SILICON VALLEY—For Steve Ellis, innovation simply comes down to finding new ways to deliver better customer service.

Ellis, Executive Vice President and Head of Innovation Group for long-time firm client Wells Fargo, joined Womble Carlyle for a Sept. 28 discussion on innovation. Womble Carlyle’s Steve Clinton moderated Ellis’ discussion, which was presented by the firm’s Innovation Board.

Ellis said listening to clients and what they want should drive any innovations program.

“It’s not about cool technology—it’s about what’s best for our customers,” he said. “If you can make it easy for the customer, that’s when technology can become really useful.”

To get there, he said companies need diverse teams who can look at problems “with a fresh set of eyes.” Good ideas can come from anywhere within an organization, so there needs to be a formal mechanism for soliciting, reporting and responding to suggestions.

He also said innovative companies focus their innovation efforts on a small number of big, transformative ideas that truly matter, rather than trying to solve every potential problem.

This means keeping an eye on the long-term big picture. In 2008, for example, Wells Fargo started studying voice biometrics—years before that science became part of the everyday marketplace. Ellis said, “It’s important that you aren’t thinking about the next six months, but the next six years.”

Finally, he said innovative companies know when to change course. Some innovations simply aren’t going to work, he said. Successful companies have to recognize failures and move on, rather than continuing to pour time and money into a bad idea.

A 30-year Wells Fargo veteran, Steve Ellis leads the company’s Innovation Group, an enterprise-wide organization devoted to accelerating the delivery of next-generation, customer-inspired technologies, products, and services. Prior to this assignment, Ellis was head of Wells Fargo’s Wholesale Services Group. His previous responsibilities also included starting up and running the Wholesale Internet Solutions group, which launched Wells Fargo’s award-winning Commercial Electronic Office® (CEO®) portal in 2000 and CEO Mobile® in 2007. The fast pace of Wells Fargo’s early move into online and mobile financial services was due in large part to his commitment to fostering workplace creativity.