When Dell Technologies began planning the 25th edition of its premier business laptop, the Dell Latitude series, the company’s engineers were given a substantial challenge: Enhance the Latitude’s design and performance while also advancing Dell’s global sustainability goals. After months of R&D, including tests of more than 200 material combinations, the team delivered. The silver jubilee edition is lighter, stronger, and boasts substantially more reclaimed content, including a new reclaimed carbon-f iber technology that uses waste from the aerospace industry.
“Twenty years ago, did any of our engineers or designers say, ‘I’m going to build a Latitude from recycled carbon fiber?’ Probably not,” says JJ Davis, senior vice president for global communications at Dell, which was named one of Fast Company‘s Best Workplaces for Innovators. “But they’re given permission to take risks and fail fast and learn from that process in a way that allows us to deliver the solutions customers want.”
Here, Davis discusses the firm’s evolving culture of innovation.
The Latitude project has a huge sustainability component. What’s the link between innovation and sustainability at Dell?
You can’t say, “We’re a purpose-driven company,” and then not actually live that every day. Our engineering teams and our innovators take that to heart, so they’re focused on practical innovation: What is it that our customers need? What are the biggest problems we’re trying to help them solve? And how does that inspire new product design or innovative ways to use materials? What the Latitude team did with carbon fiber was a great example of those questions in action.
Where does that kind of culture come from?
We have the real benefit of being a founder-led company. Look all the way back to the origination of our company in Michael Dell’s University of Texas dorm room. He disrupted an industry early on. As clichéd as it might sound, that entrepreneurial spirit still permeates Dell, even though we are now 165,000 people in 180 countries. What we all know about Michael is that he is pleased, but never satisfied. And that really does inspire a culture of innovation.
Does the current environment make it harder to innovate?
So much of innovation comes down to relationships. And so even amidst COVID, our engineers are coming together from their own homes to innovate and get products across the finish line, when they can’t be together in a lab. It’s been really interesting to watch.
Dell has made a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. How do those values affect innovation?
We can’t innovate without diverse perspectives. This is particularly important in the design process as we create products used by a diverse set of customers. We aim to showcase diverse voices and experiences within our culture. Last year at CES, for instance, we put Sinem Gulbay, a young female engineer, on stage to introduce the software she had developed for our XPS series. That was really important. We need to show what an engineer at Dell looks like, and where he or she might be from. We are creating the tech jobs of the future, and we need everyone—particularly more women, Black, and Latinx talent—to participate.