5 Questions in 5 Minutes: Scott Elrod


We find it fascinating to learn why people do what they do and think what they think. This month, we sat down with Scott Elrod, who not only is VP of the Hardware Systems Laboratory at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), but is also responsible for PARC’s Cleantech Innovation Program—with projects ranging from photovoltaics and battery technologies to adaptive energy controls and geothermal systems.



Why do you do what you do?

The big motivation is impact in the world, and that’s the primary motivation for PARC. Sure, we have to make a profit, but we’re mostly focused on impact. The cleantech program was initiated by a group of researchers in 2004 to talk about how PARC might get into the field. Their motivation (and mine) was environmental concern.


What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Working with incredibly talented scientists and working through incredibly complicated puzzles to get things to the point where they can be commercialized. It’s intellectually very engaging work. The breadth of what we’re working on makes it very interesting for me as a researcher and as a manager.

In your experience, what’s the one thing that most often gets in the way of great marketing?

I would say thinking that you already know the answer when you engage a customer, and not asking enough questions. Basically, being too much of an advocate for your technology and not listening to customers enough. People sometimes get so excited about their work and don’t have the instinct to ask if this is something anyone cares about.

What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned as a marketer/advocate?

Matching a new technology to a market is incredibly complicated and it takes much, much more effort and time than you might imagine. It’s more than going to a couple conferences and talking to a few experts. It’s incredibly involved. You have to understand a lot about the value chain. For example, we had a water filtration technology, and there are a lot of critical factors that aren’t technical: risk aversion, regulatory constraint, whether you’re a component of a solution or the whole solution, understanding how existing technologies perform. You can have something potentially very valuable but nobody wants it. Understanding the time and effort it takes to find out is very significant.

If you could wave your wand and make any product or service in the world a smashing overnight success, what would it be?

That’s a great question. Wow. I’ll say tiny, tiny houses. If everyone in the world who aspired to have a home (or who already has a home) went with a 15’ x 20’ home, the energy footprint would go way down and their acquisition of stuff would go way, way down. All sorts of positive environmental benefits would ensue.

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