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10+1 Questions On Innovation to: Hector Garcia-Molina

by Roberto V. Zicari on November 5, 2007

This time I asked the 10+1 questions to a distinguished database colleague, Hector Garcia-Molina.

Hector Garcia-Molina is the Leonard Bosack and Sandra Lerner Professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, Stanford, California. He was the chairman of the Computer Science Department from January 2001 to December 2004. From 1997 to 2001 he was a member the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC). From August 1994 to December 1997 he was the Director of the Computer Systems
Laboratory at Stanford. From 1979 to 1991 he was on the faculty of the Computer Science Department at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey. His research interests include distributed computing systems, digital libraries and database systems. He received a BS in electrical engineering from the Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico, in 1974. From Stanford University, Stanford, California, he received in 1975 a MS in electrical engineering and a PhD in computer
science in 1979. Garcia-Molina is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; is a member of the National Academy of Engineering; received the 1999 ACM SIGMOD Innovations Award; is on the Technical Advisory Board of DoCoMo Labs USA, Yahoo Search & Marketplace; is a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Oracle and Kintera.

1. What is “Innovation” for you?

Finding a way to do things better, where “things” can be anything and “better” may means faster, more pleasantly, more accurately, more effectively.

2. Who are your favorite innovators?

Jim Gray is my favorite innovator. He may not be widely known outside the computer science research community, but his work made possible today’s data management systems. He has also been a great mentor to many young scientists.

3. What do you consider are the most promising innovations of the last 3 years?

It takes more than 3 years to know if something really has an impact, so I am struggling to single out three recent innovations.

4. What helps to become a successful innovator?

You have to be a bit of a rebel and quite self confident. Do things differently and pursue your dreams even if people think you are wasting your time.

5. Is there a price to pay to be an innovator? Which one?

Not when you are finally successful and recognized. But before you reach that point, you can become poor or ostracized or frustrated.

6. What are the rewards to be an innovator?

Financial in some cases, prestige in others, self-satisfaction in other cases, perhaps all three!

7. What are in your opinion the top 3 criteria for successful innovation?

Solve a problem or fill a need.
Solve a problem or fill a need.
Solve a problem or fill a need.

8. What would you recommend to young people who wish to pursue innovation?

Get a good education, and if possible spend time at places where innovation is a tradition, so you can see how it is done.

9. In your opinion how can we create a culture that supports and sustains innovation?

Shine the spotlight less on movie stars, athletes, criminals, and more on people who contribute to society.

10. What do you think stops/slows down innovation?

Not giving people enough freedom to explore things; burdening them with mindless tasks.

10+1. Do you think becoming an innovator can be taught? If yes, how?

I do not know how to teach innovation by lecturing or by answering questions like these. The desire to innovate seems to be something one is born with, but it can be enhanced “by example”, that is, by living in an environment that nurtures and incentivizes creativity and innovation.


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