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Innovators check their speed and focus on corporate agility: they know that to keep up with fast paced trends, it’s their ability to quickly act, react and do that will allow their future success. There’s not a lot of time for debate, studying; inertia is abhorred. They simply DO - and do it fast and right the first time -- Jim Carroll



Last spring, I was the closing keynote speaker for a meeting at Genentech — they’re one of the world’s leading genomic based pharmaceutical organizations.

I just found this gem in the video — when I was asked a question, and turned it around to my thoughts on two of the most innovative industries in existence today. Give it a watch!

One of my key responsibilities as a futurist is to help my clients — some of the largest associations and companies in the world — align themselves to the fast paced trends of today. One key question that always comes up? “When do we get involved with any key trend?”

I walk them through that issue from a variety of perspectives and with observations I’ve seen from spending time with countless Fortune 1000 organizations. However, I stress that when it comes to the issue of timing, it is critical that they get involved in some way with any new trend or technology.

Some don’t. History has taught as that some when it comes to key trends, some organizations don’t bother showing up at all or don’t show up at the right time — and end up missing a lot of opportunities. Hence, the quote in the picture!

How do you determine when to invest? The best guidance comes from something called the “Gartner Hypecycle.” Years ago, the global research company suggested that any new technology goes along a curve – it appears, hits the time of excessive hype and expectations. That is followed by the inevitable collapse of enthusiasm as people realize that it takes a lot of time and effort to implement the technology and determine the opportunity that comes from it. But inevitably, both the expectations and technology itself matures, and it becomes a key component for innovation and so much more.

You can take any technology and place it on the curve.

Consider e-commerce: it appeared, and people got carried away with the potential during the dot.com era of the late 1990’s. However, that involved a period of rather excessive and ridiculous hype, and so we had the inevitable dot.com collapse. Plateau of productivity? Amazon is steamrolling retail in North America, and Alibaba dominates retail trends in China. Everywhere, stores are closing and online shopping is accelerating. Amazon buys Whole Foods. Do you get the point?

Now consider the explosion of new technologies around us today: 3D printing, the Internet of Things (#iot), virtual reality, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars. A key component to your strategy is figuring out where they are on the curve, and hence, what you should be doing with them in terms of an innovation strategy. There are some useful observations to be found online, such as this one which takes the hype-cycle and places a variety of technologies at their current point on the curve.

But here’s the thing: if a key technology shows an opportunity, don’t ignore it if it is still early days. Otherwise, there is a good chance that you won’t be ready when it becomes real – when it hits the plateau of productivity. 

This is where my “think big, start small, scale fast” mantra comes into play. Even if it is early days, you should make sure that you are working with, experimenting with, and gaining expertise in any new technology. Fail early and fail fast! That way, you will be better positioned when it hits the “plateau of productivity.”

One thing I’ve learned? Some organizations don’t take this step. They don’t show up to the starting line. They are too dismissive of new ideas and new technologies The result is that they don’t even appear in the race, and miss out on building up the early expertise and experience with a key technology.

A brand today can go from hero to zero in a matter of months….” In that context, you’d better get ahead of the fast future, before it gets ahead of you!

Consider Sony. Once they were a really cool company with the coolest technology on the planet — the Walkman.

Then they weren’t, because they didn’t keep up with the future, and didn’t innovate fast enough.

We live in an era of instant obsolescence. I often tell the story on stage of how my sons — now 24 and 22– perceive many of the things which were once a part of my life as being from the “olden days.” We’ve actually come up with a pretty long list.

Sony once had a really cool brand name, and the Walkman had deep, deep brand value. Yet Sony seemed to lose its innovative spirit, and started going wrong in a big way. It ended up destroying a good chunk of the brand value behind the Sony name — when I think of Sony now, I think of a company that is slow, behind the times, ponderous.

Which begs the question : are you operating with enough agility and rapidity in order to ensure that your own brand doesn’t become a “brand from the olden days?”

The rate at which the Sony brand lost its value is nothing short of stunning — and was due to a series of well known missteps (among others):

  • they failed to keep up with the rapid growth and demand for flat panel TV’s and other hot new technologies: they failed with market agility.
  • they decided that going to war with their customers (by slipping destructive software onto their music CD’s) was more important than developing great technology that caught the next wave of consumer electronics. Look up “Sony rootkit” for the story from over a decade ago.
  • they dropped the ball on the necessity for continuous operational excellence , as evidenced by a disastrous recall of laptop batteries some years back.

The list goes on. Are you making similar mistakes that is costing you brand image? You certainly are, if:

  • Your brand looks tired, because it is tired. Case in point — many companies in the automobile industry missed out on the revolution as the dashboard becomes a computer, because they weren’t watching what their customers were doing. They were busy releasing automobiles that were some five years behind the living rooms of their customers — and that certainly brought the brand sheen off of some of the biggest auto companies. They are still trying to catch up.
  • Customers see a lack of innovation: Consumers today are immersed in a global cloud of new ideas. They’re witnessing constant, relentless, awe-inspiring forms of innovation all around them, as they deal with a flood of new consumer technologies, packaging based product innovation, and ongoing advancements in retail environments, both offline and online. They’ve come to expect that the brands they deal with are at the leading edge, in design, functionality, message and purpose.
  • Lousy, ineffective customer service: Guess what – when it comes to interaction with your customers, they measure you up against the world’s best. If you don’t add up, you are doing some significant damage to your brand equity right there. Customer support is no longer good enough — fanatical support is better.
  • You don’t know that you customers know more about your brand than you do: Your customers today are immersed in the global innovation idea feedback loop. They busy sharing ideas on what’s really cool, and they are even busier taking apart the folly of those who have been left behind. In doing so, they are rapidly reinventing products, services, brands and image. If you aren’t listening, you are guaranteeing that you’ll fall behind.
  • A lack of purpose or urgency: I’ve studied many organizations who still don’t have the key information they need for market agility. They don’t have instant feedback mechanisms which tell them of rapid developments in specific markets. They don’t know how to regroup quickly “when bad things happen.” They still operate blind, as if it’s 1990: their sales force goes into a customer meeting, oblivious as to what that customer has been thinking about them. They approach every day as if it were the same as yesterday; meanwhile, their market and their customers have run away from them!
  • A lack of market and competitive intelligence: It’s the information-age, get it? There’s no shortage of information to be had. Yet I see companies who seem shocked when a competitor drops a ‘bombshell’ announcement — only to realize that they were the only one who thought it was a bombshell. Everybody else knew what the competition was up to, because in this new hyper-connected world, everyone knows what everyone else is doing!
  • A regular series of fumbling missteps: The saddest thing is that Sony has messed up in so many ways, that some customers now look at as if it has a “L” on its forehead. Today, small mistakes can be instantly compounded. Take the concept of compounded financial interest. Now realize that a small PR mistake, a lousy executive decision, or poor execution, can lead to the same type of instant, global brand devaluation — that can compound on itself at an extremely high interest rate!

A brand today can go from hero to zero in a matter of months. How do you avoid such a fate?

  • Recognize that brand longevity is now a critical issue
  • Ensure your sales, marketing, development and customer support team are relentlessly focused on the currency of the brand
  • Make sure that continuous brand innovation is part of your corporate mantra
  • When confronted with the new and challenging customer, learn from them rather than running away
  • Be incessantly focused on the likely innovations that will come to impact your brand
  • Learn to think five to six product lifecycles in advance — and plan to do them all within six months.
  • Make forward oriented intelligence a critical aspect of what you do.

Back in 2006, I keynoted the Society of Cable Telecom Engineers at their annual conference in Tampa. At the time, YouTube was only just beginning to have an impact, and social networking was still in a nascent stage. It was January — Twitter wasn’t even around!

My job was to alert them that forthcoming trends would mean that they would be  faced with the need to accelerate the bandwidth on their networks. I spoke to the trends I predicted in my book of 1999, Light Bulbs to Yottabits, which took a look at the forthcoming world of online video.


My job, as opening keynote, was to get them in the right, innovative frame of mind to deal with an upcoming tsunami of change.

I ended up writing an article for Broadband Magazine, on my keynote theme, Are We Thinking “Fast” Enough? I recently dug the article out the other day with respect to another upcoming talk within the industry.

It still makes for good reading today, starting with the observation that “in this era in which new developments and technology are coming to the market faster than ever before, everyone must become an innovator, whether it be with new business models, skills partnerships or customer solutions.”

Some of the key points I raised are even more critical today:

  • Innovation has moved from the corporate to the collective, a trend that is causing absolutely furious rates of discovery.
  • This rate of scientific advance is such that a world of yottabits and zetabits is going to arrive faster than you might think,
  • Things are happening so fast that some industries are beginning
    to witness the end of the concept of the product life-cycle
  • Rapid innovation and technology development means that new competitors can now come into a marketplace and cause fundamental, significant and long lasting change at the drop of a hat
  • Rapidly evolving technology is resulting in an increasing shortage of critical skills

Run through that list, and ask yourself if that is your industry situation today.

Read the full article below.

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Obviously, I spend a lot of time thinking about innovation. And given my global client list, I have a unique front-row seat into what organizations are doing to succeed — or, as they case may be, not succeed — with their innovation efforts.

With that, here’s a quick list of 10 more things that smart, innovative companies do to create an overall sense of innovation-purpose.

  • Heighten the importance of innovation. One major client with several billons in revenue has 8 senior VP’s who are responsible for innovation. And the fact is, they don’t just walk the talk — they do it. The message to the rest of the company? Innovation is critical — get involved.
  • Create a compelling sense of urgency. With product lifecycles compressing and markets witnessing fierce competition, now is not the time for studies, committee meetings and reports. It’s time for action. Simply do things. Now. Get it done. Analyze it later to figure out how to do it better next time.
  • Ignite each spark. Innovative leaders know that everyone in the organization has some type of unique creativity and talent. They know how to find it, harness it, and use it to advantage.
  • Re-evaluate the mission. You might have been selling widgets five years ago, but the market doesn’t want widgets anymore. If the world has moved on, and you haven’t, it is time to re-evaluate your purpose, goals and strategies. Rethink the fundamentals in light of changing circumstances.
  • Build up experiential capital. Innovation comes from risk, and risk comes from experience. The most important asset today isn’t found on your balance sheet — it is found in the accumulated wisdom from the many risks that you’ve taken. The more experiential capital you have, the more you’ll succeed.
  • Shift from threat to opportunity. Innovative organizations don’t have management and staff who quiver from the fear at what might be coming next. Instead, they’re alive from breathing the oxygen of opportunity.
  • Banish complacency and skepticism. It’s all too easy for an organization, bound by a history of inaction, to develop a defeatist culture. Innovative leaders turn this around by motivating everyone to realize that in an era of rapid change, anything is possible..
  • Innovation osmosis. If you don’t have it, get it — that’s a good rule of thumb for innovation culture. One client lit a fuse in their innovation culture by buying up small, aggressive, young innovative companies in their industry. They then spent the time to carefully nurture their ideas and harness their creativity.
  • Stop selling product, and sell results. The word solution is overused and overdone, but let’s face it — in a world in which everything is becoming a commodity and everyone is focused on price, change the rules of the game. Refuse to play — by thinking about how to play in a completely new game.
  • Create excitement. I don’t know how many surveys I saw this year which indicated that the majority of most people in most jobs are bored, unhappy, and ready to bolt. Not at innovative companies! The opportunity for creativity, initiative and purpose results in a different attitude. Where might your organization be on a “corporate happiness index?” If it’s low, then you don’t have the right environment. Fix that problem — and fix it quick.

Half of the events I do as a futurist and innovation expert are spent at corporate leadership events. I’m frequently engaged by a CEO or other senior executive for a global Fortune 1000 company to come in and challenge their team as to how to align to a fast paced, disruptive future. After all, the reality is that speed is a new success metric.

There’s a lot of work and customization that goes into each and every talk — just last week, I met with 20 executives in the nuclear industry, and spent a lot of time updating myself as to trends in the energy and nuclear sector so that I could guide and challenge their thinking in a powerful way.

While researching and preparing, or while delivering my insight, I’ve noticed an increasing number of organizations are seeking to set their innovation energies on fire by encouraging their younger, interactive generation to explore opportunities for the digital, disruptive future through what I’ve come to call an Xbox room!

Why? Because this generation gets-it, knows how to innovate, and is the most powerful force for change in our world today. Consider the reality:

  • half of the global population is under the age of 25
  • we know they are globally wired, entrepreneurial, collaborative, and change oriented
  • and they are now now driving rapid business model change, and industry transformation as they move into executive positions

With that reality, organizations are realizing they should allow this generation to light their creative energies on fire, even if they aren’t sure as to what they might do or where their efforts might go!

The idea is to set them up with an innovation facility by which they can explore and accelerate the adoption of leading digital tools throughout the organization that can accelerate innovation efforts, provide for better collaboration and so much more.

Case in point: I spent some time in St. Louis with Amsted Rail: they manufacture the ‘bogies’ which are the wheel-undercarriage assemblies found on railcars. It was a thrill for my wife and I to have a tour of their manufacturing facility before my talk to see what they are doing to realign themselves to opportunities for innovation in manufacturing.

And the tour included what they call their iLab — or, what I would call for the fun of it, an Xbox room! In this facility, they are continually examining a variety of ideas as to how to continue to move the organization forward. This includes exploring a variety of ideas and technologies, including:

  • state of the art brainstorming centres to facilitate ideas colliding from all corners of our company
  • real-time employee collaboration tools across geographically diverse sites (to promote “a collision of ideas”)
  • how to use connected SMART Boards to simultaneously write/draw/share over any application using “digital ink”
  • 3D scanning/modelling systems to enhance product R&D and quality capabilities
  • advanced tensile testing techniques for enhanced product strength & durability

I had a chance to chat with the young fellows in the Xbox room — and listen to their ideas. It’s obvious its a rocket engine for innovative thinking!

That’s but one example: the more I witness what organizations are doing to accelerate innovation, the more I discover some sort of ‘Xbox room.’ I recently keynoted a major conference on the future of trucking in Phoenix.

While on stage, I spoke about a company in Winnipeg, Canada — Bison Trucking. They’ve set up a facility to encourage younger staff to explore how to align the fast pace of technological change in trucking to opportunities for digital technologies — read an extensive blog post about their efforts in the post Trend: In Trucking, Aircraft Control Towers Are the New Offices.

There’s plenty of others – Xbox rooms seem to be springing up everywhere!

Here’s what you need to think about:

  • you should set up a digital facility with all kinds of ‘toys’ relevant to your industry, and set the creative energies of a group of young staff free to explore
  • don’t set any specific goals, objectives or deliverables on the project — simply set it free to explore!
  • explain the purpose and mission of the group to the rest of the organization, and encourage them to bring unique problems to the group

Go ahead – make an Xbox room!

 

 

IBM’s Think Marketing blog found my site, and interviewed me on some of my thoughts around innovation and culture. Give it a read!

 

Hatching your next great idea: 5 ways to set the stage
by Jennifer Goforth Gregory, IBM Think Marketing Blog

Sometimes, you wake up and it feels like it became spring overnight. But when you stop to think about it, the change of seasons happened gradually over the course of a few weeks, and you missed the subtle signs. The daffodils started blooming last month. You started leaving the house without a coat. And, last week, you noticed a few trees sporting light green leaves.

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I work with many of the world’s leading bureaus, one of who is the Washington Speakers Bureau. They represent such people as Condoleeza Rice, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, John Kerry, Magic Johnson, Terry Bradshaw — global political, sports and other leaders. They’ve just run a blog post that I wrote on trends in the speaking industry. (Many of the worlds leading bureaus book me ; not only Washington Speakers, but also National Speakers Bureau / Global Speakers; Gail Davis & Associates; Leading Authorities; the Harry Walker Agency; Keppler Speakers ; Executive Speakers and many more!)


You can’t open a newspaper without seeing an article on the impact of ‘disruption.’  We now live in a period of unprecedented change in which your business model and the assumptions by which you operate are set to be forever disrupted.

In my own case, I spend a tremendous amount of time with different organizations in a vast range of different industries and professions, helping executives to understand and respond to the disruptive forces around them. And in the last several years, I’ve noticed some pretty significant changes in the speaking industry as organizations struggle with disruption.

If you are someone on your team responsible for organizing corporate or association meetings, you need to think about and react to the trends and forces at work. Quite simply, change is occurring several ways: with the speed with which speakers and topic experts are being booked, the topic areas that insight is being sought for, and the short time frames that everyone is working within.

As a speaker who focuses on how to link trends and innovation, my tag-line has become ‘the future belongs to those who are fast.”

The world is speeding up – and organizations need to respond faster

Consider the changes that everyone is impacted by today. Business model disruption. The rapid emergence of new competitors. The challenging impact of social media. Products that are almost out of date by the time they are brought to market. The digitization of everything and the impact of the Internet of Things.  All of these trends — and more — require that organizations pick up the pace when it comes to their strategies, actions and innovation efforts.

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Over the last 25 years as a speaker on future trends and innovation, I’ve seen many cases where companies have jumped onto a trend simply because everyone else. Or, they’ve suddenly decided that ‘innovation’ is important, without really defining a purpose or goal behind such a focus.

Rather than by just jumping on a bandwagon and doing what others are doing , try asking better questions as to why you should or should not be doing something!

Innovation that is based on “jumping on the bandwagon” is doomed to fail, for many, many reasons:

  • it’s lazy: true innovation takes hard work. It involves massive cultural, organizational, structural change. It involves an organization and leadership team that is willing to try all kinds of radical and new ideas to deal with rapid change. An innovative organization can’t innovate simply by jumping on a trend. Trying to do so is just trying to find an easy solution to deep, complex problems.
  • it involves little new creativity: by linking a new approach to doing things with a “hot topic” or trend means that people end up shutting their brains down. Creativity is immediately doomed through commonality.
  • it’s just a bandaid: bandwagon based innovation causes people to look for instant solutions and a quick fix, rather than trying to really figure out how to do something differently.
  • it’s misfocused: it involves putting in a solution is sought without identifying a problem. It’s backward in terms of approach.
  • it encourages mediocrity: it reduces innovation to an “idea of the week,” and does nothing to encourage people to really look at their world in a different way.
  • it reduces innovation to sloganeering: truly creative people within organizations are tried of slogan-based management. They’ve seen far too many ‘radical right turns’ and ‘new beginnings’ — and when they realize that their management team has jumped onto the latest hot trend, their faith and motivation goes out the window.
  • it destroys innovation: after the bandwagon effect ultimately fails (as they always do for the reasons above), people end up feeling burned out, cynical, demotivated — and they’ll be prepared to do little when the “next big thing” comes along.

 

It’s more important — and more difficult — than that.

My youngest son Tom turns 22 today. Time flies!

Both of my sons have been a huge inspiration to me on my approach to life, innovation, the future and trends — I know they live in a world that is completely different than my own, as they’ve grown up in a world of fast, relentless technology. This is caught, for example, in a stage story I often tell about Things from the Olden Days.

For many years, I told the story on stage of Tom and his hockey blocker. You see, when he was 3, he wanted one (a goalie blocker glove). We explained to him that we wouldn’t just go and buy one at the spur of a moment…

So he made his own. Out of a cereal box. What an inspiration! He kept and used it for two years, until it was absolutely falling apart.

Around that time, I often used Tom and the story of his hockey blocker as part of my “What I Learned from Frogs in Texas” story — which eventually became a book of the same title. His part in the story was the power of initiative, determination and action. It remains for me a powerful lesson.

 You can watch a short form of the video clip in which I talk about Tom and his hockey blocker here:

Happy birthday Tom! Always make sure that you construct the hockey blockers in your life – and always take the initiative!

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