David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom: There's a 'Yes' button for that problem

By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 9 2014 12:33 p.m. MDT

Quallcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf speaks during a news conference at the Consumer Electronics Show press day on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Las Vegas.

Isaac Brekken, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

When 400 Qualcomm officers and vice presidents from around the world filed into a special meeting at the invitation of their CEO, they wondered what he had to say that would warrant such a gathering.

It was all about one word: “Yes.”

To make his point stick, Qualcomm’s CEO gave each of the VPs a special button similar in size and function to the Staples’ “Easy” button. However, the blue Qualcomm button has the voices of their CEO and president saying, “Yes” in all sorts of creative ways. “Absolutely!” and “Yes, yes, yes!”

The buttons, conceived to symbolize a powerful idea, are now brought into meetings, seen in conference rooms and have found their way into the cultural fabric of the company. We were given one of these special “Yes” buttons, and we too discovered how addicting it is to use.

But, what exactly does “Yes” mean?

“Our job is to solve problems that create meaningful experiences,” Dr. Murthy Renduchintala, co-president of QCT at Qualcomm in San Diego, California, told us when we interviewed him to learn about this unusual button.

Obviously, that’s a simplified definition. Qualcomm creates semiconductors, software platforms and wireless technologies, among many other things. Renduchintala oversees the work of 16,500 engineers in Qualcomm’s semiconductor business within the mobile and computing segment at the technology giant. “Solving problems is not something we think we can do. It’s something we must do. We must say ‘Yes.’”

Of course, it’s easy to think about the hungry entrepreneur saying “Yes” to a potential customer’s request and then scrambling to find a way to pull it off. But, when you’re a company that has grown to more than 30,000 employees, you can also imagine that the initial response of, “Yes,” can, over time, morph into, “No, that’s not something we offer.”

“This company started with seven people,” Renduchintala told us. “The founders had a simple vision to improve communications — and that meant saying ‘Yes’ to possibility. That DNA has always been in the fiber of the company. We were the company that, no matter the problem, deadline or situation, would find a solution. That is what has made us so successful over the years.”

Retaining that “Yes” spirit is a focal point for Tamar Elkeles, chief learning officer at Qualcomm. “The word ‘No’ doesn’t allow the conversation to get started,” she says. “The word ‘Yes’ allows our engineers to view new ideas with optimism. But, ‘Yes’ isn’t just for engineers. It opens all minds to opportunity.

“The ‘Yes’ button is a symbol that we see and can touch every day. It’s a clear reminder to everyone that this company enables change, encourages risk, pushes boundaries and is always open to new ideas.” But, would this “Yes” spirit of innovation work in non-tech companies?

A recent study released by the O.C. Tanner Institute, in conjunction with Forbes Insights, revealed that the Qualcomm spirit of innovation could become more common than you might think — if it’s invited, supported and encouraged.

“Data collected from all areas of the globe and from multiple industries showed that award-winning work is based on saying ‘Yes’ to finding new ways to create differences people love,” says Christina Chau, manager of research services at the O.C. Tanner Institute.

Qualcomm says Yes! Yes! Yes! from O.C. Tanner on Vimeo.

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