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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!

Video from my keynote for APICS 2015 in Las Vegas. Simply stated.

I had a long conversation with a potential client in the manufacturing sector the other day; they’re looking to bring me in for a keynote in 2016. I’ve developed a reputation in the industry for some cutting edge insight into the key trends that are redefining every single aspect of the sector at an extremely furious, fast pace. I’ve headlined events for tens of thousands at major manufacturing conferences in Las Vegas, Chicago, Orlando and Detroit.

Jim Carroll on stage in September 2011, keynoting the IMXchange - Interactive Manufacturing Exchange -- conference, with a talk on the future of manufacturing and the necessity for continuous, relentless innovation

Jim Carroll on stage in Las Vegas keynoting the IMXchange – Interactive Manufacturing Exchange conference, with a talk on the future of manufacturing and the necessity for continuous, relentless innovation

What’s going on? Here’s a quick snapshot:

  • collapsing product life cycles – simply put, products don’t have as long a lifespan in terms of relevance, consumer attention, rapid escalation of design ideas — whatever the case may be, with shorter life spans, manufacturing organizations are having to pick up the pace!
  • the Internet of Things and product redefinition – every device becomes connected, intelligent, aware… this has major implications in terms of how devices are designed and manufactured. Suddenly, many manufacturers are finding that they must integrate sophisticated user interface capabilities into their products, not to mention advanced computer and connectivity technology.
  • rapid design and rapid prototyping. We’ve seen incredible advances in the ability to conceive, design and develop new products faster than ever before. There is a constantly rising bar in terms of capabilities, and if you can’t pick up on this, you can be sure that your competitors will. The first to market with a new idea is often the winner.
  • the influence of crowdfunding on product design. There is no doubt that the global connectivity that the crowdfunding business model provides is resulting in a change in product conception. Suddenly, anyone can have an idea, fund it, design it, and bring it to market. What I’ve witnessed are situations where these small scale projects are light years ahead of what we’ve seen with established industry players. Crowdfunding is the new garage in many industries.
  • build to demand vs. build to inventory business models. Big auto companies build hundreds of thousands of vehicles, and shove them out to dealers hoping they sell. Tesla Motors takes an order, and builds the vehicle to send to the customer. Big difference — and this model is driving fundamental business model change across every aspect of the manufacturing sector.
  • agility and flexibility. The impact of build-to-demand models is that manufacturers must provide for a lot more change-capability throughout every aspect of the process, from supply chain to assembly to quality control. The ultimate in agility? The Magna factory in Graz, Austria, which can custom build a wide variety of automobiles from completely different car companies.
  • post-flat strategies. What happens when the world gets flat? Put a ripple in it! That’s been the focus of a few of my keynotes for several manufacturing clients. I’ve spoken about organizations who have evolved from having to compete with low-cost producers by focusing on price, to a new product lineup that is based on quality, consumer perception, brand identity, or IoT connectivity.
  • faster time to market. Consumers today have perilously short attention spans. In some sectors, such as fashion, high-tech (smartphones!), food and others, you’ve got to get your product to market in an instant — otherwise, you lose your opportunity.
  • rapidly emerging consumer demand. Closely related to time to market is the fact that new fashion, taste trends or other concepts now emerge faster given the impact of social networks. Think about the impact of food trucks — people can now experiment with new taste trends at an extremely low price point. The result is that new taste trends emerge faster — and food companies must scramble to get new products out to the customer faster. Long, luxurious product development lead times are from ‘the olden days.’ If you can’t speed up, you won’t be able to compete.
  • the fast emergence of same day delivery business models. Amazon, WalMart, Google and others are quickly building big infrastructure that provides for same day shipping. This has a ripple impact on demand, inventory, logistics …. a massive change from the old world of stockpiled inventory.
  • the arrival of 3D, additive manufacturing 3D printers and the inevitable shift to “additive manufacturing” from “subtractive manufacturing based on cutting, drilling and bashing metal..  probably the biggest change the industry will witness in coming years.
  • the acceleration of education requirements. Robotics, advanced manufacturing methodologies, machinining-in-the-cloud, advanced ERP processes : you name it, the skill of 10 years or even 5 years ago doesn’t cut it today. I had one client in the robotics sector observe that “the education level of our workforce has increased so much….The machinists in this industry do trigonometry in their heads.” That’s the new reality going forward!

That’s a lot of change, and there’s even more underway.

Want more? Watch this!

VIDEO: Atlantic Design and Manufacturing 2013 Interview with Innovation Expert Jim Carroll from ThomasNet on Vimeo.


“I keep discovering things that I think world-class inno- vators do, such as focus on their speed and ability to change. They focus on understanding how their customers are chang- ing or changing their business model before they change it themselves”

Here’s a quick little article in which I’m asked a variety of questions around innovation. Get the PDF.

A few key observations that I make:

  • “I think people shouldn’t make the word [innovation] mysterious. They need to understand that it’s not just about the invention of new products or new services. It goes back to that fundamental issue of ‘how do I run my business better, grow my business and transform my business.’ I think if people get caught up on innovation as new product development, they miss a huge opportunity in terms of what they can do.”
  • “One of my catchphrases, which I picked up from a big financial client, is: “Think big, start small, scale fast.” That can work for big organizations, but it can also work for a small company.

“Think big”—you’re small and obviously want to grow. You’ve got to have really big ideas and big goals in terms of what you might hope to accomplish, in terms of trying new ideas and exploring new things and doing things you haven’t done before.

“Start small”—play with a lot of new technologies, try a lot of new ideas, take risks. Do some projects in which you might succeed at some things and you might fail, but at least do things. So you start small, you try out a whole bunch of small things. This builds up your experience, and the more experience you have, the better position you’re in for success in the future.

“Scale fast”—learn how to scale it. How do you ensure you can keep doing these things as you grow?



For years, I’ve spoken throughout my client base as a keynote speaker as to how the essence of global research and development is changing.This includes keynote presentations to some of the world’s leading educational associations and corporations; industry and professional conference associations; and even two events for NASA, with a number of astronauts, astrophysicists and other deep thinkers in the room!


Watch a true piece of art – this time-lapse video by my 22 year old son, using a ‘time-lapse slider’ running on a Raspberry Pi, that he built by drawing upon ‘the global colloborative mind.’

My emphasis has always been that the Internet has led us to a new world of ‘crowd-thinking’ in which anyone can look at any idea, and figure out how to pursue the idea, and develop a new skill, capability, form of insight or simply a new “thing.” The foundation for crowdthinking includes crowdfunding initiatives; vast knowledge and information archives; the sharing economy, global collaborative communities and other fascinating developments. It’s a trend that is shaking up R&D efforts worldwide, because it accelerates knowledge. Ultimately, crowd-thinking is leading to some very significant change in every industry. More on that later….

No trend is complete without it ‘hitting home’ in a personal way. That’s why you need to watch this this fabulous time-lapse video, which my 22 year old son Willie Carroll painstakingly filmed, edited and pulled together over a period of over a month. Watch it here, or view his blog post about the project WcFotography.

It’s a ‘time-lapse’ video — in which Willie’s 35mm camera takes a picture using a time-lapse slider ‘machine’ that he built. The slider makes the camera moves a fraction of an inch, then waits, and then takes another picture. Repeat, several times over an hour. Stitch together multiple photos into video clips; link those together, layer on some fabulous music, and you’ve got a true piece of art. Willie built the hardware and figured out the software, by tapping into the global creative mind. You can get a basic sense of how it works below. When he first got it working — which, even though I was away at a keynote — was a truly inspiring and fabulous moment!

As an avid part-time professional photographer (see WcFotography.com) involved in corporate, wedding and other photographic shoots, Willie is always eager to push his skills to the limit.

Willie spotted the idea for a time-lapse slider when it was floated as  a KickStarter project — but at $1,000, it was a bit out of his range. He decided that he could build one on his own; he researched the project and found both the hardware and software solutions online. Through a sometimes excruciating process through the summer, he saw the project through to success. The slider was built using a Raspberry Pi computer; rails, a motor and timing belt that he sourced through eBay; and software that was developed by a fellow named David Hunt in Ireland, who ultimately provided Willie with the inspiration for his project.

Once it was finished, Willie took the rig back to university, and on weekends and during time off, visited his beloved Gatineau Park to capture a wide variety of fabulous photographic-video sequences.

As a dad, I couldn’t be prouder.

I’d encourage you to share the video — it’s posted above on Vimeo. I’d also encourage you to check out his  photography Web site. If you’re based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, you might consider engaging him for your next photography project!

Learn more over at http://www.wcfotography.com.


“As consumer expectations for technology driven experiences increase exponentially, answering the phone and handwriting tee times onto a paper tee sheet are no longer the norms.” – Derek Sprague, President, PGA of America

In many of my keynotes focused on future trends and the necessity for constant, fast innovation, I often speak about the massive transformation occurring in most industries as the result of the acceleration of business models through technology.

Just consider the impact of Apple Pay, which speeds up the pace of change in the credit card industry; Internet-linked medical devices which allow for virtual healthcare; and Tesla Motors, which is shaking up the global auto industry.

What’s the impact? One estimate suggests that up to 40% of the S&P 500 will no longer exist ten years from now, if they fail to keep up with fast moving technology trends. That’s a pretty staggering thought.

Given this, every CEO in every industry needs to think as to how they avoid THE BIG MISS — playing up a golf analogy — and avoid the disruption occurring all around them.

While preparing for my keynote for the Sporting & Fitness Industry Association keynote, I reached out Derek Sprague, President of the PGA of America, for his observations on how technology has impacted the golf industry, and more specifically, the membership of the association, the PGA Professional. These are folks who are instrumental in the management and growth of golf courses, professional instruction on learning the game, and other aspects of a multi-faceted career. (I was the opening keynote speaker for the 94th Annual General Meeting of the PGA a few years back.)

Derek nailed it in two succinct observations:

In the last five years, video software, launch monitors and game tracking devices (like Game Golf) have brought the technology tools of elite professional players to the masses.  Understanding how to integrate volumes of performance data into traditional teaching methods has become “commonplace for PGA Professionals.”

Not only that, but yield management and mobile-oriented buying platforms aren’t just for hotels and airlines anymore.  As consumer expectations for technology driven experiences increase exponentially, answering the phone and handwriting tee times onto a paper tee sheet are no longer the norms.

That’s a pretty concise summary – the skills of the membership base has to change at a very fast pace as dealing with new technology comes to dominate an increasing aspect of their role. And it won’t end anytime soon — for example, think about how quickly drone technology will come to challenge the game in new and different ways.

Here’s a video clip from my keynote, about why it’s necessary to avoid THE BIG MISS.


Some years back, I worked on a project for Deloitte, which resulted in the video, “What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t Do?” It’s become a very popular video, and keynote topic. Read more about the topic here.

I’ve gone back and had a look at the raw footage, and there is some great stuff that wasn’t used in its entirety. Here’s a clip around the theme of speed,’ appropriate in an era of accelerating knowledge, rapid change in business models, new consumer expectations, the instant obsolescence of new products, and other challenges!

Of course everyone does, particularly young kids. And as you age, you still marvel at these roaring machines and the brave firefighters who command them.

Remote-Fire-Fighting-Wildfire-Truck-future-vehicle-03A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to be the opening keynote speaker for the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association annual conference in St. Augustine, Florida. In the room were key executives from a broad cross of section of the industry.

As with all my talks, I did a tremendous amount of research — its fascinating what you can find with some very targeted searching and analysis. That’s why I’m known for the customized insight I provide in my talks.

What I learned from this industry is the perfect allegory for what is now happening in most major industries — the acceleration of what is known as customer-focused, or better yet, customer-initiated innovation.

For as long as there have been firetrucks, the industry has operated pretty well much the same. The companies that manage these complex vehicles determine what it is they plan to build, present it to the customer (cities, towns, airports ….), who might choose to buy it, or not. Of course, through this time, there has been tremendous change to the sophistication of the offerings and the complex of the machine and support systems.

But what is also apparent is that the entire fire and safety industry is grappling with faster change, such as:

  • the rapid emergence of new hazards and risk (roof photovoltaics & solar present complex new challenges for large industrial or residential fires; there have been several cases of a fire chief pulling back his team due to uncertainty in terms of assessing risk)
  • faster, more complex challenges (new chemicals, nano materials, more pipeline risk with the rapid growth of shale oil, as well as increased rail transport risk)
  • the rapid advancement of science (arson / forensic skills and knowledge requirements are accelerating at a furious pace
  • even such things as rapidly fluctuating community size (100,000 people for tailgate parties) leads to the new emergence of new risk that must be properly managed from a safety perspective.
  • and lots more!

What’s the impact of all this change? I quickly started to discover a lot more folks in the industry talking about ‘Apparatus Architects‘ – fire professionals who work for cities or towns or airports or others, who now specify what they need, given the unique risk within their community. They’ll then, to make it very simple, ask the apparatus manufacturers to build them according to spec.

In other words, the innovation pipeline has gone ‘upside down.’ The customers are driving the innovation that they need; successful apparatus manufactuers will adapt to this change, or find themselves falling behind.

I’ve been writing about this trend for well over ten years. And it’s happening in more and more industries, and the pace at which it is driving industries is speeding up. Customer-oriented or customer-initiated innovation is one of the most powerful, transformative issues in every industry today. What’s happening with firetrucks provides a good overview of just what is at stake.

Of course, that’s not just all — there’s more to come. I threw in a good sampling of future trends that will provide more change, including:

  • aerial drones linked to in-truck multi-screen video system
  • robotic building explorers linked to real-time, 3D location databases
  • instant spectrometry air-sampling analyzers with intelligent fire suppression technology suggestions

Customer-oriented innovation and rapid technological change define the future of most industries today. Pay attention to it, and think about firetrucks!


“Innovation is about much more than just new products. What is innovation? It is running your business better, growing your business and transforming your business.”

I just found this article, which ran on the ERA blog after my keynote on the future of real estate, for their 2013 conference. It’s a good read!


5 Things World Class Innovators Do that Others Do Not,
by Tara Reid, from Owning the Fence, ERA Real Estate Blog

Consider this: 65 percent of current preschoolers, kindergartners and first graders will work in a career that does not yet exist. And, if you are working on a degree based on science right now, it is estimated that half of what you learn in your first year will be obsolete by the time you graduate.

That is how fast things are changing in this world and according to Innovation and Trends Expert Jim Carroll; the future belongs to those who are fast. In fact perhaps media mogul Rupert Murdoch puts it best: “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.”

During the ERA 2013 International Business Conference Think Tank, Carroll explained that to keep up, you have to get ahead the way that today’s best thinkers and changers do. Here are 5 things world class innovators do that set them apart from the rest.

  1. Think big and bold. You can view a future trend as a threat or an opportunity. Take it as an opportunity, embrace it as change for the better and prepare to make the trend work for you by thinking beyond the now. How can you make the trend bigger and better? And, how can you help others navigate change? For example, in real estate, keep in mind, according to Carroll, people want a qualified advisor to help them get through the biggest investment of their lifetime. Figure out how to exceed their expectations and you have carved out your niche.
  2. Check your speed. You have to move quickly to stay in the game. World class innovators constantly up their speed while checking their quality. For example, it took Apple two years to sell two million iPhones; it took them two months to sell two million iPads. It then took them one month to sell one million iPhone 4’s but only one day to sell one million of the upgraded iPhone 4S model. They get faster while they get better.
  3. Reframe the concept of change. Innovation is about much more than just new products. What is innovation? It is running your business better, growing your business and transforming your business. If you want to be innovative think about how you can use technology to address those three actions.
  4. Ride generational acceleration. According to Carroll, the next generation thrives on moving things forward. Follow their lead and adapt to new ways of thinking and acting. Half of today’s global population is under the age of 25. Your role is to understand their ideas so that you can manage their capabilities.
  5. Challenge organizational sclerosis. Ever hear or say the words, “It won’t work,” or “I don’t think I can,” or “It’s too risky?” Such phrases are symptoms of organizational sclerosis, the fear of change. It is important to think big, be fast and transform how you do business so that you do not end up in an innovation rut. When change gets scary, keep this in mind: “Some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend, and see an opportunity.”

With these five actions in mind, turn your next “oh no!” moment into an “a ha!” moment. Take that threat and turn it into an opportunity to grow. The world is not going to stop changing and trends will pop up even more quickly so grab on, hold on tight, and go for it!

I spend a LOT of time doing talks at corporate meetings; often, a CEO or CxO leadership event for a Fortune 1000 company.

hand pushing innovation button on a touch screen interfaceI’ve been invited in to give a keynote that will focus on future trends that might impact the organization, and outline some opportunities for innovation. I’ve been this for well over twenty years.

Yet often times, I’ll discover an organization that is stuck, like a deer in the headlights, because innovation remains a concept that is somehow totally foreign. And so I’ve seen this type of thing happen over and over…. why organizatons often fail at innovation:

  • 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 manage a first step
  • there is a rampant fear that if we don’t do it, it just won’t end up well
  • everyone remembers the other time somebody tried to do something new, they ended up being recriminated
  • 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!


I did a keynote a few weeks back for a leading North American food company.

It was a highly customized keynote, built around the theme, “Being Agile: How Innovators Thrive in the High Velocity Economy.” I think it took about 5 or 6 conference calls with senior executives at the client as I worked to build my content and insight into their overall theme. They had about 200 of their top executives at the corporate offsite. (This is typical of about 50% of the events I do ; a lot of “corporate off-sites” for Fortune 1000 companies, often at the behest of a CEO).


A quick screen shot of one of my opening slides!

What is “corporate agility” or “business agility”? From my perspective, it involves an organization that has aligned itself so that it can “respond to fast external trends in order to spot opportunity, ward off challenge and align resources for fast success.”

Of course, a good part of my talk focused on the trends in this particular sector that are driving the need for agility; specifically, the rapid emergence of new forms of in-store promotion known as “shopper marketing,” which combines location intelligence, mobile technology and in-store display technology; massive changes to the in-store payment process, including mobile payment involving Apple Pay and the complete elimination of the concept of the cash-register; the emergence of same-day shipping from titans such as Google, Amazon and Walmart; the rapid installation of “click and collect” infrastructure (i.e. an online purchase, with same day pickup at a retail location); faster ‘store fashion’ with rapid evolution of in-store promotion, layout and interaction; the arrival of intelligent packaging and intelligent (“Internet of Things”) products; and collapsing product life-cycles, rapid product obsolescence and the implications on inventory and supply chain! (All of which is covered in depth in a previous retail trends post….). Not to mention all the fast changing consumer, taste, food and social networking trends influencing today’s food purchasing decisions…

How do achieve agility in a fast moving environment? I focused on these issues:

  • 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
  • risk failure faster
  • align different generations on social projects

I spent some time walking through each of these issues in a fair bit of depth; and there is a copious amount of insight on each elsewhere throughout my blog.

And of course, avoid the “innovation killers” — which can shut down opportunities in learning how to be agile!

It was a great keynote talk on agility, and the client was genuinely thrilled.

Agility is a critical issue that organizations need to think about in a world in which the future belongs to those fast….! Here’s a video clip to whet your appetite!