In our previous two installments about leadership, we’ve looked at market leadership and thought leadership. Today we turn our attention to another cliché: technology leadership. Generally speaking, people use the term “technology leader” to connote having either the first, best, or only kind of specific technology in any given segment. Sometimes the self-appointed superlatives are warranted, and sometimes they’re not.
It’s the impact of overusing this cliché that bears repeating. When we cease to use the term meaningfully, we actually hinder progress by confusing the public dialogue around innovation, ingenuity and entrepreneurialism. Real technology leaders derive their strength and influence from being in service of something greater than themselves: innovation and expanding the boundaries of human potential. It’s the human application of the technology—what it allows us to do as individuals, communities, organizations, industries, economies and as a species—that makes or breaks the story. In short, technology leadership is as much about picking the right problem to solve in addition to solving it well.
And not all technologies are designed with a specific problem in mind. All too often, tech companies find themselves with outstanding innovations in search of a market. When that happens, the phrase “technology leader” begins to pop up like mushrooms in marketing collateral.
Especially for smaller companies, challenger brands and companies in a new or emerging category, claiming to be the most innovative is a common technique. It attracts talent, boosts valuation ahead of an IPO or acquisition, and can even help convince marquis sales prospects to make a bet on an unproven company. But claims of technology leadership need to based on provable data points. A few useful ones include:
- Intellectual property portfolio. How many patents and copyrights does the company hold? And who else in the industry is benefiting from them?
- Investment in R&D. What industry challenges is the company tackling, and where is it investing money, time and resource to address them?
- Ingredient plays. Where and how does this technology enable other technologies? How does it help customers increase ROI from technology bets they’ve already made?
- Benefit to the ecosystem. Where and how does the company’s technology help adjacent players in its market add value? What win-win scenarios does it create? And why should the industry want to see this technology succeed?
Next week, we will look at a fourth dimension of the leadership discussion in tech PR—that of actual team and organizational leadership.