From the CEO: "Why I Do What I Do"

Posted by Dwayne Spradlin on Jun 16, 2008 3:07:57 PM

Someone recently said to me, "Dwayne, why do you do what you do?" I suppose I'd been asked that question before, but this was the first time I ever stopped to think about its essence so deeply. Perhaps the best questions come with youth and the best answers with age. I spent some time putting my thoughts into words and decided I would share with you, my InnoCentive family, 'Why I do what I do.'

When I replayed my own personal journey, I began to realize that there were two experiences, both culminating in moments of self realization, that have shaped me indelibly:

The first relates to my early relationship with science and technology. I spent my younger years not only fascinated by science, but in constant preparation for a career that was to be full of discovery and impact. I had learned 4 computer languages by the time I was 14 years old. In high school I spent summers doing research at university running computer simulations and learning the basics of a then emerging field known as molecular genetics (for a while I was among the youngest in the world to clone bacteria. I think 8th graders do that routinely now!) I later attended the University of Chicago where I attended classes while working full time on a team doing molecular genetics research. What a feeling to be on the cutting edge of a science with so much potential. What excitement!

Then one fateful evening, and I remember this moment vividly, I found myself in a laboratory full of post doctoral students -- most had been there 12 hours that day - with no lead scientists to be found. Seldom in the lab, the Principal Investigators were all out seeking NIH grants and other sources of funding. At least in our case, there seemed to be little in the way of an overarching research agenda. I began to see a strange mix of cutting edge science comingled with bureaucratic processes and conflicts of interest. I found myself asking the scientists in the lab that evening for any sign that this research would make a real difference? I wanted to know when. One researcher laughed that if we solved all the world's problems, the whole grant process would dry up and then "where would we be?"

I realize now that there was more than a little idealistic naiveté in my questions. Nonetheless, the responses were both unfulfilling and lifeless. In one night, I realized that I needed to be able to see, feel, and touch the impact of what I do - that timescales and impact matter. I determined to find another way, immediately changed majors (to applied mathematics) and not long thereafter, I was graduated and went to Price Waterhouse Management Consulting where I focused on Emerging Technologies and Internet Business for the next 10 years. This was a world I could relate to…complete with urgency, velocity, and exciting problems on which to focus my energies. I suppose I never really forgave the 'establishment' though for making me choose between Science and Impact.

The second experience for me relates to my family. In 1992, Michelle (my much better half!) and I were married. We subsequently brought 3 wonderful sons into this world, the oldest now being 14 years old. I think family has the potential to shape all of us in surprising ways. On occasion, in our efforts to be good parents and teachers, we look into our children's eyes and see ourselves looking back. Well, a few years ago while sitting at the dinner table, Michelle and I were discussing with the boys what makes greatness and I gave my usual fatherly speech that real leaders inspire, that strength, judgment, and integrity are rare and powerful, and that each of them would have profound impact someday. Later that evening, I had another moment of self realization that caused me to change course.

At the time, I was President of a really terrific company in Austin, TX called Hoover's (the online business information company), living comfortably to be sure, perhaps too comfortably. I wasn't transforming the world. I wasn't impacting lives. While lecturing my children on greatness, I realized that I had taken the easy road, not the one less travelled. I wasn't role-modeling great leadership; I was demonstrating good management technique. What I decided that evening after dinner was that the most valuable gift I could leave my children would be to try and do something truly important - to define success for them not in terms of simply making money or donning an impressive title, but instead by living a life they would be truly proud of - one that makes a lasting difference in ways that matter.

Of course, somehow this would need to be using the tools of internet business which I'd now spent years working. Not long after, opportunity knocked when I received a call that InnoCentive was looking for a CEO. Sometimes things seem to happen for a reason.

Since then, I joined InnoCentive and have not looked back. Now my energies and that of every member of this team are focused on a singular vision that we will bring the world of Crowdsourcing to bear on the most important and impactful problems facing organizations and the world today. Our approach is simple: channeling the talents of 5 billion creative and inventive people is more efficient and effective than traditional approaches to innovation. Powered by the internet, InnoCentive is both game-changing and disruptive to R&D's status quo. We will continue to evolve our tools and methods of course, but with billions of amazing people focused on solving important problems, we will eventually move mountains and cure diseases.

So how do I answer the question "Dwayne, why you do what you do?" After a little soul searching, it's simple: I want to accelerate the pace of R&D and remake the process of innovation; I want to impact human lives and make a difference in the world; and I want to live a life with meaning - something that will make my sons proud to walk in my footsteps.

To the person that originally asked me the question, thank you. Self awareness is a gift.

Topics: Innovation Insights

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