1989 – Hewlett Speeches

Box 3, Folder 52 – General Speeches


October 11, 1989 – “Random Thoughts on Creativity,” University of Bologna, Italy


10/11/89, Copy of typewritten text of speech


Hewlett starts with a preface like introduction to give the context of this speech for his audience in Italy. “Once every four years,” he says, “there is a meeting of the International Industrial Conference held in San Francisco. It is sponsored by the Conference Board and the Stanford Research Institute. Its attendees, about 500 in number, come from all over the world, drawn both from developed and newly emerging countries and represent the largest and best known organizations. Its most recent meeting was just completed in September of this year. The theme was ‘Carrying on International Business in a Global World.’ One of the principal subjects dealt with the increasingly complex nature of such businesses and the role of technology in competition.”


Hewlett wants to weave the subject of creativity into this context and says “Certainly creativity is a critical component of technology. It is particularly appropriate to speak about creativity when one remembers the great contributions made by Leonardo da Vinci, Galilei, Galvani and Marconi. I thought that it might be of value if I shared some views on the creative processes with you today.” And he says he asked Dr. Charles House, an R & D manager at HP, what creativity was. He says House, “with a twinkle in his eye,” replied ‘Creativity is what interferes with my established engineering program.’ And Hewlett acknowledges that “There is much truth in that statement.”


Hewlett gives another definition of creativity, this time from Thomas Edison: ‘There ain’t no rules around here. We’re trying to accomplish something.’


He says he gives these two comments “…because they say a great deal about the creative process. It works best when it is not too structured. But it must, in the long run, be tamed, harnessed and hitched to the wagon of man’s needs.”


Hewlett tells of a high level Commission, established by the President of the United States. “The charter of this Commission,” he says, “ was to understand the long-term competitiveness of the United States with emphasis on technology. One of the Commission’s recommendations was to ‘Create and apply new technology.’  “Technical innovation spurs new industries and revives mature ones. Technological advances lead to improved productivity, an essential ingredient for our standard of living.


“But technology,” Hewlett says, “is the child of creativity.” And he asks, “How can we stimulate greater creativity in our industrial technological society?”


Continuing his efforts to define creativity, he quotes the Nobel Prize Winner, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, as saying, ‘Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different’. Hewlett calls this “…a good working definition.”


Another point Hewlett makes is that education is not a requirement for creative activity, and he gives an example of an engineer at HP who had just one year of college. “Despite [this fact] he was one of the most creative people I’ve known. You could present him with the most difficult problems and he’d come up with ingenious solutions. He had the ability to isolate the essence of the problem and attack it with vigor.”


“Psychologists can’t even agree on how to measure this characteristic, let alone predict who will display it. Establishing an environment that fosters creativity and observing who flourishes is probably the best way of finding this elusive characteristic.”


Hewlett distinguishes between two kinds of creativity, the first being “spontaneous, in which an individual sees a complete and elegant solution to an interesting problem.”  The second kind he sees he calls “creativity on demand, in which specific objectives are established and must be met, but with a great deal of flexibility in how the results are to he achieved.”


He says both types share many common traits. “Creative people have an abiding curiosity and an insatiable desire to learn how and why things work. They take nothing for granted. They are interested in things around them and tend to stow away bits and pieces of information in their minds for future use. And they have a great ability to mobilize their thinking and experiences for use in solving a new problem.”


Hewlett sees a “sub-class” of creative types – “persons who not only have the ability to see things around them, but also to note that which differs from the norm.”


He gives the example of Sir Arthur Fleming, who discovered Penicillin when he noted a “mold had landed on a culture dish with colonies of staphylococci,” and he saw that it killed the adjacent colonies.”


“Intellectual curiosity is a great source of creativity. An example of this is demonstrated by Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Luis Alvarez, a close friend of mine and for several years a member of the Board of Directors of our Company.” Hewlett goes on to tell how Dr. Alvarez, during a trip to Egypt, became interested in the fact that no burial chamber had been found in the Pyramid of Khephren. He decided he would try to find the answer to this problem. With some financial help from Stanford University he was able to use cosmic rays from the sun, as one would use X-rays, to determine that no burial chamber existed.”


Hewlett says he has been talking about creativity as it would apply to research-type situations, and says he would like to move on to the development phase, the
“Create on Demand” type of creativity. “Here,” he says, “creativity’s role is slightly different….There is now a clearly defined objective and the job is to find a way to meet that goal.”


He says much has been written about this type of creative process – “techniques to stimulate and enhance it. One book on the subject I greatly enjoyed was ‘Conceptual Blockbusting’ by James L. Adams. This book suggests that “we all suffer from mental blocks that stand in the way of solving the problem at hand. These might be emotional blocks such as fear of failure, frustration, or too much or too little motivation. They may be perceptual blocks such as using incorrect information or the wrong method, or not using all your senses. Quite often, they are cultural blocks which sometimes can be the hardest to overcome.”


Hewlett believes younger people have an advantage here because they have a “habit of always questioning past wisdom and authority.”


“Projects do not,” Hewlett says, “always progress at a steady, uniform rate. Sometimes progress is stymied by a very difficult problem. The problem might be overcome by a clear, technical breakthrough, but more often than not, it is by-passed with a compromise solution I like to call a ‘quick fix’. If there are too many of these ‘quick fixes’, you’ill probably wind up with a very cumbersome solution to the problem.”


Hewlett tells of a engineer named Harald Friis, who had retired from Bell Labs. Friis would visit HP once in a while and he liked to talk with the R&D engineers about their projects – particularly when they had reached a dead end in the development process.


“He could get them to step back and view their work as a whole. He would ask, ‘What are you really trying to do? Are you on the right track, but feel you have too many quick fixes, or, are you really on the wrong track and need to make a fresh start?’ Hewlett says “Harald was just wonderful in helping our engineers reach this critical decision. He had a way of making a person see things in perspective and the engineers just loved him.”


“There is a time and place for creativity, but in the developmental process, timing sometimes outweighs technical innovations. It all comes back to the question of how often you can change course and still make forward progress. It is simply a matter of judgment.”


Hewlett gives an example involving the development of HP’s first desktop calculator. “Integrated circuits were just being introduced and we had to decide whether to delay the entry of the product so that we might use integrated circuits or go ahead and introduce it with a primitive, but proven, read-only-memory device. We chose the latter. Timing was the dominant factor and not the ‘niceness’ of the solution.”


Hewlett says he wants to switch from talking about the creative process in the R&D phase, and “look at how creativity can help increase productivity and improve quality….We need the same creative effort in the production process that we now lavish on the development phase. We must start by having productivity and quality as objectives in the research and development process. Productivity must be designed into products – not added at a later date. Quality cannot be ‘inspected in’.”


Hewlett feels in many cases industries are not taking advantage of the technology already available which could be used to improve quality and the manufacturability of a product. He sees universities as having a responsibility in this area. “…our universities …need to improve a theoretical base for quality control and efficiency in the manufacturing process.”


“I hope I’ve made it clear that creativity will play a vital and critical role in our increasingly high technology society. Industry is going to have to make some drastic changes in how it views the importance of the research and development program and its role in improving productivity.


“Changes are never easy to make. There is comfort and safety in tradition, but change must come, no matter how painful or expensive it may be.”


Hewlett says change need not present a “bleak” picture for the technically trained manager. “Change opens cracks in the monolithic structures. It presents a period of great opportunity, for this is the time when the best and the most creative minds will be sought out and placed in positions of key responsibility.


“In the high technology field, top leadership is always looking for good minds, high energy levels and a willingness to accept responsibility. In fact, many companies are so committed to creativity that they may still emphasize the recruitment of engineering graduates, even though at the time a general hiring freeze may be in effect for the rest of the company.


“It may turn out that the next few years will be one of unprecedented opportunity for the scientifically trained and creative mind and that their involvement will benefit industry with sharp increases in quality and efficiency in the manufacturing of its products.


10/11/89, Copy of Italian translation of speech

10/11/89, Typewritten copy of an earlier draft of speech, with handwritten changes by Hewlett

10/11/89, Copy of an earlier draft of speech, handwritten by Hewlett

5/22/89, Copy of a letter to Hewlett, written in Italian, from Fabio Roversi-Monaco, director of Education, University of Bologna. A copy of the translation is also supplied. The letter tells Hewlett that  the University wishes to confer upon him an Honorary Doctorate in Electronic Engineering.

6/1/89, Copy of  letter from Hewlett to Professor Fabio Roversi-Monaco saying he will be in Europe in October and could arrange to be in Bologna at their convenience.

8/23/89, Copy of a letter to Hewlett from Alfredo Scarfone of HP in Italy giving a draft of the ceremony in Bologna.

11/22/89, Copy of an HP memo from Carol Parcels to Mollie Yoshizumi [Hewlett’s Secretary] returning a copy of the speech