Intel's executive leadership has stepped it up at this week's Intel Developer Forum. I used to do speaker reviews for Intel. After Andrew Grove left, though, poorly prepped speakers, sloppy presentations and missed opportunities defined IDF, with folks changing their presentations right up until they went on stage. Intel found my speaker reviews too critical, so I wasn't asked to continue.
This year, Intel executives were prepared and well-rehearsed. Even CEO Brian Krzanich brought the magic. This should help Intel once again take leadership in markets ranging from wearable devices and sensors to large-scale data centers. Intel may have actually outperformed Apple – partly because Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs, partly because of a level of execution I haven't seen from Intel in over a decade.
Why Executive Excellence Matters
Jobs set the bar; his execution was legendary, personally assuring that everything was "just right." This helped Apple, as it got people to see Apple products as more than the sum of their parts, to see the potential. The products were good, sure, but Jobs got us to see them as magical.
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Executives who puts a lot of effort into stage presence honor their staff and company. They show that what everyone did to create the technology, the product and even the event is as important to them, personally, as it should be to their staff. When they don't step up, it embarrasses everyone and makes it seem OK to perform poorly. This creates an environment where the company can't execute at a high level.
Krzanich took the lead this year with what had to be the best keynote talk I've seen since Grove left. What's more, he was followed by executive after executive who performed at a similar level. Krzanich set the bar high, and his people stepped up to meet it throughout the event.
I'm hard to impress; I was once ranked third nationally in competitive speaking and, years ago, medaled in four speaking events. Doing this right is about timing, writing, staging and writing. Intel hit on each and every point (with few exceptions) throughout the event. There were even signs of magic.
Intel Brings the Magic, Redefines What's Next
Early on, three things stood out at IDF: Tablets, wireless connectivity and wireless charging. These ideas will resonate and redefine what's coming.
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For the tablet presentation, Krzanich brought out what was probably the ugliest tablet I've seen since Microsoft launched its tablets nearly a decade and a half ago – big, heavy and thick, with a small screen to boot, the design epitomized "ugly." Sure, it had a cool camera with three optical sensors, but a great camera isn't a good tradeoff for an ugly tablet. Krzanich then broke the tablet open, extracting a new 6mm thin, 8-inch Dell tablet that made the iPad look obsolete. It was the kind of thing a magician might perform on stage.
Meanwhile, connectivity has been a huge issue for tablets and smartphones. While they increasingly offer PC-like performance, their small displays are too limiting, and their inability to connect to an external monitor or TV is painful. Intel demonstrated gigabit wireless technology that's simple to set up and solves that problem. With it, there's now an advantage to running Windows on a small device, as it can more easily step up to PC tasks.
Perhaps the most amazing, though, was inductive charging. Typically, this requires close contact between the device and the charging base. Intel can transmit the power some distance from the base, and through non-conductive materials such as wood, allowing folks to put the technology under desks and conference tables. Intel also announced a massive number of partners, which could make the charging brick a thing of the past in just a few short years.
The magic extended to enterprise products, where Intel contrasted the tight limitations of servers connected with copper cable to its new high-speed optical cable technology. The guy doing the demonstration took his end of the cable and wandered out of the conference center. He appeared to be headed for another state.
This level of performance can capture the imaginations of both buyers and developers. Creating passion drives new technologies to market, much more so than the failed "build it and they will come" Field of Dreams model.
If You Set the Bar High Enough, Everyone Will Jump Up to Meet You
When far-reaching core vendors such as Intel and Microsoft step up, they can drive industry change better than can a close vendor such as Apple. The IDF audience was pumped, largely because Intel used good stagecraft, and the result should be a more rapid advancement of the technologies that Intel wants to drive into the market.
I want to leave you with this point, though. It isn't about technology or product. It's incredibly important for executives to step up during events such as IDF. By doing so they honor their people, investors and customers, and they set a level of excellence. That should help Intel perform at a very high level once again.
I attend a monthly lunch with Intel's founders. Some used to stage Grove's talks. They sometimes lament how far Intel has fallen. This week, they'd be very proud of just how well their descendants executed.