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The future belongs to those who are fast — Jim Carroll, from the opening to a keynote to an audience of thousands in Las Vegas!

Consumer Goods & Technology Magazine has just released their 2012 Review & Outlook Report – “”80 of the Biggest Names in Consumer Goods Join Together to Make Big Industry Predictions”.

I’m honoured to be one of those 80 contributors.

This year, they were focused on the major trends which would impact the consumer good space in 2012 and years to come. Here’s how I responded:

There’s a tremendous amount going on in the CG space, particularly with mobile, social and location. Packaging is about to become intelligent; the relationship that consumers have with products is becoming more interactive; the retail space is going to change in a huge a way as our cell phones become credit cards.

Put that into perspective, and I believe that the biggest issue that people within the industry need to think about is the speed of change that is occurring. If you think about the context of these trends, what is clearly happening is that CG companies are no longer setting the pace of innovation; it’s being driven at the speed of companies in Silicon valley.

Can they keep up with the blistering rate of innovation that drives high-tech companies? Can they respond fast enough to take advantage of opportunities or at the same time, ward off threats? A key phrase that I’ve been using for years is that “the future belongs to those who are fast.” I think for 2012, this is going to be a defining success factor for every single CG company.”

I think my message is resonating ; a few weeks ago, these folks confirmed me to headline another of their  major conferences in New York City in October 2012.

CGT previously booked me to headline their major conference last year

Press release: “Consumer Goods Technology Announces Jim Carroll as Keynote Speaker for 2011 Business & Technology Leadership Conference”  

The future belongs to those who are fast!

In April, I’ll be a dinner speaker for Genesis Systems Group annual Robotic Automation conference.

It’s one of quite a few keynotes I’m doing in the manufacturing sector. I’ll be in Phoenix the week after this one for a corporate meeting for a major manufacturing group; in May, I headline “Manufacturing Innovation 2012” in Orlando, which will feature representation of over 700 manufacturing organizations, as well as representative from most US states Manufacturing Extension Partnerships.

This follows up some pretty high profile events last year, including the Interactive Manufacturing Exchange in Las Vegas as well as several other events.

What’s the draw? Why so many bookings in this sector, usually left for dead by so many?

Because my key message is one that folks in the manufacturing industry already know: something big is going on. There are huge opportunities for innovation, a change in the way things are done, opportunities for reinvention, and fascinating new technologies, processes and methodologies that helps manufacturers to do things they haven’t done previously.

There’s also a recognition in the sector that to take advantage of these trends, people really need to challenge their thinking. A sense of ongoing doom can kill innovation; a focus on the challenges of the past rather than the opportunities of the future can blind people to what they should be doing, rather than thinking about what they have been doing.

And that’s what I’ve been doing in my keynotes.

It seems to be striking a chord!

 

A report from T. Rowe Price on my recent keynote for the 2011 Investment Symposium follows, where I was one of three keynote speakers (the other two being Colin Powell and Charlie Cook). You can find some blog links to each of the three key themes in the article at the end of the article below.

""We thought Jim was amazing - just the positive message we wanted to leave folks with"

It was a fabulous event, and a great opportunity to get a pretty impressive audience — investment managers for a broad range of investment managers for a broad range of Fortune 1000 organizations, pension funds and government agencies.

Summary:

Futurist Jim Carroll, one of the world’s leading experts in global trends and innovation, described how advances in technology and human innovation will combine to create positive change in the future. He explained how businesses can be held back by what he calls “aggressive indecision”— postponing action because they are constantly waiting for economic conditions to improve. Carroll noted that as the pace of change accelerates, the companies that prosper will be those that can adapt and innovate most quickly.

Key Points

  • Long-term trends that will lead us into the future. Silicon Valley is redefining everything—industries that get involved with Silicon Valley will be brought up to their speed. One powerful trend is pervasive interconnectivity—the fact that electronic devices are connected and can communicate with each other—as a driving force. For example, a staid industry such as air conditioning and heating benefits when people can control their entire home environment remotely through a cell phone. On the health care front, sensors can monitor the activities of seniors and report any changes in behavior, allowing people to live independently longer. On a more dramatic note, he believes advances in exploring the human genome will change medicine’s focus from reactively treating disease to proactively searching for potential health problems before they occur.
  • The paradox of pessimism and reality. While many business people are pessimistic about the future and believe economic recovery is at least two years away, technological advances are creating the potential for greater productivity and efficiency. For example, the auto industry now has the flexibility to produce in response to demand instead of building huge inventories that may go unsold. Products can also be brought to market much faster to take advantage of changes in consumer tastes.
  • The next generation. The next generation has grown up with rapid advances in technology, so they are at home with change. This familiarity means young people will greatly increase the rate of innovation as they enter the workforce. This group is not afraid to take independent action—50% believe self employment offers more job security than working for a company. The next generation will receive $12 billion to $18 billion in intergenerational wealth transfers in the next 12 years alone, which could help fund their ambition.

  • Major 10 year trend: The future of every industry to be controlled by Silicon Valley Innovation  
  • The new face of manufacturing: agility, insight and execution 
  • Creativity and the new workforce 

 

The phrase is bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?

Get used to the concept. It’s part of an overall massive trend in which computational analytics come to play an
increasingly more important role in helping us solve some of the big problems in society, in the fields of health care, energy, the environment and other industries. I wrote about this some time ago in a post, “Computational Analytics is the New Platstic.” It’s one of the next new billion dollar industries and it’s happening now.

Here’s a video from a recent keynote in which I’m talking about these “From a recent healthcare keynote, based on my Healthcare 2020” keynote. The slides are running at the same time that I’m speaking – watch the screen as the data unfolds! Then cast your mind into the future….

At the T. Rowe Price 2011 Investment Symposium in Baltimore on Friday, I listened to the technology panel that preceded my luncheon keynote.

It was a fascinating discussion as a number of their leading analysts spoke of the trends that they saw unfolding with consumer and other digital technology companies, such as Apple, Amazon and Samsung.

Name any industry – auto, health care, manufacturing, energy, banking — and the big trend over the next five years is that Silicon Valley is coming to control the pace of innovation in the industry. And it’s speeding it up!

But I thought that the crowd was hungering for a bit more — where are the next big trends, and the next big transformation opportunities that are going to unfold which are going to provide for the birth of new industries, fast growing companies, and billion-dollar market opportunities?

And so I outlined that reality: the next big areas of growth will come from the transformative change that occurs as Silicon Valley comes to drive the pace of innovation in almost every other industry. As it does so,  it will speed up the rate of innovation.

The impact of this trend is that it will also shift control from any particular industry – insurance, healthcare, banking, auto — to the technology companies. The result will be massive business model disruption as new, faster, more nimble competitors who understand technology based disruption, cast aside their slower, ingrained counterparts.

The future belongs, in other words, to those who are fast. Tech companies and tech based innovators certainly understand this! And the key issue is speed : Apple, for example, could innovate much faster with new credit card financial systems than any bank could. Google and it’s tests of automatic car navigation technology will certainly evolve faster than any auto company in Detroit, Japan or Germany could. Unless leaders in those organizations increasingly learn to focus on speed as a metric, and fast-innovation as a core capability.

Consider just a few of the trends:

  • Banks and credit companies risk losing control of their future as our mobile devices, cell phones and iPhones become credit cards
  • the energy industry and home construction is impacted as a new personal energy infrastructure management, in the form of such devices as the NEST Thermostat, provide for a significant change in the way people use energy
  • health care will be transformed by medical device connectivity and bioconnetivity — allowing hospitals and nursing homes to extend the reach of their medical professionals to an increasing number of remote locations
  • the auto industry will face trendmeondous change as an intelligent highway infrastructure emerges as the same time as intelligent, self-guiding cars and trucks become a regular part of our daily world
  • the world of insurance is upended as we head to a world of predictive insurance modelling through the use of sophisticated technologies such as on-board GPS devices which monitor driver behaviour

These are but just a few examples. I can go into any industry today and point out how Silicon Valley and technology is going to cause significant change and upheaval within the industry. I can spot the smart executives who understand the message and realize that right now is the time for aggressive innovation and big thinking.

And then in other clients, I can see this observation pass right over the heads of some of those in the audience, and realize we’ve got folks who are like deer in the headlights — the trends are blinding in their reality, but they are frozen by their inability to do anything.

I spoke about this trend in a recent keynote.



There are a whole series of related posts in which I’ve commented on the significance of this trend and the speed with which it is occurring. These are just a few.

  • Silicon Valley innovation velocity set to dominate every industry 
  • When Silicon Valley Takes Over Health Care Innovation 
  • This ghost town in New Mexico could turn into one of the most important innovation engines 
  • Reinventing the future with transformative technology
  • Silicon Valley: Is Innovation Dead? 

A few weeks ago, I was the opening keynote speaker for the 2011 Multi-Unit Franchising Conference held at The Venetian in Las Vegas.

The audience were owners and operators of multiple franchise operations, primarily from the restaurant / food sector, but also from other franchise operations in auto, pet care, home supplies and other retail product lines.

An audience of close to 1,000 listens to Jim Carroll's keynote on fast paced consumer, retail and restaurant industry trends in Las Vegas

My keynote topic was built on the theme “”Where Do We Go From Here? Why Innovators Will Rule in the Post-Recession Economy – And How You Can Join Them!”

 

What did I take a look at? A wide variety of the fast-paced trends impacting the retail / restaurant sector today. I broke my talk down into 3 key trends, what I might call:

  • Consumer velocity
  • Mobile madness
  • Intelligent infrastructure

1. What We Know: Consumer behaviour shifts faster today than ever before

The average consumer scans 12 feet of shelf space per second.” That’s a stat I’ve long used to emphasize that the attention span of the typical shopper of today is shorter than ever before — and retailers need to innovate to ensure they can keep the attention of today’s consumer.

It’s not just keeping up with fleeting attention spans — it’s about adapting to the fast pace of how quickly consumer choice changes. Consider what is happening with the rapid emergence of revenue in the late night business segment – it was up 12% in 4th quarter 2010, compared to 2-3% for other parts of the day. That’s why major chains have been focusing on new “happy hour” offerings — and so their success increasingly comes from how quickly they can scale and adapt to fast moving trends.

We’ve seen plenty of fast innovation from various organizations in the sector to respond to quick consumer change. Morton’s capitalized on the new consumer sensitivity towards value when it jumped on the trend that involves the “casualization of fine dining” with its’ $6 mini-cheeseburger.

Other fast trends drive the industry. The Sydney Morning Herald ran a great article in April of 2011, noting that “… the world of cooking and restaurants is becoming more like an arm of show business …..” with the result that “everyone wants to see the chef.” That’s why we are seeing many restaurants from fine-dining to fast casual moving the kitchen to the “front of the house,” or in other cases, a lot of TV display technology that provide for video links from tables to the kitchen. The evolution that is occurring is that the chef is becoming the star, and more and more of the staff are becoming ‘performers.’ Innovators in appropriate sectors would see the opportunities and jump on this trend.

Whatever the case may be, the consumer of today changes quickly, and innovators check their speed and agility in being able to respond to this reality.

2. What We Know: Technology – especially mobile – has become the key influencer of today’s consumer decision making.

Simply put, the velocity of mobile adoption, local search and product promotion is evolving at a pace that is beyond furious.

Consider the growth rates underlying today’s technology. It took two years for Apple to sell two million iPhones. It took 2 months for them to sell 2 million iPads! It took 1 month to sell 1 million iPhone 4’s!

The impact of such trends is an explosive rate of growth of wireless Internet usage. Mobile represented but 0.2% of all Web traffic in 2009. That grew to 8% by 2010, and is expected to hit 16% of all traffic this year.

Some suggest that mobile searches now exceed the number of computer based searches. What is also well known is that most mobile searches are for “local content.” Not only that, but Google has found that when someone gets a smartphone, the number of searches they make increases 50 times!

What is clear is that people are using their mobile devices to find nearby – stores, retailers, restaurants and just about everything else. Combine this with the emergence of new promotion opportunities (through apps and other tools) and you’ve got a revolution in the making in terms of local product promotion. That’s why the success of many retailers / restaurants will come from their success with location-sensitive coupon technology.

Bottom line? Innovation is: rethinking in-store uplift in terms of new methods of interaction!

3. What We Know: We will have far more opportunity for operational innovation through the rapid emergence of new technology, infrastructure and other trends

Consider how quickly near-field payment technology is going to steamroller the retail / restaurant sector. Simply put, over the next few years, the credit cards in our wallet will disappear as our iPhones, Blackberries and Android phones become the credit card infrastructure of the future. This is a HUGE trend — it provides countless opportunities for innovation, disruptive business model change, new competitors, and all kinds of other fun opportunities.

The trend has enormous velocity – we can expect $113 billion in transactions by 2016,  with 3.5 billion transactions – and with this comes new opportunities for loyalty and contact followup. From an innovation perspective, the sector will have to ensure they can ingest the new infrastructure quickly enough, and keep on top of the industry change that it will cause to ensure that challenges are turned into opportunity.

There are all kinds of other areas of fast change that present opportunity. Consider the issue fo ‘green buildings’ and sustainability. The West Australian newspaper recently noted that “with the rapid increase in knowledge, skills and availability of materials, costs have fallen. The industry now understands how to build green and building a 5-star Green Star building is now generally cost neutral.”

Some franchisees are taking this to heart, with aggressive plans involving eco-friendly buildings. Chick-fil-A has a  LEED initiative in building a test model restaurant that has water usage down by 40% through rainwater collection; an electricity reduction of 14% through the use of skylights & energy efficient appliances; 20% of the building content is from recycled material; and 30% more fresh air than regular buildings. While the structure is 15% more expensive to build, they expect a fairly quick payback — and will manage to get a branding image to their customer base that they don’t just talk sustainability – they do it!

From this perspective, innovation is keeping ahead of and planning for hyper-innovation with IT, energy, environmental and other infrastructure trends that impact facilities or the nature of the customer interaction.

 

Innovators get ahead by focusing on bold ideas, and exploring the concept of 'experiential capital' - Jim Carroll

I also emphasized that innovators aren’t afraid to make bold moves. Every franchise and retail organization today is looking for opportunities for cross-promotion, cross-selling and product placement. So consider this observation from the Dallas Morning News in March 2011 in an article titled: Funeral home adds little sip of heaven: Starbucks Coffee.

At McKinney’s Turrentine Jackson Morrow Funeral Home, it’s now possible to pay your respects to the dead or plan your own funeral with a venti Caramel Macchiato in hand

Craziness, or smart niche-marketing? I think it’s innovation!

So what do you do? My message to the folks in Las Vegas was to get involved and explore these fascinating new worlds that surround you!

Many of them might hold themselves back from Facebook advertising, because the concept might simply seem overwhelming for a small to medium sized mulit-unit franchise operation. Yet, today Facebook now accounts for 1 of 3 every online ads. And we are seeing the rapid emergence of new online ‘aggregators’ that are focused on helping small business take advantage of that fact. These organizations — such as Blinq — manage the buying of thousands of individualized ads, based on age, location, interests.

They should simply try the world of mobile promotion. Buffalo Wild Wings gave it a shot for one recent NFL based initiative, and indicated that they tripled the return on their investment.

Think differently in terms of new ways of reaching the consumer. Pizza Pizza, a Canadian chain, recently released a new iPhone App that allows online ordering. Nothing new or special about that – such apps are becoming a dime a dozen, and are quickly becoming de rigueur. What is cool is that the chain has revealed that it is working to link the  app payment system to university meal card plan, in recognition of the fact that many students in the target market might not have credit cards (or “credit worthy” cards.)

Bottom line? One of my key closing messages was that innovators focus on the concept of “experiential capital” -there’s a lot going on, and to figure out, we should just get out and do it! Try new ideas, explore new initiatives, undertake new projects. One of the only ways to get ahead is to work quickly to build up your experience in all the new opportunities that surround you.

As an association executive, are you thinking BIG enough?

That’s the challenge I raise in a forthcoming article for the April / May CSAE Association publication, due out in print any minute.

You can get a sneak preview right now!

How small is your world? Are you thinking BIG enough?

Here’s how I close the article.

There is a lot of transformative change that is underway. This is no time to think “small.” This is the time in which you need to be thinking “big.” How “small” is your world? Do you have a narrow view of opportunity? The reality is that right now, thinking BIG in terms of opportunity and the future will be crucial to your future success.

What does that does it mean for your future? In the old days, companies had “industries” that they worked within, “markets” that they sold into, and “business models” that they pursued. Assumptions that drove their decisions. And associations that represented them in a world that moved relatively slowly.

Every single assumption that you might have about your future could be wrong. Challenge those assumptions, think about the rapidity of future trends, innovate — and you’ll find the growth opportunities that seem to elude so many others.

Think about this NOW!

 

From my CAMagazine column….

—-

Can you keep reinventing your business at the speed demanded?

I am not alone in thinking we’re in the midst of a significant economic transformation. As Mick Fleming, president of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, said recently, “It’s going to be a move from a bad economy to the next economy.”

What is the shape of the next economy? In many cases, it will involve structural change based on an acceleration of business cycles. Consider manufacturing, for example. We’re moving from a world of mass production to mass customization, or what I call agility-based manufacturing. I often cite the case of Honda, as noted in a 2008 article on the financial website Bloomberg: “Honda’s assembly lines can switch models in as little as 10 days.” By contrast, the article suggests, it could take months for most rivals to make the same change.

Companies such as Honda can see what’s selling strongly and quickly reorient their production to fit that demand. In the meantime, its competitors are busy cranking out 700,000 versions of the same old car, hoping to sell it to consumers who have already moved on to something different. It’s no wonder Detroit is being killed off by its long-term reliance on gas-guzzlers.

Everyone now understands that the old Detroit-based manufacturing business model was deeply flawed. The newer model, based on agility and flexibility, is the model of the future. If an organization can rapidly change its production to accommodate what consumers are willing to buy, it has a good chance of future success.

This ability to respond quickly to change is a corner-stone of opportunity. Competitors will emerge, particularly as the new connected generation rejects existing business models and innovative people continue to shake up the fundamentals. Take the business model of Wizzit, a South African cellphone-based banking system, which could cause upheaval throughout the banking sector as mobile technology garners more of our attention.

Furthermore, the nano-cannibalization of markets is becoming a business trend rather than an aberration. For example, Apple broke new ground years ago by tossing out an entire iPod Nano product line worth billions of dollars of revenue, replacing it with a newer, up-to-date product. Imagine even considering that. How could it cannibalize its own product revenue?

I recently spoke at a leadership meeting for a global organization, where the CEO spoke of a future in which the company’s success would come from what he called “chameleon revenue” — the sales derived from entirely new product lines. The chart he presented said it all: the organization’s future consisted of a steady decrease in baseline revenue and accelerating revenue streams from markets it currently does not participate in.

I think this will become the norm for most organizations. The ability to rapidly enter and exit markets will define future success. The ability to sustain multiple, short-term product life cycles, each perhaps no more than 36 to 48 months long, will be a critical success factor. Agility at discovering, producing and capitalizing on new revenue sources will be a fundamental necessity. In other words, your ability to change your spots and your colour on a dime will be the key driver for your potential.

Which begs the question: does your financial system have the capability to provide information on your chameleon revenue streams? Does it provide the insight and analytical tools to tackle product life-cycle revenue so the organization can assess how quickly its chameleon revenue streams are evolving? If it doesn’t, what do you need to do to adapt?

(This is a long post!)

Were my comments in the video below — recorded in front of 3,000 people at the annual National Recreation and Parks Association annual conference in Salt Lake City in 2009 — quite possibly the stupidest, dumbest  comments I’ve ever made on stage?

Could we really be headed to a world in which we are going to utilize a lot of technology and innovation to help us deal with a very real and significant challenge – that is, dealing with the tsunami of care-giving that will be required in the world of seniors care?

I’ve been debating this for quite some time, given the confluence of two issues: my wife and I  and sons (and her sister and family) have been quite immersed since December with a family member that has involved the rapid onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is a very sad, intense and emotionally challenging situation; it has revealed to me the personal side of a very complex problem.

And while all this has been going, I had been working on and preparing for my keynote to the DSSI Annual Forum. DSSI is a major supplier within the US seniors care industry, and the conference features the participation of probably the bulk of the seniors care operators in the US.

My keynote was to be focused on innovation in the seniors care sector — where might there be opportunities, and what are the trends that will provide those opportunities.

How did I approach the topic? I truly believe that we live in a period of great transformation, and that people must challenge themselves to think boldly when it comes to innovation. Hence, the innovation opportunity comes from “thinking big.”

So let’s think about the scope of the problem. We all know that in Western nations and mature Asian countries, the seniors care challenge is massive. And with longer life expectancy, we are dealing with a reality in which the challenge of Alzheimer’s care for these seniors will go on for much longer periods of time.

In my keynote, I jumped right into the “scope” issue. Consider the reality:

  • in the US, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is set to triple to 16 million by 2050
  • the typical Alzheimer patient is disabled for 9 to 20 years – and this will increase to 40- to 50 years as medical advances continue and life expectancy continues to grow
  • we are spending $172 billion a year in treatment – and that is set to grow to $1.08 trillion by 2050 given the growth in the number of cases, and the impact of longevity
  • there is a lot of family care giving that is involved; as the St. Louis Dispatch noted, “Boomers may be spending more years caring for an aging parent than a child
  • and the challenge shows no end in sight: “40% of people over the age of 80 are suffering from dementia – there will be a million new cases a year by 2050

Put these facts into the context of the reality of what is occuring in the world of seniors care today:

  • an ongoing massive ramp-up in demand with shortfall in available and planned units
  • a funding crisis with plunging investment / housing values, and state, federal and municipal tax deficits
  • ongoing skills and staffing issues
  • increasing scrutiny in public eye
  • heightened expectations on quality of service from the boomer generation

That’s why one of the first points I emphasized is what I often do in my keynotes: “World class innovators aren’t afraid of thinking boldly!” Simply put, we have a huge problem, and society and government needs some pretty bold thinking when it comes to solutions. How is society going to care for, in a respectful way, an increasing number of seniors living with a very complex disease? How can we help the caregivers to give better care?

Which brings me to the Paro therapeutic robot.

“It’s Not a Stuffed Animal, It’s a $6,000 Medical Device; Paro the Robo-Seal Aims to Comfort Elderly, but Is It Ethical?” – Wall Street Journal

When I am preparing for a keynote, I often do research that involves reading through several hundred articles on a topic — I access these through an online research service. In this case, while doing my homework, I came across the Paro, as covered in an article in the Wall Street Journal:

It might be the cuddliest medical device ever to cause an ethical quandary. Five years ago, a Japanese robot manufacturer introduced Paro to the world. Built to resemble a baby harp seal—with a plush coat of antibacterial fur—Paro was hailed in Japan as a pioneer among socially interactive robots, one that would help lift the spirits of millions of elderly adults.

It never quite caught on. “It doesn’t do much other than utter weird sounds like ‘heeee’ or ‘huuuu,'” says Tomoko Iimura, whose adult day-care center in Tsukuba City keeps its Paro in a closet.

Now Paro has come to American shores, appearing in a handful of nursing homes and causing a stir in a way that fake seal pups rarely do.

My first reaction was, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” I was thinking in the context of what my wife was going through; dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s involves a tremendous amount of love, care, time, and emotional commitment.

How, in my mind, could a fake pet ever provide a level of care that would equate to that offered by a loving family member?

And at that point, I had to check myself — after all, I always challenge people to avoid reacting to new ideas with such phrases. It’s a key part of what I often outline on stage — the “innovation killers” that provide such a degree of organizational sclerosis that it clogs up our ability to try to do something new.

So let’s think about the Paro therapeutic robot. It was approved by the FDA as a medical device; the Wall Street Journal had this to say:

“Powering it are two 32-bit processors, three microphones, 12 tactile sensors covering most of its fur, touch-sensitive whiskers and a system of motors that silently move its parts. They allow Paro to recognize voices, track motion and “remember” behaviours that elicit positive responses from patients”

– It’s not a stuffed animal, it’s a $6,000 medical device, WSJ, June 2010

The more I thought about it, I realized that I was probably guilty of the same anti-innovation attitudes that I often talk to my clients about. Who am I to say that such a device might not play a role in helping to provide for bold, transformative solutions to a challenge that is massive in scope?Maybe I’m guilty of the same type of innovation-blockers’s that I speak on stage about! I pondered that thought through the last month during my daily five mile walks….

Read further into the article, and you come across this:

One recent morning, staff at Marian Manor in Pittsburgh, one of Vincentian Collaborative’s homes, circulated three Paros among residents gathered for a sing-a-long. As 77-year-old Anita Biro sat down at a table, she berated two fellow residents and told them to leave, recalls Beth Kuenzi, activities manager for the home’s dementia unit.

But when Ms. Kuenzi put Paro in front of Ms. Biro, her mood changed. As Ms. Biro stroked the robot’s synthetic fur, the machine batted its eyelashes and tracked movement with its head and eyes.

“I love this baby,” Ms. Biro cooed.

Aides also take Paro to residents’ rooms to get them to socialize. At another Vincentian home, Lois Simmeth, 73, doesn’t always participate in group activities, but she ventures into the hall when she hears Paro’s sounds.

“I love animals,” explains Ms. Simmeth. She whispered to the robot in her lap: “I know you’re not real, but somehow, I don’t know, I love you.”

Five years out? 10? 15? Who knows what type of bold, innovative solutions we might see emerging that could help family members who are in a caregiving situation, or which might help to alleviate the huge burden of care within seniors facilities?

Further into my research, I came across the MedCottage. What a unique innovation this was — a small, wired, backyard “cottage” that a family could use to provide independent living for their parents.

It seems to tie into a key trend — at the DSSI event, former Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson (now President of the AHCA / NCAL, the main association representing the seniors care industry in Washington), noted that a survey indicated that 96% of American’s did not want to spend their later retirement years in a nursing home — they wanted to be in a home care environment.

And so could the MedCottage be a fascinating innovation to the trend towards home care?Absolutely — but it too will run into the “innovation blockers.” Such an idea could be doomed because of “NIMBYISM”  – “not in my neighbours backyard!” Yet things are moving fast on that front too:

The State of Virginia has passed a law allowing installation of MEDCottages in residential backyards, over the objections of homeowners who have expressed fears they don’t belong in neighbourhoods.” Checking up on mom from a distance, Toronto Star, September 2010

Telling this story on stage, I reminded my audience that to deal with the really big challenges that we are faced with, we need fundamental shifts in how we approach things, and a lot of bold thinking and big ideas. Certainly the economics for home-care are compelling. I put up these bullets for the audience of seniors care operators:

  • “In Ohio, home care is estimated at $1,400 per month vs $4,300 for nursing care
  • bold goals: plan shift from 42% to 50% within three years
  • the discussion is occurring – you need to be a part of it!

In other words, my challenge to the seniors care industry is this: clearly, there is a massive trend towards home care, which will also involve a lot of family caregiving. Which led to one of the key points in my keynote: “Innovative organizations make bold leaps, in order to keep up — and stay ahead —  of a faster future”, and this point : ““Our innovation mandate won’t involve tinkering around the edges.”

So where does all this lead in terms of the video clip from my NRPA keynote – was this the dumbest thing I ever said on stage? I don’t think so. Clearly, Silicon Valley has health care in its sights — and that will include seniors care, and home care. Noted one researcher at Intel:

We have the potential to aim our innovation engine at the age wave challenge and change the way we do health care from a crisis- driven, assembly-line, hospital approach to a personal-driven approach, with people taking care of themselves with help from family, friends and technologies

This ties into the research that I refer to in my keynote to the NRPA:

Researchers at the University of Missouri are using sensors, computers and communication systems …. to monitor the health of older adults who are living at home.”

“….motion sensor networks installed in seniors homes can detect changes in behavior and physical activity, including walking and sleeping patterns…early identification of changes can prompt health care intervention….

Study the MedCottage web site, and you’ll discover that it involves some monitoring and other technologies that do exactly that.

Clearly, we have some big challenges to solve in the seniors care industry. Clearly, there will be a trend to home care. And clearly, we are witnessing the emergence of new ideas and innovations that will provide for transformative change.

So no, I don’t think I was wrong in my video.

I don’t think that the experience that my family has been through negates the trends. I think as a futurist, sometimes you have to make bold leaps with your imagination, by carefully studying trends and innovations, and putting into perspective what they mean.

The future is coming — and while we might often wonder about the predictions that are made, we must never dare to question the boldness of what might emerge.