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      The Digital Management Legacy: A Culture of Knowledge, Innovation and Collaborative Advantage

Debra Amidon

Debra is Founder and CEO of ENTOVATION International Ltd, a network across 62 countries of experts in innovation strategy and the Knowledge Economy.  She has authored several books, including The Innovation SuperHighway, and materials that have been translated into a dozen languages - see our members in Print for some of them - She now provides presentations and consulting services in 35 countries.

At Digital, Debra was hired as a Strategic Human Resource Planning Mgr in 1981; served as Associate Director of External Research, funding hundreds of research projects and research consortia worldwide. She created the Rationale for Management Systems Research - the first industrial-strength research focus on management in the world.  Debra served as the Alfred P. Sloan Fellow on behalf of Digital with a published thesis, Global Innovation Strategy.

Abstract: Digital was a management enigma, particularly in how innovative ideas were brought to market. Debra will explore the roots of the company's value system, and how it has become the managerial standard in enterprises around the world. Ken's philosophy, evident in his infamous parables, became the learning environment to emulate...engaging, networked, and empowering each employee and stakeholder - all in the quest of quality and corporate success.

"Ken Olsen is very busy... he takes care of people all over the world." - This was Debra's 9-year old daughter Kendra's observation on Ken's unique paternal management style as Debra traveled through DECtown, then DECworld in the mid-1980s.

  • Digital, founded in 1957 by Ken Olsen - then only a few years out of high school! - as a company was financially conservative but organizationally progressive

  • By 1991 - when Debra authored Origins of a Knowledge-based Firm - Digital had grown to $12.9B, #27 of the Fortune 50, with 120,000 employees

  • Spirit of inquiry, imagination created a university with a corporate P&L statement

  • Digital's unique culture - Debra went on a treasure hunt to document our management story.

  • Ken's parables - became the corporate DNA = what Ken said:

    • Innovate - do not waste time copying the competition

    • No one should lose their job, we're not defining the market properly

    • Listen to our customers

    • Always be better than others think we are

    • Act - take initiative, responsible risks, learn from mistakes

  • This message became vested in company PRACTICES:

    • Do the right thing

    • Those who propose dispose

    • Manage by walking around

    • Keep the door ‘open’

  • "Entrepreneurial teamwork" - in balance - was the best of both worlds

  • Management by consensus - moved ideas into marketable products

  • This was a world where knowledge was valued more than hierarchy

  • Collaboration with customers and partners was more important that watching what your competitors were doing

  • There was a Digital mystique - your badge number, the Christmas turkey - Digital was a company with a soul (and that soul was infused by Ken Olsen)

    • Multi-dimensional - matrix management

    • Simultaneous imagination and action

    • A learning organization, a networked organization, and a knowledge-based firm before its time

    • In a culture of responsible risk-taking, cross-functional teams were the norm.  This was in stark contrast to the Sloan School of vertical management.

    • The Engineering Forum - led by Bob Glorioso - was a real-time living innovation laboratory

    • General Doriot's influence was felt strongly - real-time living, an innovation laboratory

  • 1989 - "Metaframe" was a project undertaken by Digital Europe to produce the sound conceptual basis for DEC’s future strategic decision-making.

  • Creating our future: "Extended enterprise" Digital's corporate jewels were the people, the culture, and the products which produced architecture

  • DECUS was the largest computing user group, when IBM was six times our size

  • 1991 - David Stone, VP Engineering, explained to customers the Information or Knowledge utility concept

  • Knowledge, innovation and collaboration

  • Digital was the ultimate partner, launching numerous regional and global initiatives such as:

    • MCC in Austin

    • The Open Software Foundation (OSF)

    • Massachusetts Technology Park Corporation (MTPC)

    • ALVEY Project in the UK

    • The METAFRAMES that became the basis for the Framework Programmes in the European Union.

    • We even had a vice President for Strategic Alliances!

  • We know now the value of social network analysis

  • We understand the value of the Internet, the Intranets and Extranets.

  • We know how technology supports performance an unprecedented innovation

  • Ken's management legacy: Digital’s entrepreneurial legacy is alive and well and thrives in many organizations… There is hardly an organization today – profit or not-for-profit – or a city, region or nation that is NOT dedicated to developing a Knowledge-based Economy. Digital developed in 1987 - the concept of intellectual capital.

  • And just because the Digital corporate walls may have disappeared does not mean that we stopped learning…stopped interacting…applying what we learned…sharing own knowledge…innovating. Our values never left – quite the contrary. We may have held those values before joining the company - the reason we were attracted in the first place. It is the reason we excelled in that environment; and when we left, those values and lessons became a part of every decision we made, every interaction we had and is still a part of everything we do.

  • In summary: Digital's was a unique culture based on knowledge-based business, innovation strategy, and collaborative advantage - and it began with Ken's idea of a research university with a corporate P&L.

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