The only thing that limits us at Cargill is our imagination

A blog on the keynote by Cargill CTO, Keith Narr at the MACC Conference 2018 by
E.G.Nadhan, Chief Technology Strategist (Central), Red Hat, @nadhanEG


So said Keith Narr, CTO of Cargill in his keynote at the Midwest Architecture Collaboration Conference in Minneapolis in Nov 2018.  And why not? Narr walked us through scenarios where digital technologies are making a difference in seemingly mundane scenarios.  Think you have heard it all about facial recognition? Think again! How about applying facial recognition to cows? How about using microphones under water that can monitor the noise made by shrimps while the eat to optimize what they are fed. Cargill’s mission is “To nourish the world in a safe sustainable, responsible way”. And that is easier said than done when the number of people projected to be on the planet in 2050 is 9.5 Billion!  So, what is that recipe that drives meaningful innovation at Cargill to realize such tangible outcomes that matter in the real world? Join me as I walk through what I ascertained from Narr’s keynote.

Generally speaking, food and agriculture may very well not be the first sectors to be disrupted.  However, these are the sectors that have brought humans together with a perennial need to be nourished right throughout our lifetime.  There is no limit to the impact that innovative technologies from Cargill can have across this ecosystem. Why? You ask? Think about it! 20% of the world’s food is routed through Cargill. 220 million tons of cargo moves globally via ocean transport.  In North America alone, Cargill ships 60 tons of feed and 5 Million cases of oil per week.

3 C’s to drive meaningful innovation at Cargill

The recipe for driving meaningful innovation at Cargill is a healthy mix of Culture, Capabilities and Catalysts.

Culture.  An environment that sparks creativity and innovation must be one that allows for bold experimentation where failure is acknowledged rather than being frowned upon.  Freedom to try new ideas and concepts is vital for enterprises to be the disruptor rather than being disrupted. The best question that is representative of such a culture is Why? And I ask — Why not? !!

Capabilities.  Just having the right culture is not adequate.  New technologies require new ways of thinking as well as different ways of addressing the same problems.  The environment must be such that it revitalizes the existing workforce while attracting new talent. Hello Digital Labs.  Narr characterized it as “bad ass engineering” with a process to innovate – incubate – and graduate. A process that required — in one instance —  presence on the farm over multiple days working with IoT sensors.

Catalysts.  Cargill teamed up with Techstars and Ecolab to accelerate food industry innovation.  This is a collaborative venture that injects some of the brightest minds in food and ag tech into Cargill and Ecolab’s backyards while forcing a startup mindset within the enterprise.  However, catalysts cannot just be contained within the firewalls.  Which is why Narr called out the need to embrace the ecosystem of Open Source — one of the points I reinforced in my own speaking session at this conference.

C for Cargill and C for Culture – Capabilities and Catalysts!

With this recipe to realize tangible outcomes with innovation, Cargill is positioned to be a “Supermind” of sorts as I outline in this article — The “Supermind” of Open Source!

Narr moved on to talk about Blockchain — the most over-buzzed technology in his words.  In his experience over the years, Narr has never had executive leadership ask him about technologies in particular (imagine a question on query optimizer on a relational database — he quipped) but they want to know everything about this thing called blockchain! And why not? You can find out the family farm that your Honeysuckle White turkey came from thanks to the effective adoption of this technology at Cargill.

Ask Narr “Why Blockchain?” and he would say “Because we could!”

And that is exactly why the only thing that limits innovators at Cargill is their imagination!

Here is to innovative imagination — and that is great food for thought no matter where you are in the world!

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