In her presentation at NetApp’s “Insight 2014” customer conference, NetApp CIO Cynthia Stoddard briefly spoke about our, philosophy on innovation. The core of Cynthia’s message was this: Innovation is about outrunning the forces that influence our business while delivering value of the utmost impact. In short, innovation is as much about speed as it is about relevancy, and is the task for which my team – “Strategic Innovation”- was created here at NetApp.



The creation of a fully separate group focused on innovation may seem a bit extreme to some, but it was driven out the criticality of speed to innovation, and out of a philosophy common to the startup ecosystem – innovation is best achieved through rapid experimentation. In the enterprise, the freedom to succeed or fail quickly around new ideas is only achieved through autonomy, and that itself is established by protecting ideation and experimentation from the demands of operational activities, and from the crushing weight of the status quo.



That said, autonomy for the sake of speed can negatively impact the other core component of innovation – relevancy. A significant amount of our time is spent cultivating partnerships and assessing impact to ensure that our “Strategic Innovation” island stays connected to – but still protected from – the mainland. Bridging back takes a fair amount of listening and selling, and an incredible amount of humility, but is critical to establishing relevancy.


Finding the Right Combination

Even when we do find the right combination of speed and relevancy, the rough truth that we face is that much of what we do may not be implemented. In fact, many of the opportunities we see never come to flower. That in mind, it is critical that our philosophy – and all processes born of it – accepts that implementation is not the singular outcome of success. The decision not to move forward and pivot is incredibly valuable.


Our team in no way claim to own “innovation” here at NetApp; that would be absolutely absurd. Our purpose is more about encouraging, cultivating, and accelerating – through the nurturing of new ideas and partnerships, and through the incubation of impactful technologies. To that end, our small group of analyst-researchers and technologists can (and do!) provide the resources – be they people, technologies or, at times, even financing – that hasten successful innovation.


Stay tuned for future blogs in which we explore the role of Strategic Innovation in uncovering new ideas for implementation at NetApp. I’d also like to hear your views on innovation in the comments below.


The NetApp-on-NetApp blog series features advice from subject matter experts from NetApp IT who share their real-world experiences using NetApp’s industry-leading storage solutions to support business goals. Want to view learn more about the program? Visit