Dream It, Do It
It takes continuous innovation to stay at the forefront of the industry.
That’s one reason employees love to work at Adobe.See next article
In the technology world, a lot of companies don’t survive long. But Adobe has thrived for more than 30 years, through the rise of personal computing, the Internet, Web 2.0, and the cloud. That happens only in companies that place innovation at the core of their culture.
It takes a strong commitment to innovation to keep building on a successful legacy and to boldly chart a new path when it makes sense. That commitment is on display every day in the halls of Adobe offices around the world, where employees have learned to rethink everything, always making things better than they were.
Launched his own product with Adobe’s help
Mike M., a technology production manager in San Jose, originally joined Adobe through the Melbourne, Australia, office. When he took a new position at headquarters, he knew his work and life would change—but he had no idea how much until he attended an Adobe engineering conference.
“I saw on the agenda this thing called ‘KickBox Innovation Workshop, and it really interested me because I love coming up with ideas and pitching them to people,” Mike says. “But I had no idea what I was getting into.”
What Mike was getting into was a unique Adobe program that gives employees free reign to bring an idea to life. The proceedings of the workshop are shrouded in a bit of mystery, but here’s the gist: Participating employees are each given a red box. Inside are various tools, including a credit card preloaded with USD1,000, that will help employees get to work. Employees get to engage directly with customers to validate their concept and prove that it has legs.
No managers, no committees, no rules.
I just loved it. I thought, ‘This is why I really wanted to come here!’
Mike came up with three ideas. The first two didn’t validate well, but the third one is a winner and he’s made it to the next level. That means he received a coveted blue box with the tools he needed to keep developing his idea. In Mike’s case, that idea was a unique communication app for Apple’s iOS. Mike is hoping that his app might eventually become part of an Adobe product like a few other ideas that originated in KickBox. But even if it doesn’t, he says, he’ll still have the incredible experience of running his own startup project in the safety of a major company. In other words, he could fail—and he’d still get paid and have a job.
“I used to run my own business for seven years, and I’m used to having the freedom to do what I think is right,” Mike says. “I still have that freedom here, which is pretty amazing in a big company like Adobe.”
Worked on a new product feature during Garage Week
Every year at Adobe, the Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) teams around the world hold “Garage Week.” The event is named for the way some of the world’s biggest tech companies started in a humble garage, and the idea is to give employees a solid week to work on their own grand ideas. It could be a different product, a non-Adobe idea, anything—the only requirement is to demo the work to peers at the end of the week.
Andra I., a developer at Adobe’s Romania office, participated the first year it was offered. The following year, she couldn’t wait to do it again.
“It allows people to get outside of their comfort zones and explore something new without the pressure of delivering an end product by a specific date,” Andra says. “It encourages you to dream big and go for whatever you want to try, and you can even work on it with people from other time zones.”
During the most recent Garage Week, Andra worked on an idea to approach content categorization differently in the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. She and her team designed a way for DPS to determine other content that readers might want to read based on their reading history. At the end of the week, the team demoed its idea and learned what the other teams had been working on simultaneously.
For me, that meeting where all the demos are played is really, really magical because it’s the moment when you realize how fortunate you are to work with such talented people.
Andra’s team’s idea will be implemented in DPS, which Andra says is hugely gratifying. But she didn’t feel obligated to continue working in her product area that week—she genuinely wanted to.
“People didn’t spend that week working on projects that were completely unrelated to their day-to-day work, as you might have expected,” Andra says. “Instead, they tried to come up with new functionalities that customers would love. This was an indication that they are really passionate about what they do in their jobs and they have a genuine desire to innovate.”
Helped create the most popular Photoshop feature in history
As a senior research scientist at Adobe Seattle, Eli S.’s job is to do cutting-edge research in the areas of computer vision and graphics. He and the rest of the team in the Creative Technologies Lab then publish academic papers on their research. While the goal is for their work to wind up in an Adobe product, Adobe invests in research that might not have clear or immediate product applications for the company.
The more you risk, the better the potential outcome. So Adobe encourages us to take a lot of risk and do cool projects that may not end up in any product. We’re trying to advance the field.
Five years ago, as part of Eli’s research, he decided to work on a way for Photoshop to automatically and seamlessly fill a hole in a photo. For example, say you took a great photo of your kids. They’re smiling, the light is perfect, the composition is beautiful—except for the rusty, dirty garbage can in the background. Eli wanted a way for Photoshop to quickly remove the garbage can and replace that part of the image with content that made sense based on what was in the rest of the photo, whether that would be a brick wall or green grass or blue sky.
His first pass at the algorithm, as part of his PhD work at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, resulted in a process that was too slow. It could take several minutes for Photoshop to fix the image—a wait that would never fly with demanding Photoshop users. So Eli tabled the idea temporarily.
A year later, an intern from Princeton came to work with Eli and another researcher from his team. While working a different project, the intern noticed the slow algorithm and decided to work on it. He soon created an elegant algorithm called PatchMatch, which paved the way for the Content-Aware Fill feature released in Photoshop CS5.
“Many Photoshop users considered it to be the coolest feature in that release of Photoshop,” Eli says. “Adobe released a sneak peak video to show the feature in action, and it has received more than 5 million views. Major journals covered it, and it received the Technical Excellence Award from PC Magazine in 2010.”
It all happened, Eli says, because Adobe has a different approach to innovation.
“We keep our research as open as possible and collaborate with external parties—including students and universities—while many other companies tend to keep their research secret,” Eli says. “In many cases, we even open-source our code so that students can build on it. Collaboration just leads to better results for everybody.”
Got creative for Garage Week
At Garage Week in Tokyo, Makiko S. decided to work on some ideas for improving functionality of the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. Although she works on the product all the time, she doesn’t work as a developer—she’s a quality engineer. So Garage Week gave her a chance to work outside her core responsibilities and develop features that she thought would be useful additions to the product.
These programs give developers an opportunity to come up with new business ideas and suggestions. It is a stimulating learning opportunity in which you share ideas and trends with team members from around the world.
“My daily responsibilities consist of engaging in end-to-end testing,” Makiko says. “So during the time I had at Garage Week, it was so much fun to put forward proposals and ideas for how to change and improve the products that I work with on a daily basis.”
Over the past two years, Makiko and her team have worked on multiple features that proved worthwhile. In fact, those features have been adopted by teams of developers who are working to finish them for product implementation. Makiko, inspired by the experience, has also participated in a KickBox Innovation Workshop, where she proposed two additional features that are currently being developed and implemented. She’s currently working on yet another idea and pursuing a blue box in the KickBox program.