Technology leaders take the stage at TAG’s 2015 Georgia Technology Summit

By Kinsey Lee Clark, Anne Maxwell Douglass and Eli Watkins

This article was picked up by TAG’s Hubwire.

This year’s topic at the Technology Association of Georgia’s Georgia Technology Summit was “Disruptive Innovations…The Power to Inspire.”

It appeared that each keynote speaker took this theme to heart, offering lessons of risk, creativity and success in the technology industry.

Jim Chen, the vice president of regulatory affairs and associate general counsel of Tesla, started the summit with a preview of upcoming products from the motor company.

In 2017, Tesla will release its Model III, a more affordable electronic vehicle—compared to past generation models—with a starting price point of $35,000.

Because electric vehicles currently make up only one percent of the total vehicle market, Tesla sees traditional motor companies as their competition and encourages other EV manufacturers to challenge the status quo with them.

“We don’t talk about trying to get everybody in a Tesla but to get everyone in an electric vehicle,” Chen said. “That’s what the mission is all about, to get us away from the monopoly oil has on our transportation sector and shift to a more sustainable method.”

Chen explained Tesla’s goals for sustainability expand beyond transportation. The same batteries that fuel its EVs can be developed as stationary storage units, which could eliminate communities’ dependence on major power grids or even provide energy sources for less developed countries without electric infrastructure.

“A lot of people have [said], ‘You’re building a 10 million square foot facility to produce batteries … but you’re not going to produce that many cars,’” Chen said. “They’re right; we’re not. We’re doing other things, as well, and that’s what disruptive technology is all about.”

John Rossman, the former director of enterprise services at Amazon and author of The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles of the World’s Most Disruptive Company, spoke about some of Amazon’s core philosophy and how he believed it led to innovative results.

“Play by a different set of rules, the rules of disruption,” Rossman told attendees.

He said this was best done by utilizing technology and speed as well as investing big and for a long term. Perhaps most important of all, he said, was to focus on the customer. By identifying the customer, outlining their problems and ultimately transforming their experience, one would have a successful path forward.

“Leaders start with the customer and work backwards,” Rossman said.

The virtue of leadership, for Rossman, could not be overstated. He stressed the competitiveness of the business environment and the power of disruptive innovation. New companies quickly overtake old ones, and leaders must always be on the lookout for creative, disruptive solutions.

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a senior lecturer in leadership and innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management, shared his findings on the common qualities of disruptive innovators and what makes an idea disruptive.

Gregersen echoed Jeff Bezos’ idea that disruption occurs continuously.

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when, for not only individuals, but companies,” he said. “Every day we’re waking up we’re doing things that not only disrupt the industrial community; we are doing things that lead us to be disruptive.”

His most recent book, The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, explores the qualities common to successful innovators. Gregersen and his co-authors identified the 50 most innovative companies in the world, interviewed their founding entrepreneurs and current CEOs and conducted over 6,000 DNA survey assessments of leaders around the world to explore the connection between DNA and capacity for innovation.

Gregersen found that successful innovators do five things: connect seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts, question everything, observe, experiment and network.

Gregersen exemplified the convergence of these factors in the example of how Douglas Dietz, the inventor of MRI machines, observed how children were terrified of his machines and found a way actually make children look forward to it by reframing the experience as an “adventure,” complete with colorful murals and a comic book story.

“Innovation is about caring enough to do something about it,” Gregersen said.