In most industries, there are titans that not only dominate the landscape but that also pave the way for future innovators. The technology sector has globally known companies such as Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google among its powerhouses.
While these giants may have resources and capabilities not open to most smaller companies, they still offer valuable lessons to business leaders—and not just the CTO. Below, 15 members of Forbes Technology Council share some key lessons business leaders can learn from the tech industry’s dominant players.
1. Take a customer-first approach.
The lesson we can take from the majority of successful organizations is their customer-first approach. Technology has the power to revolutionize the customer experience, but only if the business delivering it is geared up to do so. Too many companies get sucked into experimenting with technology and forget why they bought it in the first place. – Sanjay Brahmawar, Software AG
2. Keep your teams small.
Out of many, the “two-pizza team” philosophy is one of the critical lessons if you want to become truly agile. Also, be a good people company. Limiting direct reports to 10 or fewer allows leads to know each individual properly and become a coach for professional and personal development. – Asanka Abeysinghe, WSO2, Inc.
3. Learn from your (and others’) mistakes, and keep moving forward.
Business leaders and startups should study the journey of these tech giants, as they have built their roadmap of success with many failures along the way. When someone else has already made a mistake and come out of that experience, we need to learn from them so we don’t waste time on the same issues and can get past them for faster growth. – Bhavna Juneja, Infinity, a Stamford Technology Company
4. Be willing to reinvent your business model.
For decades, big tech firms have shown resilience in adjusting to consumer trends, overcoming regulatory upheaval and forestalling market disruptions. Their success derives from their ability to recognize strategy decay and reinvent their business models while liberating resources for use in experiments and intrapreneurship. The quest for resilience begins with a strategy of continual renewal. – Christopher Yang, Corporate Travel Management
5. Use the right tool for the right job.
Tech powerhouses don’t pretend that their data processing or persistence needs can be served by monolithic, standardized tools. Their applications leverage purpose-built relational, wide column, key-value, object, time series and graph datastores combined with the right kinds of lambda, batch, micro-batched and streaming data transformation tools. Leading firms use the right tool for the right job. – Jason Crabtree, QOMPLX, Inc.
6. Build a culture of freedom (with boundaries).
The big tech companies have mastered the art of providing a nonthreatening culture of innovation within the structures of a formal organization—freedom with boundaries. That is their superpower. This in turn continues to attract the best talents to them, who then go on to create great products that make money. It is a virtuous cycle of hyper-normal growth that all enterprises strive to achieve. – Samiran Ghosh, Rockmetric
7. Leverage the power of collaboration.
One lesson tech leaders can glean from Microsoft specifically is the power of collaboration. CEO Sataya Nadella’s leadership has highlighted the importance of collaboration in rebuilding culture, setting a clear purpose to rally employees, creating a more effective approach to listening to customers, and working with partners in the tech ecosystem. Whether you’re a big enterprise or a small business, collaboration is vital. – Mike Dickerson, ClickDimensions
8. Grow your customer base by developing for future needs.
You can successfully manage the “innovator’s dilemma.” Large tech companies have been catering to their existing customers for years while also expanding to new customers by being at the forefront of new technologies and actively developing for future needs. There are three stage-agnostic strategies: define a core product, develop continuously and nurture a “day-one culture.” – Satadru Sengupta, Dobby
9. Foster a culture of learning.
One lesson that I have learned from Microsoft is the importance of a learning organization. A thriving organization must develop a culture of learning, curiosity and awe, pushing the boundaries of its knowledge to grow and have the opportunity to accomplish what no other organization has. We need to become comfortable with the idea that our entire set of knowledge might become obsolete within a few years. – Bob Fabien Zinga, Directly, Inc./U.S. Navy Reserve
10. Continue innovating if you want to survive.
We can learn how to continue innovating in our respective organizations. These giants can still pivot business models to innovate while many other companies stagnate or only focus on the bottom line, eventually becoming extinct. – Sameer Malhotra, TrueFort, Inc.
11. Don’t ignore lower-cost, disruptive products.
Large companies tend to focus on large markets with high-margin products. However, ignoring low-cost or disruptive products allows the competition to gain a foothold, which could lead to a formidable future competitor—as Japanese automakers have become in the U.S. Be sure to fully understand the impacts of under-supporting a market, and look for service gaps if you are a smaller company. – Jay Marshall, EyeLock LLC
12. Remember the importance of every step in the process.
These companies teach the importance of processes. They have thousands of employees to get a product built and out to the end-user—development, quality assurance, sales, marketing, etc.—and all of these people and functions are critical to success. It’s really no different for a small business that only has 10 people: It must have a product to sell, ensure it works, market it and deliver it to the end-user. – Brian Davidson, Congruity360
13. Focus on the end-user’s experience.
Today’s tech industry powerhouses are relentlessly focused on their customers’ needs. They put the end-user experience at the center of every decision made. In offering their customers simple and pleasant end-user experiences and personalization, tech powerhouses remind smaller companies that a customer-centric approach can be the biggest competitive advantage. – Maddison Long, CloudOps
14. Consistently update your roadmap and strategy.
One key lesson is that all business leaders need a two- to three-year product roadmap and strategy. It needs to be consistently updated from a progress and course adjustment perspective and shared with clients. – Mark Schlesinger, Broadridge Financial Solutions
15. Build a long-term vision for the future.
Whether it’s Apple, Amazon or Google, all tech powerhouses built a vision for their future. Sure, they had to adapt this roadmap periodically to fit with new constraints, but it remained their North Star. Every startup should study how these successful companies envisioned their place in humanity’s future and executed their plans to make it a reality. – Marc Fischer, Dogtown Media LLC