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Organizations are faced with significant challenges, particularly with the continued impact of globalization, heightened market competition, rapid business model change and the impact of new technologies. They must continually challenge themselves to keep up with rapid change in the business environment in which they operate.

What do innovative organizations do? They re-orient themselves for an economy in which their ability to react to fast paced change will increasingly define their success.

In this clip, Jim Carroll outlines for an audience of several thousand the key attributes of today’s innovation heroes:

In essence, these organizations concentrate upon:

  • an accelerated innovation cycle
  • the rapid ingestion of new technologies / methodologies
  • faster time to market
  • rapid re-focusing of resources to deal with new opportunity or threat
  • a rabid focus on operational excellence
  • a  rapid response to volatility
  • and a re-orientation to fast paced consumer and brand perception

Jim has studied the innovation attitudes of hundreds of global organizations, and has carefully come to define what it is that allows some organizations to achieve stunning levels of innovation success, while others become innovation laggards. These attributes are a good part of the defining characteristics for success.

What do you think?

I’ve been quite priviliged through the years to be able to observe, within my global blue chip client base (which includes clients such as the National Australian Bank; Diners Club; HJ Heinz, General Dynamics / Northrop Grumman Nestle), some of the fascinating innovation strategies that market leaders have pursued.

What is it they do? Many of them make big, bold decisions that help to frame their innovative thinking and hence, their active strategies. For example, they:

  • make big bets. In many industries, there are big market and industry transformations that are underway. For example, there’s no doubt that mobile banking is going to be huge, and its going to happen fast with a lot of business model disruption. Innovative financial organizations are willing to make a big bet as to its scope and size, and are innovating at a furious pace to keep up with fast changing technology and even faster evolving customer expectations
  • make big transformations: I’m dealing with several organizations who realize that structured operational activities that are based on a centuries old style of thinking no longer can take them into a future that will demand more agility, flexibility and ability to react in real time to shifting demand. They’re pursuing such strategies as building to demand, rather than building to inventory; or pursuing mass customization projects so that they don’t have to compete in markets based on price.
  • undertake big brand reinforcement: one client, realizing the vast scope and impact of social networking on their brand image, made an across the board decision to boost their overall advertising and marketing spend by 20%, with much of the increase going to online advertising. In addition, a good chunk of existing spending is being diverted as well. Clearly, the organization believes that they need to make bi broad, sweeping moves to keep up to date with the big branding and marketing change that is now underway worldwide.
  • anticipate big changes: there’s a lot of innovative thinking going on with energy, the environment and health care. Most of the organizations that have had me in for a keynote on the trends that are providing for growth opportunities have a razor sharp focus on these three areas, anticipating the rapid emergence of big opportunities at a very rapid pace.
  • pursue big math: quite a few financial clients are looking at the opportunities for innovation that come from “competing with analytics,” which offers new ways of examining risk, understanding markets, and drilling down into customer opportunity in new and different ways.
  • focus on big loyalty: one client stated their key strategic goal during the downturn this way: “we’re going to nail the issue of customer retention, by visiting every single one in the next three months to make sure that they are happy and that their needs are being met.” Being big on loyalty means working hard to ensure that existing revenue streams stay intact, and are continually enhanced.
  • focus on big innovation: one client stated their innovation plan in a simple yet highly motivating phrase: “think big, start small, scale fast.” Their key goal is to build up their experiential capital in new areas by working on more innovation projects than ever before. They want to identify big business opportunities, test their potential, and then learn how to roll out new solutions on a tighter, more compact schedule than ever before.
  • thinking big change in scope. One client became obsessed with the innovation strategy of going “upside down” when it came to product development. Rather than pursuing all ideas in house, they opened up their innovation engine to outsiders, looking for more partnership oriented innovation (with suppliers and retailers, for example); open innovation opportunities, and customer-sourced innovation. This lit a fuse under both their speed for innovation as well as their creativity engine
  • innovate in a big way locally: we’re in a big, global world, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t innovate locally. One client in the retail space pursues an innovation strategy that allows for national, coordinated efforts in terms of logistics, merchandising and operations, yet also allows a big degree of freedom when it comes to local advertising, marketing and branding.
  • share big ideas. One association client pursued an innovation that was relentless on community knowledge sharing. They knew if they could build an association culture in which people shared and swapped insight on a regular basis on how to deal with fast changing markets and customers, that they could ensure their members had a leg up and could stay ahead of trends. Collaborative knowledge is a key asset going forward into the future, and there’s a lot of opportunity for creative, innovative thinking here.
  • be big on solving customers problems. Several clients have adopted an innovation strategy that is based on the theme, “we’re busy solving customers problems before they know they have a problem,” or conversely, “we’re providing the customer with a key solution, before the customer knows that they need such a solution.” That’s anticipatory innovation, and it’s a great strategy to pursue.
  • align strategies to the big bets. There’s a lot of organizations out there who are making “big bets” and link innovation strategies to those bets. WalMart has bold goals for the elimination of all packaging by a certain date; this is forcing a stunning amount of innovation within the packaging sector. Some restaurants aim to reduce food and packaging waste by a factor of dozens; this is requiring stunning levels of creativity in the kitchen.

These are but a few examples and the list could go on; the essence of the thinking is that we are in a period of big change, and big opportunity comes from bold thinking and big creativity!

A key innovation message that I spend time with my clients focusing upon involves the concept of “thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast.”

(With all due respect, the thought process comes from a customer-service oriented strategy at McDonald’s many years ago, but it is easily extended to encompass innovation in general.)

What does the message imply:

  • think big: identify the long term transformative trends that will impact you. These could include significant industry change, business model disruption, the emergence of new competitors, product or service transformation; anything. Essentially, you need to get a good grounding in the “big changes” that will impact your future over a five or ten year period
  • start small: from those trends, identify where you might weaknesses in skills, products, structure, capabilities, or depth of team. Pick a number of small, experiential orientated projects to begin to fill in your weak points, and learn about what it is you don’t know. This will give you better depth of insight into what you need to do in order to deal with the transformative trends identified above
  • scale fast: from those small scale projects, determine which areas need to be tackled first in terms of moving forward more aggressively with the future. Develop the ability to take your ‘prototyping’ of skills enhancement from the small scale projects into full fledged operations

It sounds simple, but its’ extraordinarily complex. Having said that, it does give you and your team a good conceptual framework for innovation, and orienting yourself to the trends which will provide you with the greatest opportunities and challenges in the years to come.

How might a company use such thinking? Let’s say you are in the banking industry. You know that mobile, text message, and location-sensitive banking trends are going to have a big impact on you. You know little about what is going. Think about how you might have redefined your customer service out on a ten year basis; where you might see new competitors emerge; and what you need to do to ensure that you stay on top of changing consumer demands. Then start small — take on a number of projects that build up the experience of your team with specific mobile technologies: how quickly can we get financial apps developed? From those ongoing efforts, build up the capability to scale — that is, separating the successes from the failures with these smaller projects, and learning how to quickly roll them out on a national or international basis.

Leave a comment : let me know what you think, suggest or ideas where you’ve seen the concept work!

The return of growth
April 23rd, 2010

My mantra about innovation is that it is always about three questions: how do you run the business better, grow the business, and transform the business. Address those three issues, and you’ve nailed the essence of innovation.

Since the economic downturn, most of my global clients have been focused on the first issue: how can we run the business better? They’ve been razor-arrow sharp on achieving operational excellence, managing costs, downsizing, and other critical steps necessary to survival.

Now that’s changed.

In the last few months, I’ve had a significant number of bookings — often by senior VP or CEO level execs within  Fortune 1000 organizations — for keynotes at leadership meetings that have the purpose of examining how to grow the business and transform the business.

In other words, folks, GROWTH IS BACK. I think the mindset of the global Fortune 1000 is shifting quickly to strategies that are aimed at transitioning products and markets; generating revenue where revenue hasn’t existed before; growth through acquisition; and countless other innovation strategies aimed at growth. And they’re thinking as to what they need to do this; how do they realign their skills base to deal with rapid change ; how do they more rapidly share ideas on fast emerging opportunities; how do they partner up in order to move faster?

This is the fifth recession I’ve gone through in my professional career. I’ve seen these signs before.

Growth is definitely back in business.

More information

  • Read: Success Comes to Those Who Evolve

jim-carroll-238x300.jpgHere’s a blog post that ran over at the Chicago Hospitality Insider blog with a report on my keynote last week.”


Moving Beyond The Meltdown” with Jim Carroll
Posted on February 18th, 2010 by Jody Robbins

How is the tourism business impacted by a world where information is passed feverishly around the globe? Immediately and directly; that’s how, says Jim Carroll (Futurist and Trends & Innovation Expert!), today’s lunch-time speaker at the 2010 Illinois Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

“The future happens faster than you think,” said Carroll. “The likelihood is that seven out of ten kindergartners today will work in jobs that don’t exist today.

“[It's also] estimated that half of what college students learn in their first year is obsolete by the time you graduate,” he continued. “The typical digital camera today has a shelf life of three to four months before it’s behind current technology.”

How can a company or a government entity make that change happen? Look for experienced people that know what they’re doing; i.e. build experiential capital and stay nimble.

“It’s not necessarily big corporations that will own the market, but those who innovate — try things they haven’t done before in order to stay in front of a very fast pace.”

How? Accelerate your innovation cycle, Carroll says. “It’s not, ‘We’ll get you in our brochure next year; it’s what can we do to partner with you right now?’

Other important factors: faster time to market and continuous reinvention to meet rapid consumer preference shifts. Again, how to do this? Go online, go mobile and use your staff and outside resources to find your customer and sell them your product when and where they want it.

Carroll’s Pertinent Points:

  • *1/3 of all leisure travel is booked last-minute
  • * Average planning time down to 15 days
  • * 36% of last-minute vacations 3-4 nights in duration
  • * 30% are 1-2 nights
  • *”More than 147-million people interact globally on social networks via their mobile phones – expect one-billion (!!!) within five years,” says Carroll.

In other words, to use a cliche, THE TIME IS NOW!

It was a great talk, and I’ll have more to post on some of the observations from my keynote in the weeks to come!

2010WorldClassInnovators.jpgI was in Chicago earlier this week; I had a keynote for the leadership team of a company that’s involved in a sector of the construction industry.

They’ve had some challenges with the economic downturn; they’re also likely to see a resurgence as infrastructure spending kicks in.

But they’re thinking beyond what happens after that — they’re positioning themselves for long term growth — and so they brought me in to stir up some creative thinking as to what they need to do.

The focus of my keynote was the theme: “What is it that world class innovators do that other organizations don’t do?” Here’s some of the insight that I covered.

  1. World class innovators possess a relentless focus on growth: I deal with a lot of CEO’s at a lot of organizations, and in almost every instance, they’ve engaged me because my message of future growth opportunities resonates with their own attitude. In my view, there are unprecedented opportunities for growth in almost every industry. Spend some time on this blog; read my Where’s the Growth overview and other information, and you’ll come away convinced we live in transformative times that offer tremendous opportunities for growth through innovation.
  2. World class innovators continually transition their revenue source: they’re focused on ‘chameleon revenue‘. They know that they have to evolve from being a commodity product competing on price, to one that offers a more complex, revenue rich solution. They’re aware that they need to have continuous, relentless product innovation in order to keep their new revenue pipeline full.
  3. World class innovators solve customers problems – before the customer knows it’s a problem: They excel at anticipatory thinking: where do we need to go with our customers to ensure that we continue to have a strong revenue relationship? What key trends can we ride to maximum advantage that will allow us to provide a constant flood of new, irresistible innovations for our customer base?
  4. World class innovators source innovation ideas through their customers.: Simply put, they derive new innovation ideas by observing what their customers are doing with their products or services. They know that they aren’t fully in control of the innovation agenda anymore, and that some of the most brilliant ideas are coming from a new source. Notes John Hanks, vice-president, industrial and embedded products for National Instruments: “We have the advantage of working with some of the most innovative people in the world. For example, we could find a customer who is using one of our products in an unexpected and innovative way. It’s then possible for us to take that and add value for another customer, which is one of the ways we can help the innovation process as a whole.”
  5. World class innovators focus on ingesting fast ideas: there are new technologies, business models, customer trends, product developments, scientific advances and countless other things that are increasing the pace of change. Innovators know that if they plug into the global idea machine, they can constantly discover a tremendous number of insights that help them to move forward.
  6. Innovators check their speed and focus on corporate agility: they know that to keep up with fast paced trends, it’s their ability to quickly act, react and do that will allow their future success. There’s not a lot of time for debate, studying; inertia is abhorred. They simply DO.
  7. World class innovators focus on long term wins through constant incremental improvements: they know that some pretty big growth can come from continual small wins and improvement on margins. For example, 7% of power on transmission and distribution lines are lost as heat. Reduce that loss by 10% – and that would equal all the new wind power installed in the US in 2006. That’s why ‘smart grids’ are such a hot topic. Take the auto industry: todays’ typical automotive system uses only 25% of the energy in the tank — the balance is lost to waste, heat, inefficiency. Work on increasing that on a year over year basis, and there are some pretty solid gains through innovation.
  8. World class innovators focus on skills partnerships as a key success factor: they know that with rapid change, knowledge is becoming an ever more precious commodity, particularly niche oriented knowledge. If they are entering a fascinating new, fast paced market, they realize that there might be but a few individuals or organizations in the world who could help them tackle that new market. They focus on forming fast teams and fast partnerships, drawing a lot of innovation oxygen from that external insight.
  9. World class innovators focus on pervasive connectivity for next generation product: they know that one of the key trends out to 2020 is that everything around us is plugging together. Soon, every device on the planet will have an IP address on the Internet; we’ll be able to access it’s status and its location. This is transformative stuff, and is one of the primary sources for the next new billions of dollars of revenue in countless industries. Consider the world of HVAC — industrial heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment: as it is transitioned to the world of “HVAC 2.0″, an intelligent, interlinked, fascinating new world of massive connectivity.
  10. World class innovators aren’t afraid to back away from big ideas: they know that right now it’s a great time to made bold decisions, and take decisive advantage to forge aggressive new paths against their competitors. While everyone else wallows in aggressive indecision and organizational sclerosis, world class innovators know that it is a great time to do great things.

You know what?

World class innovators win!

Did my keynote go well? Here’s what the client had to say: “Thanks again for your first class presentation! It really hit home and was right on the money!”

More information:

  • Where’s the Growth? (PDF)
  • Blog post HVAC 2.0

The chance that your company, markets, competitors will be the same in ten years is virtually zero – so what do you do about that?

Here’s 10 phrases I often use to challenge my clients — often CEO’s of large, multinational organizations — to think differently about our fast paced future:

  • experiential capital: it’s the cumulative experience you gain by trying to do new things. Do you have enough of it?
  • momentum management: is this a core capability that your organization possesses – can you steer your team through ever more fast paced change?
  • chameleon revenue: is your revenue stream capable of it? Can you keep generating new streams of revenue as old streams disappear?
  • global idea cycles: do you tap into the global R&D mind for innovation insight, or is your thinking stale, old, out of date, based on the same old sources?
  • idea intensity: can you turn the ideas that are out there into reality quickly enough, or do you lose the opportunities to others?
  • energy of engagement: is your brand boring and dull, or edgy and interactive?
  • ingestion capability: can you ingest new trends, technologies, concepts, business models … before they’re obsolete … or are you stuck in a hopeless rut of indecision?
  • fast teams: can you form them as quickly as necessary to get the faster things done?
  • massive incrementalism: the oil industry currently retrieves only 1 out of 3 barrels per well on average. A 1% improvement represents huge revenue gains. Every industry I am dealing with sees small marginal wins adding up to huge tactical advantage.
  • depth of boldness: are you still thinking small wins, or large, massive tactical manoeuvres?

In other words, when it comes to the future, are you with it, or are you going to wimp out?

2010SiliconValleyInnovation.jpgMy January / February CA Magazine article is out; entitled “Stranger than Science Fiction,” it examines a major theme that has been part of many of my keynotes throughout 2009: what happens to your industry when the pace of innovation is no longer set within the industry itself, but rather, is set by the blistering rate of change as set by Silicon Valley?

Stranger than Science Fiction

by Jim Carroll, CAMagazine, January 2010

Is your industry in the midst of a transition at Silicon Valley speed? If it isn’t, it could be very soon, because I’m seeing it happen wherever I go. Take the global credit card industry. For a long time, the pace of innovation has been relatively slow and deliberate; aside from the chip found in your new credit card, it’s still been about the same old piece of plastic.

All that is about to change, because as I observed at a recent global financial conference, it is quite likely that our cellphones, BlackBerrys and iPhones will become the credit card of the not-too distant future. When you enter a store, you’ll punch a code into your iPhone to confirm the transaction, and you’ll get an instant receipt. As this transition occurs, the financial payment industry will find it has suddenly lost control of its innovation agenda. Rather than having the future figured out in boardrooms of bank towers, control will have been wrested away by someone in Silicon Valley who innovates at hyper-speed.

The trend is happening everywhere I look, even in the world of sports. I spoke to 4,000 professionals at the National Recreation and Parks Association’s annual conference in Salt Lake City. I challenged the audience – most of them responsible for civic or state recreational activities and park infrastructure – to think about the baseball bat of 2015 or 2020. From my vantage point, it’s going to look the same, but it’s likely to have a variety of sensors built into it that will provide players with instant feedback regarding the strength and accuracy of their swing; the same sensors will trigger their nearby cellphone to automatically capture a video of their time at the plate.

Retail will change at the same fast and furious pace. I’ll walk into a store, and behind the scenes, the store will recognize me through an interaction with my mobile device. That will cause a plasma TV in the corner to start displaying a customized advertisement for me based on prior shopping history, at the same time I’m zapped a coupon for a 20% discount for a few items over on aisle 12.

Farfetched? I don’t think so. Creepy? To us maybe, but perhaps not to the next generation. When we think of the strangeness of the future and our likely negative reaction to some of what might come next, we have to remember this: it’s not bad, it’s just different.

The key point is that entire industries will be swept along at a raging rate of innovation. All of a sudden, those people who have managed in-store design, layout and promotions will find their old skills don’t transfer as easily to this strange new world as the digital denizens reshape the customer experience.

Even the slow, staid senior citizen housing industry is being impacted. Five to 10 years out, we’ll have a lot of baby boomers living out their golden years in regular homes as opposed to retirement homes (simply because society won’t be able to afford it). Medical professionals will manage their care from afar using a vast array of bio-0connectivity medical devices; sensors embedded throughout the home will detect if their behaviour patterns are out of the norm and will trigger an alert. Science fiction? Research into this type of sensor-application is well underway at the University of Missouri.

Here’s a good way to think about innovating at Silicon Valley speed: in my home office, I have an MP3 player from somewhere around 1999. It can hold about three or four songs. It seemed cool at the time. Today, it’s positively a joke compared with the modern iPod.

Could the fundamentals of your industry as quickly become something like a joke?


Think about this article, and then ask yourself:

  • what are the big transformations that are going to occur in my industry as Silicon Valley Velocity takes over?
  • where will there be business disruption as result?
  • how can I be a disruptor, and establish opportunity?
  • how will my target customers change – how can I reach new customers — how can I build new customer revenue that hasn’t existed before?

Think of many more questions like that, and you’ve found countless opportunities for innovation.

More information:

  • Video: Pervasive connectivity
  • Video: Location intelligence and the future of recreation
  • Video The future of seniors care ” “BIG challenges, transformations, opportunities!
  • Blog entry Reinventing the future with transformative technology</b>
Innovators Get Out in Front
April 9th, 2009

On stage in Las Vegas, Jim challenges his audience to think about the importance of innovating in order to stay out in front of the recession.

Here’s a brochure extract from another upcoming conference. The theme : “Moving Beyond the Meltdown: Focusing on Growth Through Innovation.”


It’s been a busy six months since the meltdown.

Throughout this time, I’ve been keynoting events all over North America, for organizations and events large and small, focused on the theme of innovation and working our way through challenging economic times.

What has been fascinating is that in sharing the stage with a variety of CEO’s, for both massive, global organizations and smaller associations and businesses, there are many who share a relentless focus on opportunity.

There’s no doubt that there is lot of pain and retraction and pullback out there. But my experience in the last six months indicates to me that there is an equally fast pace of innovative thinking, as to ‘what should we be doing with these new realities in which we find ourselves.’

My most favorable moment comes from one particular event: before I went on stage, the CEO of one particular global organization went on to give his “call to action” to his team.

He spoke about the challenges of the global economy for a little less than a minute — and then went on a fascinating 20 minute outline of the great things that the company could accomplish with revenue growth by focusing on 8 succinct strategies.

I now use his story (and many other similar stories) when I’m on stage, in order to get people thinking about GROWTH again.

What I’m out there talking about are the real, practical strategies that organizations are pursuing to stay focused on opportunity. There are dozens of things I’m seeing happen first hand. Some of the other strategies, off the top of my head (most of which I’ve written about in this blog):

  • act faster to respond to fast changing consumer demands
  • innovate locally in a global economy
  • focus on customer retention as a core strategy
  • go upside down – innovate with supplier partners to achieve faster product or service innovation
  • enhance community knowledge – rapidly leverage best practices
  • speed up efforts to collaborate internally, and reshape hierarchy to be able to respond to faster change
  • innovate with skills access in order to form fast teams
  • anticipate customers needs before they know they need them – stay in front of your market

The list goes on. The key thing is: when do you innovate? You do it NOW. Watch this Youtube clip.

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