Reverse Innovation: From Push to Pull


Last week Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble released their book Reverse Innovation. I’ve been a collaborator with Vijay on this topic for several years (Vijay wrote the foreword to my book, Innovate with Global Influence). During our collaboration, I provided Vijay with specific examples that highlight EMC’s approach to Reverse Innovation. Vijay ended up dedicating an entire chapter to EMC. It’s an interesting conversation to present his overall theory and how EMC has evolved to successfully innovate at global scale.

I first spoke to Vijay in 2010. The chart below shows international GDP growth rates at that time.

Back then (October 2010), I related the growth on this chart to Vijay’s Reverse Innovation theory:

2010_GDP_Growth_RatesThis slide emphasizes the geographic areas that are positioned for growth. If you believe the slide, U.S. GDP will grow at a slower pace than other geographies. Multi-national companies that want to succeed had better figure out how to stimulate local innovation by the employees in those regions. Vijay calls this phenomena reverse innovation.

How can multi-national employees transform themselves from worker bees to creative innovators? The book warns that companies that don’t figure this out will die.

EMC, fortunately, had already travelled down this path in 2010 by transforming our culture from a “push” to a “pull” model.

Push_Pull_ModelsThe “push” model is simple. Innovate in one location, and push the design specification overseas. The diagram above graphically depicts this approach.

EMC launched a “Centers of Excellence” (COE) model many, many years ago. This model grants design freedom to our seven COEs around the world and encourages them to “pull” intrapreneurial resources from around the globe in order to get work done. In particular, EMC Fellows and Distinguished Engineers hop on planes year-round to lend their skills to countries that ask. This “pull” model works, and is shown above (using EMC’s Russia COE as an example).

Without blowing EMC’s horn too much, I would have to say Vijay was pleasantly surprised at the advanced state of EMC’s Reverse Innovation capabilities. This is why he dedicated an entire chapter to EMC’s model and experience. I had a wealth of stories to share with Vijay, including:

  • In Shanghai, China, an idea from a second-year programmer triggered millions of dollars in product sales.
  • A software developer in Tel Aviv, Israel, traveled the world to insert his creation into hundreds of new high-tech devices.
  • A field engineer in Cork, Ireland, delivered an electronic shredding solution to businesses paralyzed by the complex maze of governmental legislation.
  • A technologist in Bangalore, India, created breakthrough security software to protect data centers from hundreds of cyber-threats.
  • A Russian intrapreneur delivered critical information capture software eighteen months ahead of schedule.
  • Beijing researchers created groundbreaking new search algorithms that protect the privacy concerns associated with personal data.

If you haven’t had a chance to learn the Reverse Innovation theory, I strongly recommend the purchase of this new book.

If you have additional questions about how EMC has been successful implementing the Reverse Innovation model, please consider leaving a comment on this blog.

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