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Video Quick Take: Intel’s Lisa Spelman on the Interconnectivity between Curiosity and Innovation

Julie Devoll, HBR
Welcome to the HBR Video Quick Take. I’m Julie Devoll, editor for special projects and webinars. And today, I’m joined by Lisa Spelman, Corporate Vice President in the Data Platforms group and General Manager of the Xeon and Memory group at Intel. Spelman’s organization is responsible for both strategy and technology, and she leads the end-to-end product planning, management, support, and roadmap ownership of Intel Xeon processors.

Lisa, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lisa Spelman, Intel
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate the invite.

Julie Devoll, HBR
So Lisa, let’s start with what fuels your curiosity.

Lisa Spelman, Intel
I first have to say, I love the topic. I love the question, and we spend so much time just focused in on the work, the work, the technical aspects. But when you step back from any domain, we are all actually humans engaging in this amazing world.

And I will say one of the things that drives me the most, is the amount that I know I can still and will always be able to learn from everyone around me. Intel’s filled with brilliant people– scientists and technologists from every background and their experiences and the way they come together.

Then you layer on top the opportunity to meet with our customers that are literally changing the world every single day with new digital services and capabilities and then everyone in the industry beyond that, including partners like SAS. There’s just an unending limit to what you can be curious about and what you can expand your mind with.

Julie Devoll, HBR
So as a leader, how are you encouraging curiosity within Intel?

Lisa Spelman, Intel
So me personally, I am big on talking with the team about how to expand our world view and the simple act of asking actually, what would it feel like if we were the ones to hear it? And I know, again, you think, technology, and then here I am talking about feelings. But it’s a great way to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, so to speak.

And to be able to do that without having to have every single one of our team members out meeting with customers every day because they actually have a lot of engineering work to get done, one of the things we’ve done within the organization is we have a customer development series.

We bring in our partners from our sales organization, from the marketing organization, sometimes from our customers directly, and we give them the opportunity to really share that world view of what does it feel like to be a customer of Intel, to be a user of the Xeon platform, and really expose employees who maybe wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise in order to engage with customers in that way. And I can see over time after having done this for going on two years now, the way that it actually starts to shape and change the conversations that we have.

Julie Devoll, HBR
So when you were a new leader, what were you most curious about? And what do you feel that you should have been more curious about?

Lisa Spelman, Intel
I don’t know when I was a new leader if I would have called it curiosity versus maybe a sense of utter panic about how much I needed to learn and get up to speed on in order to be capable of leading an organization. You also go through that transition of being promoted from the person for your domain expertise in your area that you are super deep in.

Then all of a sudden, you have this scale. And you realize you will never have that level of depth again in any one singular area. And really, that transition of, how will I make that work, how will I be effective for my breadth of employees if I don’t know more than them about everything, it’s a blend of curiosity and a blend of letting go.

And then if you think about things what I should have been more curious about, I was really concerned, especially at the start of my leadership journey, with proving myself worthy of this level, of this role, of this size of organization. And I think I probably should have been more curious about, what are the team members’ individual motivations?

How can they be made the most effective? How can they feel the most impact from their work? What will actually make a team member, which might be different from another team member, feel the most satisfied and committed with their opportunity and the work they’re driving? So I think that’s been a growth area in leadership for me.

Julie Devoll, HBR
So I want to talk about innovation. What areas of technological innovation do you think have the most potential to change the world?

Lisa Spelman, Intel
It’s funny because this is a question we could ask at any point in history or time, and then we actually sit right here in one of the most amazing times watching the last year how technology actually did change the world in the span of this 12 or 18 months of managing a global pandemic. And we saw so many industries and capabilities and functions and roles moved to a technology foundation that wasn’t necessarily expected or happened at a massive acceleration.

And we see even as we come out of the pandemic or start to make progress towards being able to return to a more interactive lifestyle that it will continue. So the amount of change that artificial intelligence has driven down into not just how you get to and from places but on the food that you order, on the goods and services that you consume, it’s really transforming.

I hope to see that same type of transformation that makes it so easy to get literally your food delivered to your door or a ride to take you anywhere, I want to see that same thing happen in health care, where there’s so much opportunity for better patient outcomes. And this has been an area where Intel’s continued to invest because of the opportunity to do so much good and transform lives.

I also think there’s a lot that is happening in the accessibility space. So if you think of all the events that moved to online this yea

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