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Organizations are faced with significant challenges, particularly with the continued impact of globalization, heightened market competition, rapid business model change and the impact of new technologies. They must continually challenge themselves to keep up with rapid change in the business environment in which they operate -- Jim Carroll

Back at the end of March, I worked on a custom video project with the Wall Street Journal Custom Digital Studios Team on behalf of CapitolOne; it involved  a small, invitation only panel discussion with a follow up custom video production. The latter is now running through out the WSJ.Com digital network.

It took place at the Modern, the restaurant area of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Sharing duties on stage with me was Soraya Darabi, a digital strategist and social media entrepreneur,  Charles Devaney, senior director of investments, Capital One Commercial Bank, and David Brinker, Senior Vice President of Operations and business development and Operations at The Daily. Our general discussion was around the opportunity for organizations to make bold, innovation moves through the leveraging of technology. Click the PDF to read the entire “Special Advertising Feature.”


Click the image to read the PDF. “Of the companies in existence during the economic recessions of the 70s, 80s, 90s and the recent “Great Recession” of 2007-2009, on average, 60 percent survived, 30 percent died and 10 percent became breakthrough performers. How did the top 10 percent do it? They specifically decided to make bold moves, to invest in world-class innovation, despite economic uncertainty.” – Jim Carroll, Futurist, Trends & Innovation Expert

It was a fun event to participate in, with a very lively discussion around the theme. I certainly emphasized that technology will continue to drive rapid business model, competitive and structural industry change:

Rapid changes in technology and an ever—shifing media stage have leveled the playing field such that big truly doesn’t beat small anymore — an exciting and intimidating space for any organization. ‘‘If you think your industry is going to look anything like it does now in 10 years, you’re wrong,” he said. “You’ve got to keep up with the change that’s occurring because today’s 20—year—olds are going to be your customers and your employees.”

Here are two teaser clips from the production, 15 seconds in length:

The custom production  is now running throughout the entire WSJ network, including Barron’s and other properties. I caught the thumbnail yesterday in a news story. From there, you can hit the video clips from the panel. (Note: It’s a targeted campaign, so it’s only hitting the US market.)


All in all, a great project, and an opportunity to make some key points about innovation!

I’m covered in the January / February issue of an Australian publication, Think and Grow Rich. It’s oriented toward franchise operations. Enjoy!

 The Power of One
from Think and Growth Rich
January/February 2014


Notes Jim Carroll: ” look around and I just see a countless number of methods by which a franchisee can run the business better, grow and transform their business. And that’s what innovation is all about!”

Despite a small slump in figures during the Global Financial Crisis, franchising has come out of the mire relatively unscathed and in fact the numbers for franchisors and their franchisees are looking very healthy. TGR looks at what the franchise sector can expect as we embed ourselves in the 21st century.

Many top companies, from Disney to Visa, have hired futurist Jim Carroll to speak about his views on the future. So it is interesting to hear his views about franchising. He told Multi-unit Franchisee, “There’s nothing to fear really, if you view future trends as being full of opportunities rather than as a threat. I find that many of my clients think about future trends and think, ‘Oh, this can’t be good, it’s going to be pretty difficult to deal with.’ The first step with getting into an innovative frame of mind is to think of every trend as an opportunity, not a threat.

“So let’s think about a few of them. Consider social networks; there are huge impacts on how consumers perceive, interact and provide feedback on brands. Obviously, if you don’t pay attention to the trend, it can turn into a big negative for you. But if you get involved, engage the new consumer, and continually experiment with new ways of taking advantage of this new form of interaction, then you are doing the right thing.”

Carroll went on to say that to be successful you must keep up-to-date with current trends.

“There are just so many opportunities to grow the business. We’ve got all kinds of new location-intelligence oriented opportunities – people walking around with mobile devices that have GPS capabilities built in. Think about instant couponing apps that might encourage customers to drop in and purchase something. There are new methods of getting the brand image out there; we’ve seen so many franchise groups with successful viral videos. For restaurant franchisees, there’s the rapid emergence of the new health-conscious consumer and opportunities to reshape the menu to take advantage of that. I look around and I just see a countless number of methods by which a franchisee can run the business better, grow and transform their business. And that’s what innovation is all about!”

In Australia, the outlook is just as optimistic and there are many entrepreneurial franchisors taking this kind of innovative approach that would make Carroll proud. For instance, the Franchise Food Company led by Stan Gordon launched its Gives Back campaign in August 2013. The initiative hopes to help a number of local community groups and initiatives by donating a total of $10,000 to a variety of causes over the next 12 months.

Gordon says the program will provide much-needed support to charities and community initiatives, to help many Australians who have been met with adverse circumstances or might be doing it tough.

“Cold Rock is all about giving people a reason to smile. The campaign is for anyone and everyone who’s working hard to make a difference in their community; whether you’re supporting a local sporting team, raising money for serious illnesses or fighting to save a historic landmark, we want to hear from you so we can help you along the way.”

The unique and inclusive initiative, housed on the Official Cold Rock Ice Creamery Facebook page, offers charities and community groups four opportunities to receive a one-off donation of up to $2,500.

Community groups and individuals are asked to submit an application detailing why they need a helping hand via the Gives Back Facebook Application.

Running over the coming 12 months, Cold Rock hopes to assist a variety of organisations with meaningful donations and build on the strong history of giving that Stan Gordon and Cold Rock has developed through years of community involvement.

It’s a unique use of social media and a great marketing tool, as well as a community initiative.

Meanwhile, the FFC continues to acquire strong franchise brands. The company’s latest acquisition is the iconic Trampoline brand, which fits nicely into the treats niche along with Mr Whippy, Cold Rock, Nut Shack and Pretzel World. FFC is unique, but like any franchise business, systems are crucial and will remain so, no matter how many years we move forward.

Pacific Retail Management is one of the largest franchise companies in Australia, with ownership of Go Sushi, Wasabi Warriors and Kick Juice Bars.

Part of its success is its systems management. Julia Boyd is the project and marketing coordinator. She says, “Pacific Retail has implemented strong operational systems to assist their franchise partners at every stage of training. Travelling operational team members continue to visit all national stores throughout the year and stay for up to a week or more to assist the business. They help to improve sales and are heavily involved with the franchise partners and any issues they may have.

“Support can also come from fellow franchisees in the group who are experiencing the same things and working towards the same goals. When franchisees work together towards a common goal, you can achieve great success and a cohesive team.

“Being part of a franchise network also means assistance and guidance from industry experts with the set-up of the business. This can include help with site selection and brokering of the lease with the landlord; financing through franchisors relationship with lenders and major banks; expedited process from initiation of agreement to store opening; and ultimately the sale of the store including finding a buyer.”

Of course franchising won’t be for everyone. With the advent of social media and vast new ways to reach clientele, the model will become easier to manage and far more sustainable. However there remains a lack of independence.

“Some prospective business owners are put off franchise networks and prefer to remain independent to avoid such established systems with little room for individual creativity, having to adhere to the operating systems in place and the initial payouts including franchise fees and training and marketing launch costs,” Boyd says…

Excerpted from an article originally published in the February/March 2014 issue of Think & Grow Rich Inc. magazine. You can access the Web



“I’m now building polls, live, in real time, while on stage in front of several hundred people. Talk about a deeply powerful method of providing for audience interaction.”

As my audiences become ever more engaged with their mobile devices, I’ve learned that I must continually step up my game and ensure that they remain engaged with me!

Attention spans in society are collapsing, and we who own and do our job on stage must ensure that we keep those attention spans on the message…. whether I’m in front of scientists, leadership and researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Center or 2,000 ERA real estate professionals in Austin, Texas.

And so my most potent powerful weapon in that regard is my use of PollEverywhere on stage.

Yesterday during a keynote in Chicago, in a pattern that I’ve been using for about a year, I took things a step further than simply using several multiple choice text message based questions from the stage.

I worked interactively with the audiences to build a list of the most difficult challenges that they may face — and another list of the responses they think might help them deal with those challenges. After coming up with each list, everyone in the room got a chance to vote on the responses!

Live, in real time, in front of hundreds of people. This is fun stuff! Think about it — working with the audience, I’m now building part of my keynote on the fly to delve deeply into the real issues and opportunities my audience is thinking about.

I’m doing this more often as of late : here’s a post I did about one recent talk, “Highly interactive, highly insightful – a private strategy meeting for 50!”.

Here is what the room came up with yesterday in Chicago, n terms of their most significant challenges — and after I built the list in my Web browser, how they voted on the list. (Click on either image below for a larger image)


I then worked the room again, seeking answers on how they might respond to the challenge. Once again, I built poll in real time, and had the room vote on the results.


This is POWERFUL stuff for a keynote presentation.

If you are seeking someone to wow your audience, challenge them to think differently about innovation and the future, then you might find this to be a really fascinating way to take your meeting or event to the next level.

By the way, when you’re on stage, you’ve got to keep your cool — and have a tech partner who excels at customer service! So it is with PollEverywhere. Somehow during the process, just after voting and building the second poll, I lost the results to the first one! While on stage, I commented about this to the audience, looked up the customer support phone number for PollEverywhere, and phoned them.

They picked up the call in just under two minutes — and immediately showed me how to fix my problem.

Astounding, wonderful, stupendous customer service!




Read my Foreword for this report on the new era of customer interaction

Next week in Orlando, I’m set to be the opening speaker for the 14th Annual Process Excellence Week 2013 in Orlando – with folks from most global Fortune 1,000 organizations in the room.

The focus – aligning fast paced change to a customer centric world, and the need to align business process to market, customer, technology, business model change.

There’s a lot to cover
and a lot to talk about — and I’ve got 45 minutes to get these folks fired up about the fascinating opportunities unfolding in their future as we devolve to a world in which the future belongs to those who are fast!

The folks at PEX have just released their seminal 2013 white paper, “Transforming customer feedback into opportunity.”

And they were kind enough to ask me to consider writing a Foreword for the report — to which I responded with an unequivocal yes. I pride myself as a speaker on the obvious need to go above and beyond client expectations — it’s not just about the keynote, it’s about an opportunity for transformation of a profession! And turning customer feedback into opportunity!

You can read my Foreword from the report by hitting the image.

You can also request a full copy of the report here — you will need to register.

Three of my favorite comments from my Foreword:

Fix things fast
When things go wrong with a customer relationship fix them fast. Have a communications plan.Be prepared to reassure the customer quickly. In this new era of hyper-information feedback, don’t let the customer sit and stew for a moment — proactive information and proactive action is the only weapon you have, and you have to use it.

Admit that mistakes will happen

It’s ok. It’s the 21st century. Bad things go wrong all the time. Accept that, and use that as a go- forward strategy.

“Things will go wrong and we will work to fix them fast” is a better strategy than “we plan on rolling it out and holding our breath that things don’t get messed up.”

Empower people with niceness

Customer-centricity and the instant-age demands that the customer be made happy — quickly.

Give staff who have not previously had the authority, the authority to do things to the customer that are nice. That will help to ease the early part of the “pain process.”

Every company in every industry is in a situation in which the customer is more empowered than ever before. Accept that — work with it — learn from it — and use it as the base for innovation!


Here’s some of the key trends that I see unfolding through 2013 and beyond.

2013My unique job allows me the opportunity to see and hear what a lot of CEO’s and senior executives in a lot of organizations are thinking about. The  nature of my keynotes and small board / leadership meetings allows me to understand what folks are focused on. The research I do, whether for a major manufacturing conference in Las Vegas or a small corporate meeting with an ice cream company allows me to see the key trends that are unfolding right now.

And so given this unique perch, here’s some of the most important trends which will play out in the year to come.

1. Moore’s law – everywhere!

Going forward, every single industry, from health care to agriculture to insurance and banking, will find out that change will start to come at the speed of Moore’s law — a speed of change that is MUCH faster than they are used too. (Remember, Moore’s law explains that roughly, the processing power of a computer chip doubles every 18 months while its cost cuts in half. It provides for the pretty extreme exponential growth curve we see with a lot of consumer and computer technology today.)

Consider health care. Genomic medicine is moving us from a world in which we fix people after they are sick – to one where we know what they will likely become sick with as a result of DNA testing. And that’s where Moore’s law kicks in, as Silicon Valley takes over the pace of development of the genomic sequencing machines. It took $3 billion to sequence the first genome, which by 2009 had dropped to $100,000. It’s said that by mid-summer, the cost had dropped to under $10,000, and by the end of the year, $1,000. In just a few years, you’ll be able to go to a local Source by Circuit City and buy a little $5 genomic sequencer – and one day, such a device will cost just a few pennies.

The collapsing cost and increasing sophistication of these machines portends a revolution in the world of health care. Similar trends are occurring elsewhere — in every single industry, we know one thing: that Moore’s law rules! Hence, my catchphrase — the future belongs to those who are  fast!

2. Loss of the control of the pace of innovation

What happens when Moore’s law appears in every industry? Accelerating change, and massive business model disruption as staid, slow moving organizations struggle to keep up with faster paced technology upstarts.

Consider the world of car insurance — where we soon will see a flood of GPS based driver monitoring technologies that will measure your speed, acceleration and whether you are stopping at all the stop signs. Show good driving behavior, and you’ll get a rebate on your insurance. It’s happening in banking, with the the imminent emergence of the digital wallet and the trend in which your cell phone becomes a credit card.

In both cases, large, stodgy, slow insurance companies and banks that move like molasses will have to struggle to fine tune their ability to innovate and keep up : they’re not used to working at the same fast pace as technology companies. Not only that, while they work to get their innovation agenda on track, they’ll realize with horror that its really hard to compete with companies like Google, PayPal, Facebook, and Apple — all of whom compete at the speed of light.

It should make for lots of fun!

3.  “Follow the leader” business methodologies

We’re also witnessing the more rapid emergence of new ways of doing business, and it’s leading us to a time in which companies have to instantly be able to copy any move by their competition – or risk falling behind.

For example, think about what is going on in retail, with one major trend defining the future: the Apple checkout process. Given what they’ve done, it seems to be all of a sudden, cash registers seem to be obsolete. And if you take a look around, you’ll notice a trend in which a lot of other retailers are scrambling to duplicate the process, trying to link themselves to the cool Apple cachet.

That’s the new reality in the world of business — pacesetters today can swiftly and suddenly change the pace and structure of an industry, and other competitors have to scramble to keep up.  Consider this scenario: Amazon announces a same day delivery in some major centers. Google and Walmart almost immediately jump on board. And in just a short time, retailers in every major city are going to have be able to play the same game!

Fast format change, instant business model implementation, rapid fire strategic moves. That’s the new reality for business, and it’s the innovators who will adapt.

4. All interaction — all the time!

If there is one other major trend that is defining the world of retail and shopping, take a look at all the big television screens scattered all over the store! We’re entering the era of constant video bombardment in the retail space. How fast is the trend towards constant interaction evolving? Consider the comments by Ron Boire, the new Chief Marketing Officer for Sears in the US (and former chief executive of Brookstone Inc.): “My focus will really be on creating more and better theater in the stores.

We are going to see a linking of this ‘in-store theater’ with our mobile devices and our social networking relationships. Our Facebook app for a store brand (or the fact we’ve ‘liked’ the brand) will know we’re in the store, causing a a customized commercial to run, offering us a personalized product promotion with a  hefty discount. This type of scenario will be here faster than you think!

5. Products reinvented

Smart entrepreneurs have long realized something that few others have clued into : the future of products is all about enhancement through intelligence and connectivity. Nail those two aspects, and you suddenly sell an old product at significantly higher new prices.

Consider the NEST Learning Thermostat. It’s design is uber-cutting edge, and was in fact dreamed up by one of the key designers of the iPad. It looks cool, it’s smart, connected, and there’s an App for that! Then there is a Phillips Hue Smart LED Lightbulb, a $69 light bulb that is uber-smart, connected, and can be controlled from your mobile device. Both are sold at the Apple store!

Or take a look at the Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale – I’ve got one at home. Splash a bit of design onto the concept of a home weigh scale, build it with connectivity, link it to some cool online graohis and you’ve got a device that will take your daily weight, BMI and body-fat-mass tracking into a real motivational tool.  Where is it sold? Why, at the Apple store too!

Do you notice a trend here?

6. Careers reinvented

For those who think that the economy in North America sucks, here’s an open secret: there’s been an economic recovery underway for quite some time, as companies in every sector ranging from manufacturing to agriculture work hard to reinvent themselves. It just doesn’t involve a lot of new jobs, because the knowledge required to do a new job in today’s economy is pretty complex. We’ve moved quickly from the economy of menial, brute force jobs to new careers that require a lot of high level skill. The trend has been underway for a long, long time.

Consider the North American manufacturing sector, a true renaissance industry if there ever was one! Smart engineers at a wide variety of manufacturing organizations have transformed process to such a degree, and involved the use of such sophisticated robotic technology, that the economic recovery in this sector involves workers who have to master a lot of new knowledge. One client observed of their manufacturing staff: “The education level of our workforce has increased so much….The machinists in this industry do trigonometry in their heads.”

Similar skills transitions are underway in a wide variety of other industries….

7. The Rise of the Small over Incumbents

You’ve likely see the commercials for Square, the small little device that lets your iPhone become a credit card. Once again, small little upstarts are causing turmoil, disruption and competitive challenge in larger industries — and often times, the incumbents are too slow to react.

Anyone who has ever tried to get a Merchant Account from Visa, MasterCard or American Express in order to accept credit cards knows that it is likely trying to pull teeth from a pen – many folks just give up in exasperation. Square, on the other hand, will send you this little device for free (or you can pick one up at the Apple Store.) Link it to your bank account, and you’re in business.

So while credit card companies have been trying to figure out the complexities of the future of their industry, a small little company comes along and just does something magical! No complexities, no challenges, no problems.

8. The Energy-Driven Economic Rebirth!

What is occurring in the US right now in terms of advanced energy discovery techniques – whether with shale gas, horizontal drilling, new subsea mapping technologies or other new discovery, exploration and production techniques — is probably one of the most significant trends of this decade. And in North America, the next economic recovery  is happening now because of of this. We are going to witness a resurgence of industry in North America.

Consider this :  PriceWaterhouseCoopers has suggested that high rates of shale gas recovery could result in a million new manufacturing jobs by 2025 in the US, and the fact that revived natural gas industry “has the potential to spark a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S., including billions in cost savings, a significant number of new jobs and a greater investment in U.S. plants.

9. The revolution that is mobile health and fitness.

Every industry in the world today finds itself in the midst of dramatic change, as mobile smartphone technology comes to change business models, consumer behaviour, and entire professions. No where is this more evident today than what is happening in the world of health care, wellness and fitness, as a flood of new apps and technologies emerge that will forever change this world. There is an absolute revolution going on involving the “consumerization of fitness and wellness.”  At this moment in time, we are witnessing the perfect confluence of several major trends:

  • the first signs of the reality of the massive scope of the health care crisis (both disease, lifestyle and funding related) as baby boomers begin to flood the health care system with requirements for extra care
  • a renewed and significant focus on “preventative” health care concepts” ;
  • structural change aimed at wellness programs so that people work harder to avoid or reduce the impact of lifestyle disease;
  • and the rapid emergence of new technologies — many involving the smart-phones that have become a ubiquitous part of our lifestyle – that can motivate consumers to do so much more with their personal fitness and wellness.

Companies are recognizing there is a big opportunity to be innovative with managing health care costs through a proactive approach that involves wellness. It’s a good example of the deep, transformative thinking that is occurring with many organizations in the health care system worldwide . Organizations are moving beyond the endless political debate, and are instead, putting in place practical, innovative programs that can help organizations manage health care costs, and employees can actively work at improving their overall health and fitness.

10. Thinking big means winning big!

There are people who are making big bold bets, big bold decisions, we are going to change the world and we are going to do things differently.” That phrase was from my opening keynote for the 2012 Accenture International Utilities and Energy Conference last week in San Francisco. It’s a good sentiment, and a good video clip to close out this post!

Where do you stand? In a company that is focused on small, incremental nothingness, or one that is set out to change the world?

Recently, I’ve had two absolutely fascinating session, each about 2-3 hours in length.

In one case, a major private equity firm engaged me to meet with their main advisory board In another case, I met with a group of very wealthy investors who were / are owners of major family held businesses, with valuations into the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.

Over the years, I’ve taken on an increasing number of small, intimate events for investor groups that have involved me leading a wide ranging discussion of the investment opportunities I see emerging in the future.

In both cases, these small, intimate meetings (with 20-40 people) were built around a structure in which I would cover a wide variety of future trends where I saw significant opportunity in the future. We then had a wide ranging discussion around these opportunities and a very lively debate.

Both were pretty heavy duty groups, with current and ex-CEO’s, Congressmen, Senators, venture capitalists and angel investors, university professors and researchers. Without getting into a lot of detail, one of the events had me take on four specific issues. These are the key areas that I spoke about:

  • big data: what’s beyond the hype, and what’s real?
  • intellectual property – what’s next as a venture play
  • oil & gas & US energy self-sufficiency: what sideline opportunities are emerging
  • regulatory challenges: as the velocity of change runs up against regulation, who will emerge as unique winners?

In the other case, I defined future opportunities in the context of the vast, transformative trends that are upending industries, providing for massive business model innovation, and for a lot of competitive disruption:

  • pervasive connectivity: massive opportunity as every device is connected, and we have awareness as to its status, location and IP address
  • big, bold movers: the phrase I use for organizations who are in a transformative frame of mind in solving big problems in healthcare, energy and the environment
  • revenue reinventors: how to find the signs of organizations reinventing their revenue stream at a furious pace, which is fundamental to success in todays economy
  • health care reform: what’s really happening, and who’s really innovating far beyond the political bluster. Think bioconnectivity, virtuality, mobility, wireless.
  • the future energy: opportunities beyond shale which involve accelerating science. Cows!

These types of sessions are tremendously invigorating; I really enjoy them, and the feedback in both cases was fabulous.

So there’s another thing that a futurist does that you might have never thought we do.

While I do a lot of major keynotes for associations and conferences — yesterday, I opened the HR Southwest conference in Dallas with an audience of about 2,000 — I also do a lot of small, executive oriented sessions.

These range from groups of 10 people around a boardroom table, or a senior leadership group of 100 or so executives. I’m usually brought in by a senior executive to provide a talk on the future trends affecting a particular industry; to help them re-frame the concept of innovation; or a combination of these two key themes.

While I often speak to conference audiences of 500 to 5,000, I also do a lot of sessions for CEO’s and other senior management teams in small, leadership oriented events, providing a key message on the necessity for innovation in the high velocity economy.

Regardless of the industry and size of the group, the planning for such a talk often involves a long conversation with the CEO or other senior member of the management team in advance. There are issues that are on the table; often, they’re planning to out of the office for a day to think, strategize and shape their focus, and I play a key role in this big investment of time. We spend time talking about how I can customize my insight, and hone the message that I can deliver.

I always scribble down little notes of our conversations; I use these when I start my research and when I’m pulling together a slide deck. And through the years, I’ve kept many of these notes; they provide tremendous, wonderful insight into the mindset of a typical major CEO or other senior executive. And spending time with so many of these folks has helped to shape the direction of one keynote that I do that is particularly popular : “What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t Do?”

I was searching through a pile of these notes the other day, and came across one from a few years ago that I think does a really good job of reflecting what’s on the mind of an executive that runs a major, global organization. This particular individual described to me what he hoped his organization and team would be able to develop in terms of core innovation competencies:

  • excel at seeing opportunity: the organizations needs to get better at spotting new emerging opportunities, whether with markets, customers, or products. It’s been very, very inwardly focused, and is starting to lose out on many great opportunities because the team seems to be too busy looking inwards, solving problems and firefighting, rather than looking outward to see ‘what comes next, and what should we do about it?’
  • adapt to fast paced markets: there needs to be a clear recognition that customers are more demanding; that the value proposition of the product line is being subjected to greater pressure than ever before; and that some competitors are moving faster in reinventing the product line. The company is competing more on price than on the value of the product, which is leading to commoditization. They’ve got to get better and ‘speed up’ the process of adapting to all of this change.
  • watch for disruption: clearly there are new organizations, particularly in the technology space, looking at the industry and thinking about ways to change the business model. That’s a significant challenge, and the leadership team needs to understand the potential for disruption, and think through opportunities for a strong offence and a good defence to deal with this reality.
  • realign innovation pipeline: for years, all R&D has been done internally, yet there’s a realization that the entire process of R&D has changed in almost every industry; the organization needs to be more outward  in terms of sourcing external ideas, developing unique innovation partnerships, and seeking to align itself to the ideas of some of the small start-ups that are changing the process of development within the industry.
  • ride generational change : there’s a recognition that the next generation of digital natives are now making their presence well known throughout the organization. They’re impatient for change, full of ideas, and ‘chomping at the bit’ to pursue innovative ideas. The senior management team needs to be thinking about how best to utilize their uniqueness as an opportunity, rather than trying to shut down their thinking because the don’t fit the historical norms of the organization
  • align to technological velocity: there is a clear understanding that the next wave of technology will not be about streamlining process or providing efficiencies; instead, it is all about redefining the industry, changing products through pervasive connectivity, and accelerating change in many different ways. The organization needs to learn to ‘innovate at the speed of Apple’ as this fundamental change unfolds
  • re-assess skills: there is a big mis-match between what the organization has in terms of skills, and the skills that it really needs to accomplish all of the above. It needs to get better at ‘getting the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

If you take a close look at this list, prepared from my hastily scribbled down notes, you’ll get a sense of what keeps a modern-day CEO up at night.

And it will also put into perspective the starting point at which I begin to pull together my talk.

For more information: “Jim’s CEO / Leadership Meetings

Is your organization getting a tad stale? Try rejuvenating staff by prescribing a dose of newfound creativity – through some innovation oxygen!

When my good friend Scott Kress summited Mount Everest two years ago, he used a little bit of oxygen for the final push. Many climbers do — sometimes you need the extra energy to accomplish something massive! (Scott’s also a speaker, and has a great stage story to tell! When he summited the highest peak in Europe last year, he ended in a hi-jacked Russian plane!)

My good friend Scott Kress at the Summit of Everest in 2009!

So it is with innovation — sometimes you need some help to accomplish great things. Here are some thoughts on how you can kick up your innovation efforts a bit more. Most importantly, the idea is that you can generate a little innovation oxygen by investing in some experiential capital!

What’s the use of innovation oxygen?

It is no secret that we are in an economy that has become far more hurried, complex and uncertain. Things are changing at a furious pace out there – from the products we are selling, to the markets we are selling to, to the attitudes of the customers that we are dealing with. Not to mention challenges with business models, marketing, branding, customer service, new forms of competition — and well, just about everything else!

Faster is the new fast!

In such an environment, a constant, relentless focus on innovative ideas might be the key to helping deal with rapid change. And through innovation, you may discover new opportunities.

This is the perfect time for every organization to put in place what I call “innovation oxygen.” This involves establishing a culture where everyone is actively encouraged to test a new idea.

In other words, everyone needs to inhale.

Oxygen. Innovation oxygen. Breathe it in deeply!

How do you do this? Several ways!

Banish complacency

Start out by banishing forever one of the worst phrases ever to be used in the corporate setting: “We’ve always done it that way.” Let go of the past. Things are different today, and will be far more different tomorrow. Constant, relentless change with markets, products, technology, customer behaviors and attitudes is the new reality.

Trying to go forward by doing what you’ve done in the past, results in being blind about potential opportunity. Don’t let complacency drive your agenda.

Put an alternative culture in place – one that encourages the use of the phrase, “Why not try doing it this way?” If you did things in a certain way in the past and it isn’t working as well as it used to, then do something completely different. See if it works.

Learn from it if it doesn’t, and move on to something new again. Try ten different approaches, and maybe you’ll find one that is effective. Throw out the other 9, and give yourself marks for innovation.

Take risks, reward failure

Of course, you can’t do this if your corporate mindset is one that discourages risk-taking. I’d suggest that to get into innovation mode, you should put yourself back in the mindset that existed before the current economic downturn.

Back then, it seemed that almost anything was possible, and everyone was willing to go out on a limb to try something new.

That’s no longer the case today. The challenges with the economy have had a huge impact on our willingness to try new ways of doing things.

Indeed, it’s fair to say that the climate towards risk taking and innovation has become very negative. After all, who would dare to stick out their neck today when they’re terrified of losing their job? Everyone is hunkering down, in survival mode.

Such an attitude will certainly help to kill an organization before the recovery even begins!

Bring back the courage to innovate.

Otherwise, current attitudes will settle in like a wet sponge, smothering any chance for innovation. Explore new ways of dealing with customers, particularly around social networking. Continue to examine methods of building sustainable customer relationships and loyalty. Return to experimenting with leading edge technology that might help to encourage new methods of building or enhancing brand image.

Whatever the case may be, keep trying out new approaches to do business, and reward those staff members who are willing to experiment and try new ideas.

Deal with the reality of aggressive indecision

Anyone involved in business has come to realize that over the last several years, it has become more and more difficult to close a deal. Massive indecision has come to be the rule, not the exception. And you can expect that to be a long-term reality, so adjust your plans accordingly.

The fact is, people have decided not to make decisions – and they like it! This has taught them something – they can hold off on deciding until the very last minute. The impact is rather challenging. It means is a business cycle that increasingly relies on long lead times, with sudden and instant short-term decision horizons.

Are you in sales? Here’s the new reality — you will find that your prospects will keep putting you off, and then one day will call, breathless and in a rush! There’s a decision to be made tomorrow morning, you are told. They need a revised proposal by 9am, and they need you to attend the meeting.

Oh, and you’ve got to be able to address multiple different product scenarios that haven’t been talked about before!

Can you respond to such a situation? Do you have a culture that would let you instantly jump in and reconfigure a deal? Can you pull together the information that would be necessary to support your presentation?

In retrospect, the need to be in an innovative frame of mind becomes obvious – critical, in fact. This new world can present a big shift in the approach that needs to be taken by your team.

Executives must constantly probe and learn how to deal with a business environment in which aggressive indecision is driving the decision making process.

Encourage frivolous education and promote offbeat time

To get into a frame of mind of acting fast, everyone needs to be able to learn a lot, very quickly. One way of doing that is by encouraging people to “waste” time. That’s right – I really recommend that as a business strategy.

How can people understand the high velocity change in markets, business models, competitive challenges, the emergence of new means of marketing and branding, and all kinds of other issues, if they are restricted to formal education programs? How can they learn about the new products that they need to sell when those products are coming to market so quickly? How can they learn new methods of dealing with a customer by taking an in-house course that was developed over a year ago, when the market was completely different from today?

That’s where frivolous education comes in, as a complement to traditional, formal corporate education programs.

Why not establish some “playtime” with your sales force, with the purpose being to try out a multitude of new technologies: encourage browsing through industry magazines, surfing the Web for market research, etc… Such activities may help bring understanding to how the customer is changing. So in fact, what may appear to be “wasting time,” really is not so.

Set your sales force out to do frivolous activities with a goal in mind – to measure customer service, examine competitive activities, take a look at new products, or simply come up with some innovative, new ideas that might help them sell more. Maybe you’ll get some unique insight that doesn’t come from your traditional educational programs!

Destroy organizational sclerosis

It’s been said before, but needs to be said again – hierarchy is the enemy of innovation. Everyone knows that the biggest challenge in many organizations are uncommunicative departments, and a culture that doesn’t promote openness. To improve the ability of an organization to innovate, communication barriers need to be broken down.

It seemed that when new technologies appeared on the scene in the 1990’s, that there were vast new opportunities to destroy “organizational sclerosis.”

And yet now, this culture of open communication is slowly being destroyed, as companies come to discourage frivolous employee communications. Jokes are frowned upon, and political correctness has become stifling.

This indictment of open communication impairs the very ability of the organization to encourage a culture of knowledge exchange, often critical for understanding how markets and customers are changing.

We need to continue to encourage employees to communicate as much as possible, however frivolous. Do this, and you’ll find that the culture of innovation opens up too.

Invest in experiential capital

In a world in which business models, methods of customer interaction, and other fundamentals are changing overnight, it’s critically important that an organization constantly enhance the skill, capabilities and insight of their people.

They do this by constantly working on projects that might have an uncertain return and payback — but which will provide in-depth experience and insight into change.

It’s by understanding change that opportunity is defined, and that’s what experiential capital happens to be. In the future, it is one of the most important assets that you can possess.

Invest in experiential capital, and that’s where you’ll find your innovation oxygen.

“We really don’t understand it all, and so we aren’t going to do anything!”

A few years ago, when I was the closing speaker for the Swiss Innovation Forum in Zurich, I made the observation that many  “organizations fail, because their have failure engrained in their corporate culture!”

Do you?

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

One of the most typical situations today in which we are seeing innovation-dead-in-its-tracks involves the many initiatives that people are pursuing with social networks and/or mobile applications. They know that we live in transformative times in which major changes are occurring with branding, production promotion, customer relationships and just about everything else!

So they set off to build a sophisticated customer-oriented Facebook initiative; they roll out a prototype mobile iPhone app; or they simply get a very basic Twitter feed happening that includes a stream of useful news updates that customers might actually appreciate.

Enthusiastic as heck, they take their project to the senior management team — and its’ rejected, with a litany of reasons as to why the organization just isn’t ready to deal with their new ideas right now.

Any number of reasons can be given; each and every one of them is indicative of the fact that a sort of organizational sclerosis has set in, that clogs up the ability of the organization to deal with anything new. Consider the attitudes that you might encounter if you are trying to get something happening:

  • we don’t understand it, so we don’t think we need to do it
  • it’s too easy to not confront the tough issues
  • we are too busy fighting fires right now!
  • we don’t have the skill sets to deal with this. That’s a weak excuse
  • we haven’t thought about this in our strategic planning process
  • we have really spent a lot of time thinking about what comes next
  • we don’t have a budget for that!
  • what we’ve been doing all along is perfectly ok, isn’t it?
  • there’s so much going on, and we don’t know where it might fit in terms of priorities!
  • it’s too far ahead of its time!

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

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

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

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

We are in the era of big thinking, yet a lot of people have a small outlook.

Consider what leading edge innovation organizations are doing today; they’re prepared to:

  • make big transformations: I’m dealing with several organizations who realize that structured operational activities that are based on a centuries old style of thinking no longer can take them into a future that will demand more agility, flexibility and ability to react in real time to shifting demand. They’re pursuing such strategies as building to demand, rather than building to inventory; or pursuing mass customization projects so that they don’t have to compete in markets based on price.
  • undertake big brand reinforcement: one client, realizing the vast scope and impact of social networking on their brand image, made an across the board decision to boost their overall advertising and marketing spend by 20%, with much of the increase going to online advertising. In addition, a good chunk of existing spending is being diverted as well. Clearly, the organization believes that they need to make bi broad, sweeping moves to keep up to date with the big branding and marketing change that is now underway worldwide.
  • anticipate big changes: there’s a lot of innovative thinking going on with energy, the environment and health care. Most of the organizations that have had me in for a keynote on the trends that are providing for growth opportunities have a razor sharp focus on these three areas, anticipating the rapid emergence of big opportunities at a very rapid pace.
  • pursue big math: quite a few financial clients are looking at the opportunities for innovation that come from “competing with analytics,” which offers new ways of examining risk, understanding markets, and drilling down into customer opportunity in new and different ways.
  • focus on big loyalty: one client stated their key strategic goal during the downturn this way: “we’re going to nail the issue of customer retention, by visiting every single one in the next three months to make sure that they are happy and that their needs are being met.” Being big on loyalty means working hard to ensure that existing revenue streams stay intact, and are continually enhanced.
  • focus on big innovation: one client stated their innovation plan in a simple yet highly motivating phrase: “think big, start small, scale fast.” Their key goal is to build up their experiential capital in new areas by working on more innovation projects than ever before. They want to identify big business opportunities, test their potential, and then learn how to roll out new solutions on a tighter, more compact schedule than ever before.
  • thinking big change in scope. One client became obsessed with the innovation strategy of going “upside down” when it came to product development. Rather than pursuing all ideas in house, they opened up their innovation engine to outsiders, looking for more partnership oriented innovation (with suppliers and retailers, for example); open innovation opportunities, and customer-sourced innovation. This lit a fuse under both their speed for innovation as well as their creativity engine
  • innovate in a big way locally: we’re in a big, global world, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t innovate locally. One client in the retail space pursues an innovation strategy that allows for national, coordinated efforts in terms of logistics, merchandising and operations, yet also allows a big degree of freedom when it comes to local advertising, marketing and branding.
  • share big ideas. One association client pursued an innovation that was relentless on community knowledge sharing. They knew if they could build an association culture in which people shared and swapped insight on a regular basis on how to deal with fast changing markets and customers, that they could ensure their members had a leg up and could stay ahead of trends. Collaborative knowledge is a key asset going forward into the future, and there’s a lot of opportunity for creative, innovative thinking here.
  • be big on solving customers problems. Several clients have adopted an innovation strategy that is based on the theme, “we’re busy solving customers problems before they know they have a problem,” or conversely, “we’re providing the customer with a key solution, before the customer knows that they need such a solution.” That’s anticipatory innovation, and it’s a great strategy to pursue.
  • align strategies to the big bets. There’s a lot of organizations out there who are making “big bets” and link innovation strategies to those bets. WalMart has bold goals for the elimination of all packaging by a certain date; this is forcing a stunning amount of innovation within the packaging sector. Some restaurants aim to reduce food and packaging waste by a factor of dozens; this is requiring stunning levels of creativity in the kitchen