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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.

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.

We certainly live in interesting times!

Here’s what I’ve noticed in this new era of hyper-turmoil and uncertainty — many organizations are turning off their innovation engines, waiting to see what happens next in a world in which volatility is the new normal.

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The New Yorker had a great article in 2009 after the financial meltdown, “Hanging tough,” that outlined  how some companies choose to ensure that they stay innovative in recessionary times – while others did not. In the context of the uncertainty of today, it’s worth a read. For example, they contrast two cereal companies: one that chose to focus on innovation despite uncertainty, while another did not.

“You’d think that everyone would want to emulate Kellogg’s success, but, when hard times hit, most companies end up behaving more like Post. They hunker down, cut spending, and wait for good times to return. They make fewer acquisitions, even though prices are cheaper. They cut advertising budgets. And often they invest less in research and development. They do all this to preserve what they have.”

My recent discussions with Fortune 1000 CEOs and senior executives in both UK and the US certainly indicate that this is happening again. Post-Brexit, uncertainty and aggressive indecision is roiling the C-suite in the UK — deferring decisions has become the norm. In the US, the never-ending election has placed a pause on most big decisions — inaction has settled in like a wet-sponge!

Big question – in this context, is the UK done? Can America innovate again, or is this a cultural and leadership ‘new normal?’ Here’s what I know – the winners and losers of the future are being determined right now!

Yet 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. For years, I’ve talked on stage and in my leadership meetings of the key observation by GE’s Chief Innovation Consultant. Simple, powerful guidance: breakthrough performers manage 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 till they came into a recovery phase.

The research found that during the oil shock of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s recession, and the 2000 dot com bust, of those companies surveyed, 70% of companies barely survived, 30% died, but 10% became breakthrough performers. Noted the GE head of innovation: it was explicitly “…because of choices they made in the recession.”

So it really comes down to this: when do you innovate? Are you going to wait until you are comfortable that an era of uncertainty is over? Bad decision — because economic and political volatility is the new normal!

Everything we have learned has taught us that the winners were those who decided that it was an important thing to keep moving ahead despite massive amounts of uncertainty. Get out of your future-funk! Try this clip from a keynote I undertook on stage after the meltdown of 2008-2009. “Innovators get out in front of the recession“.

Consider this: the New Yorker article is pretty blunt with it’s findings on innovation-losers:

  • “numerous studies have shown that companies that keep spending on acquisition, advertising, and R. & D. during recessions do significantly better than those which make big cuts”
  • “a McKinsey study of the 1990-91 recession found that companies that remained market leaders or became serious challengers during the downturn had increased their acquisition, R. & D., and ad budgets, while companies at the bottom of the pile had reduced them”
  • “Uncertainty is always a part of business, but in a recession it dominates everything else: no one’s sure how long the downturn will last, how shoppers will react, whether we’ll go back to the way things were before or see permanent changes in consumer behavior. So it’s natural to focus on what you can control: minimizing losses and improving short-term results.”

Innovation winners?

  • “Kraft introduced Miracle Whip in 1933 and saw it become America’s best-selling dressing in six months; Texas Instruments brought out the transistor radio in the 1954 recession; Apple launched the iPod in 2001.”

Read the article. It’s powerful stuff!

Given that, what do you do? Change your culture and set out to achieve breakthrough results despite uncertainty!


Here is some more innovation-soup for your innovation-soul!

Energy2016

The rule of Moore’s Law is rapidly coming to renewables. This “law” — predicting that the processing power of a computer chip doubles ever year while the cost is halved — is coming to the manufacturing process of renewable technology, to the infrastructure built into renewables, and to the systems that drive renewable use.

From an article I wrote for GE Reports, a global publication of General Electric.

From advances in renewables to data-driven efficiencies and empowered consumers, 2016 offers the opportunity to shape the future of energy.

In my view, 2016 will prove to be a watershed year when it comes to sustainable energy. Years from now, we’ll look back and realize that a variety of technological, design and demographic trends drove the power sector forward, accelerated by one key event — the Paris climate accord.

The accord will prove to be a huge motivating factor for both individuals, as well as the industrial and utility sector, to start to think bigger in terms of what can be done with smart energy systems and non-carbon technology.

For the first time, we have a global consciousness that the time is right to try to accomplish something unique — to apply our technological, design, architecture and analytical capabilities to come up with solutions that will help to drive down our reliance on a carbon economy.

It’s happening at two levels. Individuals and small energy cooperatives are leading the charge through small crowdfunded initiatives, or through what has come to be known as the “maker” economy.

In addition, Paris will encourage large utilities to move faster with alternative energy opportunities. They’ll take a closer look at what they can do to help to achieve the bold goals of a cleaner energy future. They’ll be less willing to take criticism over those who might browbeat them over economic models that might sometimes be marginal. But going forward, it won’t just be the financial return on investment that matters — but the social return as well.

Here are a few predictions for the energy sector in 2016 and beyond:

The most promising breakthrough in renewable power will likely be a massive amount of innovation throughout every aspect of the sector. This is coming about because of our ability to apply more connectivity and computer intelligence to every single aspect of renewables — whether it’s generation, transmission, or deep analytics into the efficiency of operations.

Essentially, what I think is happening is that the rule of Moore’s Law is rapidly coming to renewables. This “law” — predicting that the processing power of a computer chip doubles ever year while the cost is halved — is coming to the manufacturing process of renewable technology, to the infrastructure built into renewables, and to the systems that drive renewable use.

It’s almost as if it’s 1981, when arrival of the personal computer caught the imagination of thousands of hackers and developers — and the rest is history. I think we are at the same tipping point with renewables, particularly small-scale energy generation.

Some of the most fascinating innovations are occurring in the global “maker” and crowdfunding initiatives. People interested in solar development are building small communities in which shared insight is accelerating the pace of pure science. This globally connected mind is turning itself toward solving some unique challenges in the world of energy and renewables.

Big Data will enable the power sector to add far more intelligence to the grid, and to have far better insight into operational conditions. Most of the grid today is pretty dumb — it’s built for one-way transmission, from big energy production facilities out to homes and industries. But there is a tremendous amount of investment in creating a two-way, intelligent and interactive grid. This changes everything, allowing us to more easily accommodate and utilize the energy production occurring in a more distributed world.

In homes across the world, the Internet of Things will enable energy consumers to build their own micro-climate monitoring systems, and better manage their personal energy infrastructure usage.

Consider this: it’s entirely feasible today for someone with just a little bit of technical knowledge to build their own local micro-climate weather monitoring system. Now imagine that you can link it to your intelligent home energy thermostat, one of the fastest-growing home-based IoT categories. Go a step further — add some solar, wind or biomass energy-generation capability — and link your own personal Big Data to that technology, in order to come up with the most optimal time to generate your own power.

Expand that to what’s possible in the industrial sector. Global companies with large-scale facilities now have the ability to monitor and manage all their energy infrastructure worldwide from one central data viewpoint. They can see what it necessary to reduce usage, avoid cost and be more intelligent about how energy is deployed.

I’m a big believer that we are on the edge of “real magic” when it comes to the future of energy and utilities. It’s not just the trends above; it’s the fact that we have new solutions that didn’t exist before — such as intelligent lighting technology that is so advanced that it is hard to put the efficiency it provides into perspective.

From my view, the future of energy is all about opportunity.

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.”

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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.)

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

Plastics Today, Chicago, September 9 —The competitor who could threaten your company’s livelihood or industry’s relevance 10 years from now might not even exist today.

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A keynote on the trade show floor at PLASTEC Midwest, Design & Manufacturing Midwest, ATX Midwest, Pack Zone, Quality Expo, and MD&M Chicago ….a pretty diverse group!

That hard truth about the pace and scale of change in technology came from Jim Carroll, author and futurist. Carroll delivered the opening address at the Tech Theater presentation forum presented as part of UBM Canon’s collocated advanced technologies shows at Chicago’s McCormick Place, including PLASTEC Midwest, Design & Manufacturing Midwest, ATX Midwest, Pack Zone, Quality Expo, and MD&M Chicago.

Carroll polled attendees, who filled the allotted seating and spilled over into a standing crowd, in real time, having them text answers to questions. He noted that at conferences with CEOs, the older generation might be unaware of how to text or Tweet an answer. When he conducted the same experiment at a high school, however, 297 of of the 300 teenagers in attendance replied within 30 seconds, laying bare the generational technology gap.

Jim Carroll, futurist and author, described the best practices of world-class innovators. That demographic difference in how technology is embraced was one of the key points Carroll described between world class innovators and everyone else. “That’s the next generation,” Carroll said of the high schooler’s who always have a mobile device at the ready. “That’s the generation that’s going to change the manufacturing industry,” Carroll said, adding that fully one half of the global population is under 25. “The next generation thrives on change,” Carroll said. “They’re wired, collaborative.”

Will it be survive, thrive, or die?
The fact that industry is dealing with upheaval is not new, Carroll said, pointing at past economic crises ranging from the oil embargo to the dot-com bust. Those times of challenge have a way of winnowing the competitive field. Carroll said studies of those periods show that 60% of companies survive, albeit barely; 30% die off; and 10% become breakthrough performers. The 90% that just endure but don’t accelerate growth have a syndrome that has become prevalent in recent years, as the economy haltingly climbs out of the great recession. It’s a condition Carroll has dubbed “aggressive indecision.”

The companies that can overcome indecision will still be faced with a much faster decision making process. “World class innovators have adapted to the speed of Silicon Valley,” Carrol said, using the medical market, and advent of gene-based preventative medicine as an example. “10 years out, 20 years out, the world of healthcare will be turned upside down,” Carroll said. “Today, we fix you after you’re sick; 20 years from now, we’ll treat you for what you will have based on your genes.”

As Silicon Valley has taken over the formerly laborious and prohibitively expensive process of DNA sequencing, the speed of development has gone up while costs have gone down. Carroll noted how it cost $3 billion to sequence the first human genome, but by the end of this year, the cost is forecast to be less than $1000.

Find opportunity
Carroll called on attendees to alter their competitive viewpoint. “When world class innovators look out and see a new trend,” Carroll said, “they don’t see a threat; they see an opportunity.”

Before finishing his presentation, Carroll called on those in attendance to take advantage of their time at the show. “Walk the show floor,” Carroll exhorted of his audience. “Find three ideas that you can implement to help get your company out of a rut.”

PhotobucketOn June 9-10, 2012, my sons Willie and Thomas will join me, along with my good friend Tim Pinos, on an epic ride of 160 miles (or 200 kilometres), from Toronto to Niagara Falls.

We’ll be joining thousands of others in the annul Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, supporting the Princess Margaret Health Centre.

We’re doing the ride to honour the memories of friends and family who have died from this tragic disease.

My personal goal is to raise at least $2,500 for this important research centre. You can help through your support.

It will be a challenge in a number of ways, but with my bike, my helmet, and your generosity, a real impact will be made!

Please consider a contribution to this history-making event with a donation.

Funds raised in The Ride to Conquer Cancer will support breakthrough research, exemplary teaching, and compassionate care at The Princess Margaret, one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world.

I’ve been busy over the last month with many practice rides ; I generally will cycle at least 40-50 kilometres twice a week.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Fresh from my keynote in Orlando this week, I’ve come across a blog post from someone who attended, and saw my early-Monday keynote – “‘Breakthrough performers’ and ‘pervasive connectivity’: Notes from the CGT Business & Technology Leadership Conference.”

"Leading international author and “futurist,” Jim Carroll, delivered the keynote address, capturing the audience’s attention with some mind-blowing stats on the rapid pace of change and innovation in the technology space."

You can read the full post by Sean Rollings, Vice President, Product Marketing over at the E2open blog, or read an extract below.

In the room were senior executives from many of the largest consumer product and food companies in the world; indeed, I was dazzled from the presentation of a senior executive from PepsiCo who took to the stage right after me with his observations on what is happening in the consumer space.

The essence of my message in Orlando was modelled on the themes found in these two blog posts:

  • “What do world class innovators do that others don’t do?” 
  • “Food industry trends 2011: Report from a keynote” 

I can tell you that these two pages are among the top-10 most heavily trafficked on my Web site, and so obviously there are a lot of senior executives in the food and consumer products sector who realize that when it comes to innovation, one of their key goals must be, how do we speed things up to deal with the reality of fast-paced consumer, technological, market, product, and global change.

“Breakthrough performers” and “pervasive connectivity”: Notes from the CGT Business & Technology Leadership Conference
Sean Rollings, Vice President, Product Marketing, E2open

 I made my way to the Sunshine State this week for the Consumer Goods Business & Technology Leadership Conference in Orlando. The turnout is impressive, with technology and supply chain professionals from all the major players in the CPG space (plus a number of up-and-comers). And while the keynote sessions and panel discussions cover a gamut of topics, everyone is really here for the same thing: learning and collaborating on the “what’s next” for technology and the consumer goods business.

Leading international author and “futurist,” Jim Carroll, delivered the keynote address, capturing the audience’s attention with some mind-blowing stats on the rapid pace of change and innovation in the technology space. According to Carroll, recent research indicates that 65 percent of current preschool students will work in a job that does not yet exist. Along the same lines, 50 percent of the information taught to first-year Science undergraduates will be obsolete by the time they graduate.

The business-related statistics were no less shocking. For example, roughly 60 percent of Apple’s revenue is currently generated by products that are less than four years old. The rate of innovation is accelerating, big time. And from Carroll’s perspective (and the evidence is convincing), the only way to stay competitive in today’s marketplace is to embrace the current onslaught of change and innovation—and run with it!

In keeping with this theme, Carroll shared a compelling piece of research from GE innovation consultants: Of those companies in existence during the economic recessions of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and our most recent “Great Recession”—on average—60 percent survived, 30 percent died, and 10 percent became breakthrough performers. How did this top-10 percent do it? According to Carroll, these companies succeeded because they invested in world-class innovation while everyone else was retrenching. For the “breakthrough performers” of our most recent recession, this innovation has been largely focused on pervasive connectivity—everyone connected to everyone, regardless of geographic location or technical sophistication.

The GE study that I refer is a theme that I use in many presentations — you can catch a glimpse of how I put the reality of innovating despite economic uncertainty in this video clip from a keynote in San Antonio, Texas, earlier this year.

 

“If Carroll had his way, the phrase “You can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way” would be grounds for immediate dismissal”.

The following article was just published in July in AkzoNoble’s  “A” Magazine, featuring some of my thoughts on innovation in organizations.The organization is the largest global paints and coatings company and is a leading producer of specialty chemicals.

The article is a good read as to how I think and work.

It was distributed in print form to several hundred thousand readers in their global client base.

You can grab the PDF of the article by clicking on the magazine cover on the right.

WHAT’S YOUR VISION OF THE FUTURE
by Jim Wake

If routine rules your working life, you could be stifling any chance of growing and improving your business. Worse still, if you fail to encourage creative thinking, you could well be doomed to failure.

Innovation is not what you think it is, says Jim Carroll, a selfdescribed “futurist” who makes a living advising companies on how they can reinvent themselves to compete effectively in a fast-changing world. “When it comes to the word innovation,” he explains, “a lot of people hear that word and they think it isn’t something that applies to them. I call it the ‘Steve Jobs effect.’ People hear the word and they think: ‘That’s about the design of cool products and only cool people get to do that. I manage purchasing, so how could I be responsible for innovation?’”

But what Carroll tells them – in ways designed to get them to laugh at themselves and squirm in uncomfortable self-recognition – is that innovation is both more mundane and more achievabe than dreaming up the next breakthrough consumer product, writing brilliant computer code, or developing new methods for microsurgery. “I step back and reframe the question,” he continues. “To me, innovation is three things that apply to everyone in the organization. Whether they are the head of purchasing or product development, or the CEO or the Vice-President of sales, it’s about challenging yourself with three questions. What can I do to run this business better? What can I do to grow this business? And what can I do to transform this business?”

To Carroll, it’s a lot more about awareness than it is about genius. “Running the business? Innovation offers all kinds of opportunities to take costs out of the business. With computerized technologies to streamline processes, for example. It’s just unlimited potential. Growing the business is all about how we get into new markets, new product development, how we generate revenue where revenue hasn’t existed before. Transforming the business is about restructuring ourselves. How we collaborate better, how we reshape the way we’re doing R&D, how we do things differently as an organization.

“A lot of people still think that innovation is some deep mysterious thing,” he goes on. “To me, the link is that there’s a whole bunch of obvious trends which are going to impact an organization, whether they’re demographic, social, political, business trends, whatever. Innovation is simply responding to and keeping up with those trends. Some of it is drop-dead obvious: in Western society, we have a looming boom of baby boomers who are going to become older and sicker and require more care, so that just impacts a whole variety of different industries. With technology, there’s a whole bunch of fascinating trends underway where a lot of everyday devices around us are going to gain intelligence, are going to be linked to the internet, so that’s an obvious trend. And in terms of politics, what’s playing out in Egypt – where there’s a transition of power from one generation that is unplugged, unconnected, to a different generation that is plugged in and connected. Those are the kinds of obvious trends I’m talking about.”

But of course, what is obvious to Carroll – who acknowledges that research is an important part of what he does – may not be so obvious to the person who is focused on meeting deadlines and paying the bills. Still, he is convinced that management can nurture an environment which encourages creative thinking and the willingness to take risks that is pretty much a prerequisite for innovation. “I call it tone at the top. It is something that is CEO-led. He or she has to set the tone for a culture which allows for continual change and adaptation and innovation, in order to keep up with the very fast-paced change around us. If you don’t set that tone at the top, then you really are doomed to failure. I see a lot of organizations try to make innovation something special. They form a little innovation team and go off in a little room and study innovation. But that just doesn’t work. It’s a culture throughout the organization where the leadership is saying to everyone that you’ve got to challenge yourself on those three questions, and we will judge you during the annual review process and in your remuneration and in your job description.”

One example he points to is Google, which provides “innovation time off” – a provision allowing engineers to devote up to 20 percent of their time on projects not directly related to their job descriptions or responsibilities. “It’s important,” says Carroll, “that organizations establish a whole series of projects that are very focused on innovative outcomes, in addition to having everyone responsible for day-to-day innovation.” He also suggests that routine is one of the biggest threats to innovation. “I think it’s very easy for an organization to go into autopilot. If you can do something to shake up their complacency – whether it’s the rebel coming on board or doing something to cause some chaos – that’s a good thing because people need to wake up to how quickly their world is changing around them.” In his talks – he gives dozens every year to audiences as diverse as Texas bankers, California cattle farmers, national park management professionals and the US Professional Golfers’ Association – he can almost be aggressive in trying to combat complacency.

“Here’s what I’ve learned,” he says during one of his videos from a keynote speech. “In every single organization there are people who wake up every single day. The very first thought that comes to their mind is ‘what am I going to do today to kill new ideas?’” It’s a comment which provokes nervous laughter, but that’s because everyone in the audience recognizes a kernel of truth there. “You know that they’re out there because they come into their meetings and you’re presenting new concepts and new ways of doing things, and they’ve got all these little code words that they use to shut ideas down.”

If Carroll had his way, the phrase “You can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way” would be grounds for immediate dismissal. “Never mind that the world is going to change, that the world is going to go over there really, really fast, and we’re still here and we have to get over there with the rest of the world,” he says mockingly. “There are people out there who’ve adopted the attitude of ‘you can’t do that; we’ve always done it this way – it won’t work!’ You come up with a really good idea, you put it out there, you seek some reaction and there is a naysayer at the table who immediately says: ‘It won’t work’; or ‘Dumbest idea I ever heard, it’s too risky, we’re not an organization that takes risk.’” He lets the thought hang there for an instant and then points out the obvious: “The only way to get ahead is to take risks.” As if he himself has suddenly been appointed CEO, he then starts issuing orders to the audience: “Each of you from this point on agrees that you will never use, or permit to be used in one of your meetings, that phrase ‘you can’t do this because we’ve always done it this way’. You’re going to completely ban that phrase ‘it won’t work, dumbest idea I ever heard’. You’re going to banish the type of thinking that tries to hold us back from doing new things.”

He encourages his audience to conduct a simple test the next time they are sitting in a meeting – keep score of the “innovation killing” phrases that come up: a point for every time they hear “it won’t work”, “you can’t do that”, “I don’t know how”, and several others demonstrating fear of trying. Five bonus points for “The boss won’t go for it” and ten for “Why should I care?” Your company is already in trouble – innovation-adverse, in his words – if you score more than five, “innovation dead” if you score more than ten, and you might as well either close up shop or give him a call if you score more than 15.

At the other end of the spectrum are the behaviors, practices and corporate cultures that generate new ideas – ideas flow freely throughout the organization, subversion is considered a virtue, creative champions are present throughout the company, people understand that innovation is not just about

technology, but about doing things differently and better, and that failure is an inevitable – and acceptable – part of the innovation process. “Hire people you don’t like,” he urges, and “forget everything you know”. In this changing world, he claims, we don’t need MBAs so much as we need “MBIs” – Masters of Business Imagination. “The phrase Master of Business Administration is about running the business. That’s great, but what are you going to do to grow and transform the business? We [spend] more time thinking about how our markets are changing, how we might build new relationships with our customers, thinking about how we might go in and disrupt other business models and how we might ingest technology faster to do awesome things within our industry. We should just have a lot more people with a lot more imagination on our team.”

Carroll wasn’t always a change guru – he spent 12 years as an accountant. But somewhere along the way, he realized that technology was moving much faster than the business world, and that there was a business opportunity convincing the corporate world that it needed to change to accommodate new technologies and trends, or get left behind. He points out that Apple generates 60 percent of its revenue from products that didn’t even exist four years ago, and that the only thing that is certain is

that everything will be different before you know it. Half of what students learn in their first year in college is obsolete by the time they graduate. “Having been at this for 15 years,” he says, “I think that the necessity for organizations to get on board with this type of thinking is becoming more critical, because business is changing faster, customers are changing faster and technology is changing faster. My key word is velocity. The need to do a lot of radical things is speeding up because everything out there is speeding up.”

 

A quick video on innovation: how do you achieve breakthrough results?

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