On October 11, 2017, Christopher Myers, Laura Sivertsen, and Julian Sanchez presented the 2017 Hallene Lecture in the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. Their title was “A Tractor, an iPhone, and a Tesla Walk into a Bar: Ingredients for Disruptive Innovation.” All three are employees of John Deere: Myers is the Global Director, Product and Solutions Engineering, Global Tractor Platform; Sivertsen is the Regional Manager, North America Recruiting & Staffing; and Sanchez is the Director of the John Deere Technology Innovation Center (JDTIC) in Champaign, Illinois.
They presented in front of a large crowd made up of students from across campus, including the Colleges of Business, Engineering, and Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES).
Their talk combined an overview of the history of John Deere and its agricultural products, the need and use for disruptive innovation, and how to recognize when a particular technology or service has the potential to be disruptive.
Though John Deere is 180 years old, the speakers assured the audience that the company was far from an old-fashioned company stuck in old-fashioned ideas. They pointed out that Deere has had a history of disrupting its industry. In the 1920s, Deere was one of the companies that moved farming from a reliance on animal power to engine power with the development of the first tractors. In the 1940s, the self-propelled combine would improve harvest productivity and reduce the amount of equipment and labor that farmers needed. In the early 2000s, Deere brought GPS to the worksite to create precision agriculture. To this day, Deere and its technologies are increasing the connectivity of the agricultural industry.
Sanchez said, “Deere has been around for almost two hundred years, and we’re still doing disruptive innovation, not just in agriculture, but it spills over into our day-to-day lives.”
Moreover, agriculture had been experiencing many challenges. Due to population growth, it is estimated that there will be two times more people to feed per acre of farmland by 2050. In addition, diets are changing in developed world, with an increasing emphasis on more protein, more meat. “We have to provide tremendous increases in productivity on every acre of land,” Myers said. “The challenges in agriculture require disruption.”
As described by the speakers, something (a process, product, idea, etc.) is disruptive when it impacts market, replaces a product or services with something else, solves a need, generates a competitive reaction, or has implications beyond its original intent.
They described a formula for disruptive innovation:
- Identify areas that are important. Understand the production system. And understand the social system.
- Benchmark ideas from other industries. Look at what others are doing in other spaces.
- Encourage diversity of thought. The wisdom of the crowd will outperform the individual.
- Don’t be afraid to cannibalize an existing idea or product.
- Implement an intellectual property plan. Not all IP is patentable. Balance sharing with developing, prototyping to show it’s your idea. “First to file”
- Great innovation comes from passionate people who overflow with persistence
The question then arises, How does one take risks? The answer is to put yourself out there. Remember that new always gets resistance. As Sanchez said, “You kind of have to do your job not being afraid of getting fired. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. It just means that you’re willing to put yourself out there a little bit—or a lot—for an idea that you really believe in. . . . It’s not having that fear of failure.”
About the Hallene Lecture Series
The Hallene Lecture Series honors the memory of Alan M. Hallene (’51), former president of Montgomery Company in Moline, Illinois. He served as president of both the Alumni Association and the U of I Foundation Board of Directors. He was the recipient of two of the University’s highest honors: the Alumni Association Achievement Award and the U of I Foundation’s Presidents Award.
In 2001, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation made a gift to The Hoeft Technology & Management Program to establish this lecture series. The gift honors Mr. Hallene, who was a member of the MacArthur Foundation Board of Directors. Mr. Hallene passed away in April 2004, and he is survived by his wife Phyllis and children Alan Jr., Carol, Janet, and James.