Technology is no longer a competitive differentiator, leadership is, entrepreneurial leadership to be precise. Given the continual impact that technology has on our lives and the promise of advancements that lay just over the horizon, this may appear a provocative statement. But at the end of the day, technology is still simply a tool and its application must be directed to achieve a desired outcome. Leadership, however, is a unique skill, and embodies the DNA of all that humankind has ever achieved.
Like all complex skills, leadership is multifaceted, nuanced and above all, perishable if not actively engaged and consciously developed. It is also a continuum; at one end leadership is barely distinguishable from management, at the other end, it is independent, creative, decisive and risk tolerant. At its optimum, it provides the foundation, vision, and yes, the courage, that evolves people and organizations to a place of true differentiation, and thus, competitive advantage.
The pursuit of technology has dulled the sense, or perhaps the drive, of entrepreneurial leadership. It has left us complacent, distracted and made myopic our view of what we can achieve – undervaluing the human factor. Transfixed by technical advancement, we have embraced a strategy of progress through acquisition of technology, thus altering the fundamentals of how we advance and view success. We came to believe that quickly acquiring and implementing the latest technical offerings gave us an advantage over our competitors and provided a path to prosperity. In the beginning this strategy worked, not because of the technology mind you, but because of good old fashion economics. Access and the cost of technology was a competitive barrier and therefor a differentiator. Those who could afford the latest equipment and the associated expertise had an advantage.
Then the unexpected happened – prices dropped precipitously, the pace of change accelerated, and thanks to Cloud computing and mobile platforms, access became ubiquitous. These combined factors virtually eliminated any competitive advantage enjoyed by early-adopters, and in many cases, made their obsolescing technology investments a liability when compared to emerging low-cost market disruptors. With the shrinking interval between the latest innovation and its replication at a lower cost, a new reality has emerged – technology is now simply table stakes.
With this paradigm shift, competitive differentiation is now a function of a leader’s intellectual prowess and creative vision. As a result, the challenge is no longer simply one of managing technical change, but one of imagination and drive. Efficient acquisition and implementation of technology will remain critical, but equally essential will be a leader’s capacity and willingness to develop and integrate these new tools into an organization’s operation, culture and mission. This is a complex shift that will require greater patience and a tolerance of risk, and as such, does not lend itself to the pursuit of immediate gratification. These are the characteristics of an entrepreneur.
Mark Coopersmith, Faculty Director and Senior Fellow of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UC Berkeley, recently wrote an article for STRIVE magazine titled, The Entrepreneurial Mindset. In the article, Mark outlines his Top 10 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs. I view this list as the fundamentals and key attributes that every individual and organization will need to actively develop and/or acquire in order to remain competitive in this technology-normalized age. The panacea of success through technical advantage is disappearing quickly and the emerging opportunities will belong to the entrepreneurial leader – It always has.