For his time, Jules Verne was remarkably forward-looking and imaginative, or at least I thought so as a child. In his novels, what Jules Verne demonstrated was the leadership of imagination – to make steps towards the possible. In his most notable works, Jules Verne’s theme was to extend nascent knowledge from both the ages of enlightenment and industrialization to imagine where we’d go.
His answers included the depths and extent of the oceans and the earth, and far-ranging journeys of the globe-trotter, with a wistful style that amplified an atmosphere of the extraordinary. If I fast-forward to today, although the imagination about the possible that Jules Verne provided in Around the World in 80 Days is still inspiring, the details are quaint.
The revolution in mobile computing and the seamless availability of wirelessly-transmitted data and information suggest that 80 seconds of video should be sufficient for me to “cover the world,” and my service would be considered just average if the data transmission latency were 80 milliseconds.
The Leadership of Imagination
Imagination is a key component of innovation and the belief and thirst for innovation is its own leadership. We are in a hyper-connected world where our data-generating and -consuming devices have us connected not only to each other, but also to a data and decision-making environment that are at a level of Jules Verne’s wistful imagination, and the stuff of science fiction just a few decades ago.
Such an environment has gifted us the term “influencer” where one can advantage themselves in a connected environment to garner an audience that shares in their experiences, perhaps around the clock. Further to this is the phenomena of both digital nomads and ubiquitous connectivity where one can project influence via a network follows us to all corners and locations.
What makes this possible is obvious to everyone, we all have handheld devices – phones – that we bring everywhere with us, that we use to capture our environment (willfully or otherwise), and use to project our presence at all times (again, willfully or otherwise). The sublime, the jarring, and the mundane have each become immediately accessible in ways that have yet to be understood. If anything, we live in a constant sociological experiment in that regard.
Stan Sigman Leadership and Innovation Series
These reflections are occasioned by the third running of the annual Stan Sigman Leadership and Innovation Series sponsored by the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business. The series was conceived to honor Stan Sigman for his compelling and effective influence on leadership and innovation at AT&T Wireless. This year the series is honored to host Jennifer Van Buskirk, EVP and GM for AT&T’s Mid-Markets business organization, which serves small- and medium-size business customers.
Jennifer exemplifies Stan Sigman’s leadership principles and values of focus, accountability, and execution of strategy. She will be engaging the campus community in a fireside chat discussion with Gene Edwards Professor of Finance, Dr. Anne Macy, on October 12th at 9:45 am in Legacy Hall on the Canyon Campus of West Texas A&M University. All are welcome, especially students.
While I am happy to share who Jennifer is, the real question is who is Stan Sigman and why am I writing this article about him? Beyond promoting the campus event and Jennifer’s visit, reflecting on Stan Sigman is an opportunity to reflect on the profound importance that leadership has on innovation and innovative outcomes.
At AT&T (and with other telecommunications companies prior), Stan Sigman built successful teams of strong leaders who were given the freedom to make decisions and were held accountable for results. Stan Sigman is an alumnus of the Paul & Virginia Engler College of Business at WT where he earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in 1970 (West Texas State University at the time).
Sigman began his career in telecommunications and wireless technology in the Texas Panhandle, and prominently progress to top leadership at AT&T prior to retirement. Most will know Stan Sigman for the instrumental role he played in the industry-shaking AT&T partnership with Apple to deliver the iPhone. The early partnership saw AT&T to be the exclusive carrier of iPhones in the first years they were on the market.
However, there is deeper hidden treasure in Stan’s backstory that is the crux of this article. Stan’s career was marked with critical industry shaping innovations such as intercarrier billing, roaming agreements, interoperable phones, and networks standards that would facilitate worldwide connectivity. These innovations resulted in the United States having the most advanced wireless networks, devices, and lowest costs in the world.
Billing and roaming agreements may seem mundane at first, but the ability for you to follow your favorite influencer wherever he or she may roam, or get instantaneous connection to world events, or to plan your next workout using Google Maps, are all possible because network interconnectivity reverses a Tower of Babel problem of standards and network interoperability.
You can travel abroad and Google your way through the unknown because, for a price, you can enjoy mobile wireless (or wing it using WiFi hotspots). There is more seamlessness in this regard than working out which power standards and adapters you’ll need to keep your devices juiced up.
In this regard, the entire industry, not just AT&T, benefitted from Stan Sigman’s innovative approach and vision. As I have heard it from a few of those who knew Stan Sigman well, Stan was motivated by visions of the possible and adept at driving teams together towards the realization of those visions. While Stan was an innovative thinker and engineer in his own right, a large part of his success was a leadership style that fostered a climate of innovation.
Stan was instrumental in leading an industry shaping partnership with Apple to produce the iPhone; it was the years of Stan’s leadership principles, technical innovation, and vision that made AT&T the logical partner for Apple. This makes Stan an influencer in his own right by taking bold steps towards the possible.
In this manner, although I don’t know it, I’d imagine that Stan was copacetic with Jules Verne’s propensity to develop visions of possible futures and drive the imagination towards those outcomes.