Forward to the new heights of ignorance

Original author: John Jerney
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During its activity, Intel has generated and implemented a huge number of innovative ideas, starting with pioneering technologies in processors and memory of the 60s - 70s and ending with promising developments of today. The key to these achievements is a powerful and carefully nurtured within the company culture of promotion and perception of new ideas. Under the cut - an abridged translation of an interview with the senior architect of Intel Software and Services Group Ylian Saint-Hilaire about the difficult but exciting life of pioneer developers who are facing Intel with the special task of generating and promoting new ideas.

Tell us about the process of generating ideas at Intel. How is it maintained and managed?
Intel supports the generation of an idea in a variety of ways, for example, through company activities. Developers have access to Intel University, where classes are held on various topics. Including the topics of creating innovation. The arrival of employees with their ideas and their expression is encouraged. Another option is to listen carefully to people working on specific projects and encourage them to share their thoughts with others. The idea is often easier to go from bottom to top than vice versa. A person deeply immersed in the process is capable of delivering a tremendously valuable idea, and, besides him, no one will generate it. The main thing is to be able to notice her.

You work in a pioneer group. What is its mission at Intel?
The work of the pioneer begins with the realization of what is important to the company. Possessing this knowledge, we single out several “building” technological units and several options for their use based on market realities. We study existing developments and create prototypes.
Take, for example, the topic of cloud computing and interactions with cell phones and mobile devices. What can we do in this area? We invent a dozen different prototypes; let's say sharing sensors between a phone and a PC, or a phone and the cloud. We must find the most convenient option for the user. Something will burn out, something not. One of the principles of our division: failure is normal. If the prototype has not reached the market, we will come up with even more prototypes.

How do pioneers help the process of generating and perceiving ideas?
Every time you release a new series of prototypes, you learn something, especially if it reaches a real user. One of the pioneers' problems is that engineers sit as if each in their bubble and look at the world through their promising developments. If we sit inside and do not go outside, we will never know what exactly the real user wants.
The prototype allows us to learn more about technology. And if many engineers are working on various concepts next to each other, they will certainly find common ground. Further, the concepts give us the opportunity to interact with users who are outside of Intel and provide invaluable feedback: what they like and what not.

What are some examples of products that emerged from the idea generation process?
One of the big projects is MeshCentral, a site that allows people to remotely control their computers over the network. It’s like a mail server, but instead of letters you manage your computers, regardless of their architecture, operating system or location. It's great that with this site we can test new Intel technologies, such as Intel Active Management Technology (Intel AMT), Intel Remote Wake Technology (Intel RWT) and Intel Privacy Technology (Intel IPT).
Curiously, the same technology is now used to control vending machines. It turns out that the technology for remote control of computers from the cloud developed in our group is also used to control the sale of soda.

What role do consumers play in promoting an idea? And who else is involved in this process?
To begin with, two years ago, when we started developing software for managing from the cloud, we did not at all assume that it would be used in vending machines. This happened because users and other interested parties are involved in the development process.
Intel has a powerful team that works directly with users - it is also involved in the process. There can be a lot of meetings with users, so our team is very well aware of what they need. Local people, as well as the commercial service provide us with a huge amount of information, their importance in the cycle of development of the idea is very great.
Speaking about users, I want to note one feature related to foreign languages. People speaking different languages ​​have different ideas. It is interesting to observe how the processes of generating ideas in different parts of the world, starting from one point, come to completely different results. That is why it is important to conduct them in several geographically dispersed areas.

Are local teams involved in the process of generating ideas from a formal point of view?
With these teams, the situation is very informal. Formalizing this part of the process is very dangerous, because technologies change very quickly, and with them the relationships between the participants change: markets shift, new products are released, etc. Therefore, the process is free and informal, but it takes place constantly.
Is the essence of the pioneer work in finding new applications for existing technologies or creating fundamentally new conceptual products?
Both. Our very important task is to promote existing products on the market, increasing their consumer value. If we take Intel Active Management Technology and Intel Remote Wake Technology, add additional software and thus quickly increase the value of the resulting platform - this will be our success. On the other hand, for many years we have been working on sensors and contextual computing, and we have a lot to do here. And we continue to work on some of these ideas.

What aids do you use to generate and promote ideas?
Our team has an internal Wiki where people can post articles on any idea. Inside Intel regularly holds contests for products and business ideas, one of which I won. In that particular case, about 160 ideas, including the craziest ones, participated in the competition. We can say that every 3-6 months in various divisions of the company competitions are held to identify good ideas.

How do you rate the ideas that come up during the generation process?
This is not an easy task, sometimes it is difficult to combine promising ideas coming from local teams. Sometimes a team of researchers gets great results, but it's hard for engineers to figure out where it came from. But usually we manage to connect teams on the ground with users and researchers.
It happens that a concept receives powerful negative feedback from users. In this case, it is difficult for the manager not to notice negative feedback and do it his own way.

Last question. Can generating ideas be fun?
Oh sure. Of course, we love success. Therefore, traffic on a road leading nowhere seems unattractive to many. But even in this case, you constantly learn something and invent something - and this is important. If you work hard, pick up new perspectives and try to get out of your bubble, your work will not be useless.
You need to learn constantly to be able to ask the right questions. The better you ask questions, the closer you come to new horizons of ignorance and the more you are suitable for a new idea.

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