Curtis Carlson

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For founder of Carlson Companies, see Curt Carlson.
Curtis R. Carlson
SRI Curtis R Carlson 2010 cropped.jpg
Born (1945-05-22) May 22, 1945 (age 71)
Providence, Rhode Island
Nationality American
Institutions SRI International
Sarnoff Corporation
Alma mater Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Rutgers University
Notable awards Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award
Otto H. Schade Award

Curtis Raymond Carlson (born May 22, 1945) was president and CEO of SRI International from 1998 to 2014 and is a prominent technologist and pioneer in developing and using innovation best practices.[1] While CEO of SRI International, revenue tripled to $550 million per year and tens of billions of dollars of new marketplace value was created, such as through Siri, an SRI spin-off company that was bought by Steve Jobs at Apple. While Carlson was CEO Mayfield Ventures partner, David Ladd, said, “SRI is now the best enterprise at turning its technology into economic value.”

Carlson has advised CEOs, ministers, and prime ministers on innovation and economic policy, including in the U.S., Denmark, Japan, Lithuania, Finland, Brazil, Taiwan, and Singapore. He served on President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE). He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF).

Carlson is the Founder and CEO of Practice of Innovation, LLC, a company working with start-ups, established companies, and government agencies on improving innovative performance. The innovation methodology he created at SRI is now used by companies and governments around the world, including the U.S., Singapore, Taiwan, Sweden, Finland, Chile, and Japan. His methodology is based on the use of NABC value propositions. NABC stands for the important customer and market Need, the unique and defensible Approach for the product and business model, and the Benefits per costs (value) of the product when compared to the Competition or alternatives. The utility of this definition is that it is the minimial complete formulation for a value proposition. NABC value propositions can be understood and used across the entire enterprise, regardless of size or type.

A physics graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Ph.D. student in geophysical fluid dynamics from Rutgers University, he joined Sarnoff Corporation after graduation and performed research on computer vision, human perception, and digital video. While at Sarnoff, Carlson led teams that developed the HDTV standard and designed a system to assess broadcast image quality, both of which were awarded a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award. In 1998, Carlson was named CEO of SRI International.

Carlson was named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in 2012. For his contributions to science, technology, and business, Carlson received Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award in 2002. For his role in advancing the functional performance and image quality of information displays, he received the Society for Information Display's Otto H. Schade Award in 2006. He was honored with the Medal of Excellence Award by Rutgers University’s School of Engineering (2007) and the Dr. Robert H. Goddard Award from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for his professional achievements (2002). He also received the Suffolk University’s first Global Leadership in Innovation and Collaboration Award. He is a Kobe Ambassador for SRI’s contributions to Kobe, Japan.


Carlson earned his B.S. in physics from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1967 and a Ph.D. in geophysical fluid dynamics from Rutgers University in 1973.[2]


Sarnoff Corporation[edit]

Starting in 1973, Carlson participated in research and development in the field of imaging systems, working with the RCA Sarnoff Laboratory.[3] In 1981, Carlson was named the Director of the Image Quality and Perception Research Group and Vice President of the laboratory in 1990. In 1995, Carlson became Executive Vice President of Sarnoff's Interactive Systems Division.[2] He also led the 1997 team that developed the HDTV program that became the US standard, and the 2000 team that designed a system to assess broadcast image quality. Both of these teams were awarded a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award for their accomplishments.[2]

SRI International[edit]

He served as the president of SRI International from 1998 to 2014,[3] and oversaw Sarnoff Corporation's full integration into SRI in January 2011.[4][5]

Carlson is known for a term known as "Carlson's Law", coined by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to describe Carlson's balance between autocracy and democracy in an organization: "In a world where so many people now have access to education and cheap tools of innovation, innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb."[6][7]

Memberships and awards[edit]

Carlson has served on several government task forces including the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, the Army Science Board and the Defense Science Board task force on bio-chemical defense. He is a member of the Highlands Group, which makes recommendations to government officials regarding technological developments of interest to the government.[8] In 2010, he was named to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.[9][10] He also serves on the National Academy of Engineering Committee on Manufacturing, Design, and Innovation, and is a council member on the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable, a joint body of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.[3]

In 2002, Carlson was awarded Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement due to his contributions to science, technology, and business.[8][11] Carlson has been involved in establishing WPI's Silicon Valley Project Center.[12] He has given several commencement speeches, including at WPI on May 20, 2006; at Stevens Institute of Technology on May 22, 2008; and at University of Richmond on May 8, 2011.[2][13]

For his role in advancing the functional performance and image quality of information displays, Carlson received the Otto H. Schade Award from the Society for Information Display in June 2006.[2][14][15] In December 2012, Carlson was named a Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.[16][17]

Carlson has received honorary degrees from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Stevens Institute of Technology and Kettering University.[3][18] Carlson is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.[2][3]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Carlson, Curtis (1978). Visibility of displayed information. 
  • Carlson, Curtis; Wilmot, William (2006). Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want. ISBN 0-307-33669-7. , named in Bloomberg Businessweek's Best Business Books of 2006.[19]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Curtis Carlson, Innovator and Business Leader, is 2006 Commencement Speaker at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)". Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 2006-04-20. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Curtis R. Carlson: President and Chief Executive Officer". SRI International. Retrieved 2013-07-01. 
  4. ^ "SRI International completes integration of Sarnoff Corporation". SRI International. 2011-01-03. Retrieved 2013-07-01. 
  5. ^ "SRI International Sarnoff". SRI International. Archived from the original on 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2012-04-22. 
  6. ^ Friedman, Thomas L (2011-06-05). "Advice for China". New York Times. p. WK8. Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  7. ^ ""Carlson's Law" – an interview with SRI International President & CEO Dr. Curtis Carlson". San Francisco Chronicle. 2011-08-29. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  8. ^ a b "Curtis Carlson Honored with WPI's Robert H. Goddard Award". Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 2002-08-21. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  9. ^ "SRI International President and CEO Curtis R. Carlson Named to National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship". SRI International. 2010-08-05. Retrieved 2013-07-01. 
  10. ^ "First Meeting Minutes" (PDF). Economic Development Administration. 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  11. ^ "Curtis Carlson Honored with WPI's Robert H. Goddard Award". Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 2002-08-21. Retrieved 2014-09-21. 
  12. ^ "Silicon Valley Project Students Awake to Sleep Lab Needs". WPI West. Dec 2002. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  13. ^ "Curtis Carlson chosen to give graduation speech". The Collegian. 2011-04-07. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  14. ^ "SRI International CEO, Curtis Carlson, Receives 2006 Otto Schade Prize from the Society for Information Display". SRI International. 2006-06-09. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  15. ^ "Otto Schade Prize". Society for Information Display. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  16. ^ "National Academy of Inventors and SRI International Announce NAI Charter Fellows". SRI International. 2012-12-18. Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  17. ^ "NAI Charter Fellows". National Academy of Inventors. Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  18. ^ "Kettering University Honorary Degree Recipients". Kettering University. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  19. ^ "Best Business Books of 2006". Bloomberg Businessweek. 2006-12-18. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 

External links[edit]