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Tips From The Top: One On One With Bharath Kadaba, Chief Innovation Officer of Intuit

I spoke to Bharath Kadaba, the Chief Innovation Officer of Intuit, about his best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Bharath: I guess it would surprise people to know that I played a small part in helping the Internet go mainstream! Early in my career, when working at IBM TJ Watson labs, I led the team that built the Gigabit Internet backbone (NSFNET) for the US government funded by the National Science Foundation. That system helped transition the internet from research-only to commercial and consumer use. That was definitely a high point in my career!

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Bharath: Twenty years ago, I experienced my greatest career setback. I was mid-career and had a significant role working for a large company in New York. But, I had always dreamed of working in a Silicon Valley startup. I was obsessed by the idea. I think it was my mid-life crisis! I hastily took the very first opportunity that I could find in a very early stage startup in the Bay Area. I took a huge financial risk to disrupt and move my family across the country. Unfortunately, the start-up quickly collapsed. I realized that I jumped into the job too quickly without careful thinking and due diligence.

This traumatic experience taught me that you need to devote honest and deep thinking around designing your career, and to not blindly jump from one job to another based on random opportunities. You should be very purposeful about the roles that you take on at every stage of your career. When you interview for a role, it should be a two-way street; you need to ask as many questions as you are being asked to ensure that the job is a right match for you. For me, the quality of questions candidates ask is one factor in the hiring decision at Intuit.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Bharath: Here are two things I try to do as a leader:

First, I push myself to think about people first, since I believe that investing in attracting, growing and nurturing people is central to being a good leader. Once you have the right team, you can then empower them to reach their full potential.

Second, I try to create an innovative environment. Cultivating an innovative environment includes encouraging your team to experiment, helping them to problem-solve, and providing the psychological safety for them to share ideas, try new things and not be afraid to fail fast and learn.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Bharath: My first tip is to develop a learning mindset. The world is changing and continues to evolve, so in order to stay relevant, you have to constantly be evolving. When you are working on the cutting edge of technology, experimentation is not easy. Some experiments will work, others will not. You have to be willing to face your failures if you want to have the breakthroughs that will truly make an impact.

My second tip is to use today’s trends to develop a point of view on tomorrow’s future. Look at the data around you to speculate how you think that will influence the future, and then reverse engineer what you need to do today in order to be prepared for that future.

My last tip is to be persistent. Your ideas and experiments may be disruptive and hard to sell. You have to be strong willed enough to not give up easily.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Bharath: One important lesson that I’ve learned is from Intuit’s founder Scott Cook. He says, ““Fall in love with the problem and not with your solution.” So, I try to think deeply and clearly about the problem that we are trying to solve before jumping in to find a solution.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Bharath: I try to be generous with my time and make myself available to anyone who asks for help or advice. It’s a great experience for me to invest in people, but also for me to grow and learn from others. I do this at work by making time for anyone across the company who is looking for coaching or mentoring help. I also do this with former colleagues and their friends. I am passionate about education and lifelong learning, so I also donate time and resources to literacy and STEM related non-profits.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Bharath: I have enjoy traveling, both professionally and personally around the world. My experiences have helped me see how diverse the world is, and yet, how similar some of the challenges are that people face.

Observing people around the world has helped to deepen my empathy. This is specifically true for the small business community and realizing that they face similar challenges irrespective of the country they are in. That empathy is critical to our work at Intuit building great, long lasting products.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Bharath: I am very clear in my belief that my primary purpose is to dramatically improve the financial lives of consumers and small businesses (in particular, those who are struggling from paycheck to paycheck). Being a technology person, I lean towards looking at the how advanced technologies can solve these deep problems.                    

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