How failing forward helped me find my inner innovator

For many years, I never thought my creativity mattered. But at Dell Technologies that all changed.

By Jillian Kaplan, head of Global Telecom Thought Leadership, Dell Technologies 

I’ve always been a creative person, but it wasn’t until recently that I found my inner innovator. 

For more than 13 years, I never thought my creativity mattered. I showed up at my job, did what I was told and performed well. I always received good reviews and wasn’t unhappy. I assumed this was the reality of working in corporate America.  

When I came to Dell Technologies in 2018 however, everything changed. 

Failing forward

At Dell, I have the freedom to bring fresh ideas to the table and fail forward, a crucial concept that enables me to innovate without fear.  

This came to fruition a few months into my job in 2019 as product marketer on the telecom team. I was given a budget and asked to plan the first experience for communication service providers at Dell Technologies World (DTW). Previously, DTW had been an enterprise- and IT-focused show, but as Dell has started to provide new edge and 5G-focused solutions, it’s become a key event for service providers. 

I got to work and planned everything, from messaging to demos, events and meetings. It was exhilarating to finally have the freedom to problem-solve. On the way to the show, I posted on my LinkedIn that I had never even been to a trade show before, let alone DTW. I remember standing on the show floor and my VP walked up to me and said, “I read on your LinkedIn that you’ve never been to a trade show before. You never mentioned that when we asked you to plan this experience.” I smiled. My direct leadership had been so supportive that I’d never felt ill-equipped, even though the process had been new. They checked in on me, not only as an employee, but as a human. I had the ability to seek help and create to the fullest, even if that meant a few missteps along the way. I was given permission to learn.  

Pushing the boundaries

Jillian Kaplan with Giga at Dell Tech World.

I consider myself a Type-A  planner. I like to know what is going on, why, when and how. For a long time that led me to “play it safe” for fear of failure. And in the land of technology demos, failure is the least desirable outcome. This year, I was challenged to create an interactive experience. I thought it would be super cool if I had a robot that demonstrated the difference between 4G and 5G latency speeds. I was determined to make it a reality, and so I bought a standard, programmable robot and started “Giga’s” journey.   

Creating an interactive demo with a robot was certainly new and potentially prone to failure. I had the opportunity to work with a developer and learn Javascript in the process. And yes, there were many failures (or opportunities to learn). From resets to Giga driving herself off the stage, there were many moments where I wondered if this was a risk worth taking.  

It was. People loved Giga and still do. She often makes appearances on Zoom and on social media. She’s proved to be an incredible connection for people, showcasing what’s possible with 5G and gaining her own fan base.   

Emotional intelligence and innovation

There’s a deep connection between the leadership I’ve experienced and my newly found innovative mindset. I recently took a course at MIT focused on creating data-driven, winning teams. We discussed research that showed “supervisor emotionally intelligent behavior was linked to employee creativity/innovation.” And, that’s the power of leadership versus management. I have support and guidance, and many opportunities to learn and be coached toward innovating new ideas.  

In fact, my very best thoughts are often something my leaders mention in passing that I then grab a hold of and run with. Their ability to cultivate conversations and work with their employees have inspired Giga (who failed a few times) and my TechToks 

Finding the right fit

I often think back to being a 21-year-old college hire. I figured all corporations were culturally the same. Many years later, I know this is not true. It’s not always an easy path to find the right fit, but know that you do not have to be a “square peg in a round hole.”

Through my time at Dell, I’ve learned that it’s essential to work in an environment that embraces your strengths and focuses on bringing out the best in you. It’s all about the leadership and culture. Dell’s culture fosters collaboration and innovation, with a two-way dialogue between leadership and team members on what’s working, what’s not and where we can collectively grow to be our authentic selves.  Feedback is heard and taken seriously, because we know that culture is what creates some of the world’s best companies and drives innovation.  

Never has my inner innovator shined so bright, and I’m inspired every day to try new ideas and fail forward into the future. And that’s why #iwork4Dell. 

Lead photo of Jillian Kaplan with Giga.