When I first imagined the self-driving car, I pictured a futuristic Mercedes, Tesla, BMW, or Toyota. Today, who is at the forefront of self-driving research? It’s not an automotive company. It’s Drive.ai – a software company started by lab mates out of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab.
When learning about Drive.ai, it became clear that leaders can learn three principles of good leadership by examining the quest to create a self-driving car.
1. Innovation requires new perspectives
Why are software engineers ahead of automotive designers? Drive.ai’s engineers don’t envision a self-driving car as the newest version of a vehicle. They don’t see a car at all. They look at the vehicle as a completely new robot.
In work, leaders often push to make their products better, faster, and at a cheaper cost. Micro improvements – new ideas that incrementally better a product – are categorized as “innovation”. While inventive leaders see the value of a micro improvement, this is not the innovation asked of their team. Inventive leaders encourage breakthrough thinking: a completely new way to view a problem and its corresponding solution.
Companies that hire teams with similar viewpoints and talents miss out on new perspectives that push for breakthroughs.
When a leader wants to encourage breakthrough innovation, she needs to create an environment that invites the team to bring different perspectives to the table.
2. Situational-Based Decisions
The self-driving car needs to know the difference between a plastic bag versus a large rock on the road and decide accordingly. Both the plastic bag and rock appear to be in the way of the car, but the solutions to these situations are quite different.
A leader needs to know the difference between problems that will not cause long-term harm versus problems that will hurt the company greatly if not properly addressed quickly and efficiently.
A shrewd leader does not approach every similar situation in the same way. For example, two employees are repeatedly leaving work early. While both employees exhibit a similar problem, the causes for their problems are very different. One employee leaves early because he’s bored at work. The other employee leaves early to take the next care-taking shift of an aging parent. A shrewd leader approaches the employees by each situation, gathering the facts necessary to make a good decision.
3. Importance of Social-Cues
Drive.ai’s focuses on developing software that can communicate with other drivers, vehicles, and bystanders. When we drive, we exhibit constant social cues in order to maintain safety between parties. We nod to someone on the crosswalk to acknowledge their presence as they cross the street. A cyclist raises her hand to the drivers behind, signaling an oncoming turn. We wave to another driver to enter a lane.
In order to allow her people to reach their different destinations and goals, a leader needs the interpersonal skills necessary to signal her team. She knows when to praise the success of a team member on a project. She brings up a potential failure to a client in order to prevent future accidents. As a self-driving car cannot be effective without communicating, a leader must communicate well to drive her team towards consistent success.
Remember, a ground-breaking leader drives a company like a quest to create a self-driving car: acknowledging the importance of social cues, situation-based decisions, and the impact of new perspectives towards innovation. Drive these qualities into your company, and you will meet the future with success.
[1-2] Brody, Lenard. “Teaching Social Cues to Driverless Vehicles.” KPMGVoice. Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016