Driving Innovation from the Lessons of the Past: Washington Post Profiles Appian CEO

The Washington Post recently profiled Appian CEO Matt Calkins on his love of history and how he attributes some of his success in running Appian to his analysis of business and cultural history. Appian’s hallmark is innovation, and the company is guided by Matt’s singular vision. It would be easy to assume that his focus is exclusively on the future. However, Matt sees tremendous value in drawing upon historical perspective to inform his decisions in leading Appian, our customers, and our industry into a future of new possibilities.

Matt cites lessons learned from business biographies such as the late Chairman of General Motors, Alfred Sloan’s autobiography “My Years With General Motors.” Matt finds great resonance with how the software industry is evolving today.

Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post

Matt’s take: “It shows the way, a hundred years ago, the auto industry was grappling with the same deep uncertainty that the software industry is grappling with now. Sloan is a terrific guide on how to create the patterns that constitute an industry.”

Those who are part of the Appian family know that Matt’s fondness for history is not bound to the office. He is famous for his history club in which he and a group of friends will meet for an evening to discuss a single year of the past, debating the most influential births, deaths, or innovations of those particular twelve months.

And Matt’s favorite historical event? That would be Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight from New York to Paris. “It is an achievement made possible by science, which elevates the possibilities of a human being — science making people greater than they used to be,” Matt says.

Maybe an appreciation for history is not the first thing that jumps out as a must-have for an innovation leader, but to me, it makes perfect sense. In order to create the future, you must understand the past. To get to where you want to go, you have to know where you came from. This is nowhere more evident than in what Appian provides for its customers. We examine how a company has traditionally operated and we ask the question: How can we make this better? Whether it’s becoming more mobile or creating better social collaboration, we draw upon the past to help create better business solutions that will enable a customer to create more value.

By the way, if that sounds like an intriguing approach and proposition, visit Appian Jobs. We’re hiring, and we need people who know where they are coming from, and where they want to go.

Mike Ingrisano

Media Relations Manager