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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



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.

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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!”

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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!

 

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?

Tomorrow550

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

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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.