The Essence of Innovation


Adapt As You Go

Fortnightly Magazine - November 11, 2018

PUF's Steve Mitnick: During your time in office, as Governor, what were you trying to do around innovation?

Jack Markell: I thought a lot about the issue of talent. The only way any company, state, or country can compete these days is based on talent. We focused extensively on what it would take for our employers, and our state, to recruit talented people.

Obviously, they want great schools, and educational opportunities, and to be in a place where there's a great quality of life. That means everything from having nice outdoor spaces to enjoy with your family on the weekend, to a feasible commute. It means having broadband infrastructure, so you can communicate and have access, and having strong utilities that aren't going down all the time.

We recognized that government is not in position to solve all the big problems, and we've got to do a better job of tapping into the expertise of the private sector. That's something that governmental jurisdictions around the world must do a better job of.

PUF: You have a telecom background and recently you've associated with pdvWireless. Tell us about that?

Jack Markell: I'm excited about the opportunity of pdvWireless because it speaks to a lot of the necessities in the country today. Any time you can take an underutilized asset with a few rule changes and the deployment of new technologies, and you can bring the benefits of, in this case, mobile-communications to more users, it's advancing the kinds of services that can be provided.

In the case of pdvWireless, it's potentially making the communications of utilities or other critical infrastructure providers not only more secure and more reliable, but it's also offering the opportunity to deploy advanced services.

In this case it's nine hundred-megahertz spectrum. Now you do a tweaking of the rules and you basically say, okay because we tweaked these rules, instead of deploying old-fashioned, outdated narrowband technology, we will be able to deploy broadband technology. It's a win, win.

There are so many beneficiaries of this opportunity and that's one of the things I love doing. I love the private sector. I love the public sector. How do you take what you've got, make it better, and make that pay off through more constituents, more users and the like? It's just what I love to do.

PUF: Is there a secret to having an innovative organization? As a leader, have you thought about that?

Jack Markell: Innovative organizations have to be comfortable in tolerating ambiguity. What I mean by that is you don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. You do your research, figure out what the customers want, what it's going to take, and believe you can do it.

You adapt as you go. There are too many organizations that get very bureaucratic. They focus only on incremental changes when sometimes disruption is possible.

You also need to be willing to fail. Over the last couple of decades, so many investors in technology believed that some kind of failure is actually a plus. You learn a lot from failure and it's important that innovative organizations have a culture where they encourage risk taking. You make sure you learn from the risk and that you're ready to adapt to go forward.

PUF: You have this convergence of telecom, of organizations like yours and the utilities. How can we pull off that convergence?

Jack Markell: This is one of the reasons that I'm so excited about PDV. If you look at this from the perspective of the utilities as an example, as well as other critical infrastructure providers, they've been saying for a long time that they need additional broadband spectrum, and private networks, as opposed to being on public networks.

I think it's not in the foreseeable future that they're going to get their own allocation of spectrum for their private broadband network. Here sits PDV, in a great position with not only a significant allocation of spectrum, but with the willingness and the desire to partner with the utilities to solve this critical problem.

As you say, the problem for the utilities goes well beyond the communications that they've had in the past. It's really a necessity with the kind of networks that they're building now and they're building in the future, which are so reliant on data. It's an exciting opportunity for everybody, starting with the potential customers.

PUF: What do you want to be doing with all the great opportunities?

Jack Markell: I love working with entrepreneurs to solve big problems. I have an interesting anecdote. About six years ago, I led a trade delegation to Israel. We spent an hour with Shimon Peres, who was the president of the state of Israel. He had just celebrated his ninetieth birthday. This is a guy who spent his entire career in public service.

At the age of ninety, Peres said, "I've come to the conclusion that politics is not the answer. The answer is all of these young entrepreneurs out there who can solve these big problems."

There's so much to what he had to say. What's better than figuring out the big problems that society must address and then working with creative entrepreneurial people to solve them? That's what I love to do and it's one of the reasons I love working with the pdvWireless team.