Lance Solomon of Promethean On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives
An Interview With David Liu
…The potential to bring technology and fast connections to marginalized populations: Right now, the current infrastructure is inconsistent globally. If we can deliver 5G to marginalized populations, we can create better outcomes for students and teachers, especially for those in developing countries, that’s a huge benefit. 5G gives you more power and scale.
5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?
In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lance Solomon, Chief Product Officer.
Lance Solomon leads product strategy, innovation, technology, and development as Promethean’s Chief Product Officer. Previously, he and his team brought Promethean products to market as Executive Vice President of Operations, and before joining Promethean, Lance was an executive at Amazon Web Services leading planning, purchasing, and delivering new technology to the data center. Lance holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics from Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Science Degree in Operations Research/Industrial Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I took a non-traditional route to leading product at Promethean. I started my journey in tech and building mathematical models at Intel, then veered into manufacturing and driving supply chain strategies at Cisco. That set me up to lead a global supply chain team at Logitech and ultimately at Amazon. In a sense, I had customers with needs and had to build a solution to meet their needs, which included having a deep understanding of coding, algorithms, and creating user interfaces. My background in tech facilitated that understanding of how we solve those customer needs that aren’t currently being met. This experience enabled me to successfully pivot into running product development at Promethean.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Early in my career at Intel, I was creating decision support models for manufacturing and we had all these phenomenal insights which our team lead wanted us to share with the SVP. When we sat down at the meeting, the SVP walked in and said he already knew about the data, and had already written his own code for the factory floor — even showing us on his laptop. It was then and there I understood the value of being interested in data. The SVP was curious enough to follow the data on his own and he didn’t need all the fancy modeling. Just because you have a fancy solution, doesn’t mean you need it to solve the problem.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The better we get at getting better, the faster we’ll get at getting better” — Douglas Engelbart, U.S. inventor
Early in my career, I was developing these mathematical techniques to drive better decisions for leaders, and I had to be an evangelist as part of my role as a product manager. I noticed the leaders who were constantly seeking improvement and innovation were the ones who had the biggest impact on the organization. And this quote captures what I witnessed early in my career, and is relevant to the perspective I have now. It’s knowing that today’s accomplishments are irrelevant and tomorrow brings improvement and opportunity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m going to expand your question a little and focus on three leaders each of which had an influence in a unique way getting me to where I am today. I had the opportunity to work with each of these leaders during my time at Logitech where I grew from a manager to a leader. First, was Michelle Hermann, who helped me learn that an organization is like a product and taking well informed risks on innovating your “product” can create a step function change in the impact that organization has for the company. It turns out Michelle also made the transition from an operational to a product role, so she has indirectly taught me that not only was the path possible, but she was a role model for making that transition.
Because of Michelle’s desire to innovate, I was able to get time in front of Joe Sullivan, who was always looking for what was “next” at the organization. I witnessed that innovation and drive to anticipate the future unfold in real time and got to be part of that. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to take some ideas to Joe and the rest of the C-suite. I was sweating and nervous but I distinctly remember how passionate Joe was about receiving new ideas. He was so interested and open that he was willing to give me a platform that enabled me to lead a significant size of the business. He’s an example of someone who is constantly looking to improve operations and prepare the organization for what’s to come.
With the platform Michelle and Joe created for me with the Logitech Leadership Team, I was able to be part of Bracken Darrell’s focus on creating a design company. I saw how creating a design company goes beyond just the physical product a company sells. Each of us has a “product” that we deliver and bringing a design mindset will lead to better outcomes for customers allowing your “product” to scale.
Each of these leaders not only helped provide the opportunities that I had but each provided unique mentorship forming the principles that guide me. Learning from these leaders created the mentality that helped get me to where I am today.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Not being satisfied with the status quo. It goes back to the quote from Douglas Engelbart, where you’re either getting better, or worse by being stagnant. Early in my career, being an evangelist and bringing mathematical techniques to operating facilities was a significant part of my role, yet new to my customers. To be successful, I knew never to be satisfied, and convinced others to take on the same trait.
Bringing an analytical mindset to everything. You need to have emotion but also that analytical mindset to successfully lead an organization. There may be a constant push and pull with internal business partners. Introducing the data into the equation and having healthy conversations with both teams, about how that data relates to each vertical, ultimately creates tangible outcomes.
Appreciate the power of relationships. It’s a lonely road to go at it alone. If you want to solve the harder problems, you’re going to have to reach across boundaries and build relationships — and that takes work. We’re not going to be able to make a substantial change if we don’t have relationships or conversations to work through different viewpoints.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?
Right now at Promethean, we’re doing research into customer needs, how we solve those needs in creative ways, and determining how we integrate our findings into new products. It’s exciting and I can’t reveal too much, however, I can tell you we’re looking at how to ensure our products work for educators, teachers, and IT administrators, no matter the location. Ultimately, it will streamline teaching and IT support.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?
For customers, 5G is a more reliable and a higher quality connection, especially in terms of data. It’s also easy to scale because you can get 5G without having to bury fiber in the ground. We’ll really see its benefit where it’s harder to get higher speed internet connections now. When you eliminate the part of the process of having to build the infrastructure, you quicken the time to provide 5G accessibility. Countries and communities which don’t have fiber already in place will have the opportunity to scale connectivity with 5G.
Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.
For product developers: If we want to process data closer to the customers or help students and teachers live in the classroom, 5G will enable us to speed up that process, and that equates to teachers, where lessons will be portrayed as being in real-time from the classroom, regardless of where the students are learning from.
Mobility: Beyond education, the trend with COVID is remote work. Many companies are rethinking their office strategy and a lot of work in the future looks hybrid. You can’t get rid of the need for in-person collaboration, but we’ve proved that we can be successful in this flexible environment.
The potential to bring technology and fast connections to marginalized populations: Right now, the current infrastructure is inconsistent globally. If we can deliver 5G to marginalized populations, we can create better outcomes for students and teachers, especially for those in developing countries, that’s a huge benefit. 5G gives you more power and scale.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?
Just because we can process this much data out in the field doesn’t mean that we should. Right now, we’re rolling out 5G in places where it’s not necessarily needed. We shouldn’t look to it as a replacement of 4G, but rather as an introduction to people and places that need connectivity most. Personally, 5G hasn’t impacted me at all. If I were to turn my WiFi off on my phone, I would have a 5G figure — I’m only on one part of the spectrum and I don’t think it’s worth putting it in places where “good enough” connectivity already exists.
Some have raised the question that 5G might widen the digital divide and leave poor people or marginalized people behind. From your perspective, what can be done to address and correct this concern?
That’s a misconception. In fact, 5G has the potential to close the digital divide, not widen it. Right now, we’re facing a prioritization problem and the spectrum is multi-dimensional. For example, in schools, there is a digital divide between those who do and don’t have access to technology. My son’s middle school is in the middle of Seattle, but the tech leader doesn’t have WiFi. There is an inconsistent rollout, even with those who might be on the “accessible” side of the digital divide. We need to be talking about how we distribute 5G and where it is most advantageous to do so.
Excellent. We are nearly done. Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the telecommunication industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Look for wins with an impact: hiring managers now can find anyone who can do the job, but if you want to go above and beyond, look for wins that have an impact on the greater organization as a whole.
Run your work like it’s your own business: if you’re working with customers and a product, run it like you want to keep your customers coming to you to solve their problems. The more you develop, the more responsibility you’ll have.
Be curious about data: don’t wait for the business intelligence department to figure out how to get the data and what you can learn from it. Be proactive. Look at data not just for an explanation but as an opportunity to learn something new.
Match your leadership style to the situation: be a part of the team and be more self-aware. Know when to dive in and when to let the team run with an idea.
Be a good storyteller: making your stories simple and digestible will ultimately make an impact.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I wouldn’t necessarily inspire a new movement, but I would like to spearhead momentum for sustainable design. There is a lot of waste created in the electronics industry. Everyone wants a new version of their phone, TV, laptop, etc., but where do the old ones go? Globally, we need to do better, and to transition this concept into a movement, we have to inspire the customers. To me, designing for sustainability means we’re thinking through every component and the entire tech lifecycle.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.