I was fortunate to get an advanced look at John Berra’s new book Turning the Giant: Disrupting Your Business with Persistent Innovation (slated for release on March 5, 2024). John is the Past Chairman of Emerson’s automation business and was President of the Systems business during the development of the DeltaV control system. I read it this past weekend and really enjoyed it because I got to live through many of the stories he shares throughout the book and better see the events from his perspective.
John opens the book by describing the giants, those seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Everyone has giants. And these giants come in all shapes and sizes. Some giants overwhelm us, while others are manageable. There are giants in our personal lives, giants in our relationships, and giants in our careers.
The giants he shares in his career are corporate bureaucracy, self-doubt, innovation, skepticism, competition, and success. In each of these chapters, John shares his personal story, how he turned rather than slayed these giants. He shares the lessons learned and recommendations should you face similar giants in your career advancement.
My favorite chapter was the Giant of Innovation because I got to live it as a relatively young engineer and freshly minted marketer on the DeltaV system development, which began in the 1990s. John highlighted the stakes in this project.
Still, it would take a lot of work, and the odds of success weren’t exactly in our favor. There was so much that could go wrong.
Unix-based distributed control systems ruled the day for those who can recall their professional lives in the mid-90s. PCs had emerged but were not yet robust enough to handle the server-like duties required. Network communications for control system networks were proprietary. Wiring between field sensors and control systems was point-to-point instead of bus-based. Integration standards were not well-established. Even the internet was starting to grow beyond niche awareness. John shares the innovative and disruptive ideas that would separate the DeltaV system from all the other control systems of the day.
I was part of the team assembled to relocate to an offsite facility we affectionately called the Hawk site since Hawk was the code name for the development. It was a breathless time living the life of a startup inside a large corporation. Decisions were made quickly and decisively. Course corrections were made as needed. Customers were a vital part of the process of reviewing increments of progress. This feedback was critical to ensure that what we were creating solved real needs. John summarized the importance of customers in the development.
Note that in every one of the eight innovative ideas I offered, each was focused on the customer. Offering a Windows operator station saved time, money, and space. Building an ethernet data highway and designing for buses did the same. Eliminating the need for a factory acceptance test, offering a complete platform, providing remote troubleshooting, and reducing footprint benefited consumers in tangible ways.
You don’t have to be an automation professional to apply the lessons in slaying or turning your giants.