Constellation Innovation. (Episode 49)

Interview with Vincent Wong, Head of Research & Advanced Engineering of Continental, Singapore.

Meet a man who is living in the future.

Meet Vincent Wong, Head of Research & Advanced Engineering of Continental, Singapore.

Vincent is Head of Research & Advanced Engineering of Continental, Singapore. His job is to work with figuring out what products, services and technologies Continental will offer to the market five years down the line.

Continental, famous for its tires, has over the last few years grown into a company that now defines itself as a company that “develops pioneering technologies and services for sustainable and connected mobility of people and their goods.” They employ more than 230,000 people worldwide, including around 1,500 in Singapore.

As Head of Research & Advanced Engineering Singapore, Vincent’s job is to look ahead. Let’s take autonomous driving as an example. There are different levels of autonomous driving, from technologies that helps you keep the speed and safety distance (adaptive cruise control) to self-parking technology, all the way to a car that can transport a person from A to B in normal city traffic without any input from a driver. Vincent and his team is working on the latter.  Another innovative area is in the development of a digital emphatic companion to aid drivers. Based on AI and smart sensor technologies, the digital companion senses the emotion of a driver and intelligently conducts conversations or providing driving aids based on the driver’s emotion and driving behavior.

When I point out to Vincent that his work is to live in the future, he laughs and humbly replies: “Yes, but not too far into the future.”

I asked Vincent what the most important skill is to live in the future and his reply to me was: “An openness to dare to imagine.”

I asked him what he meant.

“You need an openness to how things can be, and go out and meet people who might know some small aspect of, or embryo of, a future technology. You also need to have a balanced mind so that you can balance all the potential opportunities that the technology people will describe to you with all the real-life challenges and limitations that your clients and stake holders will bring up when you show them these potential technologies.”

A big part of Vincent’s job is to merge what we might be able to do, with what the markets are willing to buy.

The engineers come and show off some new technology and bursts out: “Look what we can do! And here are all the detail features….”

The clients often respond with: “I just want it to work! So, what can this thing that I am looking at really help me?”

Vincent lives in both of these – often separate – worlds. Going between the two almost like a time traveler, with the engineers living in the future and the clients living in the present. 

Vincent: “The innovators are often living in a dream. The clients are very much living in this reality and it can sometimes be frustrating to get these two worlds to meet, but when it clicks it’s a huge sense of achievement.”

Steve Jobs famously said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

And while that is beautifully put, Vincent’s job is to connect the dots looking forward. Or perhaps to look forward to find the dots, and then see how he can build a path to the present. 

The lesson for all of us from learning of Vincent’s work of balancing the future possibilities that the innovators at the Advanced Engineers department come up with, with the realistic, pragmatic and real-life challenges that the clients are struggling with here and now is: If the future is written in the stars, our job is to find the constellations. 

We need to help our clients see the pattern that could be the future.

We need to help our innovators see the world like normal people do.

When we do that we get everyone to shine together. Which coincidentally is the original, true meaning of the word “constellation”: “con” = together. “stellare” = to shine.

Let me repeat what I wrote above: If the future is written in the stars, our job is to find the constellations. Our job is to make the innovators and our clients shine together. I guess we can say that if you do: then you become the star.




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