A revered tech tradition in which extrovert entrepreneurs boldly make contact with strangers is due for a little disruption, a leading introvert told Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference on Thursday.

Networking could learn a thing or two from less-gregarious, more-selective colleagues in the tech community, said Susan Cain, the author of QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Cain opened the conference with a keynote address calling on the noisy, excitable tech world, with its passion for constant groupthink, to dial it down a notch and tune into the ideas of people who solve problems solo.

“The most effective teams are a mix of extroverts and introverts,’’ said Cain, a lawyer-turned-writer. “But you don’t want everybody super-quiet, because nothing gets said.”

People should be “choosy” and strategic about who they add to their networks, Cain said.

“Less is more,’’ she added in an interview after signing copies of her book. “Seek out the people you truly like . . . It’s the authentic relationships that will get you somewhere in the end.”

Cain was among keynote speakers and special conference guests who urged attendees to avoid getting trapped by conventional thinking.

Matt Scobel, Manager of the Canon Innovation Lab, gave a rapid-fire presentation on the 15 impediments to innovation. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

Matt Scobel, Manager of the Canon Innovation Lab, gave a rapid-fire presentation on the 15 impediments to innovation. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

Matt Scobel, Manager of the Canon Innovation Lab in the Communitech Hub, listed 15 impediments to innovation, including building teams so focused on success they miss the value of failure.

“How do we fix this?” he asked. “By getting out of the way and letting them do the job we hired them to do.”

Champions of change

The sold-out conference at Bingemans in Kitchener also featured four, one-hour breakout sessions led by:

  • Ari Horie, founder and CEO of the Women’s Startup Lab (WSL) in California’s Silicon Valley. Horie talked about emerging “intrapreneurship’’— products and services created by employees within an organization. WSL, which runs two-week and two-month accelerator programs for entrepreneurs, now accepts intrapreneurs. “Intrapreneurs get to see behind the glossy veneer of the startup culture,” Horie said. “They get to see the suffering, too, in entrepreneurship, as well as the curiosity and passion that you can bring to a company with your ideas.”
  • David Schonthal, Clinical Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Business Design. Schonthal discussed the importance of design thinking as a way at looking at things through a human-centred lens. People tend to start with a solution — technology — rather than ask what is desirable, he said.
  • Giff Constable, CEO of Neo, an innovation consultancy. Constable talked about disruptive innovation. Constable said the best way for a company to stop disruption from outside is to create an “innovation studio” inside. One key ingredient — plenty of autonomy.
  • Michael Caralis, Director of National Business Operations for Verizon Wireless. Caralis outlined the world-changing potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) — not just in the realm of consumer devices, but in managing health, traffic and parking, public safety and other aspects of life.

The launch of smartphones had a financial impact of $3 trillion-$4 trillion on the global economy, he said. The IoT could have an impact of $14 trillion-$19 trillion.

“Those companies that don’t adapt to disruptive technologies – which IoT is, a disruptive technology to the marketplace – may not be here tomorrow,” Caralis said.

And a measure of caution

That shift to the Internet of Things comes with new responsibilities on the part of companies creating connected products, said Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, an interaction designer based in London, England.

One of the conference’s keynote speakers, Deschamps-Sonsino said consumers are already “anxious about (something) we don’t really understand, and haven’t bought into yet.”

Companies need to think about such things as the long-term storage of data from devices that consumers no longer use or hand off to others, she said.

Eddie Obeng gave an animated keynote address to close out TLC 2015. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

Eddie Obeng gave an animated keynote address to close out TLC 2015. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

Eddie Obeng closed the day with an energetic talk about how disruptive thinking is often disrupted by too many emails, meetings and plain, cold fear.

Leaders shouldn’t ignore the fears of their teams, “but face them early and resolve them,’’ said Obeng, founder of Pentacle Virtual Business School in London, England.

Nor should leaders shrug off obnoxious customers, he added. Seek them out, Obeng said: they are a valuable cache of ideas.

The conference also heard from two other tech executives.

James Slifierz introduced attendees to SkyWatch, a startup that connects — and shares — data collected by space- and ground-based observatories.

Loren Padelford of Shopify, the Ottawa-based e-commerce company whose stock soared in its initial public offering last week, offered some advice on hiring sales staff. Among his tips: get candidates to tell a story.

How well they do it, Padelford said, is a good indicator of how well they’ll engage people on a call.

The conference encouraged people to not to settle for the usual, the safe and the ordinary, said Iain Klugman, Communitech’s CEO.

“You have to be constantly challenging yourself if you’re going to stay at the edge,” he said in an interview. “Otherwise you’re just going to be dragged back to the normal.”

What attendees had to say:

“TLC brings world-class speakers sharing innovative approaches on how companies need to evolve and become leading-edge businesses.” – Shawn Khan, Talent Acquisition at NetSuite

“This is my first time at TLC. Everyone is so excited to be here, you can immediately feel the energy. I’m having an amazing time.” – Rachel Pautler, CEO at Suncayr (Velocity startup)

“The best chance to reconnect with the best and brightest in the region. A re-invigorating look at the future.” – Tony Niederer, Director of Marketing Services, Unitron

“We heard from a lot of people that they had driven by our building, but were curious about what we are working on. Having the opportunity to connect face-to-face to demonstrate our connected car platform was fantastic.” – Stephanie Lopinski, Public Relations and Events Specialist, IMS, which had a display in TLC’s touchable tech expo

“It’s an awesome event. It was a great networking event.” – Amy Reier, lawyer, Miller Thomson

“Great opportunity to hear about the innovative things that are happening in our region and beyond.” – Alex Hardy, Partner, BDO Canada

“You cultivated an environment of learning, but you took people to places that were uncomfortable – and that’s great. It was a blur of learning. It didn’t feel like a full day. I can’t believe it’s done.” – Jody Youngblut, Executive VP/Brand Strategist, Crankworks Creative

“I’ve been told there have been 15 Tech Leadership Conferences, so I have been to 15 of them. There is a lot that I took away. With Eddie Obeng, it was the way that you have to look at your crazy ideas and make them your number one priority. My takeaway from Susan Cain is that we have to embrace our introverts. And that you have to really encourage people to think outside the box and not embrace the status quo; but look outside and do things a little differently, and not accept the norms in our daily lives.” – Scott Murphy, VP Business Development at Data Perceptions

“One of my key takeaways is to identify the fears that people have and to be able to eliminate those fears in order to move forward and continue doing what I want to do. I thought all the speakers were engaging, intelligent and had a lot of great things to say.” – Erin Rahnenfuehrer, Team Lead at NetSuite