It’s Happening

It’s Happening

It’s taken a while to get here. Admittedly, I was isolated, extremely, while living and working in Austin’s tech bubble. But the last three years has allowed me to not only dive deep into a number of different industries but to understand from CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs about the challenges technology adoption and integration will be bringing to the middle part of the U.S. in the coming years.

The pace of disruption seems to be picking up…I’ve fielded an increased number of calls from founders and executives who have either been jilted by acquisitions or management changes affiliated with innovation; been invited to help companies manage change, speak on the topic of innovation and, most recently, to help CEOs define innovative pathways for their organizations. All calls begin with, “we know you help communities manage and lead change but…surely the techniques are the same?”

I chalk the inquiries up not to Waymaker’s exposure but to an increased need in the market. Industries that have been more protected from implementing new technologies are facing increased pressure from boards, consumers and Wall Street. Parts of the country that have been isolated (with the exception of job losses in manufacturing) globally are also starting to feel the pinch.

Is leading transformation for a community the same as for a company? Yes and no. Change management for both starts at the top. Vision, leadership engagement and communication are key factors in the success of efforts both arenas. Breaking down silos is also a common thread. Ensuring departments—or institutions—are all communicating with one another and partnering for shared success is also key. Communication and defining a narrative for an organization are also key within a community effort. Engaging employees—or in the case of a community, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and future entrepreneurs—is a critical step within the process. Perhaps, however, the most challenging aspect of any change effort, regardless of whether it’s within an organization or community is culture (you knew I was going to say that right?). The topic of culture is how almost every successful leader I know spends the majority of her or his time…defining it, refining it, managing for it, removing barriers, celebrating successes.

In the coming weeks, Waymaker will be taking the question of culture, innovation, and change through technology to our network. In the interest of finding common ground, defining a shared vision across geography and industry and, quite simply, to let others know they are not alone. We hope you join us on this adventure and participate when and however you’re able. You’ll be helping us define the product and hopefully in the long run, join an ever-increasing network of humans faced with the same challenges and opportunities around some of the most fascinating topics of our time.

The Impact of Technology: Massive Hurdles or Massive Opportunity

The Impact of Technology: Massive Hurdles or Massive Opportunity

In case you haven’t heard, our country faces some massive hurdles in the coming decade. Outside of the trade tariff and Congressional infighting headlines gripping our day today, there are some pretty serious issues coming down the pike that our country will have to face one way or another— issues that will make or break us in the decades to come.

While we have much to look forward to as it relates to the technological revolution, we have some pretty ugly realities— including some of the topics covered at this past week’s TEDC conference. CEO @Carlton Schwab has a stellar reputation for a reason. The conference featured many of his followers and some driven and passionate leaders that shared knowledge on workforce and demographic trends, tax incentives and abatement direction in the State of Texas and advice on how EDOs should be thinking about talent.

It was refreshing to be in a group of big thinkers and visionary planners— all driven by a passion for serving others and by the challenge of making economic prosperity accessible to all. It was also a delight to be stimulated by so many data-driven conversations, a new shift within the industry in recent years.

While this was my first conference, I’m already looking forward to the next fall gathering. What we didn’t have time to cover included some of the most critical topics referenced above: how EDOs can and should be positioning for increased automation in manufacturing (an industry responsible for 8% of U.S. employment), how to engage industry in helping us address pipeline and STEM training gaps, how to get business leaders involved in policy issues that affect their company’s bottom line (i.e., immigration), how to address and foster our country’s declining rate of entrepreneurialism.

What is happening in technology will most certainly directly impact EDO leaders. Our aging population is well, aging, and not adequately skilled for 21st century occupations; our incoming workforce lacks fundamental skills business leaders say are required to be successful in today’s global economy; our K12 education systems are all systemically broken, not to mention culturally not ready to shift; current immigration policy severely limits those from outside the U.S. who seek educational and entrepreneurial opportunity; regardless of trade tariffs, our country lacks a cohesive vision articulating our future technological competitive focus areas and investment.

While I’m by nature an optimist, I’m eager for our trade associations and policy groups to amp up the dialogue and work required to get us to where we need to be. I regret while in Austin, I wasn’t a more aggressive leader in tackling some of these tough topics.

I look forward to continuing to learn from my Texas eco-dev compadres but also look forward to holding our own economic leadership feet to the fire.

Engineers: The Next Power Leaders

Engineers: The Next Power Leaders

It used to be that the engineering crowd was often left out of critical strategic or vision-setting conversations. Ask any CEO about the future of business, what it takes to build a company, successfully grow a company, etc., and they’ll have answers and lots of very strong opinions. Technical leaders, trained for years in pattern recognition, problem solving, applied sciences and math, have had answers about the future but not necessarily a seat at the table. Thankfully, smart(er) CEOs today are changing that. More and more you’ll hear about specific strategic advisory functions CTOs take within the C-suite. The speed of digital and innovation disruption have necessitated it.

This particular trend was front and center this week while attending Voltage Control’s hashtag#ATXCTOSummit19 Tuesday. More than 150 CTOs discussed topics you might predict: machine learning, the challenges of scaling, and some new dialogue regarding an Austin diversity and inclusion initiative (https://lnkd.in/es_sN3a). It gave me great hope to watch this group of humble leaders lead discussions with a genuine intention to make the world a better place. It also gave me great hope knowing that our dependence on this category of competent leaders will only continue to grow.

Innovation and Invention

Innovation and Invention

For the last few months, I’ve been in Milwaukee diving deeper into the economic potential of the Midwest. I left with a renewed sense of optimism and excitement, specifically with regards to the amount of invention and innovation coming from the region already. Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio all came in higher than anticipated in patent and research and development spending. Steve Case recently bragged that about 20% of all new patents in America are currently coming from the Midwestern states. While we are seeing an impressive amount of innovation and invention already, the missing link to accelerate their economic growth is going to be a doubling down on the commercialization of these inventions.

Often I’ve found that in discussing startup culture, innovation, invention, etc., there is confusion between the varying elements required to fuel a healthy system. While we can be proud and excited that the Midwest fares well in the creation of new solutions and products, we’ll need to do a stronger job of distinguishing between the creative IP process and the culture and expertise required to commercialize inventions in the marketplace. I’ve met with numerous industry leaders this past week in Milwaukee who are ready to capitalize on the tech boom that is happening in other parts of the country. The good news is that the innovation and invention is already booming in the Midwest. As I see it, in order for successful commercialization to occur, the next big step is for industry and government leaders to shift culturally towards fostering robust startup activity. The punch line to this story is that while patent and research and development activity are high in the Midwest, most cities in the five states I mentioned rank in the bottom quartile of the Kauffman Index. Cities in these promising states will not only have to shift culture, but very seriously consider importing the entrepreneurial talent they need to shift into innovation economy gear.

 

 

 

The Methodology – Every City is a Tech City

The Methodology – Every City is a Tech City

After many years working with industry leaders as the CEO of the Austin Technology Council, it is clear to me we are living in a new era of economic development and city growth. We are living in the era of innovation. The traditional methods of how we study and measure city growth and development are based on industrial economies, not innovation economies. In order to truly understand and quantify tech’s impact on a city, we must evolve our practices and develop new and creative ways to look at economic and urban development. Based on my research, every city exists as a tech city already. Furthermore, every company – regardless of industry – is a tech company as well.

So what do I mean by, “every city is a tech city?” The impact of technology on our everyday lives is undeniable. From phones that are more than just phones, to smart thermostats and connected health trackers, it’s clear that technology is woven through every fabric of our society, so seamlessly these days, that we sometimes don’t even realize it. When I started at the Austin Technology Council (ATC) back in 2008, I was told Austin was not a tech city. A government city or university city, yes, obviously, but not a tech city. The truth is, the tech industry was already present and booming in Austin at that time. Together with key Austin influencers, we spent years developing an updated methodology that leveraged data, galvanized key influencers and better aligned resources — for an innovation economy — not an industrial one. We challenged traditional practices and old definitions and used new ways to count the same data. Most importantly, we leveraged the new practices to begin a new narrative within the market, and to shift the city’s understanding of who it was.

What we see today is an acceleration of the lines blurring between industries. Manufacturing companies and tech companies are no longer separated as they were in pre-internet days. Take for example, the seamless transition of Under Armour’s core product line of athletic undergarments to connected device and health trackers. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and others like him are realizing the enormous potential of doing business in this new era of the innovation economy. Every company, regardless of industry, is a tech company. That is, if they choose to see the opportunities and the inevitability of technology and innovation.

So what happens when we start including tech in the economic equation in cities and regions previously thought to not be “tech cities.” As was the case in Austin, a significant cultural shift from how we identified the city and the core industries contributing to the city’s growth occurred. Subsequently, the economic growth of the city went from stagnant to accelerated in pretty short order. This cultural shift is the first step in welcoming that exponential growth. The second is remembering who you are. Both processes we’ve just begun to witness within the Midwest. After a painful thirty-year economic correction, the Midwest is finally ready to experience this culture shift, to remember who it is, and to become its own tech region. The timing, the Midwest’s DNA, and converging global and domestic economic trends make this unfolding movie in the central part of our country a very interesting one to watch. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we begin to dive deeper into what makes the Midwest region ripe to be the next mountain of opportunity.