The Dreaded Professor
Every college student has had that professor at least once. The one who was a phenomenal researcher but whose lectures were filled with pedantic insults: “it should be clear that…”, “…and it’s left to you to prove the obvious…”, and “it’s easily shown that…”
Raising a hand and asking a question was torturous. Unless it was some mind-blowing, insightful question, the professor would look at you and give you a non-answer. The expression on her face clearly showed she believed admissions standards had become far too lax in the last decade.
These kinds of classes were humiliating, poor learning experiences that were far below what they could have been. Take that same material with an engaging and empathetic professor and it engages, even enraptures the students.
This second kind of professor not only knows the material but also knows her audience. She knows the things they won’t know, what they will know, and how to convey the importance of the material to them. A great professor teaches not only the material but gives the student a vision of why the material is so exciting. A great professor enables her students to grasp the concepts and skills, and she conjures up feelings of genuine enthusiasm for learning and using those concepts and skills.
Leaving it to the Customer is Death
Technology companies often fall into one of these two fateful professor categories.
Some technology companies, often with very strong engineering backgrounds, are like the first professor. They see their product or technology and say to themselves and all else “it should be clear that…[our technology is superior].”
To them, it’s logical they will be quickly scooped up in the marketplace and hugely successful. And so these technology companies “leave it to you to prove the obvious” and scoff when others don’t see just how great their technology is.
The Gifted Teacher
The second kind of technology company also recognizes how amazing their technology is. They love it! They are excited about it! But they also understand their audience, or in the business world, their market.
They humbly set out to see the problem space the technology addresses from the market’s eyes. Then these companies explain how their technology does these things. They teach the market about their technology in a way that conveys its importance as well as giving the market a genuine enthusiasm for the problems it can solve and the benefits it provides.
These companies know how to take their superior technology and translate it into a coherent message to the market that explains it to them on their terms. It’s no surprise that this second kind of technology company is well rewarded in business terms.
Necessary but Not Sufficient
Technology, by definition, accumulates work into a single easier-to-use package, making the next stage of work easier, faster, and better. You can’t solve people’s problems if your technology doesn’t work. Real technology is necessary, but not sufficient, to succeed in the market place.
You Need a Vision
Technology without leadership is professor number one. Some few customers may be bright and desperate enough to “get it” and shell out for your technology product or service. But most won’t buy without being given the vision. Giving that vision is the role of technology leadership.
Technology + Leadership = Moving people to use technology to improve their lives. This is most successfully done when the leadership has strong, simple, and clear vision. And of course when the technology can do what it claims it can do.
The second company has leadership. Leadership is the ability to convey a vision and motivate others to act in line with that vision. Technology leaders convey the vision of the new world their technology brings to customers. They convey the new life we will lead. For example:
- Steve Jobs told us we would have personal computing in our pockets everywhere we go with the iPhone and feel great and beautiful all the while.
- Elon Musk tells us that we will live in a world where beautiful electric cars take us places to enjoy our cleaner air, that we will visit space like we visit New York, and that we won’t have to deal with traffic anymore.
- Jeff Bezos tells us we can purchase anything whenever and wherever we want and have it the same day for less.
These world-class technology leaders give us a visceral vision for what our lives will be like very explicitly—they don’t leave it to us to “prove the obvious.” They are quintessential technology leaders.
Technology is Just the First Step
If you have a great technology, excellent, you’ve finished the first step! The rest of your job is to make sure others understand very clearly and quickly exactly how their lives will change for the better because of it and then give you money to experience it. And that’s the hardest part.