Negative thinking is even more powerful than positive thinking. When you surround yourself with a team of rock stars and tell them, “You guys need to be more positive,” they’d probably tell you exactly where to go. But when you tell people, “Let’s reduce the negativity,” no one can argue with that. When you have a team that takes that to heart, then you start to create a really magical place, an amazing culture where everyone fights for each other. They are focused on winning, and they truly care about each other.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cody Peterson.
Cody is the co-founder and chief visionary officer of Rohinni, the leader in mini and micro LED technology. Prior to his position at Rohinni, Cody founded Pacinian, where the team produced industry-leading touchscreens, keyboards and touch pads for the consumer market. He was named “Most Creative Person” by Fast Company Magazine and holds over 50 patents.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Would you tell us a bit about your “back story”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up on a farm and ranch on an Indian reservation many miles from town in Montana. To entertain myself, the only thing to do was build things. So, I built wind-powered go-karts and homemade hang gliders. That’s when I realized how much I loved making things and trying to make new things.
I never did very well at school growing up, because I was a bit of a daydreamer and had a hard time focusing, but when I graduated from high school, I knew the only way off the reservation was an education. Because I loved building things, I figured engineering was the way to go, even though I really hated math. Engineering could get me into a position to build things.
Would you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I am really familiar with consumer electronics from my past work experience, and I knew there was a need for thinner, more beautiful and power-efficient designs. So now we focus on microscopic LEDs. We’ve created the world’s fastest robots that create light and make consumer electronics better in many ways.
What makes us unique compared to other robot suppliers is that we started with a vision for better products and more beautiful screens. We knew that to make those products, we would have to create these kinds of robots. All of our innovation was based on trying to create better products, not better robots. We just had to make the robot to get there. It forced us to create a new way of making light, with that end product always in mind.
The process we created is unlike any other on the market. One of the ways we’ve always been so successful at innovation is understanding the big picture and trying to innovate by simplifying the individual parts. So often, engineers think the more complex they make something, the better, when really, it’s the opposite. The core mindset of simplicity enables us to come up with different solutions than the world has seen.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? And what lesson did you learn from that?
At my old company, Pacinian, we were making haptic-touch keyboards. One of the leading laptop brands invited us to participate in some of their user testing. We brought six samples of our technology (just one key the users would hit) to the company’s headquarters. Our team sat behind a curtain, and we would slide one of the samples over to the user, and they would try it out and answer questions. By lunchtime, we only had one functioning sample and the rest of the day to go. We ran back to our hotel and fixed them, but by the end of the day, the user data was so inaccurate because the samples were broken again. The technology we used in our own samples was so unreliable it could not be used.
We laugh now, but the three of us on the team at the time were dying on the other side of that curtain. We learned that we had to have a more reliable technology. When we started, we were using electroactive polymers, but they were never reliable. We had to make our own technology that would be reliable. The moral of the story: Any time you can create your own destiny, you should.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
My grandpa is someone whom I have always looked up to and learned so much from. He taught me to lead with my heart. If you have a good heart and a good sense of humor, no matter the environment you’re in, your chances of success are so much greater. If you pair that with humility and you strive to do something special, you attract great people to be a part of it with you.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has “withstood the test of time”? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is “not so positive”? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption is always good if it is to create something better. Disruption becomes really hard when it’s so disruptive that it affects huge companies and their road maps and profitability, so they fight against it. There is often a moral question with disruption, especially in technology: “I can do this, but should I?” It sounds cheesy, but it’s like the line in Jurassic park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Cellphones are an example of amazing disruption — both good and bad. They’ve brought amazing tools to the palm of our hand, but people are also consumed with their phones. It begs that same moral question.
Would you share 3 of the best pieces of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I’m a huge fan of the Seahawks and Russell Wilson. They talk a lot about “neutral thinking” — the idea of never being too high or too low. They emphasize focusing on what your goal is and what the steps are to attain that goal, and focusing on what you can control and reducing the outside noise.
Even more powerful than that is eliminating negative thinking. Negative thinking is even more powerful than positive thinking. When you surround yourself with a team of rock stars and tell them, “You guys need to be more positive,” they’d probably tell you exactly where to go. But when you tell people, “Let’s reduce the negativity,” no one can argue with that. When you have a team that takes that to heart, then you start to create a really magical place, an amazing culture where everyone fights for each other. They are focused on winning, and they truly care about each other.
This is the reason our startups have been successful. It’s about the team and how powerful it can be when everyone shares this mindset.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Our business model allows us to be very selective with the partners we select. It’s important for us to create our vision, which we often share with visuals (videos or pictures) of the future we’re trying to create. If someone aligns with our vision, we are a good fit to be partners in the future.
We are sure you’re not done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I am more interested now in technologies that help humanity. With so much division in our world right now, I see the possibilities of technological innovation helping people. I’m not working to take over the world with technology. It’s not about making screens brighter anymore; it’s about really making life better for people.
Is there a book, podcast or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us, about why it was so resonant with you?
The biggest impact on my thinking is Russell Wilson’s and Pete Carroll’s neutral thinking. It has validated everything I’ve always felt. There is so much power in neutral thinking and in your mind.
The main way I feel this is when I’m creating a vision to share with my team. If we get caught in negative thinking, we sabotage our potential. We have to stay neutral, create the vision, set goals and work to get there.
Would you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote,” and share how that was relevant to you?
“It’s easy to make the simple complex, but it’s difficult to make the complex simple.”
All of our innovation has come from this quote and the desire to make things simple again. It has allowed us to be disruptive, because not many of our competitors are empowered to think like this. It transcends “just Rohinni.” In my other adventures, it has been the foundation: How can I make my life more simple, my other businesses more simple, etc.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It would be for this country’s leadership to adopt the same mindset and values that enable us as startups to be innovative and disruptive. It’s about looking at a high level at all of the fundamental issues that currently make people unhappy, and focus on solutions and innovations to solve those solutions.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can follow Rohinni on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook: @RohinniLight
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!