Editor’s note: Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.
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Looking around the world today, things appear grim. The bank crisis in Cyprus threatened property rights of depositors; the EU economy is challenged and the US is slipping in global competitiveness rankings. Many look to the government for answers to economic problems, but we should be looking to the private sector for leadership and examples. By taking a look at the world’s most successful businesses and asking how they’ve achieved their greatness, countries, businesses, and individuals alike can learn to adapt winning strategies to help achieve their own goals as well.
In the 30 years I’ve spent in the consumer electronics industry, I’ve seen my fair share of companies that have tried and failed, and other savvy ones that have succeeded. During that time, I took mental notes on what characteristics, strategies, and personality traits the most successful entrepreneurs shared, eventually coining the term “ninja innovation” to describe the strength, cunning, intensity and adaptability they have in common.
The foundational trait of a ninja innovator is his or her commitment to victory. This means that his goal must be to outwit the enemy, or the competition, with a strategy in place to win. To do this, a ninja innovator must assemble a ‘strike force’ – a team of professionals that will help him achieve his goal. Many think of entrepreneurs as starting alone in a garage or basement and building an empire through individual toil. In reality, most successful entrepreneurs benefited from the insight and contributions of many people along the way to achieve those goals.
Next, the ninja innovator and his team must be prepared to take risks. The most successful business leaders treat their assignments as a way of life, not just a day job. It’s easy to want consistency and to avoid risk, but by being savvy and assessing the outcomes of different options, one can get a jump on competitors and position a company as the industry leader. Taking risks includes the possibility of failure, but a ninja innovator is prepared to learn from his mistakes and press on toward the goal in spite of setbacks.
The best way to prepare for these mishaps is to develop a living strategy that can change depending on the environment. By putting a blueprint in place, the ninja innovator knows the direction she’s willing to go and can quickly adapt and adjust to whichever situation comes her way. Ninja innovators also take advantage of their surroundings, always evaluating the opportunities and threats that are around them.
Finally, ninja innovators never settle and are never satisfied. The most successful business leaders are the ones that are always improving, always trying to find ways to achieve the next rung of success. Similarly, they have energy and passion to keep their businesses fresh and exciting. Ninja innovators think about what can be, rather than what is. They challenge themselves to make things happen, they make goals and they achieve.
Later this month, thousands of entrepreneurs in the technology space will gather in Amsterdam for The Next Web Conference Europe 2013, where we’ll explore these ideas in greater detail. I’m honored to be delivering a keynote address, but I’m most looking forward to meeting more ninja innovators and sharing ideas for success. The philosophy of ninja innovation is one that troubled companies – and governments – should turn to for guidance on navigating the course out of crisis and back to profitability and financial security.
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