Innovation Lab Inspires PayPal to Think Big

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Innovation Lab Inspires PayPal to Think Big

Innovation Lab participants enjoy a game of volleyball after a brainstorming session.

Alicia Wei tools around with a VR headset.

So far, employees have submitted thousands of ideas that PayPal’s patent committee reviews.

Mike Todasco, PayPal’s Director of Innovation, aims to create a fun and inspiring space in the Lab.

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.@PayPal employees stretch imaginations at in-house #innovation lab http://bit.ly/2t1paFS #creativity #diversity
Friday, August 4, 2017 - 1:15pm

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Mike Todasco tossed a bunch of cardboard VR headset kits onto a table, welcoming the roomful of PayPal employees with a smile and sharing the lone rule for the next hour.
 
“You don’t get to keep your reader unless you give me at least one idea,” joked Todasco, PayPal’s Director of Innovation, as the group eagerly ripped the boxes open and prepped their headsets. “This is exciting stuff so let’s think about new ways to use virtual reality.”
 
It wasn’t long before the juices began to flow.
 
“What about a physical VR touch suit?” said Chandra Sivakolundu, a MTS Software Engineer. “Any time you return from vacation, you come home and can relive your experiences.”
 
“How about a VR setup so that you can experience empathy and people can select different profiles?” suggested Alicia Wei, who works as a PayPal Risk Analyst.
 
Todasco, who was there to help people scratch their inner Thomas Edison, loved it. By the end of an hour, he had filled a chalkboard with ideas. “I liked what I heard today. Great ideas.”
 
Step inside PayPal’s Innovation Lab. The Lab is intended to tap into the sharp, creative minds at PayPal and inspire them to dream of what payments, identity and technology as a whole will look like in the future.
 
“We have such a diverse population of thinkers with experts in all areas of business and technology,” said Jyri Lassi, PayPal’s Chief Intellectual Property Officer. “When you bring all those people together, it is amazing what they can create.”
 
‘Thinking Outside the Box and Just Bigger’
The lab thrives on engaging curious employees who look at things differently. Todasco is always scouting for people who ask good questions and connect things that are seemingly unlike together.
 
“When you step in here, you can think differently. That creativity is inside of each and every one of us. It’s my job to create an environment to unleash that inner creativity,” he said. “They may be quiet the first few sessions but eventually they open up.”
 
As a reward for joining in, the Lab organizes monthly wellness activities, like volleyball or archery, which mesh with wellness, one of PayPal’s four core cultural values.
 
Most of the brainstorms end with dozens of ideas. Some of those ideas are filed as patents, others are considered for prototyping or additions to product roadmaps. So far, the Lab has filed patents on dozens of ideas that have bubbled up from these brainstorms.
 
Megan O’Neill, a user experience designer at PayPal, has several going through the patent process now: “I’ve found the process to be really interesting as it gets you to think outside the box and just think bigger,” she said. “This gets you to move beyond your typical role and gives you a chance to get variety into your experience, which is interesting.”
 
Global Push
The Lab certainly won’t be limited to the San Jose headquarters. Similar innovation labs have organically been created in many global PayPal offices, though none are yet full time - the list includes Austin, Omaha, Scottsdale, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Timmonium. There are plans to expand the lab as a full-time concept to at least two more international locations later this year.
 
PayPal employees such as Sumeet Ahuja, are also being appointed as “innovation ambassadors” to evangelize on behalf of the Lab and encourage PayPal offices to participate.
 
“We want to make sure we have this around the world,” said Ahuja, PayPal’s Global Core Consumer Product Launch manager. “Everybody should be participating in innovation at PayPal and we want to make sure employees know what’s going on.”
 
That’s music to the ears of Shlomi Boutnaru, Chief Technologist in PayPal's Security Product Center in Tel Aviv. He views the Lab as a way to fire up the creative imaginations of his team.
 
“The interaction we have with the Innovation Lab enables us to shape our way of thinking – because while we’re talking about different ideas, we also get to understand them better,” he said. “I’m encouraging everyone to take part in brainstorming because just speaking about different ideas increases the ability to innovate better. For a company like ours, that’s essential.”
 
He also sees it as a way to more closely bind the company’s disparate locations together in a new way.
 
“I think one of the biggest contributions of the program is that it connects each part of PayPal to the most important problems that PayPal has,” he said. “It also enables each employee to feel that he or she is contributing to the overall technology of the company.”
 
Firing Up Creative Imaginations
Every day in the Innovation Lab, Todasco seeks to push participants to dream big and to share their ideas – no matter how weird or impractical they might seem at first blush.
 
“I give everyone a business card that they can keep in their pocket since ideas can come and go at any time. So when you’re in a bar and you get a brilliant idea, write it down, take a picture and email me,” he said.
 
“We want to create a safe space where innovators can get away from day-to-day stuff and talk about the future,” he added. “That’s the fun of this lab, where we get to talk about everything.”
 
Keywords: Innovation & Technology | Access to Technology | Creativity | Diversity & Inclusion | ESG | Human Resources | Leadership | PayPal | Responsible Business & Employee Engagement | Social Innovation | professional development

CONTENT: Blog