“Disruption Is a Full Time Job,” Says Stephen Hoover, CEO of Xerox PARC

In 1970, Xerox dominated the plain-paper copying market. It could easily have coasted on that success for a good number of years. But, with the advent of desktop computing and personal workstations, dramatic changes were already in the offing.

“The people running [Xerox] had the wisdom to say, ‘This change is coming and we need some people worrying about that.’ So they set up PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) with that mission,” Stephen Hoover, CEO of Xerox PARC, told attendees at the CEO2CEO Digital Transformation Summit, which took place this week at the New York Stock Exchange.

Making dramatic fundamental shifts to a company’s strategy requires looking into a future still unrealized and figuring out where the company should place its biggest bets. “That’s hard to squeeze that in between figuring out how to get that customer paid or how you’re going to meet the budget for the next quarter,” says Hoover. “You need a dedicated team.”

Hoover acknowledged that most companies don’t have the cash flow to fund a dedicated research center. But that isn’t necessary, he said. “It can be a small team. Having one or two people explore an area can be very powerful if you get the right kinds of people. But disrupting yourself is not a part-time job.”

C.J. Prince :C.J. Prince is a regular contributor to Chief Executive and other business publications.