Time to move on — Musing over the Innovation and Impact journey

Pablo Rodriguez
8 min readDec 20, 2019

On science, business, Moonshots, and kindred human beings.

Telefonica Tower, Flagship Innovation Center. Diagonal Zero. Barcelona.

After 13 years of innovating at Telefonica, working with great talent and teams, it is time to take the jump again and move on. almost as self-discipline, to break boundaries, escape the comfort of the known and start over to chase after new dreams.

as the weeks pass and i reflect on this journey, i realize how very few people have the chance to do world-class innovation in a given company for more than a few years, going through all the ups and downs of success and failures. it has been more than a decade for me now and i feel proud to have done so.

i have many memories and massive respect for the passionate professionals that i have encountered along the way. great companies are built on the shoulders of giants and Telefonica has many, many heroes, often anonymous, all across the organization.

as an innovator, i have learned a lot from people like Carlos Domingo, who first recruited me into the company, and started a change i believed in to transform Telefonica I+D and then the Telefonica Digital journey.

as a network scientist and engineer, i have gained invaluable knowledge and real-world learnings from the networks and operations teams. i have my deepest respect for people like Julio Linares, Enrique Blanco, Cayetano Carbajo, or Vicente San Miguel to name a few. the access networks they have built and architected are the cathedrals of the XXI century and a masterpiece of engineering, including some for all.

Research and Technology Transfer

starting and managing a scientific Research organization in Spain with world-class visibility, placing Telefonica in the global research arena, recruiting the first data scientists into the company well before the Big Data era, and filing more patents in one year than all the patents ever filed in the company history, required a lot of talent, ambition, and bold world-class colleagues. Nuria Oliver and Dina Papagiannaki, and the great alumni were invaluable in setting up the pillars of such organization, the science in networks, Data Mining and AI in the company today — having impacted almost every product of Telefonica.

Telefonica Research team (2015)

Innovation and Intrapreneurship

as i turned to lead innovation teams, as a VP of Research and Innovation, i learned how to focus on the problems first — and not fall in love with the tech — to drive ideas into business.

this resulted in launching products and building infrastructure that impacted the Telefonica business such as the Video Content Distribution Network (CDN), one of the first in-house built products in years — now serving millions of video streams for Movistar+ and being the basis of Telefonica’s Edge computing and Cloud Gaming play.

such efforts required skilled engineering and passionate front runners (Xiao, Armando, Xavi, the CDN engineering team,…). same goes for many other products that were ideated, incubated and transferred into the business in the areas of networking, IoT, data protection, and machine learning (e.g. Niji, Big data). you know who you are, thank you.

making an elephant dance, breaking silos, ways of thinking, coming up with new innovation methodologies, a lean experimental culture, going from ideas to business, impacting almost every business in Telefonica, living through failure, de-risking opportunities quickly and with precision, helped us push the boundaries of the state of the art of innovation best practices.

such an innovation model, today known as Lean Elephants, has been turned into Harvard Business Review case — thanks to Open Innovation Prof. Henry Chesbrough at Berkeley. it required skillful innovation managers whom i shared the privilege to work with: Oriol Lloret, David del Val, Paco Jariego, Raul Ortega, and the Product Innovation team, i take my hat off to you.

Lean Elephants innovation HBR case study , 2015 (Susana Jurado). Telefonica Bravo Award for best innovation practices.

Catalunya has been key in helping lead this 10 year plus journey of the Barcelona Innovation Lab, being open to all. Thank you Kim Faura, the Universitas and the Telefonica Catalunya team, who heartedly supported such a flagship center with new Open Innovation models and helping me lead it.

Privacy and Data Ethics

likewise, for the Data Transparency Lab (DTL), a privacy NGO that i am particularly proud of having launched to protect your data soul, data privacy, transparency, and accountability — at a time where the motto was “Privacy is dead, get over it”. It has helped create new privacy and data ethics principles and has grown into a global community of technologists, researchers, policymakers, industry representatives, and privacy activists that have worked hard over the last 5 years to make the changes we would all like to see in a people-centered data economy.

Nikos Laoutaris did a lot of the heavy lifting on the scientific side and the data economics, and together with the work of many others and our partners (MIT, Open Data Institute, Mozilla) we activated a fantastic community to advance online personal data transparency, producing new privacy by design and transparency software, and influencing regulators (GDPR). thank you.

Moonshots: Solving World’s challenges

and last but not least, my journey as a CEO, setting up and standing Alpha during the last four years as a Moonshot unit to venture into the unknown.

over my lifetime, i have been on various sides of the innovation pond. a scientist, a repeated startup offender in the valley, setting up corporate labs and most recently moonshoting at Alpha — the most fascinating of all by far.

Alpha, Moonshots http://www.alpha.company/

throughout these years, i have led Alpha into a Moonshot Factory (Europe’s equivalent to Google [X]) — you can read more about it in David’s Rowan (WIRED Editor) latest book.

Alpha has been established as the skunkworks facility of Telefonica to address some of the biggest problems in society by conceiving and delivering radical solutions using breakthrough technologies. such Moonshots included efforts in the areas of mental health (run by Oliver Harrison), learning new skills, AI ethics, or distributed energy grids; with many more explorations and early-stage moonshot projects lead by Maurice Conti.

at Alpha, i orchestrated a team of data scientists, developers, programmers, technologists, designers, and business strategists, who work together on audacious projects on the edge of what is technically possible, driven by purpose. kudos to the whole Alpha team, for your passion, ambition, kindred souls, and caring for humans.

setting up Alpha required the good work and backing of Ian Small, gCDO of Telefonica at the time and now CEO at Evernote, the Telefonica’s Disruptive Innovation Council, as well many executives at the top levels of the organization. it also required a lot of good talent, the support of a vibrant community, excellent partners and collaborators such as Google [X], Futur.io, Missive, Synergic Partners, Mass General Hospital, to name a few. thank you.

Bloomberg coverage of Alpha, 2018

we do not lack challenges. there are a billion people who want electricity, millions of people lack drinking water, the weather is changing, manufacturing is inefficient, traffic drowns cities, education is a luxury, and dementia or other degenerative diseases will affect us — almost everyone if we live long enough. and yet, we still lack more entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, engineers and technologists who will take the risky roads to find solutions and create the future in which we will all want to live in.

Early Team at Alpha (Jon Stanners in the front)

Artificial Intelligence plus Human Intelligence

and all along this journey i also became author of a book on Artificial Intelligence and Big Data — book rights donated to Foundation Profuturo, teaching 6M kids in 23 countries. the book explores how AI is driving economic growth and evolving the world around us (including some creative work with El Bulli on Computational Gastronomy AI for cooking, and with F.C. Barcelona on soccer science and Big Data). in fact, most Moonshots will be underpinned by such new advances in ethics and AI, a topic i particularly care about to make conscious, human, ethical and sustainable tech.

in parallel to my professional journey, over the last seven years, i have also started a personal journey, one where the focus of the innovation, the evolution, and the hacking happens within you, so you can help others better by being a better human being. and during this journey of the spiritual body, i have developed a sense that taking high innovation risks also requires increased attention, deeper serenity, leading from the heart and a sharper mind to succeed at the journey of discovery, helping the world and others.

this is especially true for particular types of innovation geared towards high impact through solving extremely difficult problems, being socially aware, connected to global struggles, people and the planet. this has taken me into a journey of new practices and rituals, with several 10-day marathon silent mediation Vipassana retreats and similar grateful experiences, bringing more consciousness, ethics, sustainability, and humanity in a world of Artificial Intelligence and technology.

Summer 2019 Vipassana meditation retreat (serving), Kyoto — Japan.


i have always taken pleasure and happiness in helping others, giving back, being thankful for what i have, do, and the family and friends that i love — as opposed to always trying to live for some form of own success. and i have managed to experience so in the last years too.

the world of Telcos and infrastructure, though not sexy-sounding sometimes, is one where the digital world and the physical world meet, where the artificial intelligence and the human intelligence and human souls converse through a translucent window, or a door hinge, where a lot of opportunities and value will be made in the coming years if innovation keeps thriving.

now it feels like a job done, with innovation being in all of Telefonica, embedded in almost every unit and impacting almost every business of the company. it is time for a new chapter, for others to keep pushing things forward, scale and fuel all the efforts above, and for me to continue the journey, change again (anicca in Vipassana terms), feel the creative tension and reinvent the self with new projects even more creative and fulfilling.

i look forward to the new adventures : ) #behappy

more to come.







Pablo Rodriguez

Innovator and Computer Scientist | Google [X] Ambassador | Founded Alpha@Telefonica to do Moonshots | AI Author | Vipassana | http://www.rodriguezrodriguez.com/