Let’s face it; the people running the high technology industry are getting old. Some of the great founders of our industry have retired and other greats have passed away. In a recent study by UBM Tech, it was pointed out that the average age of engineers in our industry are in their mid to late fifties, and are, for the most part, a group of grumpy old men. That is at least for the United States and Europe. In China this dynamic is very different. So what will happen to our industry in the next 10-15 years as the rest of us go off to the final “production run”? Will the legacy of the generation that founded high technology leave behind vibrant growing companies or cash in their chips and move to Florida?
After all who wants to Tweet? Why would anyone want to use Facebook? That social media stuff isn’t useful for our business. No one will watch video on a computer... And yet these youngsters have found ways to innovate and drive change. The new industries are being created by the younger generation; a generation getting ready to take over. So is the old guard suppressing this generation or inspiring this generation?
This is Rob DeRobertis with the Technology Marketing Center and here are five pieces of advice for our aging industry.
To those just starting out in High Tech
1) Never stop innovating new products. Keep an ear to the customers but look beyond their immediate needs. Look for game changing ideas. Be the champion to drive that innovation forward.
2) Never stop innovating business models. High Technology has been doing business pretty much the same way for years. Look for innovative new business models. Just as Steve Jobs turned the music industry on its ears with iTunes, you can do it for High Tech.
3) Take risks. Your management got into their positions by taking risks. They may not remember (or they may still feel the battle scars) but they all made risk decisions at several points in their career. You must now take the risks. Leverage the advice from your management to avoid some of the scars but be willing to stick your neck out.
4) Talk back to your management. Talk back to your management in a respectful way. Make alternate recommendations. Be passionate but don’t alienate yourself.
5) Stay young. Don’t become a grumpy old man. Avoid being a cynic. Keep the positive edge. Work through adversity. Stay passionate about your beliefs.
To those currently at the helm
1) Nurture youth. You will not be at the helm much longer. Have you made succession plans? How deep into the company are you reaching for leadership. Are you relying on your inner circle or welcoming the newcomers and listening to their view of the changing global economy.
2) Invest in innovation. There is a drive to optimize profits. You are driven there by the investment community. Are you balancing profits with investment into the future? Is your R&D organization really innovating or making incremental improvements? Are you driving a franchise organization like a McDonalds that is continuing to optimize the value meal or are you driving game changing innovations like Google does all the time. (Do you even look at innovations from these companies? Test: Do you know what Google Glass is?).
3) Teach the risk takers how to manage risk. Mentor and develop the careers of the risk takers. Look for those who are passionate about the industry and take them under your wing. Teach them! Help them learn how to drive profitable businesses and to take the proper risks that will move the company forward. Do not stifle creativity, watch where it goes.
4) Listen to the new generation. The new generation is closer to the customer than you are. Listen to that generation. This generation lives a very different lifestyle than what you started out with. After all you most likely invented much of what enables their lifestyle. Are you leveraging and building upon the changes you helped create?
5) Stay young. Don’t be a grumpy old man. Avoid being a cynic. Keep the positive edge.