October 9, 2006

News & Opinion: Guy K's Q&A with Poll(a)y

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 5:43 PM – Filed under: Innovation & Creativity

Guy Kawasaki has Ten Questions with Polly LaBarre, co-author of Mavericks At Work.

My favorite is:

Question: How does gender play into maverick-dom?

Answer: Some of the most powerfully inspiring and effective mavericks we know are women. Whats more, maverick-dom in general is mercifully free of the power-suited legions of Organization Men that have squeezed women out for too long. Mavericks connect and win on the basis of a deeply-felt and original sense of purpose-it doesnt matter what package that comes in.

For example, IBMs Jane Harper isnt an unlikely maverick because shes a woman, but because shes survived-and thrived-as a relentless challenger of the status quo at IBM for a quarter-century. She has worked all over the organization, but her real specialty is creating an entirely new position by pushing the organization in new directions. She took on the role of director of Internet technology and operations after she pushed the company to launch one of the first corporate websites in 1994. She got IBM to build a website in part by announcing to Lou Gerstneralong with her boss and collaborator John Patrickthat IBM had bought a huge chunk of floor space at InternetWorld and needed to create a respectable Internet presence, fast.

In 1999, Harper asked a question nobody else wanted to address: Why would really great people-the best technical and managerial talent in the world-want to come work at IBM? In an era when every young, gifted programmer, engineer, or entrepreneurs first instinct was to write their own business plan or head to eBay or Google, life as a foot soldier in Big Blues 320,000-member global army was a pretty hard sell. Harper understood that great people want to work on exciting, high-impact projects, with a small team, in a dynamic setting. So she created exactly that in a Cambridge, MA lab and launched a wholly original and powerfully effective internship program called Extreme Blue.

Since that initial experiment (for which she had no permission and no budget-hallmarks of a maverick), Extreme Blue has grown to a year-long set of programs that attract 250 top interns and hundreds of IBMers as sponsors and mentors. In the six years since the programs founding, nearly 80% of the participants have accepted full-time positions at IBM (including many with competing offers from Google et al). Whats more, students file 100+ patent disclosures each summer and turn nearly half of the nascent ideas they start with at the beginning of an intense twelve-week summer program into actual products and service for IBM customers.