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Dell Executive Teaches Innovation

Tampa, FL (January 11, 2013) — Dell Chief Innovation Officer Jim Stikeleather requires that everyone on his innovation team read a science fiction book every year.

Jim Stikeleather speaking

"Science fiction does a good job of anticipating the future," he said. "People laugh at me, but then I say, 'How many of you have a StarTrek communicator on your belt?' You all do."

Smartphones, Stikeleather said, not only broadcast location like a communicator -- a smartphone is like having the entire communications system of the Starship Enterprise in the palm of your hand.

Stikeleather, who holds an MBA from USF, spoke to an audience of MBA students January 10 about the nature of innovation, its function in the economy, and how to be more innovative as an individual. His presentation was the first in a new MBA speaker series designed to keep students tapped in to the wider, global business community.

"We don't just define community as across the street from USF," said Professor Paul Solomon, who organized the speaker series.

Stikeleather told the audience that innovation isn't about giving customers what they want, but instead is about creating a customer for a particular service. He quoted Henry Ford as saying, "If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse."

"Customers don't know what they don't know," Stikeleather said. "You can do all kinds of market surveys, and you'll never innovate if you do that."

Stikeleather speaks to students

Today's business world is moving in the direction of services provided rather than products, he added. Products are only windows into services -- it wasn't the iPod that was innovative, he said, but rather the music delivery system of iTunes that was the big innovation.

Successful companies need to do three types of things, he said: things that create value for customers, things they do for legal and regulatory purposes, and things they do better than anyone else. Everything else can be outsourced, he said, and that has changed the nature of business competition.

Businesses no longer have to be large to be efficient, he said -- they simply have to be effective in the moment. They have to be thinking about what is next, and not what is now, he said.

"As soon as something's predictable, it's never going to be profitable," he said.

Stikeleather concluded his talk by saying that while he learned about innovation mostly firsthand through starting his own companies, his USF MBA gave him insight into the business world.

"It was the most valuable thing I did in my life because it gave me a framework to be able to understand the other stuff," Stikeleather said.

Future MBA Speaker Series appearances include Kristi Dosh, Sport Business Reporter for ESPN, who will be speaking January 17, and Mark Mondello, Jabil Circuit CEO, who will be speaking January 31.