Member Spotlight: Yvette Standberry, Mathematica

By Meghan Hall |  January 11, 2023

Yvette Standberry serves as the Senior Director, Head of Innovation at Mathematica, where she has been working to help establish an innovation practice for the organization. Mathematica, an employee-owned company headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey, uses technology, data, and analytics to help government, nonprofit, and for-profit clients work toward solutions for social challenges, like climate change, education, and disparities in healthcare. 

Yvette Standberry, Senior Director, Head of Innovation, Mathematica

Standberry has been with Mathematica since June of 2021, but has been in her current role, where she reports to the company’s COO, since February of 2022. 

We caught up with Standberry as part IL’s Member Spotlight series to learn more about her career path, hear about what she’s been working on at Mathematica, and ask for her advice on innovation-related activities. 

What does innovation mean? How have you integrated that definition into your daily work at Mathematica? 

Innovation is more than ideas. It’s a journey to take an idea from this little nugget, and going along that journey to realizing the value of what that thing could be — or not, because it could stop along that pathway… I would say that I’m in the process of actually refining what innovation would mean — taking a little bit of what I know; what it means to me; and what it means to the organization; and coupling it with some tried-and-true definitions. 

Your innovation team is still fairly new. What kind of metrics are you using to measure success? 

I’m of the belief that you have to show activity. That’s a way of having people feel and do. In my mind, I’m already thinking that this is going to impact certain things on the balance sheet, and it could also impact other things that we find important to measure… For right now, we need to establish what are the right metrics to illustrate the investment we’re putting into [innovation]. … One metric is ‘How much money have you spent, and how much have you learned on that spend?’ 

Can you share your advice for making sure that new changes, ideas, and processes get the right attention from senior leadership — how do you get buy-in?

When an organization is fully bought in [to] innovation, you’re going to feel it, hear about it, and see it. 

[You will] feel it through the perspective of where they’re making choices, or where they’re not making choices. Hearing about it — I think a big piece is communication, or what I would call stakeholder management. There’s a lot of communication that needs to happen, but I also think there is an element of giving people a sense of doing — how do you make people feel certain things?… And seeing it. You get them to see the activities and understand what tools are used — how people are engaging, or not engaging, through various actions.

Giving people a sense of what it feels like could be within a project, or could be the mere fact of, a colleague says, ‘I have this idea.’ Okay, great — let’s go through an intake process; let’s write this down; let’s talk about it more. 

When an organization is fully bought in [to] innovation, you’re going to feel it, hear about it, and see it. 

What was a big project your team focused on in 2022, and what do some of your goals for 2023 look like? 

This past year, 2022, has been all about understanding the organization and reflecting on, what are we doing? I would also say [the focus] has been how to make sense of current work that’s happening… and assessing that. 

Going forward [in 2023, the goal] is to really start to begin to institute processes and capabilities… something basic ad hoc, into something a bit more repeatable, through the delivery of concepts. 

What resources have been useful for you — podcasts, what you’ve been reading? 

  • Harvard Business School’s The Disruptive Voice podcast
  • Kim Scott’s Radical Candor podcast
  • Hidden Brain podcast
  • 99% Invisible podcast
  • Alan Leigh and David Firth’s book, The Corporate Fool

Can you talk about the trajectory of your career path — what had you previously been doing and how did that help you grow into the role you have now? 

What set me on [my career path] was that I’m all about, how do I solve problems and solve them creatively? It was always about technology being an enabler. … Throughout my career, it’s all about problem solving and taking technology and thinking about things differently. It started out with incremental things — ‘Okay, we do it like this now, but how can we do it differently over here?’ 

I think some of my fascination may be from seeing my grandmother — she owned a consignment shop, and my uncle took over that consignment shop. My father was always creative and building things and selling them to people. For me, I can do that through a different venue: corporations.