I’ve written of how my best work days balance productivity and creativity, and key to that is protecting creative space. We all could have day after day after day of meetings and accomplish nothing but talking with each other, but that’s not a path to innovation. Innovating requires the time and space to solve problems and dream up ideas. When possible, I work through my to-do list early in the week so that I can  have as few meetings on Fridays as possible. I give myself the gift of time alone on Fridays so that I can plan and think. It’s a wonderful treat to be able to do so at the end of the work week, and I find that, oftentimes, things I begin considering from that space stick with me over the weekend, puzzled out in my head during downtime. That has the added benefit of exciting me to start another week with new ideas.

4. Collaborating. Good work teams get excited about each others’ ideas and run with them together. To stay connected and on-theme, my teams use our collaboration software, RingCentral Glip, to post and exchange a weekly deck of thoughts. This includes not only what we’re working on but also what’s new and interesting, perhaps something they read in the news or a product they heard about that inspired them to think differently about something we do or make. Great ideas build on each other, and, with all of the tools available now for real-time sharing of information, there’s no reason not to keep conversation going.

5. Practice the art of self-disruption. In other words, disrupt yourself before someone disrupts you. The job of a great strategy team is to sniff out market trends early and to act on them proactively. At RingCentral, we disrupted ourselves in this way with the acquisition of Glip, embracing the idea of a team messaging concept and knowing that we could integrate it well with our existing suite of communications solutions, packaging it all into a unified experience so that people don’t have to switch apps all day. Because of our foresight and quick action, we adopted and adapted something that grew our offerings in the market and meaningfully enhanced the way we communicate and collaborate. Nobody in our industry saw this innovation and its quick integration coming, so our company was able to catch our competition off-guard and grow in a new direction. That’s what disruption is: shaking things up. When that happens internally, forcing change that leads to growth, that self-disruption undoubtedly leads to broader industry-disruption. It’s important for companies not to get complacent or to do things as they’ve always been done in order to be able to forge new frontiers and grow.

Now that I’ve shared my toolkit for successful innovation, it’s your turn to share: what’s in yours?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on May 1, 2018.

Looking back on 2017

2017 was a whirlwind year. As this new one is well underway, I’d love to share some of the things that made last year exciting.

First, check out this video from the Dublin Tech Summit of my talk on Predicting Behavior in an Age of Uncertainty. It was an honor to be there to speak.

I felt fortunate to participate in some other wonderful events as well, including as a roundable host for the 2017 Watermark Conference for Women, as a judge in the Startup100 Pitch Competition, as a panelist for the MoNage Conference, and as a panelist at Enterprise Connect.

Writing remains a passion. Here’s where and what I published in 2017:

On LinkedIn:

2016 Predictions Redux, and Foreshadowing 2017

Celebrating a More Intelligent Enterprise

The Vast Value of Good Advisors

Women: To Get Ahead, Compete

Get Your Head in the Cloud

My Game-Changing Career Moment

It Shouldn’t Be Lonely at the Top

Women, Tech IS for You

Honored to be Included: Top 25 Women Leaders in SaaS

People before Process: How to Keep Your Staff

Hitting “Refresh” on What It Means to Lead

On Fortune:

Success Is Still a ‘Boys’ Club,’ but Here’s What Women Can Do About It

Why You’re Not Really Working If You’re Home in Your Pajamas

On the RingCentral Blog:

Revisiting 2016 Predictions and Looking Ahead to 2017

Driving Multinational Growth with Unified Communications and Collaboration

RingCentral Connect Platform Partner Program: Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow

On Huffington Post:

The Value of Gatherings among Women

Kicking off 2018, please check out my piece, The Year AI Becomes Pervasive, on LinkedIn.

The Year AI Becomes Pervasive

Looking back at 2017, it is clear that AI arrived. One development that I found particularly intriguing was when a machine, Libratus, beat four of the world’s top poker players in no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em poker. Considering the nuances of the game of poker in which the machine has to learn how to account for things like bluffing, it is an amazing feat of technology that Libratus could be the success that it was so quickly. The implications of Libratus for things like stock trading are significant. On a more personal level, 2017 saw the advent of AI radiologists at Stanford offering diagnoses gleaned from “studying” multitudes of chest x-rays. This algorithm, CheXNet, is able to diagnose pneumonia better than radiologists at the top of their field. It is a wonderful thing to see AI being embraced increasingly by the medical community, which is often slower to accept change, as AI stands to reduce medical errors significantly, prolonging and saving more lives as a result.

Looking ahead at 2018, this will be the year in which AI becomes even more pervasive. Based on the examples above and many others that unfolded last year, it is evident that the groundwork has been laid for AI to become more ingrained in every facet of our lives, from healthcare to gameplay to work. Part of what’s ahead this year will be the use of AI to deliver more contextual information. One way in which this will come about is via the increased use of voice assistants, as AI helpers like Alexa will move with you from your home to your office. Voice activated business interfaces is just the beginning of seeing conversational modalities interoperate, become smarter, powered by natural language processing, instant transcription, and continuous machine learning. I call this “apps that learn.”ᵀᴹ Business users will need to switch context less and will have their applications surface to them what matters most via these conversational interfaces, streamlining and improving work environments yet further.

As AI continues to grow, expand, and take over, it will be exciting to watch which industries adapt to it most readily. It will also be important to watch how cybersecurity responds to this growth, with new frontiers to protect. Being mindful of our own ethics will matter a lot, too. For example, this report in November 2017 from AI Now “takes an unblinking look at a tech industry racing to reshape society along AI lines without any guarantee of reliable and fair results.” As exciting as the path ahead is for the ongoing ingraining of AI into every facet of our lives, it won’t be uncomplicated, and new ground will need to be forged with regard to holding those who make and use it accountable.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on February 1, 2018.

How Do You Entertain Yourself?

This summer, I’ve noticed a shift in my consumption of entertainment. With longer days at hand alongside some vacation time, I’ve enjoyed exploring the entertainment options available to me, largely media delivered through my laptop or my iPad. Didn’t everyone used to plop down on the couch with one person wielding the remote control, bringing up the cable menu and debating about what to watch? Nowadays in my family’s house, our TV is rarely on, with the exceptions being Warriors games, the Super Bowl, and the Oscars. Instead, sometimes we sit on the couch next to each other with each of us watching programming of our choosing on our own devices. Sometimes my husband will be watching one miniseries while I stream another. It feels as though we each have our own channels with our own preferences. I’m wondering: does anyone rely on traditional “programming” anymore?

The whole notion of watching TV together has changed. The differentiation of everything is possible now, and a lot of the programming delivered is handled in such a way that content is king. No one binge watches movies, which are a complete experience in 2.5 hours. Instead, we have the ongoing experience of lengthy seasons of shows ranging from politics, like House of Cards, to history like The Tudors, to fantasy, like Game of Thrones, that we can watch and re-watch from the convenience of our devices. The experience of watching the latest season is akin to the hype that builds for a new movie, but it’s not just a one-time experience: it repeats, week after week, until the season is complete. If you’re like me, you binge-watch more on weekends or vacation time, at your own convenience, no longer beholden to a specific viewing time or place or to DVRs, which I believe will soon become as obsolete as VHS and even DVD players. We want our leisure viewing to be delivered on-demand when it’s convenient and desirable for us, and entertainment providers have delivered.

To me, this shift in entertainment consumption in favor of our comfort and convenience is akin to the shift I see in the workforce in favor of the same. Increasingly mobile, flexible workforces seek to maximize their workday alongside maximizing their flexibility  for the rest of their life or lifestyle, including leisure time pursuits like watching the latest miniseries. Flexibility is the wave of the 21st century, and I believe we’ll be seeing more and more entertainment trends catering to our desire to have what we want to watch or to play at our fingertips when we’re ready, wherever we are.

2016 Wrap-up

Since posting this summer reading list in August, I’ve been rounding out the year with some more thought pieces, many of the themes of which will carry forward into the New Year. Here’s what I’ve shared in publications recently:

On Fortune Insider:

Never Let a Know-It-All Mentor You

The First Step to Building a Strong Personal Brand

On LinkedIn:

Why I Seek My Own Counsel: #AdviceThatSticks

5 Tips for Surviving Your First Start-Up

An #OpenLetter to Leaders of Modern Workplaces

My #BestWorkDay Balances Productivity and Creativity

The Value of Qualitative Questions

On the Huffington Post:

Why It Was So Worth It to Stick with STEAM

On CBS Pulse:

Tackling the Lack of Gender Diversity in Tech Leadership

Also, my alma mater, Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, ran a lovely profile on me in December here.

2016 has been a challenging year for many people and companies, let alone for our country, and I believe that 2017 will bring even more change. As I write in the New Year, I’ll be focused on change as I write about innovation, diversity in technology leadership, entrepreneurship, and more. Best wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season.

Summer Reading: Recent Publications

It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down! Many of you are prepping for back-to-school as others are gearing up for one last vacation before hitting the ground running this fall. It’s been a while since I updated my recent publications, and, especially because some of these might be relevant to your autumn plans, I cobbled together this reading list for your poolside perusal. Enjoy!

For your Inspiration:

More Women of Inspiration

Passion and Purpose at the Forbes Women’s Summit

Helpful Advice:

Four Considerations when Plotting a Career Move

Five Ways to Get Your Ideas Heard

If I Were 22: Five Things I’d Do with Hindsight

Four Filters for Choosing Co-Founders

Ideas to Improve your Workplace:

Ways to Advance and Maintain Diversity in our Workplaces

My Ideal Workplace Blends a Culture of Results + Risk-Taking

Best Practices for Better Pay Equity

Nine Ways to Combat Unconscious Bias in Hiring

Three Characteristics of a Great Team

Food for Thought:

Your iPhone as a Matter of National Security

Imagining IoT in 2025

Collaboration Is the New Communication

Voice Interfaces Are the Next Big Thing

Silicon Valley is the Next Hollywood

5 Resolutions to Restore Body & Soul

 

Best Practices for Better Pay Equity

A handful of recent events exposing gender-based pay inequity has seemed to bring the  issue into the headlines to stay.  A few weeks ago, the New York Times reported on House of Cards star Robin Wright’s battle with Netflix to negotiate pay on par with that of her male co-star, Kevin Spacey. Last month, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team alleged pay discrimination in a complaint they filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission highlighting striking salary and bonus differences between the hugely successful women’s soccer team and the markedly less successful men’s team. And the plight of high-profile women CEOs like Marissa Meyer and Ursula Burns — who stepped down from Xerox a few days ago — suggests that the shrinking ranks of Fortune 500 women CEOs will soon shrink even further. Today, there are only 19. If that number is any kind of bellwether for pay equity, it’s not encouraging. The time is long overdue for leveling the playing field between women’s and men’s pay, now and forever — not only for movie stars and on the soccer pitch, but in corporate boardrooms and everywhere in between.

It’s likely that your own company has a pay equity issue. Most do. In 2015, there was a 21% pay gap between women’s earnings and men’s, meaning that for every dollar a man made, a woman made only 79 cents for the same work. Whether you’re leading a company or on the lowest rung of the totem pole working for one, and whether you are a woman or a man, this is an issue that affects you. The sentiment in your workplace is at stake. To create a culture of fairness and respect, and to maintain a happy and productive workforce, Jane cannot be making less than John. Workers talk. If you are not paying equally, they will know. And they will not be motivated to do their best work if they are being treated unequally. I don’t doubt that discrimination complaints will be on the rise with national attention on this issue. So, what can you do?

For starters, make sure that you pay both women and men fairly for the work they perform. Equal pay is not just about equal wages, either. Make sure to count bonuses, performance payments, and discretionary pay, too. Put in place best practices to ensure successful pay equity. Five specific ideas include:

  • Have transparent policies and practices in place with regard to pay structures.
  • Audit those policies regularly to make sure that, even inadvertently, your company is not paying workers unequally for equal work. I admire how Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and SVP Leyla Seka are spearheading efforts at their 10,000+ person company to track pay across gender to ensure fairness.
  • Consider flexible and mobile work arrangements and how those will help all people at your company to succeed and to thrive better. It is my gut-feel that with more gender balance in the workplace, pay inequity will cease. This has everything to do with attracting and maintaining a diverse workforce.
  • Combat unconscious bias in hiring in order to secure that diverse workforce. Getting things right from the start of the process of staffing your company is critical. Describe jobs fairly. Hire accordingly. Pay based on the skills sought and decide that as much as possible before even interviewing candidates.

These are some ideas to move toward the only acceptable solution of equal pay for equal work. Money isn’t everything, though. In fact, I credit my own success in part to focusing less on pay and more on opportunities and goals. After all, success isn’t only defined in terms of a bank account.

A friend saw Abby Wambach, former FIFA women’s World Cup champion and two-time Olympic medalist and U.S. coach, speak on soccer’s pay equity case recently. When asked what she’d do differently, Abby said she’d have asked for more earlier on in her career. She’d have raised her hand, asked specific questions with regard to the numbers involved, pushed for more when she was winning. But we’re not all emboldened by a national — or international — stage like Abby. As a woman leader in tech, this is my moment to spearhead, to ask the difficult questions, to pursue equity in every way. Especially for young women in tech, we have to make sure that you’re coming to us on a level playing field with the men, whether you’re playing soccer or building an interface or practicing medicine. Pay inequality is everywhere, but it doesn’t have to take us until 2059 to achieve pay equality. We can ensure a better and more diverse workplace by acting now.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on June 27, 2016.