As businesses look to recover and rebuild coming out of a very difficult time, there’s a heavy focus on embracing technology. That’s a good thing, particularly since tools like video conferencing and cloud computing with enhanced security have seen a boost during the pandemic, with millions of people working from home. A study even calls the Cloud Computing Environment (CCE) “an unsung hero in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.”
But to thrive in the months and years ahead, I encourage business leaders to take a bigger view on technology: be pioneers. Despite all the tech available these days, there’s far more that’s yet to be discovered. Those new discoveries will deliver unforeseen advantages to organizations across numerous sectors.
So while it may be tempting for some businesses to limit R&D (research and development) and focus more on core products and services until there’s a broad economic recovery, now may actually be the best time to pour resources into research and development. As Cornell University management professor Soumitra Dutta writes in strategy+business, sectors hit hardest by lockdowns and restrictions “have historically had a low propensity to invest in R&D and file patents. But to weather the crisis and prepare for the future, they will likely need to innovate and digitize at a faster pace than ever before.”
I know from experience how powerful it can be to invest time and money in being first to discover and build new technology.
My team and I at Wi-Charge spent years working to pioneer a new form of wireless charging. The field was filled with startups using radio frequencies, ultrasound and magnetic inductions; we wanted to go in a completely different direction and use infrared light instead, believing it offered a world of superior benefits — if we could make it happen.
After a long, arduous development process, we created new building blocks and achieved our goal. We won our category at the Consumer Electronics Show and became the only worldwide patented system to deliver several watts of power at room-sized distances while meeting safety certifications. This opened up all sorts of business opportunities.
How can business leaders best support efforts within their ranks to pioneer new technologies? While R&D funding and resources is part of the answer, there’s also an even greater one: managing for it.
A culture of learning, clarity and consistency
A seminal research study once published by California Management Review explored “technological pioneering and competitive advantage.” It focused on a revolutionary development of the 1980s: the creation of VCRs. A slew of companies were in the space, trying to be the first to cross the finish line. Three Japanese companies beat U.S. companies to the punch. This was not due to “international differences in ‘competitiveness,’” the study found. Instead, their success “was rooted in distinctive capabilities that are broadly relevant to the development of major new technologies.”
By prizing the learning process, these companies were able to “solve the diverse set of technological challenges.” And by providing “strategic clarity and consistency,” these companies ensured that everyone, including managers and engineers, operated on a joint understanding of the long-term goal, which in turn led to “sound technical choices.”
But even the most forward-thinking business leaders can’t go it alone. To pioneer new technologies, you need a broader environment that helps make that possible — what a Harvard Business Review article calls “the social and institutional fabric that will support their growth.”
This means working with governmental bodies to make sure efforts fall within the legal parameters. It also means engaging in joint ventures with other businesses to share ideas and perspectives, knowing you all stand to benefit.
Even with all these factors in place, there’s another hurdle you’ll need to guide your employees over.
Working to chart new terrain is exciting — but also exhausting. And as Gallup notes, “when employees are running low on high-performance fuel, so are your organization’s decision-making, customer service, quality control and innovation engines.”
To prevent burnout, it’s crucial to make well-being a part of company culture. Ensure people are working reasonable hours in general, using options for flexibility and not letting their vacation time go to waste. Have open communication so that if employees are not feeling engaged in their work, managers can learn why and address the problem. But most of all – make sure they always remember they are the pioneers in a voyage to be the first to land on a new moon.
There’s endless potential for new technologies that will transform every industry. My experience at Wi-Charge in recent years has given me a powerful reminder that seeking out undiscovered solutions can deliver tremendous success. As we look to the future, let’s remember that the greatest leaders never stop looking for new answers. They stay at the vanguard of tapping human potential, and inspire their teams to do the same. Together, leaders and their companies create new, exciting paths for others to follow.
Written by Ori Mor.