July 21, 2005
The Innovation Roll of Honor features interviews of accomplished Implementors of Innovation in the world to ask them about their greatest achievements, their inspiration and their view of the purpose of life. We seek to explore the connection between creativity and spirituality as seen through the greatest minds of the world.
Today, we interview Thomas J. Foth, Research Fellow, Pitney Bowes, who is a versatile inventor, engineer, author and speaker. His bio is available below the interview Q&A.
Q. What is your greatest personal achievement?
I am most proud to be a good husband to my wife and good father to two great sons. I think that being responsible for and contributing to the lives of others and seeing that you are making a positive impact on a daily basis is the foundation of all achievement.
Q. What is your greatest professional achievement?
While I am proud of the professional achievements I have made, I can not say that I have a greatest achievement. I have set a pretty high bar for myself.
I very satisfied with being part of the team that invented “RF Paper.” The nature of the way the innovation was collaboratively built and swept the imagination of so many was memorable.
Q. How did you first become interested in the field of innovation?
My grandfather always made toys for me. I would tell him about a toy I wanted, and, when he found out it didn’t exist, he would build it. Later on, in my youth, I invented an easy-to-open envelope that my father submitted to Kimberly Clark without my knowledge. Kimberly Clark actually considered producing the envelope, but intellectual property concerns and other marketing costs prevented the idea from being practical. Nonetheless, they wrote me a nice letter and encouraged me to keep trying… and I have never stopped.
Q. Who or what has inspired you the most in your life?
My parents who have had a steadfast belief in me that I could be successful in whatever I set my mind to. I would add my grandfather, who, in spite of only having a third grade education, taught himself electronics (which he taught me), woodworking, photography, gardening, and hunting. My grandfather would read, figure things out, and do them.
Q. What do you think is the purpose of life?
Since I am a Christian, I think that the purpose of life is to live a life that shows gratitude to God’s great love for humanity.
Q. What connection, if any, do you see between creativity and spirituality?
In most faiths, the godhead is a creative force. This is especially true of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity with the story of Creation. These religions focus on our being in the likeness of the divine and therefore it is my feeling that we have the same urge to create as our Creator has. I also think that we are called to be stewards, maintaining and renewing this world and all that is in it. Renewing is a creative activity.
Q. Looking back at what you have learned through experience, what advice would you give to the world’s innovators of the future?
For me, the most important elements of innovation are: 1) deeply understand the problem you are solving, 2) see your solution in all the aspects of the problem, 3) be realistic about what you can solve and what you can’t solve, 4) be sincerely excited when you have completely solved a problem, 6) nurture the excitement in others and accept their ideas and help, 7) always give credit where credit is due.
Thank you, Tom!
Educational background and Professional Experience :
Tom has a comprehensive BS degree in Computing and minor in Broadcasting from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Tom’s experience spans from large mainframe systems development for a Fortune 10 company to state government. He has led development in the areas of data communications and collaborative work environments for software vendors. Immediately before working at Pitney Bowes, Tom invented, developed, and brought to market a high speed optical network connection between mainframes and file servers.
On his first major assignment at Pitney Bowes, Tom worked with others to develop a novel micropayment system for the Internet. In 2004, Tom was among a group of seven inventors named by Pitney Bowes as Inventors of the Year for his work on a patent in the area of Internet based postage payments. Tom has been granted eight patents and has over 50 pending.
Tom’s writing credits include being the Co-author of the McGraw-Hill book VM Applications Handbook as well as numerous articles on mainframe and personal computing in Byte, PC Week, PC World, The 4300 Journal, and The Adesse Advantage. He is a past contributing editor for Softalk for the IBM Personal Computer as well as The Seybold Outlook on Professional Computing.
Tom has spoken worldwide at computer conferences such as SHARE, GUIDE, SEAS, DPMA, and PC Expo. In 2002, Tom was an invited speaker to the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association on ethnography and innovation.
Research interests and unique hobbies:
Tom has interest in the flow of payment and financial information over networks. He also has a deep interest in ubiquitous computing.
Tom’s interests include weather forecasting and amateur radio. He has been a Cub Scout Cubmaster for seven years and teaches Confirmation Class at his church. He is on the executive board of the Golden Eagle Marching Band.
Tom developed MIDI device driver software for Yahama music synthesizer. This software now drives exhibits at the Smithsonian Museum and DisneyWorld. He has also developed miscellaneous freeware programs in the area of mathematics, system extensions, and computer languages for the IBM Personal Computer and the Palm Pilot.