What Does An Innovator Look Like?

Interview with Mike Todasco, Director of Innovation at PayPal

27Apr

Ahead of our Chief Innovation Officer summit in San Francisco, May 7 & 8, we spoke with Mike Todasco, Director of Innovation at PayPal. Mike is responsible for increasing the creative output of employees across the company. Prior to that, Mike spent time at PayPal in Product Management, Product Marketing, Product Launch, and Product Analytics roles. Before joining PayPal, he was the Founder and CEO of the eCommerce marketplace, Sketch Maven. Additionally, Mike spent over four years as the Director of Strategy, heading up mergers & acquisitions and strategic planning at NewPage, a portfolio company of the private equity firm, Cerberus Capital. He has an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley, Haas School of Business and a BS in Finance from the University of Illinois. Mike has filed over 100 US patents since 2013 covering payments, online and offline commerce, beacon/BLE technologies, biometrics, and many other areas.

How do you encourage a culture of innovation at Paypal?

At PayPal we believe that everyone is an innovator! Innovation isn’t just a function of R&D or engineering teams but is in all of us. It is critical whether you’re in sales, legal or any other function in the company. We have Innovation Labs around the globe that serve as hubs to expose PayPals to new ideas and new technologies, and help them forge new relationships with people in the company they may not typically work with in their day job. The programming in the labs is tailored to be inclusive to people of all backgrounds.

What does an 'innovator' look like? And how can you ensure you are hiring them?

They look like you, and me, and anyone you have ever met. As a species we are extremely creative and more often than not it is your situation and motivation that brings innovation out of people. It is our job to give our employees with the training, opportunities, and support to let it flourish. Innovation stems from curious people asking questions and trying to solve problems, and we need to create that environment where that is encouraged and not discouraged and people are allowed to take calculated chances.

What is the role of diversity in innovation?

I do a lot of brainstorming in my job. And if you give me a room full of people with similar skills, similar life backgrounds, similar educational experiences, etc. I’m going to give you an output that is a bunch of similar ideas. We need diversity of thought to produce breakthrough ideas and that starts with a diverse room. This is something that I spend a lot of time on. In the end, you want to raise the collective intelligence of a group to produce the most innovative ideas and the research and my experiences show diversity is essential to do that.

Can innovation be learned?

100%. In my time at PayPal the top innovators we award every year are not like the eccentric inventors or introverted scientists that you might see in movies. They are curious people who are excited about creating great things for our customers and really work on their innovation skills. Grit and learning from mistakes are the two things that I see the most in those people.

What is the next disruptor to FinYech?

It could be a lot of things: Blockchain, proliferation of sensors, AI, quantum computing, are all things that have real potential to disrupt the industry in the medium to long term. PayPal is a digital payments platform and as the trend away from cash continues globally we’re positioning ourselves to take advantage of whatever opportunities the next big disruption might bring.

How do you prepare for disruption?

I look at disruption, as I do most things, through the eyes of our customers. If you’re being disrupted that means that someone else has come along and is solving a problem for our customer where we were not. For us that means we must never stop listening to your customers, we need to deeply understand what they need to improve their lives, and we need to strive to do that. Doing that well is the only thing that can keep us from being disrupted.

See Mike's presentation 'Building a company of innovators' at our Chief Innovation Officer summit in San Francisco, May 7 & 8.

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