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Each morning since August, I’ve enjoyed my morning coffee while putting together a little future/motivational quote from some of my stage pictures. You can track this over on Instagram; I also tweet them. I’m hoping to put up a few slide shows on my blog as well in the future; some folks find them inspiring and useful.

Today’s thought? “To win in the race to the future, make sure you show up to the starting line!

Here’s the story behind the thought — and ask yourself, what’s your mindset? Are you in an organization that simply does not show up?

Every day, I get email messages and calls from folks seeking to bring me in for a leadership keynote on future trends and innovation. I do about 50 events a year; this week, I was in London, UK, speaking to a global group of Godiva Chocolates and two other global brands, newly combined in one company. (Yes, they gave me a gift basket!)

That’s what I do — I help global organizations discover and think about the disruptive trends which will provide opportunity and challenge in the future. Check my client list — Disney, NASA, Johnson and Johnson, Whirlpool …. I do many events where organizations are actively aligning themselves to fast paced trends.

And yet, in a world in which the future belongs to those who are fast, it’s clear that others would prefer to hide their heads in the sand. They would prefer not to have to think about what comes next. They don’t want to shake their world. They don’t show up to the starting line.

A few weeks ago, I had an exploratory call with a company in the food/consumer products business. They were holding a combined CEO/Board of Directors meeting. A senior VP reached out to me; we had a long conversation (which I actively encourage – call me!) around the issues I would cover; the trends I would delve into; the message I would bring to the table. She knew that the organization needed to some big, bold moves; take some dramatic initiatives; and actively challenge everyone to align their strategy to future trends.

As in many cases, she ran the idea up the flagpole, and got this response, which still floors me to this day:

“It was decided not to include a futurist in our leadership development program. They don’t think it is a good time to do this – it’s not a good time to rock the boat. “

Wow!

As in, “we don’t think its important right now for our board and senior executives to understand the trends that will challenge us …”

At the end of the day, losing one potential client doesn’t really matter. I’ll do my 50 events this year, and will sit back knowing that I’ve done wonderful working in shaping the direction of some of the most fascinating organizations in the world.

But I’ll also wonder, in the back of my mind, how some people can decide that they don’t want to understand what comes next — and decide to not show up at the starting line!

 

The Canadian Society of Association Executives had me write a series of articles with some of the unique challenges presented to associations in the context of fast-trends.

Here’s the 2nd one.

The nomadic worker carries different attitudes towards life and work, and rejects many of the currently accepted “norms” of the corporate environment. Their attitudes will revolutionize the world of work.

The nomadic worker carries different attitudes towards life and work, and rejects many of the currently accepted “norms” of the corporate environment. Their attitudes will revolutionize the world of work.

They provide good food for thought! More to come over the next week!

Nomadic Workers

The workforce is transformed as “nomadic workers” dominate the economy.

The number of full time jobs will continue to dramatically shrink – yet, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in the change of the relationship between employer and employee.  Companies will hire the best talent, regardless of where that person might be. A

new form of career competitiveness is emerging, with extreme competition for this group of nomadic workers – highly skilled individuals who call the shots.

All this in the context of a global economy in which where people work from won’t matter – a trend that has implications for the future of both rural and urban economies. Lifestyle choice will come to dominate career decisions.

The nomadic worker carries different attitudes towards life and work, and rejects many of the currently accepted “norms” of the corporate environment. Their attitudes will revolutionize the world of work.

The end result? The shape of tomorrow’s company won’t be defined by the walls in its offices – it will be defined by the reach of its computerized knowledge network, and its ability to tap into the skills and capabilities of the nomadic worker, at the right time, in the right place, for the right purpose.

Questions for Association Leaders

  • What are you doing to attract the new, independent contract worker into our association, and how do you remain relevant to their needs?
  • As your profession fragments into many different sub-specialties, how do you retain your relevance?

I was thrilled to have been invited to address the 2015 Graduating Class at the University of North Carolina School of Government -CGCIO program in Chapel Hill the other day!

IMG_7102It was part of a full day program which led to their graduation ceremony; I was invited in to challenge them to think of the opportunities and challenges they face as they go forward into the future at the start of their day.

Attendees were from a broad spectrum of local and municipal governments, as well as school boards and legal bodies; particularly responsible for information technology and infrastructure.  I’ve previously spoken to many such groups, including a keynote for 3,000 folks at the annual Government Finance Officers Association annual conference in Austin, Texas; 2,000 mayors and civic officials for the Texas Municipal League annual conference in Dallas, Texas; and 500 at the Utah League of Cities and Towns annual event in Salt Lake City (among many other events.)

Certainly the challenge for government today is pretty big;I opened with this quote:

“Increasingly, citizens are demanding that governments provide the same level personalized service that they receive from business organizations.” International Innovations in Public Sector External Service Delivery, 
Brock University, March 2010″

That certainly became evident with the rollout of the Web site for the Health Care Reform Act (aka “Obamacare”); with a failed implementation, it became clear that the expectations of society are that any government should provide the same degree of online service as Amazon, FedEx or others. I spoke of what people expect in terms of online interaction today, using the example of pension benefits:

  • extreme personalization
  • extreme simplification
  • complete interaction history
  • pro-active delivery by new platforms (i.e. instant text messages when pension plan changes occur)
  • Web interaction > call center (i.e. chat / video / Skype/ Google Hangout?)
  • and mobile!

Yet the problem for many government organizations is that they have to try to provide this service within the reality of the existence of a creaky, lumbering, complex back-end information technology platform. I use a simple picture to illustrate the problem (which brought down the house with laughter; they know all too well that the problem is very, very real.)

YourApp

But then I continued : that’s not the biggest challenge; it’s the fact that they very definition of technology and infrastructure — their area of responsibility — will be subject to rapid change.

My intent was to put into perspective that as CIO’s for government organizations, they had better be ready to assume responsibility for a lot more than just citizen facing service systems and other existing infrastructure. It’s the new, rapidly evolving technology and trends which will see them becoming responsible for even more technology — and it could all happen pretty quickly.

There were several themes:

  • Big, disruptive ideas: we all know big change is happening in every industry. How quickly will we see online voting; text message based democracy, and other new forms of technology based citizen democracy? I wrote about this in my “25 Trends for 2025” document — take a look at the trend, “Poll-democracy takes flight“, in which I suggest that “the mobile generation, weaned on the technology of text messaging and social networks, finally convinces a few brave countries to consider the idea of real time 
citizen-voting.” It’s not a question of if it will happen; it’s a question of when it will happen.
  • Infrastructure of 2025: it’s emerging now, and its happening fast. In cities and towns, we’ll see  local business and citizen groups using mobile energy shared insight apps to actively monitor and manage local lighting usage; global community vs. community challenges become common as gaming generation comes to manage their ‘personal energy infrastructure usage’ ; deep analysis capabilities move cities to prognostic maintenance of traffic, electrical, lighting, wastewater and water infrastructure systems. Wow!
  • Moore’s Law everywhere: Of course, the Internet of Things. Opportunities involving the virtualization of health care; seniors community care networks that allow seniors to live in their homes instead of seniors care facilities, supported through vast, interconnected medical devices ; intelligent LED networked streetlights with proximity sensors that indicate open parking spots; payment technology embedded into cars that will link and pay through smart meters.
  • Grand challenges: there are big challenges with civic infrastructure today. 16% of the water supply in the US is lost due to leaky pipes, and goes back in the ground!Put it another way: utilities lose enough water every six days to supply the nation for a day! Only 7% of the communities in the US recycle wastewater. Compare that to Israel: more than 80% of household wastewater is recycled, 1/2 going to irrigation. Of course, someone will solve this challenge with technology — perhaps this company. “Nexus eWater, maker of the world’s first home water and energy recycler, today announced that it is the first company ever to receive certification to the NSF/ANSI 350 global standard for residential grey water treatment for its ‘NEXtreater’ home water recycler. (Nexus eWater is World’s First Company to 
Obtain Certification for Residential Grey Water Treatment 13 March 2015, Business Wire). Their goals? reducing city water into the home by up to 40%; reducing sewage from the home by 70%; reducing water heating energy by 75% ; reducing home energy use by 15-25%; generating total savings of up to $50-$200 per month per home for water, sewer and electric bills. Oh, and harvesting rainwater. Pretty bold goals, but that’s the type of world we live in today
  • The next generation: My sons are now 21 and 20. I pointed out that they have never known a world without the Internet, and have never known a world for the last decade without some type of mobile device. They simply will not expect to deal with a government that is not prepared to service them quickly, efficiently and effectively through mobile.

It was a fun talk; and certainly inspired a lot of thinking, with a solid 1/2 hour of Q&A.

I’m extremely impressed by the level of insight provided by a program such as that at UNC. We should do more to encourage innovators in government to take on and assume more responsibility for some of the grandest opportunities of our time!

There was an interesting article in the New York Times on Feb 18: “Careers: ‘Board Doctors,’ to Supervise the Supervisors — More companies bring in experts to scrutinize effectiveness of directors, creating a growth business.” (read the article)

board_of_directors

Sadly, with all the current focus on “compliance,” I’ve come to believe that there is a critical lack of future planning on many other corporate boards around the world — Jim Carroll

The article opens with the observation: “Amid unprecedented pressure from investors, more boards are tapping outside experts so they can monitor management better and clean their own house. The legion of advisers — which some dub “board doctors” — scrutinize boards’ inner workings and prescribe cures for such ills as an entrenched chief executive, 800-page briefing books, or even a director who plays Sudoku during management presentations. The experts often enable board members to make tough choices they are too squeamish to do on their own.”

Essentially, the gist of the article boiled down to three key points:

  • boards are becoming less effective at making ‘hard decisions’
  • the result is a trend in which there is more outside (hired) scrutiny of the effectiveness of board performance
  • the scrutiny adds in assessment of the effectiveness of individual board members

In an amusing point, the article comments on one director who was known to regularly play Sudoku during board meetings.

The article is a good read, and a great outline of some of the problems facing the world of corporate governance today. But from my perspective, it missed a key point that I’ve been raising in many of my sessions with Boards through the years — most boards are not structured to deal with issues of future strategic direction.

If you understand how boards work, there are two key issues:

  • it’s a very insular club ; still, globally, very much an ‘old boys network’ (although gender diversity is a key issue that many national Director associations are working hard to solve)
  • the board ‘skills matrix’ — that is, the type of people that boards seek to recruit — generally consists of finance/accounting; legal; executive compensation; IT; human resources; and specific industry experience. Few seem to have expanded their matrix to include “future strategic insight.”

A few years ago, I thought it might be interesting to apply my skill of anticipating and outlining future trends by actively seeking involvement in a few boards. I took a director education course at the University of Rotman. It was a fascinating world to immerse myself in. Sadly, since then, I’ve had few opportunities (probably, to be honest, because I don’t network with the board world as most other folks do.)

What’s the looming crisis? I outlined this back in a post in 2007, “The Future of Governance.” Essentially, there are numerous boards who do not take on the responsibility of actively and regularly assessing trends for future threats and opportunities, and include this assessment in their evaluation of the effectivness of the CEO (which is one of their key responsibilities.)

I’ll repost the 2007 post in fulll below; it still makes what I believe is a useful and powerful read.

I’m not sure much has changed since I wrote it; consider, for example, the recent security/hacking issues with Sony. Should they not have had a high level Board member who would be asking tough questions as to what structure the CEO had in place to deal with an obvious looming security infrastructure challenge. You can lay the Sony debacle at the door of the CEO. You can also lay blame directly against the Board of Directors.

Have a look at the article, and then consider if the Board you participate on has a significant ‘future oriented challenge.’

—–

I was in Colorado Springs yesterday, as the opening keynote of the Leadership Institute for Directors for FCCServices — they’re the business services arm of the US federal Farm Credit System.

In attendance were members of the Boards of Directors for a wide variety of state and community farm credit co-ops; these folks are the backbone of the US farm lending infrastructure. The Directors are local farmers, community leaders and business executives, and hence, need to be aware of the trends impacting the local and global agricultural industries, so that they can plan accordingly, assess risk, and make sound business decisions with respect to their co-ops.

My keynote took a look at “what comes next in the agricultural sector” – it’s one of many talks I do within the industry. And agriculture is certainly subject to high velocity change: there’s rapid evolution in science (bio-crops); new markets (bio-fuel) ; rapidly changing skills; new direct to consumer market opportunities; globalization (current food production must double in the next 30 years to keep up with global population growth.) All of which could spell opportunity if approached correctly — or turmoil and challenge if ignored.

The intent of the talk — and the overall theme of the leadership conference — was to ensure that these folks have the insight to direct their organizations into the future. That’s an important and critical role for Boards; and FCC Services is an example of an organization that has made sure that the “future” is closely linked to the issue of “governance.”

I think there are too many organizations that don’t do this. Sadly, with all the current focus on “compliance,” I’ve come to believe that there is a critical lack of future planning on many other corporate boards around the world. The result is that potential risks are often ignored; then things go wrong; then the company gets sued for significant sums of money. Is this Board negligence? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it!

Here’s an example: years ago, I wrote an article indicating that one of the critical CEO/Board level issues that must be addressed had to do with network security; certainly, everyone knows that organizations should properly secure their information assets. Yet in the article, I suggested that I believe that many Boards aren’t dealing with the issue, and that it was an area ripe for future exposure, noting that: “If I were a tort lawyer, I’d be licking my lips in anticipation of the opportunities to come in the next few years.”

Boards and CEO’s should ensure — as they are required to do with financial controls — that the information assets of the organization are properly locked down. They must understand obvious future trends, and ensure that management has planned accordingly. I strongly believe this to be the next wave in Board responsibility.

Do many Boards of Directors ensure that the organization is properly preparing for the rapidity of trends? Not many. Witness the shenanigans with the TJX Group, which had its corporate network hacked and millions of credit card numbers stolen. (The company runs HomeGoods, Marshalls, A.J. Wright, Bob’s Stores and The Maxx stores; in Canada the chain consists of Winners and HomeSense.) Now comes news that a group of banks want to sue the company with respect to the issue.

I can only imagine the questions that the Board of TJX is now asking!

Currently, much of the focus of board governance has to do with “compliance” — how well are boards, and the companies they are responsible for, dealing with the new realities of the post-Enron era.

I believe that within the next decade, we will see Board responsibility quickly evolve into a new and much more complex era than simply making sure that “i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.’ All we need are a few savvy lawyers to launch a few negligence suits against a few public companies, alleging that a Board failed to develop a plan for and respond to obvious future trends.

It’s a trend worth watching.

While I do a lot of major keynotes for associations and conferences — yesterday, I opened the HR Southwest conference in Dallas with an audience of about 2,000 — I also do a lot of small, executive oriented sessions.

These range from groups of 10 people around a boardroom table, or a senior leadership group of 100 or so executives. I’m usually brought in by a senior executive to provide a talk on the future trends affecting a particular industry; to help them re-frame the concept of innovation; or a combination of these two key themes.

While I often speak to conference audiences of 500 to 5,000, I also do a lot of sessions for CEO’s and other senior management teams in small, leadership oriented events, providing a key message on the necessity for innovation in the high velocity economy.

Regardless of the industry and size of the group, the planning for such a talk often involves a long conversation with the CEO or other senior member of the management team in advance. There are issues that are on the table; often, they’re planning to out of the office for a day to think, strategize and shape their focus, and I play a key role in this big investment of time. We spend time talking about how I can customize my insight, and hone the message that I can deliver.

I always scribble down little notes of our conversations; I use these when I start my research and when I’m pulling together a slide deck. And through the years, I’ve kept many of these notes; they provide tremendous, wonderful insight into the mindset of a typical major CEO or other senior executive. And spending time with so many of these folks has helped to shape the direction of one keynote that I do that is particularly popular : “What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t Do?”

I was searching through a pile of these notes the other day, and came across one from a few years ago that I think does a really good job of reflecting what’s on the mind of an executive that runs a major, global organization. This particular individual described to me what he hoped his organization and team would be able to develop in terms of core innovation competencies:

  • excel at seeing opportunity: the organizations needs to get better at spotting new emerging opportunities, whether with markets, customers, or products. It’s been very, very inwardly focused, and is starting to lose out on many great opportunities because the team seems to be too busy looking inwards, solving problems and firefighting, rather than looking outward to see ‘what comes next, and what should we do about it?’
  • adapt to fast paced markets: there needs to be a clear recognition that customers are more demanding; that the value proposition of the product line is being subjected to greater pressure than ever before; and that some competitors are moving faster in reinventing the product line. The company is competing more on price than on the value of the product, which is leading to commoditization. They’ve got to get better and ‘speed up’ the process of adapting to all of this change.
  • watch for disruption: clearly there are new organizations, particularly in the technology space, looking at the industry and thinking about ways to change the business model. That’s a significant challenge, and the leadership team needs to understand the potential for disruption, and think through opportunities for a strong offence and a good defence to deal with this reality.
  • realign innovation pipeline: for years, all R&D has been done internally, yet there’s a realization that the entire process of R&D has changed in almost every industry; the organization needs to be more outward  in terms of sourcing external ideas, developing unique innovation partnerships, and seeking to align itself to the ideas of some of the small start-ups that are changing the process of development within the industry.
  • ride generational change : there’s a recognition that the next generation of digital natives are now making their presence well known throughout the organization. They’re impatient for change, full of ideas, and ‘chomping at the bit’ to pursue innovative ideas. The senior management team needs to be thinking about how best to utilize their uniqueness as an opportunity, rather than trying to shut down their thinking because the don’t fit the historical norms of the organization
  • align to technological velocity: there is a clear understanding that the next wave of technology will not be about streamlining process or providing efficiencies; instead, it is all about redefining the industry, changing products through pervasive connectivity, and accelerating change in many different ways. The organization needs to learn to ‘innovate at the speed of Apple’ as this fundamental change unfolds
  • re-assess skills: there is a big mis-match between what the organization has in terms of skills, and the skills that it really needs to accomplish all of the above. It needs to get better at ‘getting the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

If you take a close look at this list, prepared from my hastily scribbled down notes, you’ll get a sense of what keeps a modern-day CEO up at night.

And it will also put into perspective the starting point at which I begin to pull together my talk.

For more information: “Jim’s CEO / Leadership Meetings

Last year, I went back to school, investing time to graduate from the University of Toronto – Rotman Directors Education Program. This is part of my longer term plan to provide my insight and guidance to organizations and not-for-profits on technology and strategy issues as  Independent Corporate Directory.

Read the article, "Wacky Leaks: The Looming Confidentiality Crisis" as it originally appeared in the Institute of Corporate Directors Register

I’m thrilled to have co-authored and have had an article published in the Institute of Corporate Directors Register publication. Entitled “Wacky Leaks: Understanding the Looming Confidientiality Crisis,” with Jim Brown, a well known expert on corporate governance issues.

The article takes a look at the new culture of open communications and its impact on the necessity for corporate boards to often work with an expectation of privacy.

Clearly, we’ve got a significant challenge here as we go forward into the future, and corporate boards must carefully think through the impact of a culture of open communications upon the tradition of privacy. It will be a tricky balancing act.

A few excerpts:

Over the last few months, the issue of confidentiality of information has risen to the forefront in the news media, with a constant barrage of stories concerning the intentional or unintentional leaking of previously private information. The most obvious case – Wikileaks – has challenged many long-standing traditions with respect to the sanctity of privileged communications.

But Wikileaks is only the tip of the iceberg in what is a new cultural demand for transparency, and a challenge to longstanding traditions of confidentiality.

This drift threatens boards at every level. If unchecked, it could compromise even the most scrupulous of companies and undermine every corporation’s rights to hold sensitive information in private.

These are only a few examples of what is emerging as a major cultural shift; our traditional notions of confidentiality face new challenges every day. In late 2010, Yahoo! announced at a private meeting of staff that a series of layoffs was coming; within seconds this information was being transmitted and shared on social networks such as Twitter. so much for privacy!

What’s going on here, and what does it mean for corporate directors? Clearly, many in the younger generation seem to have entirely different attitudes when it comes to the privacy of information. Raised in a maelstrom of connectivity, they live in a world in which they are fully prepared to share each and every moment of their daily lives.

This article originally appeared in the Director Journal, a publication of the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD).

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