Changing Caterpillar’s Culture One Cup of Coffee at a Time

March 4, 2016

Steve Pierz is what you’d call an “odd duck.”

Those are his words, not ours.

Pierz is a 27 year veteran of Caterpillar, and he doesn’t always do things the way other people do, and at times during his career, he got himself in trouble.

A couple of years ago, he had the opportunity to attend Singularity University, an organization that partners with individuals and businesses – like Caterpillar – to educate people about cutting-edge technologies and how to use those technologies to positively impact the world.

“Everything that I was feeling, they articulated, and it was that ah-ha moment for me,” says Steve about his experience at Singularity U. “I came back with crazy talk – Cat’s gotta change….”

He returned to work with a mission: to transform Caterpillar’s culture into one of innovation and to help others look at things differently and disrupt what Caterpillar is doing today with an eye on the future. 

Steve asked a few colleagues to join him via teleconference on Friday mornings to talk about what he’d learned and to brainstorm ideas. Those coworkers asked if they could invite others and Steve agreed. He didn’t plan for the phone calls to last longer than six weeks.

That was almost two years ago. Now, about 250 people around the world dial in to the Friday Coffee Talks. They don’t have to. These people – Caterpillar employees and employees at suppliers and Cat® dealers – choose to spend an hour every week learning about what’s happening in the world. Sometimes they learn about things happening in manufacturing, but oftentimes they hear from experts in other fields such as medicine.

The Coffee Talks group takes comes up with quick experiments based on what they’ve learned from guests to see if Caterpillar can use the technology to help our customers. Some of the experiments work. Some don’t.

“Failure is just tinkering; it’s part of the journey,” says a note on the wall in Steve’s workspace, signed by people who have visited to learn about innovation at Caterpillar. 

Words to live by. And – according to Steve and his Coffee Talks community – words to work by, too.

With his network of serial innovators, maybe the “odd duck” isn’t so odd anymore.

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