The head of the U.S. Consumer Electronics Association talks about leadership, trends, innovation, policy and countries not playing fair

Gary Shapiro is CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, which also produces the world’s largest annual innovation tradeshow, the International CES.

He made his fame leading the industry to HDTV as chairman of the Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRR), creating the Industry Co-operative for Ozone Layer Protection (ICOLP), authoring best sellers “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses” and “The Comeback: How Innovation will Restore the American Dream” and his work directing policymakers and business leaders on the importance of innovation in the U.S. economy.

I talked with him in January at the International CES in Las Vegas. I found him passionate and with strong positions, which led to this podcast interview — portions of which are extracted here. You will have to listen to the podcast to get his strong positions.

Q: Gary, can you share highlights and useful lessons learned from your long successful history of leadership, setting standards and changing policy?
A: “…. In my view, to be a successful leader you have to be able to relate to the people that work for you and that you are trying to reach, which means treating them as humans and not as indistinguishable parts….

“I believe that becoming a black belt in Taekwondo has helped me be disciplined, understand the importance of working with others, building a team, setting goals, having a strategy and being innovative….”

Q: As an internationally recognized top leader, what are your top leadership tips?
A: “You have to be focused, you have to be disciplined, you have to set goals, you have to take your life experiences, and most of all learn from your failures because you don’t learn from your successes – they may build your confidence, but they also give a false confidence…

“You have to be able to adapt, adjust, be willing to get out there and to be the best in your field, and that takes a lot of thought and takes a strategy. When you have your team you have to be willing to think outside of the box and know yourself and get people who complement your weaknesses, rather than to just get people who are just like you….”

Q: What are your views on global challenges and their solutions?

A: “A lot of the global challenges boil down to the fact that people (because of technology), see that there are people who are benefiting enormously because they are fairly wealthy and doing well, so there’s a focus increasingly on wealth disparity. To me it’s sometimes unfortunate because that focus gets determined as there are people who are too wealthy compared to people who are too poor, when in reality the causes of wealth and the causes of poverty are two totally different things….

“I think the biggest global challenge, whether it be disease, poverty, agriculture or water supply or things like that, is there are technological solutions coming about rapidly and it’s the matter of making sure that governments don’t stay in the way and in fact help provide access to them….”

Q: What are your top tips for innovation and entrepreneurship?

A: “When you go to a place like Eureka Park (at CES) and you spend four days getting input from people who are buyers and media, investors and potential partners, they will give you input and you have to have your ears open

“You have to really know yourself really well and do some honest self-examination. Talk to some people with an objective view who are entrepreneurs that you trust. Get involved in different entrepreneurial organizations, see what’s available in terms of resources like trade shows (like the CES), which are a phenomenally cost effective way of getting a tremendous amount of market response in a very short period of time, and go to other events and open your mind….”

Q: What areas continue to surprise you?
A: “I’m a big passionate believer in Free Trade and also free movement of people around and free movement in education and things like that. But in terms of technology being able to solve problems — that is my personal passion and belief. I am happily surprised by all these new disciplines of science which are merging different areas, of whether it’s genetics or learning or education in biology and things like that, or mapping the genome and predictive sciences of what health risks we face and how to solve them….”

Q: You have already mentioned some innovations in prior questions. Are there any other disruptive innovations that you see coming up?
A: “Today if you want to buy something or get something that you need you go to the store or order it online. Forty or 50 years ago you’d go to the store or you’d have someone knock on your door (a door to door salesman). Twenty years from or even 10 years from now you might have three ways of getting it in your home. You could have it delivered by a drone, you could make it in your home with a 3-D printer or you could have a driverless car deliver it….
The Internet of Things will obviously be big in terms of how our homes and appliances get smarter and they’ll predict and will adjust to our daily routine to help us. And obviously wearables in so many different ways….
Of course there’s a lot of things I don’t know about, things that will be invented and no one is smart enough to predict the course of innovation which is a jagged course. My job is to make sure that course be allowed to exist and have ingredients in place where people can innovate and create….”

Q: What are the top growth regions internationally based on your experiences?
A: “You said growth, I assume you mean economies which are growing quicker than others and the easy answer is the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Certainly if you look at the size of their population, the size of their economy, their absolute growth, those are pretty high and very significant. They are developing economies that are doing very well and they have great purchasing power. But in terms of innovation growth (having a couple books out about innovation and going around the world and the United States and talking in different places), I would not identify those countries as the top growth areas for innovation….”

Q: What kind of improvements would you like to see in policy in the next two years in your country and internationally?
A: “I think the way to go is to encourage local innovation and let localities figure out what they are good at and develop their own plans to try to attract businesses and innovation investment….
“I think we need to first acknowledge innovation as important. It is not the job of government to protect existing businesses. Its job is to encourage competition and new things; we are a society of creative destruction….”

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