Gary Shapiro: The Innovation Interview

Gary Shapiro, President & CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing over 2,000 consumer electronics companies and owning and producing the continent’s largest annual tradeshow, the International CES® shares his thoughts and insights on how technology and innovation are impacting the consumer electronics industry.

Shapiro led the industry in its successful transition to HDTV. He co-founded and chaired the HDTV Model Station and served as a leader of the Advanced Television Test Center (ATTC). He is a charter inductee to the Academy of Digital Television Pioneers, and received its highest award as the industry leader most influential in advancing HDTV. He focused on the need for and led the effort to obtain the 2009 cut-off date of analog broadcasting.

As chairman of the Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC), Shapiro led the manufacturers’ battle to preserve the legality of recording technology and consumer fair use rights.

Prior to joining the association, Shapiro was an associate at the law firm of Squire Sanders. He also has worked on Capitol Hill, as an assistant to a member of Congress. He received his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a double major in economics and psychology from Binghamton University. He is married to Dr. Susan Malinowski, a retina surgeon.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is doing something a different way so that it has value. It is a strategy that embraces careful planning and risk-taking, bold action and stealth. These elements seem to contradict one another, but as I started to really ponder what innovation looks like, I began to see connections between modern innovators and the ancient ninja warriors of Japan, which I elaborate on the book that CEA is publishing in January, “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of The World’s Most Successful Businesses”.

Ninjas were up-and-comers who relied on their talents to succeed. They were strategic and disciplined, but able to adapt to new challenges quickly. They had to be focused, constantly analyzing their surroundings for threats or tools. They were ruthless, but followed a code of honor. The same characteristics are required of today’s innovators, so I call them “Ninja Innovators.”

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

All industries could use more Ninja Innovators, but one that stands out right now is broadcasting. Broadcasters’ market share has declined annually for 30 years, and they have relied on government to protect them. I advise them to take advantage of their lower-cost structure as a strategic strength and “own” the local geographic area and go beyond broadcast. The industry should work to free itself from government strings and compete with cable, satellite, and Internet. Rather than seek regulation, they should remove all the content restrictions, programing requirements, retransmission mandates, and costly requirements imposed by bureaucracy.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Never stop learning. The most successful organizations have a culture of sharing and training. This means that the more experiences and success a person has, the greater the obligation to impart wisdom and pay it forward to the next generation.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I am proud of helping set the American strategy for HDTV as we are know doing for the next generation of HDTV, Ultra HDTV. I am also proud of building up the Consumer Electronics Association at the world’s greatest innovation event, the International CES. I also was thrilled to be part of the group that created the world’s first set of laws laying out how business can be done on the Internet. Preserving fair use rights and promoting home theater also give me pride.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

The trend is clearly toward digital. There will always be a special place in my heart for printed books and newspapers, but the accessibility, portability and other features offered in the latest wave of e-readers and tablets makes them hard to beat – until some ninja innovator thinks up a better one.

How are government policies impacting technology and innovation today?

When good leaders collaborate with a common purpose with stakeholders government can do great things as it did with HDTV and the Internet. But generally, government responds to the established powers with money and reputation to influence leaders. Rules are necessary, but if they are ambiguous or unclear, overreach, or give too much discretion to their enforcers, they stifle business and innovation. Regulation should not replace ethics. A government that works against or demonizes business and success is not helpful to innovation.

In your opinion, who has been the most innovative company in the past decade and who do you think will be the most innovative in the next decade?

I go through many of modern histories of the best innovators in “Ninja Innovation,” but Steve Jobs and Apple possess many ninja qualities. Jobs was smart, passionate, and relentless. He never retired while he could still produce. In the twilight of his life, he was still vowing to “destroy” the competition. His example inspired countless people to pursue victory in their own lives, if not necessarily in the same way.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon is another ninja innovator. Jeff is regularly described as brilliant, not only because of his native intelligence, but also because he has led Amazon to breakthroughs and prospered in tough times like the dot-com collapse in 2000. I think part of his secret is that he’s willing to challenge the status quo as well as shift his strategy when it’s required.

With Paul Otellini retiring as CEO of Intel in May of 2013, how do you feel the company is going to change? What new directions do you think the new CEO of Intel will take the company? Will the new CEO follow in the footsteps of Qualcomm and focus on mobile chips?

I’m sad to see Paul leave Intel, but excited to see where the company will go under its next CEO. Intel has set a great example for innovative thinking obviously in terms of technology, but also in branding. In the 1990s, they made people start caring about the chips in our computers. The “Intel Inside” brand is so ubiquitous now it’s almost difficult to remember how crazy that strategy was in the early 90s. Whoever the new CEO is, I’ll look forward to hearing from him or her at the International CES. Paul delivered a 2012 International keynote, and his predecessor, Craig Barrett, delivered CES keynote addresses several times as well. Intel has always used the CES platform masterfully, demonstrating how Intel “gets” technology and alternative futures.

While researching and writing your newly released book, “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses,” what was the most surprising strategic tactic that you learned?

One difficult concept is the value of failure. If you never fail at something, you are not stretching, risking and subject to self delusion about your own brilliance. (Of course, I want my Delta pilot not to follow this advice). American society as a whole, perhaps more than others around the world, values failure as experience. The American view of failure has led to our historical innovation dominance, but being “okay” with failure is very foreign for many businessmen. I write a lot about failure – my own as well as some of the big failures in the CE industry, like Microsoft’s “Bob,” aka the Dancing Paper Clip.

Which new companies and technologies do you expect to be the game changers at CES 2013 and why?

I am excited about UltraHD, 3D printing and heath care technology. But I am sure my answer will change soon. One exciting aspect of the International CES is how everyone who works in technology, or any industry that touches technology, is at the event and that we don’t know who are going to be the game changers at CES until the show begins. That is why face-to-face events like the International CES still are so crucial to how business gets done. People relish the chance to experience products first hand and to network with professionals from some 150 countries, to launch new products, pitch ideas and make a name for themselves amongst the “who’s who” of the global tech world.

With some 20,000 new products expected to be launched at the 2013 International CES, we expect to see game changers across many categories, including automotive technology and connected vehicles, digital health and fitness, gesture and voice recognition, smartphones and connected devices overall. The fun part is discovering the surprise successes and watching innovation abound across the CES showfloor.