Three Steps to Building a Learning Culture That Delivers Innovation

To create technological solutions for grand challenges, companies must foster cultures that support continuous learning and team optimism.

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Many of the biggest, most daunting challenges of our time need technological solutions as quickly as possible. And all over the world, there are teams of scientists, engineers, and business leaders looking to create those solutions. But it takes more than expertise, hard work, and determination to come up with them. It takes a culture that supports continuous learning and daily experimentation.

I know this from experience. Over the past 10 years, my team and I at Wi-Charge have been on a journey to create something that long eluded scientists: true wireless power. We committed to doing so in a very different way from other attempts — one that would be cleaner and greener.

From the beginning, we knew that our goal might not be achievable. Other groups were working to create wireless electricity using radio frequencies that send out broad signals, only a bit of which is captured and used for power. All that wasted power can be environmentally damaging. We wanted to instead create a way for electricity to travel through the air via infrared light, which is more energy efficient and directable. We imagined that with an infrared system, virtually all of the power emitted could be captured by a device and used for power.

The building blocks to make this happen did not exist. Infrared light is abundant all around us, but it had never been used to carry electricity through the air. We would have to start from scratch and spend years engaged in trial and error, working to create the microscopic particles that would allow this to happen. We would have to keep challenging ourselves, learning about the latest advancements in nanotechnology, and drawing lessons from many failures.

Now that we’re on the other side, with our system up and running in retail outlets, helping to reduce e-waste (such as cords and batteries), we’re able to look back and see what it took to get here. While the skills of our team were essential, the biggest reason we ultimately succeeded was our culture of continuous learning. Three steps in particular allowed that culture to thrive.

Let Go of Ego

The team I oversee is made up of highly driven, well-trained, brilliant engineers. With that kind of brainpower, it can be especially difficult to let go of egos.

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