The best leaders in the world are often described as visionaries. People with a unique and fresh perspective, not on how the world is, but on how it should be. In my view, this perspective is essential for business leaders and acts as an enabler for innovation. In this article, I explore this theme, looking at 3 great leaders and their innovative perspectives that changed their industries.
In business and in startups, how we perceive the world matters. Great leaders see beyond the usual & use their fresh perspectives to enter new markets, revolutionize old ones and innovate ahead of the curve. Below I examine the genesis of Google Chrome, Econet Wireless and Amazon to illustrate this.
Sundar, Google Chrome and the battle of internet dominance
Today Google Chrome commands an impressive 65% market share, dominating its competitors. Interestingly though, the idea for Chrome was initially shot down by those inside Google. Its opponents argued the project had high development costs and extensive competition from established players such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox.
The idea of Google Chrome came from then Product Manager Sundar Pichai and was criticised by top management including then-CEO Eric Schmidt. Any normal person would have given up at this point, but Sundar was very passionate, he persevered and eventually got approval from founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
Sundar prior to Chrome had been working on Google Search's toolbar. That experience changed his perspective on the browser and showed him just how important it was for Google's success. Rather than wait on existing players like Internet Explorer to innovate in the space, he knew Google had to lead the effort for greater success.
Shortly after the launch and success of Google Chrome, Sundar was made Vice President of Product Development. In a statement, Google Co-founder Larry Page said:
“Sundar has a tremendous ability to see what's ahead and mobilise teams around the super important stuff,”
Sundar took a huge risk with Chrome, one that could've been career-limiting. Today he is the CEO of Alphabet, Google's parent company. Indeed his big risk (and unique perspective) paid off.
Masiyiwa and the Strive for Mobile
Strive Masiyiwa - Billionaire Founder and Philanthropist is another brilliant example of why having a unique perspective is crucial. The Zimbabwean who owns Econet Global and sits on the boards of Netflix and Bills & Melinda Gates Foundation, among many others, is probably the most inspiring success story from the African country.
Strive who graduated from the University of Wales with an electrical engineering degree, started his career working for Zimbabwe Postal and Telecommunication Company (ZPTC). He quickly rose to become the company's principal engineer and would later quit after starting his own company with only 75 USD growing it to a workforce of over 100 workers.
After noticing the emergence of mobile cellular telephony in the early 1990s, Strive resolved to start his own mobile operator. He initially approached his old employer ZPTC, which had a monopoly on the telecoms sector, with a proposal for a joint venture. ZPTC rejected the offer branding mobile telephony as "a passing fad, which would never amount to much." When Strive tried going it alone, the Zimbabwean government refused to give him an operating license. Most argue this was for political reasons and to maintain the current monopoly that ZPTC had.
In spite of this, Strive remained confident in his dream and fought a 5-year legal battle until he was finally granted a license. Today his MNO, Econet Wireless maintains a healthy monopoly in the telecoms sectors. Its parent company Econet Global owns various telecommunications, fintech & renewable energy companies globally. Due to his unique perspective and foresight into the future of mobile connectivity, Strive was named as part of Fortune's World's 50 Greatest Leaders.
Bezos, the DotCom crash and his relentless customer obsession
At the peak of the dotcom boom in 1999, Bezos when asked if Amazon was an internet company (a label that investors loved at the time), replied:
"It doesn't matter to me whether we're an internet play, what matters to me is do we provide the best customer service? Internet, shminternet"
In an era when most companies were rushing to go digital and become "internet companies", Bezos saw beyond the hype due to perspective. His most important goal - customer obsession, lead him to augment online and physical stores.
This move led to improved logistical efficiencies, which helped better serve both customers and merchants. With its users happy, Amazon has grown to become one of the biggest companies in the world, while most "internet companies" crashed post-2000 📉.
How to improve your Perspective?
- Network & interact with exceptional individuals
The best way to improve your world perspective is to network with and interact with brilliant individuals. Widen your social circle to include people who motivate you, people you can learn from and people you can build with. Attend conferences and meetups where industry leaders are speaking. Send cold emails and reach out to people you consider role models.
"Networking is not about just connecting people. It's about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities." -- Michele Jennae
- Ask (a lot of) questions.
Innovation comes from those who dare question the status quo. Instead of conforming, they ask why things are the way there. Learning to ask questions, a simple How, Who, What, When, Where, and Why will unveil a lot of hidden insights. By asking questions, we get to learn how things work, and only then can we change or improve them.
- Do not be afraid to fall.
Experience is the best teacher, mistakes and failures are nothing but lessons learnt. Lessons that over time you will not repeat. These lessons will give you unique insights when working on related problems. Use these lessons and fail up. Fail up to bigger challenges and do not stop till your perspective eventually lands on success.
- Study the greats
The digital era has brought about so much rich data that we can use to study and learn from the greats. Read books and memoirs, watch ted talks and documentaries, and skim through Instagram posts and Twitter threads. The internet is abundant with information that will help you grow your knowledge base and give you a fresh perspective, utilise it!
- Do not rush the process.
Insights take time & are accrued over a lifetime. A lot of the people we envy today have failed and got it wrong so many times. There are lessons to be learnt that only time can teach. The universe will repeat these lessons until you take the time to learn them. Changing your perspective takes time, put in the work and in due time you will reap the results.
Perspective is essential when it comes to innovation. To innovate, leaders need to see beyond what others in the field are looking at. The best leaders like Strive, Sundar and Jeff go against the norm. They do this not because they are stubborn, but because their perspective unveils game-changing insights about the world.
"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see"- Henry David Thoreau