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How to be innovative

Don’t be someone who asks “what happened?” — make things happen. Change your attitude, and you’ll find that things really can improve. The next year is full of opportunity, and it’s yours if you want it! -- Jim Carroll

The NEST Learning Thermostat is a great example of the type of typical business model disruption that we are going to witness in every industry through the next decade!

Give it a few years.

You won’t even recognize the industry you are operating in.

That’s because the rate of business model change is accelerating in every single industry. Here’s why:

  1. Right now, there are probably a bunch of really smart people figuring out to disrupt your business model
  2. If you aren’t busy thinking about to disrupt your business model, they most certainly will.
  3. They’ll probably do this sooner than you think they will.
  4. The result is that 10 years out (or less), your business model will look nothing like it does today.
  5. Those that do mess up your business model are quite likely to be younger than you; for many folks, age provides for complacency.
  6. The fundamental change to your business model driven by this younger generation will be the result of digital, smart, intelligent, location-oriented technology.
  7. They’ll use this technology in such a way they’ll come out of left field with a business model idea that you’ve never even thought of before.
  8. Their business model will carry an undeniable ‘coolness factor’ that you can’t simply match.
  9. Most likely, you’ll discount the importance of their innovation, until it is much too late.
  10. The result will be dramatic change :its likely that your current business model will not even survive: and your company might not as well!

Examples of this type of disruption are occurring all around us right now.

It’s going to happen to you too. So — what are you going to do about it?


Is your organization an innovation laggard, a timid warrior without the resolve to try to achieve great things?

A common focus for many of the keynotes I’ve given for senior executive as of late revolves around the theme, ‘what is it that world class innovators do that others don’t do?”

Over a period of time of 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe and learn from many organizations as to what they are doing to deal with a time that involves both massive challenge as well as significant opportunity.

Everyone is being impacted by business model disruption, the emergence of new competitors, the impact of technology, the collapse of product lifecycle, ongoing political volatility and ever-more challenging customers.

In that context, it’s clear that those very things which might worked for them in the past might be the very anchors that could now hold them back in the future. In the era of Uber, Tesla and Amazon, leaders must have the insight into unique opportunities for innovation and change.

That’s why they are booking me, as I am providing them with a customized overview of the key trends impacting them, and invaluable leadership lessons that provide a clear path for going forward.

What are some of these lessons? Here’s a short list:

  • fast beats big: In a time of unprecedented change, those who are prepared to think fast are those who are moving forward. Those who move fast get things done, and keep getting things done. Others wallow in a state of aggressive indecision; inaction breeds decay.
  • bold beats old: all around you right now, there are countless numbers of people and organizations who are out to mess up your business model. Given that, are you the Elon Musk of your industry, prepared to think big and take big bold steps? Or is your organization an innovation laggard, a timid warrior without the resolve to try to achieve great things? Bold thinkers make bold steps, aggressive moves, and big decisions. This is not a time for timidity; it’s a time for BIG ideas and the pursuit of the offbeat.
  • velocity trumps strategy: careful strategic planning can be a critical step in adapting to the future, but in some areas, things are happening so fast that you can’t take the time to strategize: you just need to jump in and go. That’s experiential capital it’s one of the most important investments that you need to be making now. Understand what it is, and why you need to be investing in it NOW.
  • flexibility beats structure: successful innovators have mastered the ability to form fast teams: they know their that their ability to quickly scale resources to tackle fast emerging opportunities or challenges are the only way that they can win in the future. They avoid the organizational sclerosis that bogs too many organizations down
  • disruptors destroy laggards: step into any industry, and there are people who are busy messing about the fundamental business models which have long existed. Start your own disruption before you find yourself disrupted
  • connectivity is the new loyalty: with the forthcoming dominance of mobile technology in everyday lives, everything you know about customer relationships is dead. Right now, it’s all about exploring and building new relationships throughout the mobile data cloud in which the customer lives. If you don’t get that, your brand is dead.
  • location is the new intelligence: with connectivity comes location, which results in new applications, business models, methods of customer interaction, and just about everything. If you don’t have a location strategy for your business, you really don’t understand how quickly your world is changing around you

For more on this thinking, check out the ‘innovation’ tag on my blog.

I do a lot of Fortune 1000 leadership events. By way of example, I’ll be spending time with a massive manufacturer in the rail industry in just a few weeks, and will deliver them a highly customized talk that will help them accelerate their innovation efforts.

For them, it’s important that my leadership keynote speaks to the concept of innovation in a way that is relevant to everyone in the room.

Hence, three simple things about innovation!

My leadership keynotes speak to the issue of innovation in a way that is relevant to everyone in the room

  • it’s urgent that the organization focuses on innovation right now
  • it’s important that as they do so, they re-evaluate the concept of what they believe innovation to be
  • it’s critical that they take on a large number of experimental projects oriented towards innovative thinking

Putting each of this issues into perspective explains my thinking:

Do it now: Every industry is faced with unprecedented change. Think about financial services: there’s the impact of mobile banking, the transfer of wealth to a new generation who thinks about financial management in entirely different ways, the emergence of new competitors. The list goes on and on. You can come up with a similar list for any industry. That’s why it important that organizations establish a culture in which innovation is a priority, in order to keep up with and take advantage of the trends swirling around them

Reframe the concept:  Many organizations fail at innovation because they don’t really understand what it could be. For many people, they think innovation is for cool people who design cool products that change the world: call it the “Apple effect.” But for years, I’ve been reframing innovation from another perspective that helps to open up the minds of people as to its opportunity.

Innovation is a culture in which the leadership and the entire team continually challenges themselves with three questions: what can I do to run the business better, grow the business, or transform the business?

There’s a good video clip that you can watch on that theme, “Rethinking Innovation”  


Experiment – a lot:  Technology is the driver of disruptive business model change in every industry. Social networks, new competitors, the Internet of Things, the Amazon effect — you name it, and there is an absolute flood of disruption. Most organizations don’t have the skill or insight to deal with fas technology-driven change. But world class innovators continually establish a regular series of projects by which they can build up their experience with the stuff that comes from the idea-flood. The more experience they build up, the more “experiential capital” they create. I’ve argued that going into the high velocity 21st century economy, “experiential capital” will become as critical if not more important than financial capital.

I actually spoke about the concept of “experiential capital” when I was the opening keynote speaker for the annual general meeting of the PGA of America – it’s worth a watch.  

Suffice it to say, if you rethink innovation in terms of these three basic concepts, it will help you deal with a world in which the future belongs to those who are fast!

Every industry and business will find more change in the next 5 years than in the last 100. What will YOU do with this reality?


How do you achieve agility in a fast moving environment and adapt to the era of acceleration?

Think about these key ideas:

  • structure for execution
  • rebuild your competitive intelligence capabilities
  • watch the “edges”, particular crowdfunding initiaitves in your space
  • abandon tradition – get more projects on the leading edge
  • be decisive – avoid aggressive indecision
  • innovate with structure – form fast teams!
  • enourage entrepreneurial units – spin out units rather than reining them in
  • partner up in unique ways
  • redefine strategic planing – flex it to short term thinking
  • build a culture that supports new ideas
  • challenge decisions
  • rapidly ingest new technology
  • “test and learn”
  • spots trends quicker
  • master ‘sketch-to-scale’
  • risk failure faster
  • align different generations on social projects


Not only are innovative people unafraid to ask questions, they are prepared to go even further.

They aren’t afraid to:

  • ask the tough questions that no one else will dare address
  • act on the answers to those tough questions!
  • ask questions that make people uncomfortable
  • challenge others to ask tough questions
  • ask why it has become acceptable to not ask questions!
  • ask questions that challenge fundamental assumptions
  • ask questions that show their complete lack of knowledge about something — which is ok
  • ask questions that might make their boss unhappy
  • indicate that while they don’t know the answer to the tough questions, they’re prepared to find out
  • suggest that maybe there have now been too many questions, and now something simply must be done in order to move forward

What’s the key to this line of thinking?

Organizations can become too comfortable with routine, and unless this is challenged on a regular basis, complacency becomes a killer.

By constantly putting a whole bunch of tough questions on the table, innovators can ensure that innovation paralysis does not set in.

Do you?

It can be difficult to try to be innovative in many organizations. Many people with an innovation-oriented mindset often find their enthusiasm destroyed when they approach senior management with an initiative. And when their effort is turned back, it can extremely frustrating!


What happens is that a series of excuses are made as to why we don’t need to focus on the future right now:

  • we don’t understand it, so we don’t think we need to do it!
  • maybe we shouldn’t confront the tough issues right now
  • we are too busy fighting fires – there’s no time for anything else!
  • we don’t have the skill sets to deal with this!
  • we haven’t thought about this in our strategic planning process
  • we don’t have time to think about it…
  • we don’t have a budget f
  • what we’ve been doing all along is perfectly ok, isn’t it?
  • there’s so much going on, and we don’t know where it might fit in terms of priorities!
  • and the worst? it’s too far ahead of its time!

Of course, it’s easy to take this wall of negativity and step back from the project and curb your enthusiasm — and give up! Here’s a clip from my keynote in Zurich in which I talk about the challenges you might face.

But real innovators don’t give up! They work to address the organizational sclerosis that might be in place. What you should do  is confront these excuses head on: there are a variety of different reactions depending on the different excuses that are used:

  • if they don’t understand it, educate them! This might involve building a better business case for the initiative; bringing them up to date on the key business drviers and trends that require some bold steps and dramatic change.
  • help them that those who tackle the tough issues usually win. This is a good time to put into perspective the concept of accelerating change. You need to make sure that the leadership team understands that everything around us today is changing faster than ever before, and will continue to do so: business models, methods of customer interaction, new forms of competition. Business today is all about continually confronting a flood of tough issues; we should be bulking up our capabilities to deal with a world of incessant change.
  • if the organization is always in fire-fighting mode, change the agenda. Maybe they won’t be fighting as as many fires over the long term if they have a clear view of the future, and have a strategy that aligns to that future. So rather than asking, “whoah, where’d that come from,” they’re asking “ok, what comes next, and what do we need to do about it?
  • skill sets don’t give us the capability: That’s a weak excuse: if there are shortfalls in certain key skills to deal with current business realities, deal with it and fix it fast.
  • if it’s not part of the strategic planning process, make it part of it. Every organizations has multiple processes in which issues and activities rise to the top because they’ve been idenitified as fitting within the overall strategic plan. If yours isn’t part of the plan, work to get it there.
  • get people thinking about what comes next: Does the organization have a regular series of forward looking leadership meetings? Does it take the time to assess the trends which might impact it on a 1, 2, 5 and 10 year basis? Is it busy looking at we have really spent a lot of time thinking about what comes next
  • we don’t have a budget for that! Following the process of getting the initiative into the strategic plan will help to lead to the next step: getting the project properly approved and funded within the overall budget process for the organization.
  • make it clear that it isn’t ok to keep doing the same thing that has been done in the past. You’ve got to clearly articulate the new threats the organizations faces and the opportunities that it can pursue as a result of ongoing change.
  • there’s so much going on, and we don’t know where it might fit in terms of priorities! This is a tricky one, because in this type of situation, its pretty well certain that there is some weak management in place who doesn’t know how to set a clear action plan that the team must follow. Best bet is to address the other issues on the list, and work to put in place a clear business and strategic plan for your initiative, with sound business reasoning as to why it needs to be done.
  • it’s too far ahead of its time! Frame the future to the organization this way: do we want to always be fast followers, or do we truly want to be market leaders?

In Zurich,I noted on stage that “we develop corporate cultures that stifle — that kill our ability to try to do anything new…..” That’s what you’ve got to work to avoid — it’s not easy to do — but absolutely necessary!

This is fun!

A post a few days ago of my Masters in Business Imagination Manifesto caught the attention of a client who knows they need to move fast — and who thought that would be a great topic for their event. They moved fast – and booked me because they know that they require some bold thing and big motivational insight.

And so this morning, I wrote up a keynote description for their internal promo copy — which you’ll find below.

I’ve done this topic a few times on stage over the years — including for Fairmont/Raffles Hotels International, as one example — but never thought of it as a core keynote topic. But now it is!



New Keynote Topic: “The Masters in Business Imagination: Motivational Guidance for the Era of Fast”

We will see more change in the next 5 years than we have seen in the last 100. People and organizations are scrambling to align themselves for a new, topsy-turvey world. Jim Carroll comes to the rescue with his keynote, The Masters in Business Imagination — and will inspire your team to adopt relentless creativity and innovation as core virtues. Once you ‘graduate’ from his MBI class, you’ll possess the skills common to this critical degree of the 21st century economy. MBI’s see things differently – they don’t look at things like most people. MBI’s spur creativity in other people – they inspire others to develop similar levels of imaginative hinking. They focus on opportunity – not threat: and realize that action, not inaction, is the driving force for the future. They refused to accept the status quo and are prepared to eliminate habit . MBI’s bring big ideas to life – and paint pictures of where the organization is going to go, rather than focusing on where it has been in the past. They learn and unlearn, forgoing the dangerous assumption that what they know today will carry them into tomorrow. Most important of all, they refuse to say the word CAN’T – they know that barriers, perceived or otherwise, are simply temporary roadblocks that they can get around with fresh insight, imaginative analysis, and creative thinking! Fire up your enthusiasm, energy and innovation spirt with a unique motivational keynote by Futurist Jim Carroll, as he inspires your team to align themselves to the only degree they will need for the future – The Masters in Business Imagination!

Want a sample? Here’s a clip!

Does your organization have a culture that has it perfectly aligned for failure?

Probably! I see it all the time, and I can tell you exactly the mindset that your organization has, with a simple little list of questions…. read them below.


The fact is,I spend a LOT of time doing talks at corporate meetings; often, a CEO or CxO leadership event for Fortune 1000 companies as well as associations and smaller organizations.

These involve highly customized talks that focus on future trends that might impact the organization, and outline some opportunities for innovation.

What fascinates me is the number of organizations that, given fast paced change, seem like a like a deer in the headlights, stuck and unable to move, staring at the future with fear. For them, innovation remains a concept that is somehow totally foreign.

Is this you? Ask yourself these questions: is this YOUR organization today?

  • everybody knows something needs to be done
  • there are an awful lot of ideas as to what to do
  • no one knows where to start
  • no one has the courage to make the first step
  • and in fact, no one has been charged with the responsibility to take over and take that first step
  • there is a rampant fear that if something is done, it won’t end up going well!
  • everyone remembers the other time that somebody tried to do something new, they ended up being blamed when it didn’t go well
  • and so no one is prepared to try anything
  • the result is that likely some other company – most likely a competitor — will end up doing exactly what should have been done

World class innovators don’t fall into this trap.

They just do what needs to be done!

Get out of your innovation rut.

Embrace the future, innovate and change!

I’ve been quite priviliged through the years to be able to observe, within my global blue chip client base , 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!

The last several months have involved a tremendous number of unique, and exhilarating keynote presentations.

Jim Carroll on stage in Dallas, Texas -- with a pink elephant! (He's still not quite sure what it was doing there, but hey, every stage is a different stage!)

Jim Carroll on stage in Dallas, Texas — with a pink elephant! (He’s still not quite sure what it was doing there, but hey, every stage is a different stage!)

Every once in a while I offer up a summary of what I’ve been doing, as it proves to be useful to potential clients who are exploring my services. It also will give you a sense of the tremendous range of talks and topics that I undertake.

Quite simply, I seem to stand out in the industry of futurists and speakers for the really extensive work and customization I put into my talks, as well as the breadth of the unique topics that I take on.

Here’s a sample of just a bit of what I’ve been up to:

  • an opening keynote for the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, with a focus on the role of technology in helping to grow the game, attract younger players, and improve the player experience. I was on stage after Lee Trevino, and followed later by Bubba Watson. It was a real thrill, and the 2nd time the PGA has brought me in for a major event! You can read more simply by hitting the PGA tag in my Web site.
  • I opened the Sporting and Fitness Industry Association with a talk on trends impacting the future of sports and fitness. It was kind of fascinating to be followed on stage by Roger Goodall, Commissioner of the NFL! There’s on extensive post I wrote post-event – Avoiding the BIG MISS – Will Your Company Be the Same in 10 Years? as well as Trend: The Future of Sports? All Interaction All the Time. And there’s lots more on the future of sports and fitness in that section of my Web site.
  • a keynote for the 2016 Manufacturing in America Summit in Detroit, with a good, hard look at what is a real renaissance in the sector in North America. There were several other manufacturing keynotes along the way, including for QAD (ERP software for manufacturing companies) and the PowderMetal Manufacturing Association. Everyone knows there is a lot of political rhetoric around manufacturing right now (most of it dishonest) and so I am getting a significant number of bookings in this space from people looking for real insight into the challenges and opportunities in the sector. What’s really going on? Read my blog post, Trends: Why Manufacturing Needs to Reinvent Itself – Fast for more, or hit the Manufacturing Trends section for extensive blog posts, video clips from the stage and more on the reality of manufacturing today.
  • Cruise Line International Association, which represents most if not all of the major and minor cruise line organizations in the world, brought me into their annual leaders summit for a talk on innovation and future trends.
  • Johnson and Johnson, Whirlpool/AON Hewitt and other Fortune 1000 organizations had me in to speak at major leadership events on specific industry trends and broad trends involving business model disruption and other issues, built around  the theme, What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t Do?  The comments back? “We received great feedback about your session.  Attendees found it valuable, insightful, interesting and somewhat terrifying J.  Thank you for being such a great contributor to the event’s success!”
  • three events for key customers of CDW, a major distributor and infrastructure company in the hi-tech space. My talk focused around the future of IT, particularly as a foundation for innovation for high velocity companies. There’s a good synopsis of the topic here — Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast: Aligning Yourself for the Era of Acceleration
  • the future of agriculture with Reinke Manufacturing ; this is the company that manufactures those giant irrigation wheels you see on farms across North America. In the room were approximately 500 representatives of their dealer network, who were seeking insight on where agriculture goes next. For more, check the agriculture trends section of my Web site, as well as the 10 Trends for Agriculture post, which is undeniably the most popular page on my Web site, as well, it seems, one of the most popular pages on the Internet with respect to the future of agriculture!
  • an invitation-only keynote for leaders of major national and regional veterinary associations, held at the massive National Association of Veterinary Medicine conference in Orlando. My talk took at look at the issues of business model disruption, the impact of social networking on pet care, the rapid evolution of veterinary science and more. I still  have to blog about this one — it was fascinating!
  • a look at the future of automotive, trucking and transportation for the North American leadership team of Volvo/Mac Trucks. This was a repeat performance for the group – it’s always great when they invite you back again! This was a talk around the future of the sector — autonomous vehicles, intelligent highway infrastructure, the end of car ownership and more. I’ve been doing quite a few talks around these topic areas — it’s a hot topic. For more, read my post , Accelerating the Auto Industry — and the Challenge of Change, as well as the Automotive and Transportation section of my Web site — lots of video.
  • APICS — the Association of Professional Inventory Control Specialists, featured me for their annual conference in Las Vegas, with about 3,000 in the room, where I shared the event stage with the legendary Jack Welch, ex-CEO of GE. Read the press release here. I took at a wide ranging look at the future of retail and wholesale, consumer behaviour, shortened product lifecycle, the new state of manufacturing and more!
  • a talk for the senior leadership and legal team for Kiewit. Who are they? One of the largest organizations involved in massive infrastructure and constructions projects, including energy, highways and more. Check the Energy & Infrastructure section for a bit of insight into the topic areas I covered for these folks.
  • PracticeMatch, which is involved in physician recruitment, had me in for a talk that looked at the challenges and opportunities in recruiting the next generation of doctors. Read the blog post I wrote around my keynote – Trend Report: Physician Recruitment in the Era of Digital Intimacy. this is indicative of the type of massive, customized research that I often put into my talks.

That’s scratching the surface!

Going forward, September onwards looks like a lot of fun, with a similar broad range of topics, keynotes for major events, as well as private leadership meetings. Stay tuned!