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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



Todays’ photo was another one taken during my keynote for Godiva/McVitie’s/Ulker in London, UK, all operating under the new company name of Pladis.

The fact that Einstein is in there is great; I often use his observation that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result each time.” That’s a great quote about innovation!

But that’t not the focus of the quote. The quote is all about the fact that organizations that manage to create a culture in which ideas float freely throughout the organization generally achieve greater success with innovation.

Many of the global leadership events that I am brought into have a specific focus on how to use the power of collaboration to achieve innovation; how to better develop a collaborative culture within the organization; or to discuss the opportunities that history have taught us come from successful collaboration.

Collaboration is one of the “Six C’s of Innovation” which I’ve identified as being crucial to success, the others being curiosity, creativity, change capable, courage and the ability to create excitement every day!

Focus on creating a culture of collaboration — you’ll find it to be one of the most powerful things that you can do!

The photo is from an event I did for an insurance company — an industry that is set to be disrupted in a significant way as direct-relationship business models increasingly take hold. I’ve written and spoken about this extensively, such as in my post, Insurance & Innovation – The Challenge of Change.

People are locked into patterns. In big organizations, that routine develops a structure that is often necessary, but which can choke off creativity and innovation. This leads to a disease that I’ve come to call “organizational sclerosis” – which clogs up your ability to respond to rapid change.

How do you get around this? Try to do something new every day – set your mind to it! Take a look at a trend which is impacting you, and rather than worrying about it, take on some type of activity which helps you to confront it.

Sometimes, you just need to push yourself to try to do things you haven’t done before!

So I golf. Not well, but I have goals. Which makes the fact that the PGA of America has invited me in to keynote their organization twice all the much more remarkable.

This shot is from my keynote for the PGA Merchandise Show — I was invited in for a keynote on how technology could be used to help to grow the game. You can watch the entire keynote online. I also led a panel with senior executives from tech companies in the golf industry, including one of the fastest growing and most infleuential in the sport, TopGolf.

I slice often. But not always. And it won’t be forever. So it is with innovation – you can try and fail. Not always. And it won’t be forever if you keep at it!

Are you doing enough in your organization to encourage a culture of failure? It not, why not?

Failure is often a prerequisite for success. In other words, many times, you can’t there from here, unless you take a diversion to there…..

That’s an important lesson when it comes to innovation, and it’s always good to keep the idea of failure in mind.

History is littered with examples of massive failures which later led to astonishing success. Consider, for example, the Apple Newton. I remember being given one at an Apple launch event in 1993. I wish I had kept it!

Thinking back, it was an iPhone/iPad long before its time. Yet the Newton failed miserably: it didn’t work well, when it worked at all, and was crazy expensive for it’ feature set. Because of its handwriting analysis capabilities — which really did not work well at all  — Newton was fodder for jokes from late night TV hosts, comic strips, and tech publications. Everyone had a grand old time making fun of the Newton — and of Apple — for bringing to market such a failure!

Years later, Apple would go on to become the world’s largest company with  what some might say is the most successful technological invention of all time, the iPhone. Apple positioned itself for success from failure: many of those who originally worked on the Newton went on to develop the iPhone. They learned a lot from their earlier failure, applying those lessons to succeed the next time around.

That wasn’t the only failure in the orbit of companies that surrounded Apple at the time. NeXT Computers, established by Steve Jobs after being unceremoniously dumped from Apple, was but a running joke to many people, because it failed in the market in a pretty big way.

But the operating system for NeXT became the foundation for OS/X, the operating system at the heart of Apple’s Mac products today.

It gets better. When Apple went to develop the Newton, it couldn’t find a computer chip with the processing power to do the advanced work required of this first PDA (personal digital assistant – remember that phrase?). The result was that they invested in a small chip company, Advanced RiSC Machines —  with a 43% share bought for a $2 million investment.

They sold their share in ARM years later for $800 million. Not a bad return!

And what did they do with that $800 million? It went part way to allowing Apple to buy NeXT form SteveJobs, which led to the reinvention and rebirth  of the company. The largest company in the world!

So … Apple failed with Newton. Steve Jobs failed with NeXT. Two failures led to a massive winner.

Failure. We need more of it!

Innovation? Take risks, and be willing to fail!

While I find myself doing keynotes in Las Vegas, Orlando and Phoenix for audiences of up to 7,000, I also regularly do a whole series of small, CEO or Board meetings that are focused on future trends, strategies and opportunities.

I’m thouroughly enjoying myself while preparing for an upcoming 2017 event in this space; I’ve been retained by an organization that is having an offsite with its leadership team and Board that will be impacted by trends in the automative industry. I’ve had several preparatory calls with the Chairman — he obviously gets the opportunities and challenges of disruption. These include what I call introductory ‘should-we-dance’ calls (‘should we book this guy?’), as well as planing calls now that the event is confirmed.

For a recent conference call, I’ve prepared an outline of my approach. You might find it a good overview if you are looking for a session that would involve similar insight for your senior leadership/Board team!

You can access the Pdf 

It’s a funny job, being a futurist.

Essentially, your job is to take people out of their comfort zone, by removing them from today, and taking them into tomorrow.

Tomorrow, of course, involves challenge and change; opportunity and threat; hope and fear. Some people are ready for it; many others are not.

With 25 years and more of helping people comprehend change and what comes next, I’ve come to learn a few things, best captured by an observation I often make on stage: “some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend, and see an opportunity!”

threatoropportunity

Think about that phrase, and then think about three situations that just unfolded in the last several days:

  • a large global financial services organization had been looking at me to come in and focus on what they needed to do to align themselves to faster consumer, technology, business model and other disruptive change — all the things I do. I had great interactions with one of the organizers who wanted to bring me in. What happened? The decision for a keynote went to a committee, who decided to do what they’ve always done: they chose an industry expert! As my contact admitted to me, “we should look outside the box and opt for something new, novel, insightful, controversial, not by default vote for the known names, where we will hear the stuff we already know, wrapped in different package.“. But they went with what was comfortable. After the decision, he noted that “it just shows how transformation consultants are not insightful in how to continuously improve and transform themselves, once they get into the comfort zone…”
  • an association that will be heavily impacted by the emergence of smart highways, autonomous, self-driving cars, and the acceleration of the automotive industry, had been looking at me for a keynote on what they needed to do to align to this rate of change. What did they decide? They booked a motivational speaker to come in and ‘energize their group!’ (their words). Can an industry simply motivate themselves out of disruptive change? Probably not…..
  • and in the most fascinating situation, a major agricultural organization that runs a series of events for farmers shortlisted me (for the 10th year in a row). And for the 10th year, I’ve learned, they’ve gone out and selected the same national news anchor they’ve selected for the last 10 years! Who I suppose will deliver the same message, interpreting current events, and basically repeating to them what he says on the national news each and every night. Simple fact? Agriculture in 10 years will look nothing like it does today: and so how can re-interpreting current affairs help them to deal with this fact?

It’s kind of funny, if you think about it.

But it’s also a pretty poor reflection on the ability of people to confront and deal with change.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not terribly bothered by this, other than by writing this post. The fact of the matter is that nature of my business is that I do some 50 keynotes or leadership meetings each year. The number really doesn’t vary; I’ve got a limited number of dates that I make myself available for, and a limited set of time to do the intense industry research for each talk that I am known for. I’ve encountered many situations like this over the past, and regardless of what these folks are doing, I’ll end up being booked by someone else for the dates that were on the table.

I just find it remarkable that so many people live in fear of the future, and yet really aren’t prepared to do anything about it.

My job IS to make people feel uncomfortable with the future, warts and all – and yet also inspire and challenge them to discover the opportunity that comes from the reality of change. This was perhaps best captured in the brochure copy when I did a keynote for 500 mayors and civic officials in Salt Lake City for the Utah League of Cities and Towns a few years ago:

confused-utah

What a great description!

Jim Carroll’s job is to make people feel uncomfortable …. maybe even a bit confused. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, Jim probably sees it differently. He has a knack for predicting trends and change, and helping business and government leaders see where things are going, and how they can not only adapt to change, but lead it.”

When I first saw the description in the brochure, it took me by surprise. In most cases, the client runs brochure copy past me before it goes to print, but in this case, for various logistics reasons, I didn’t see it in advance. Yet when I first read it, I thought to myself, “hmmm, does that sound right?” I thought perhaps it might put a bit of a negative spin on what I do.

Yet the more I thought about it, I realized it was a great outline of what I do!

That’s because when it comes to the future, far too many people can be complacent about the trends that are going to impact them, and avoid the type of creative ideas that they need to pursue in order to keep up with the pace of change.

If you are too comfortable right now with the future, then you probably aren’t thinking hard enough about the trends that are going to impact you. You need to be scared; nervous; prepared to accept that things are going to change, and ready for action. That’s why you should always remember the comments of Andy Grove of Intel: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

So maybe being a little uncomfortable, dazed and confused is a good state of mind to be in!

 

committtee

Why are committees so bad for innovation? Here’s a list of 10 reasons….

  • it sends the message that innovation is something special; that not everyone is responsible for great ideas
  • it often leads to the worst form of group-think, whereas divergent thinking is the essence of innovation and creativity
  • it usually results in the lowest common denominator of idea generation; mediocrity rules!
  • it leads to the deferral of decisions – by design, committees can’t make decisions!
  • committees breed bureaucracy; bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation
  • committees, by design, seek consensus. Innovation, by its nature, requires independence of thought
  • committees are ruled by inertia and inaction; innovation requires regular action and re-analysis
  • people don’t like conflict. Committees seek agreement; innovation often thrives on disagreement
  • committees are usually established for short term goals; innovation is, by necessity, a long term cultural initiative
  • committees meet on a timed, organized, scheduled basis. Innovation is usually spontaneous and requires instantaneity
  • committees are usually closed to outside thinking; innovation, by necessity, thrives on openness

As usually, my list goes to 11!

Innovation by committee – it’s a contradiction in terms if there ever was one!

 

A few weeks ago, I was in Washington, and filmed a little clip about the need to innovate despite massive uncertainty.

Last week, I was in the UK, and filmed a version for folks trying to think about the future in the context of Brexit. You need to watch it!

And we’re off! A key client just confirmed that for the start of 2017, they need one of my key messages …. right now, in an era of massive uncertainty, they want to kick off the year by shaking off aggressive indecision, and by aligning themselves to fast paced trends. So I wrote them a keynote description that will help them to navigate this complex new world.

reality_tv

In the face of new challenges, organizations have three choices: they can panic; they can freeze and do nothing; or they can respond with a relentless focus on innovation. In this keynote, Jim outlines the key strategies that align an organization to opportunity in a new era of volatility and uncertainty.

Keynote: Innovating in The Era of Accelerated Uncertainty: How to Adapt to the New World of Volatility

2017 is being marked by the return of higher levels of economic uncertainty, much of it driven by new political realities. Business hates uncertainty — and many react by turning off their innovation engines, waiting to see what happens next in a world in which volatility is the new normal. Yet in the face of new challenges, organizations have three essential choices: they can panic, making rash decisions on structure, markets, investments; they can freeze and do nothing; or they can respond to rapid change through innovation, particularly with respect to strategies, structure, capabilities, markets, products, and activities.

Jim Carroll, one of the world’s leading futurists, trends & innovation experts, shares his insight on the strategies that leading edge organizations are pursuing to stay ahead in a new world of uncertainty. It’s timely and critical insight! Many CEO’s and senior executives understand that in addition to managing existing challenges, now is the time to focus on trends and the future — they must act quickly to establish an innovative mindset before aggressive indecision settles in. Jim provides his unique insight on staying ahead in volatile times, through his signature keynote addresses, discussions at small intimate management/Board meetings, or by speaking and participating in large scale senior management and leadership meetings.

In this keynote, Jim offers his insight into how to innovate in perilous times. History has taught us, over and over again, that those who are aggressive with innovation, and who align themselves to future trends in times of uncertainty, are those who win in the long run. His keynote is loaded with powerful guidance, research and key lessons from the breakthrough performers of the past. Insight from those who have managed to accomplish great things because of a decision to focus on innovation right in the middle of an economic challenge or an era of uncertainty, rather than waiting for future clarity.

One of my favorite innovation phrases that I always use on stage or in a CEO off-site is “think big, start small, scale fast!”

thinksmall

So I woke up this morning and came into the home office, and was thinking about the “start small’ part of that phrase. And quickly jotted down a list of small ideas.

Here goes!

  •  do small projects: too many innovation efforts get bogged down, bloated, and blow up due to big scope and size!
  • celebrate small wins : not every innovation effort needs to be a home run
  • learn from small failures: I love the phrase fail early, fail often, fail fast; you can do that better if your project is small
  • scatter your team for small exploration: there is so much going on in so many industries that is so tiny but has huge implications, you’ve simply got to let your people explore!
  • reframe the idea of small: put into perspective how small changes can have a big impact
  • look for small winners: for example, there are tremendous innovations in manufacturing concepts with small manufacturers — learn from them!
  • give a small bit: in an era of open collaboration and global insight, giving back some R&D can be a good thing
  • seek small heroes: in the global economy, there is probably a small 1 or 2 person company who is doing exactly the cool, innovate thing you need. Find them!
  • establish small decision groups: destroy committees; if there has to be one to make a decision, limit it to 1 or 2 or 3 people.
  • focus on the power of small: one person can change a company, an industry, a country, a world!

Of course, my ideas aren’t original. The original concept of small perhaps came from the greatest advertising campaign of all time — for the VW Beetle, Think Small.

It’s a powerful concept.

In my case, the entirety of my career as a global keynote speaker, futurist, trends and innovation expert is that it’s me, and my wife, and a small home office that is plugged into a great big world. From here, I serve up insight and guidance to a vast range of global organizations, associations, CEO’s and leadership teams.

Thinking big, starting small, scaling fast.

Perhaps the real secret to succeeding in a world where the future belongs to those who are fast!