Leading Change: 3 Key Tips from Wi-Fi Pioneer Cees Links

Human Hand holding a Wi-Fi symbol in the air

Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis post is part of our Expert Series in which Hanneke Siebelink shares valuable leadership lessons from a list of experts, researchers and role models she selected and talked to. Read all LeadershipWatch Series articles here.

Did you ever hear the story of how Cees (‘Case’) Links, whose boyish face lights up behind his glasses when he recounts it now, convinced Steve Jobs to embrace Wi-Fi, the wireless internet technology he co-invented? ‘The whole idea for Wi-Fi came about at a McDonald’s in the Netherlands where we managed to link our cordless phones together’, Links explains. He then proceeded to spend almost a decade pursuing the idea, which nobody thought particularly useful. Until finally, in 2000, the tipping point arrived. Steve Jobs called ‘unexpectedly’ and invited him to give a presentation in Silicon Valley. ‘With Jobs it was quite easy: you put your slides on the overhead projector and then he started to talk. From time to time he said: ‘Next slide.’ Until no slides were left. He said he rather liked it. From then on it was drinking from a firehose.’

Cees Links, father of five and now CEO of chip company GreenPeak Technologies (www.greenpeak.com), invented a groundbreaking technology, and managed to turn his vision into reality. And yet, not many people know him. Links, currently pioneering Smart Homes and the Internet of Things, clearly does not seek the spotlights. ‘I attach little importance to it’, he says when asked if he would like to be more famous. Reason enough, I thought, to look at how this 57-year old operates and leads. Which 3 key things can business leaders learn from Cees Links?

1. Look far into the future. Look further than the rest

When Links and his team thought up Wi-Fi and created the first wireless LANs (Local Area Networks), he asked his wife to sew a laptop in his jacket so he could ‘illustrate that, in the future, people would carry their computers everywhere they went. It is good to see that really happened.’

Now here’s a man who consistently thinks years (say 10) ahead, understands technological developments, and keeps his eyes on the horizon as he turns his strategy to action. An important skill in these times of relentless change. Links, whose current firm produces Zigbee chips (‘a kind of Wi-Fi but for Smart Homes’), on where we go from here:

‘I think a Smart Home is actually the first chapter of what we call The Internet of Things. Just like how WI-FI started with the consumer in Apple Airport and iBook and now you see it everywhere, I think that once the sensor and the technology concepts are well understood, it will become industry hardened. I envision this to go out into any industry – into building automation, into agriculture, into cattle management, into logistics, and even into retail. A Smart Home, even as big as it can be, it is just phase one of the Internet of Things, which will again completely change the way we communicate with each other, as well as with our environment.’

Learn from Cees Links and educate yourself on technological developments. Understand what they mean for your business, and keep your eyes on the horizon as you navigate.

2. Execute!

Links: ‘Having an idea is easy, execution isn’t. You know you need to cross the ocean, but you can never do it in one go. You’ll sail from island to island; sometimes you will get it wrong and will have to turn. Dreaming is not difficult, figuring out what the rights steps are to turn the dream into reality: that is difficult.’

Good ideas are useless if they are not turned into concrete results. Creating a good strategy roadmap – one that creates a kind of rhythm, like a drumbeat, in your company or organization – can help you and your team to focus and refocus in the execution phase. Read this strategy execution checklist to further stimulate your thinking.

Leading Complex Change

Find more about our Leading Change and Strategy Execution Services.

3. Never Give Up

When Links invented Wi-Fi, nobody believed that it would be a working, reliable resource with any useful application. Until 2000 when Apple implemented this technology in their Airport and iBook products. Wi-Fi became a reality only after a decade’s worth of effort.

‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal; It is the courage to continue that counts,’ Winston Churchill once said. Cees Links chose as his most important motto: ‘Never give up, there is always another chance.’

Quote of Cees Links on Green background

So take these men’s advice to heart and cultivate a Link-like stubbornness: ‘If it turns out I took the wrong road, I just try again.’


Sources: Elsevier Magazine (Reed Business Media), Interview by Wouter van Noort of 17 May 2014. / Wireless&RF Magazine, March 2014. / Twitter @CeesLinks.

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Hanneke_actief2Hanneke Siebelink is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across divisions, companies and cultures. In the Expert Series she shares valuable leadership lessons from a list of experts and role models she selected and talked to. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

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