Speak up, your job depends on it

-September 14, 2017



Scott McMorrow
"You have no voice unless you bet your job," said Scott McMorrow, CTO of Samtec's Signal Integrity Group at his plenary address at EDICON 2017. His point: Engineers often know the truth about how well (or not-so-well) a product works, but don't often speak up because they want peace and tranquility. "Engineers are introverted," said McMorrow, "sales and marketing people are extroverted, they love power." Thus, products with significant problems often to go market too early.

Always one to speak his mind — and often with profanity, as he told the audience — McMorrow urged engineers to be disruptive, which is often difficult in billion-dollar corporations because they are so PR conscious and they are concerned about the current quarter. So, they don't innovate the way startups and small companies do. "Billion-dollar companies are where innovation goes to die," he said, "they think inside the box." McMorrow cited Coca-Cola, where he compared Diet Coke to Coke Zero as an example of the incremental growth so prevalent in large corporations. McMorrow compared the ingredients of the two products, which are almost identical. "Coke hasn't innovated since the original product, which was disruptive," he said. "Companies get large and become boring."

Billion-dollar companies are where innovation goes to die. — Scott McMorrow


"HP was once disruptive too," he added. "Today, it's just another corporation." I'll attest to that, for HP today just makes "me too" products (I own a few). He did cite innovations such as the Internet, the PC, the iPhone, Tesla, and Uber. The IBM PC was developed outside the IBM chain of command. After hearing about the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, I might argue that the iPhone too has entered the incremental stage and is no longer disruptive.

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"We are all temporary employees," McMorrow continued, "you're just one layoff away from losing your job." I'll attest to that, too, having seen many competent people lose their jobs, both in industry and in publishing. People used to believe that they could work for one company for their entire careers, but not anymore. McMorrow went on to say that speaking up shows dedication and value, but as we all know, there's politics involved. At some companies, speaking up is welcome and does indeed show interest and value. "Some companies like disruption," McMorrow said, but you'd better be right." He recommended that you should have a good idea of an outcome and back it up with data. At other companies, however, you may be seen as something other than a "team player," which is why many choose not to "rock the boat."

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"You have to know how to tell the truth," claimed McMorrow. This reminded me of something I heard from MIT Prof. Emeritus Woodie Flowers recently: "When you are listening to someone pitch an idea, you'd better be seeking truth. Don't pitch things using superlative adjectives and adverbs." Leave that for sales and marketing, but, as McMorrow said "I have no voice unless I bet my job."

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