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Value Creation—the Next Step Beyond Theory and Practice

Glenn Gaudette, Curt Carlson, and Len Polizzotto Discuss Value Creation
November 21, 2019

WPI students are especially familiar with the concepts of theory and practice and how the two bring better academic and professional preparation. But there’s another aspect of using what you know and applying it in a way that has real purpose—value creation.

The Herd spoke with WPI’s leaders in value creation—Glenn Gaudette, William Smith Dean’s Professor of Biomedical Engineering and director of WPI’s Value Creation Initiative; Curtis Carlson '67, WPI trustee, Hall of Luminaries inductee, and founder and CEO of Practice of Innovation; and Leonard Polizzotto ’70, sole proprietor of the business consulting company CIRA Associates LLC—about the how value creation helps distinguish the work done here. The three have been instrumental in value creation efforts at WPI, and Carlson and Polizzotto have brought various Value Creation Workshops to campus

These three experts say value creation is a way of finding, thinking about, and implementing work that will have a sustainable and essential impact in the world. Value, they say, is what separates ideas that become successful and those that fail.

Glenn Gaudette Discusses The Importance of Value Creation


Q: What is value creation?

A: Gaudette: Value creation is the method for systematically identifying and addressing important unmet societal needs and creating superior, sustainable solutions. Value creation is how new innovations are developed. The concepts and processes apply to all jobs and all aspects of life. Today few professionals have these skills. Those who do are among the most valuable in the world.

Q: Why is value creation important to students?

A: Gaudette: Creating value for customers and other stakeholders is the primary function of every profession. Our students get an excellent technical education that allows them to solve hard technical problems. However, that is not enough. They need to solve the right problems, which means they must first be able to identify the important unmet needs.

By addressing the important needs of their stakeholders, which includes society, our students can make a positive impact on society. Having the ability to create value for society is a major differentiator for our graduates. In addition, much of the technical knowledge gained at WPI will become outdated several years after graduation, while the value creation skills they develop remain relevant throughout their career.

Q: How does value creation fit into WPI’s approach of theory and practice?

A: Gaudette: Our students must know both theory and practice. President Leshin added impact to these WPI pillars to emphasize that our ultimate goal is to make a positive contribution to the world. Creating value for society is the method that allows us to make an impact. When value creation is added to theory and practice, graduates can solve the world’s most challenging problems. They can make an impact.

Q: In an unpredictable world where jobs that haven’t even been created are going to need workers, how does value creation offer a guide to the workplace of the future?

A: Gaudette: The needs of our students are significantly changing. Years ago, higher education provided graduates with information and core knowledge. Today, most of the information that was taught in college is easily accessible on the internet.

Students must know how to apply this information and create new knowledge—new innovations of value to society. The methods associated with value creation provide our students with a framework to apply information with a focus on creating value for society.

As the jobs in the future change, our graduates will have the skills needed to create value for an ever-changing world. Value creation is a lifelong, essential skill.

All three innovators weigh in on value creation's career impact.

Q: How has understanding, using, and sharing the ideas behind value creation impacted your own professional life?

A: Gaudette: I apply value creation to all aspects of my professional life. Each project must address an important unmet need, not just one that is interesting. My decisions are made based on the unmet need, the potential benefits and associated costs from the project, and why the solution is significantly better than the alternatives. If a project is not likely to create value, we should not be investing time or resources in it. 

Carlson: After graduation I worked for RCA and GE. Value creation skills were not taught there, and we had little success. With my great partners I eventually learned how to be a value creator at the Sarnoff Corporation and it was life-changing.

When I joined SRI International as CEO, it had been failing for 20 years and was close to bankruptcy. By using the value creation methodology we now teach at WPI, SRI grew 350 percent and became a leader in the systematic creation of world-changing innovations, such as HDTV, Intuitive Surgical, and Siri, now on the Apple iPhone. Most important, the staff of SRI, having learned these skills, have gone on to make major contributions to society. Acquiring these skills is a profound gift. 

Polizzotto: I learned early on in my career that understanding customer needs was critical for success, whether developing consumer products or providing solutions to government needs. 

My coworkers would often say that I had a lot of good ideas. In reality, they were actually simply inputs I got from listening to customers. We would then develop products based on these inputs, which resulted in creating value for the customer and for the organization.

I also found that many coworkers thought they knew better what the customers needed than the customers themselves. In every case that this happened, no value was ever created.


-by Julia Quinn-Szcesuil