Idea Agent

Leadership that Liberates Creativity and Accelerates Innovation

 Idea Agent

Author: Lina M. Echeverria
Pub Date: November 2012
Print Edition: $27.95
Print ISBN: 9780814432174
Page Count: 304
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814432181

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writers, or musicians knows, creativity often comes along with

strong— even conflicted—personalities who will not stop in the face

of obstacles along their way. The drive to materialize their vision is

stronger than themselves, and today we enjoy the beauty they

have created. Painters and writers such as Van Gogh and Heming-

way come to mind. The former never sold a painting in his lifetime,

and his wonderful contribution was cut short. The demons

of the latter were never conquered, and we are left to wonder

what he left unsaid. But even when the best of circumstances are

provided, the personalities, the egos, the insecurities, the jealous-

ies, create conflict. Though the world created by the Medicis

was enviable to anyone outside its aura, even the two creative

geniuses sheltered by it, Michelangelo and Da Vinci, could not

escape the sting of rivalry.


Creativity can be a hot fire and you have to love it to gain from it.

Fear of managing the passions of creative scientists will only lead

to missed opportunities. Not being afraid of moving to free up

and channel the energy and the creativity, on the other hand, can

open worlds of opportunities. But on most days, this does not feel

comfortable. It is not about running teams that are always agreeable

and polite, where everybody respects the turn of the other

and the unexpected does not happen. It cannot be stressed

enough: it is about understanding each one of the players for who

they are, where they come from, what drives them, and what they

can bring to the solution. And from this understanding, leadership

that liberates creativity is about managing conflict—not preventing

conflict from arising, but stepping into the ring of fire and

managing all its actors and stages.

Double Duty

Balance Personalities to Realize Team Dynamics

Peter Murray, a forceful and creative scientist and one of my

early hires as we expanded the glass research group to meet

Corning’s growth goals in the mid-1990s, personifies the hot fire

of creativity. A midcareer hire from one of the national labs, his

zeal for all things was palpable from the first day of his interview.

His interests were broad and he excelled in everything he did,

from playing classical piano, to understanding complex glass

systems and predicting their behavior as their composition

changed, to cooking any cuisine or debating on any subject.

Bright, articulate, and forceful, his presence was felt as he walked

into any room. Feedback from some during his interview process

was, “He is too good for Corning. He won’t last long.” It was

clear that he was a winner, but it was also clear that we had a

good challenge in our hands if we wanted him—and Corning—

to succeed.

I assigned him to a project addressing a manufacturing

issue in Corning’s U.S. display glass plant. Years earlier, Corning

had developed a process for making the highest quality ultra-thin

glass in the market, used today to manufacture specialized thin

glass for display purposes ranging from large-area LCD screens

to laptop computers and smartphones. With the world’s voracious

appetite for large-area displays, the applications continued

to expand, and with them the need to develop new glass composi-

tions to meet new needs. When we hired Peter, Corning was

beginning to open what was then a new market space that today

represents a leading business for the corporation.

LCD precision glass, a premium product designed to have

semiconductors and color filters deposited directly on it, has

strict requirements that do not tolerate flaws on its surface. One

defect capable of blocking a single pixel on a meter-wide sheet of

glass renders the entire sheet unacceptable. In contrast with

today, when Corning has manufacturing plants in four different

countries and a great deal of flexibility for process development,

in the mid-1990s it relied almost exclusively on one U.S. plant for

its process development and for a large portion of its supply of

product. At the time this was one of only two plants in the world

devoted to the manufacture of ultra-thin specialty glass for display

applications. And it had been experiencing a manufacturing

upset that caused the glass to grow tiny crystals, surface flaws

that rendered the huge glass sheets unacceptable. We had strug-

gled with the issue in research and in manufacturing, and as Peter

joined the team, his new ideas started flowing, expressed in his

unique and forceful way and leaving little room for the voices of

other team members to be heard. He had a vision, the experience

to back it, and the ability to roll over all other team members with

his arguments. Other team members, with alternative views and

softer styles or shorter appetites for active engagement, could

not make their voices heard. He represented the research part of

the equation and was willing to take on development and manufac-

turing. It was clear that he had the knowledge and experience

that could lead us to a solution, so the question was

twofold: Could the team survive with him? And could we survive

without him?

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