Nothing like selling cable TV door-to-door up and down the East Coast to teach you a little bit about people, and overcome any possible fear of putting yourself and your ideas on the line. Mike Duke, vp IT innovation product development at Wachovia, honed his people skills, learned to listen, and when not to knock on a door, while putting himself through college.

Take that kind of initiative, and combine it with a MacGyver-like ability to solve problems-ask him about the time he and colleagues fashioned from spare parts a device that could remotely reboot servers in Tokyo-and you have a born champion of innovation. Duke has a 20-plus year career in information technology, including the last 11 at Wachovia. But he credits his innovation inspiration to the team he worked with at Lotus Development Corp. years before Excel was born. "I was inspired by some truly creative folks who could really pull resources together; those are the folks I gravitate towards," Duke says.

Now he's made a career out of pulling resources together, and in true MacGyver fashion making something out of nothing. Two of his hallmark projects revolve around eliciting new ideas from Wachovia's more than 7,700 technology professionals. "My role is to reach out to the organization and help it be more innovative," says Duke, whose forthcoming role in a Wells-owned Wachovia remains undisclosed. "I'm helping to crystallize the process of innovation; taking ideas from an imaginary state and make them happen."

Making ideas happen is the primary goal of Wachovia's Bridge Process, a patent-pending approach-co-authored by Duke-that focuses on moving ideas from the back of the napkin to a working prototype within 16 weeks. Crucial to this approach is the way that the process scrutinizes whether an idea is really ready to proceed to the next phase, and kills it if it's not. "We will lop it off at the knees if it's not the right time. That allows for more volume," he says.

Volume indeed. The Bridge Process has produced 10 projects with patents pending in the last 16 months, addressing new product opportunities across business channels, including skunkworks mobile wallet and mobile broker applications; a feature that allows consumers to "turn off" credit cards via their mobile phone; and mobile person-to-person payments. And, after all, that's the heart of why companies need to innovate: to drive the business forward. "The real goal of our innovation is to add value for customers in new and unique ways," Duke says.

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