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I’m off to New York, where tomorrow I will be the closing speaker at Nasscom’s inaugaural C-summit

The National Association of Software and Services Companies is a trade association representing the major players in the Indian IT and business process outsourcing industry. The event is taking a look at future trends and opportunities for innovation, and features a wide variety of other fascinating speakers, such as the CIO’s for Johnson and Johnson (also a client of mine), Praxair and Schneider Electric.

Of course, everyone knows that we live in interesting times, and that like many nations and organizations in the world, Nasscom is working hard to align folks to a new world order of crazy twists and turns, often illogical policy directions and massive uncertainty. Such is the world today!

Here’s what I know: every business in every industry is faced with unprecedented change through the next 5 to 10 years as disruption takes hold. Read my 10 Drivers for Disruption, and ask yourself how you will be affected.

Then ask yourself : will you have the skills, agility, strategy and capability to align yourself to a faster future? That’s what I will be covering in my keynote! A key part of that equation involves the skills equation. While there might be wishful thinking in parts of the world as to how to deal with a challenging skills issue, the reality is that having a great skills strategy is a crucial factor for success in the era of disruption.

With that thinking, here’s my keynote description!

Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast: Innovating in the Era of Disruption

We live in a time of massive challenge, and yet one of fascinating opportunity, as every business, and every industry is  being redefined at blinding speed by technology, globalization, the rapid emergence of new competitors, new forms of collaborative global R&D, and countless other trends.

In this keynote, futurist Jim Carroll outlines the key drivers of disruption, but offers a path forward. Undeniably, we must align ourselves to the realty of multiple trends: hyper-connectivity, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, neural networks, deep analytics, autonomous technologies, self-learning systems. All of these trends and more are merging together,  leading to a massively new, connected, intelligent machine that will transform, change, challenge and disrupt every industry. As this happens….every company becomes a software company, and speed defines success. That’s why the New York Times recently indicated that the methodologies of agile software development are increasingly becoming a key general leadership requirement.

In this new world in which the future belongs to those who are fast, experience is oxygen. There’s no time to learn, to study, to plan. It’s time to figure out what you don’t know, and do the things that are necessary to begin to know about it. Experiential capital is the new capital for the 21st century.

How to cope with accelerating change? In this keynote, Jim outlines his simple but transformative structure : Think big, start small and scale fast! Jim has been working with and studying what makes organizations survive in a fast paced world. His clients include NASA, the PGA of America, the Swiss Innovation, the National Australia Bank, the Wall Street Journal, Disney, and many, many more.

One of my key themes through the years has been that “faster is the new fast” — that the biggest challenge that organizations must face is how to keep up with the high-velocity economy.

I’m now observing that in many markets and industries, the pace of change is so fast that we need to put in place a senior executive whose sole area of responsibility is ensuring that the organization can keep up with ever-increasing rates of change. Let’s say — a Chief Momentum Officer.

Organizations need to adapt to all kinds of different issues when it comes to the velocity of change: rapidly changing business models, the emergence of new competitors, ever shrinking product life-cylces, a faster pace of new product development, furious rates of technological innovation, furiously fast new trends in terms of customer interaction, the decreasing shelf-life of knowledge and the more rapid emergence of specialized skills: the list could go on!

Hence, a need for someone who aligns all of the moving parts of the organization to high velocity change! This individual will carry a number of responsibilities, such as:

  • managing the product innovation pipeline, so that the organization has a constant supply of new, innovative products, as existing products become obsolete, marginalized, or unprofitable
  • managing the talent pipeline, so that the organization has the ability to quickly ingest all kinds of specialized new skills
  • managing the technology pipeline, so that the organization can adapt itself to constantly improving and ever-more sophisticated IT tools that will help to better manage, run, grow and transform the business
  • maintain and continually enhance brand and corporate image; as I’ve written here many times before, brands can become “tired” and irrelevant if they aren’t continually freshened and refreshed
  • ensuring that the organization is continuing to explore new areas for opportunity, and that it has the right degrees of innovation momentum
  • that the business processes and structure of the organization are fine-tuned on a continuous basis so that it can keep up with all the fast-change swirling around it
  • ensuring that a sufficient number of “experiential” programs are underway with respect to product, branding, markets, and other areas so that the overall expertise level of the organization is continually enhanced

In other words, the CMO has two key responsibilities:

  • keeping a fine tuned eye on the trends which will impact the organization in the future, and which will serve to increase the velocity that the organization is subjected to and;
  • keeping their hands on the appropriate levers throughout the organization such that it can keep evolving at the pace that these future trends will demand.

I don’t know if that makes perfect sense, but I think its a good issue to think about.

In a few weeks, I’ll keynote the Digital Now conference — it’s a get together of executives from major associations across the US.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time speaking to, and writing about, the association sector — check out the Association Trends section of my blog for more.

Deirdre Reed writes numerous articles for the association sector, and had this nice writeup on some of the issues I’ll cover in Orlando!

turtles-puttering-along-together

“The digitalNow conference is a great opportunity to get away for a few days to rethink everything in the company of curious association execs who don’t accept mere relevance.”

4 Truths About the Future of Associations
by Deirdre Reid

“Innovation” is such a buzzword now that I wouldn’t blame association execs for tuning out when they hear it. But I like Jim Carroll’s slant on it: “Innovation is all about adapting to the future.” Now, that’s something we can work with.

Jim Carroll is the opening keynote at the digitalNow conference which will take place in less than a month (April 21-23) in Orlando. The conference website says Carroll will talk about:

  • technologies and innovations that will affect association business models
  • strategies for reacting to these innovations with greater speed
  • challenges associations will face ahead

Innovating is not about surviving, says Carroll, it’s about thriving. Surviving, like relevance, is a low bar. Associations must aim higher—aim to thrive and become indispensable to their community.

Carroll lays down ten truths about the future. Let’s take a look at four of them and think about how your association is handling these truths.

The future is incredibly fast.

How can you, your staff and your board keep up? Can you adjust your business processes quickly? How long does it take to discover a need, develop a solution, and roll it out to your community?

Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate’s session at digitalNow, The Lean Startup Changes Everything, is bound to give us some ideas on how to experiment with and speed up program development. Get a sneak preview of his thinking in the white paper he co-authored with Elizabeth Engel: Innovate the Lean Way: Applying Lean Startup Methodology in the Association Environment.

The future involves a huge adaptability gap.

This one blew me away because it’s so true:

Earlier generations – boomers – have participated in countless change management workshops, reflecting the reality that many of them have long struggled with change. Gen-Connect – today’s 15 and under – will never think of <the> change management issue. They just change.”

Change management experts say it isn’t the actual change we resist, it’s the psychological transition we have to make to accommodate change, that’s the tough part. Adapting to change is a skill set, one you can teach your staff and your members. Today, knowing how to develop new skills is the most important skill of all.

The future is being defined by renegades.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote two articles for Avectra (now Abila) about for-profit online communities: The New Competition: For-Profit Communities with Deep Pockets, part 1 and part 2. Since then these “renegades” have become even more popular and profitable. They saw an opportunity to deliver value to markets long served by associations, and they went for it.

“Increasingly, the future of many an industry is being defined by industry expatriates. When a real innovator can’t innovate within a company, they step outside, form a startup, and spark massive industry change on their own. Before you know, they’ve reinvented you.”

Keep an eye on innovators and hold them close. What if associations had been part of these ventures? What if associations were agile enough to play the game at that level?

The future involves partnership.

How can you help your members—both professional and vendor members—become more successful? Associations have always declared themselves member-centric, but too often their perspective is inside-out rather than outside-in, as Anna Caraveli points out in her excellent book, The Demand Perspective. The value proposition has always been based on what the association says is valuable, not what members believe is valuable. Crazy, right?

Partnering means regularly listening to members (and non-members) and involving them in the early stages of discussions about value delivery—behaving like a real partner in their success. Don’t assume you know what members need, instead be guided by member behavior (data) and conversations for your direction.

To do this, you’ll have to schedule more member interaction than you’re used to, and not just interaction with the usual suspects, but interaction with “regular” members and non-members too. But think about all you’ll learn—they call this business intelligence for a reason.

Don’t ignore those other members—you know, the vendors, consultants, affiliates, associates or whatever you call them. Here’s what you should call them—partners. How can they help you become more successful and, in turn, how can you help them become more successful? What can you learn from each other? What access and resources can you provide each other?

Associations and their boards need to get over themselves and treat vendor members as partners in their success. You can help each other succeed if you get together and figure out how to deliver value to members in ways that help both of you.

The future requires rethinking value.

That one’s from me. Many associations are still struggling financially and would benefit from rethinking the whole non-dues revenue issue. Heck, rethink the whole value issue. If you’re struggling, it’s a sign you aren’t delivering value to your community. If you were, they would be joining, renewing, registering, sponsoring and buying.

The digitalNow conference is a great opportunity to get away for a few days to rethink everything in the company of curious association execs who don’t accept mere relevance. The speakers from outside and inside our industry poke at our assumptions and introduce us to new ideas. I can’t wait.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Rennett Stowe)][

This article was released in my CAMagazine column in March 2009. shortly after the great economic collapse of 2008.

Inertia — real or implied — establishes a culture of inaction, and that can lead to another slippery slope

Given the new economic volatility, shrieking stock market headlines, and the reappearance of a sense of dread in the corporate world in September 2010, it’s probably a good time to re-read the article.

There are countless examples where history has shown us that it is those organizations who focused on ensuring that they were still actively pursuing innovation — whether through product development, the exploration of new business models, external partnerships, the pursuit of new markets and customer groups — were those who managed to achieve the greatest success in the long run.

Catch the key line at the end: “The greatest mistake any organization can make right now is to do nothing.”


Keep Those Ideas Coming
Jim Carroll, March 2009

I have started to think about the events of the past few months in the context of economic grief — an emotional process closely related to the stages of bereavement. The economy unraveled so quickly that many organizations still find themselves in the early phases of economic grief, marked by shock and denial. Corporate idea factories have come to a standstill and innovation paralysis is settling in.

The result is that we’re not just in an economic recession; we’re entering an idea recession, similar to that of the last downturn starting in 2001. Yet, in allowing innovation to dry up, businesses are missing out on great opportunities for success. After all, companies such as Burger King, Microsoft, CNN and FedEx were all started up during recessions.

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania released a provocative article in November 2008 suggesting a recession is the perfect time for disruptive innovation — that is, rewriting an industry’s business model to achieve significant growth. Think of Steve Jobs and the iPod, which he first released during a less-than-rosy economy in 2001.

So what do companies need to do to make the most of this recession? First, accept the economic reality. Those unable to move past shock, denial and anger through to acceptance will be innovation laggards and will only be ready to innovate once the market and industry recovery is underway. Unfortunately, that may be too late.

Innovation leaders, however, are prepared to keep their idea factories running (perhaps not at full tilt, but running nevertheless) in the face of uncertainty. They know there is still a place for innovative thinking despite the vast sections of the economy under stress. They know there are growth markets and opportunities for marketplace, distribution-channel and operational innovation. These leaders are aware ongoing change in consumer behaviour means there are still new ways to brand, grab customer mind share and forge unique and distinct relationships.

It is critical that organizations begin to undertake a series of bold actions that reorients them to face future challenges. These actions should include several integrated elements.

  • Boost the experiential capital of the organization. Get your teams working on projects and ideas that build up their experience. For example, they might explore new methods of branding and marketing (particularly to the next generation); investigate technologies that can stream-line business processes; or work with distribution models that expand market potential.
  • Identify weaknesses or areas for improvement. Consider what elements of the organization’s product line, skills or structure could benefit from specific innovation efforts. For example, are competitive threats emerging that you haven’t really thought about? What should you be doing to innovate your way around those challenges?
  • Explore key opportunities through a variety of risk-oriented initiatives. If, for example, you focus on a customer-retention strategy (such as visiting every customer in the next three months to see if you are meeting their needs) can you put a stop to future revenue leakage?

The greatest mistake any organization can make right now is to do nothing. Inertia — real or implied — establishes a culture of inaction, and that can lead to another slippery slope. Today, innovation isn’t simply an option — it’s critical because it is the best way to gain traction.

Last week I was invited to speak in Cincinnati, Ohio by Techsolve, an organization that provides assistance to the manufacturing sector in Ohio

It was a tremendously fun keynote, because my talk was being transmitted — with both video and slides being shown — to remote locations in Cleveland, Dayton, Akron and elsewhere. Overall, we had about 350 people participating, representing a good cross-section of small and medium sized manufacturers from throughout the state.

My theme was “What do world class innovators do that others don’t do,” with a sub-theme of “Manufacturing 2.0” – what is it that leading manufacturers are doing to ensure they can thrive despite challenging economic times?

As with many of my keynotes, I used a series of text-message based polls to interact with the audience. It’s a very effective way of delivering a keynote in which the audience is fully engaged and active throughout my talk.

And as with most keynotes, I led with an opening survey in the first few minutes, to gauge the attitude in the room, in which I asked, “When do you think we’ll see an economic recovery. In moments, I had close to 100 responses.

And I must admit, the majority response surprised me. I do these text messages across North America to a huge range of organizations, and for the last two years, the consensus answer everywhere has been “2 to 4 years.”

Not in Ohio — almost half the respondents see that they see a global economic recovery happening now! That’s a lot of optimism!

They're more optimistic in Ohio than you think!

To be fair though, half the respondents also believe that the recession is still hanging on and that we won’t see progress for at least six months or more.

Which gave me a chance to hammer home a key point I often use with my audiences — and that comes from a study by GE which found that organizations who chose to innovate during a recession often emerged as breakthrough performers “on the other side.” In other words, the time to focus on innovation is now!

On to the next issue — I often frame innovation for the audience as pursuing a wide variety of opportunities to “run the business better, grow the business, and transform the business.”

What’s the priority in Ohio? Again, the results might surprise you!

Focused on growth and transformation!

Innovation aimed at “running the business better” is often the major focus for organizations in a recession – it involves cost cutting, and often major steps to save money for mere survival.

Clearly a good part of my audience had moved beyond that, and were thinking about growth and transformative opportunities!

This is great stuff, since it shows a real mind-set of innovation in the state of Ohio.

I was feeling playful by this point — and zipped in another text message poll further into my talk. Given their mindset, I asked the room, was there a fair picture being portrayed in the media about the state of manufacturing in Ohio? Not at all!

What do they think about the media?

Fascinating stuff. Overall, it was a great day, and I will post a longer blog about the manufacturing trends I focused on. Did it go well? I put up a slide part way through, to see how I was doing with the audience. The results came flying in:

Reaction to Jim Carroll's keynote

I received quite a few email messages, including this one from particular fellow — so it’s great to have an impact and provide some encouragement!

I wanted to drop you a quick line and thank you for a great morning this past Wednesday when you spoke at theTechsolve/Magnet Ohio simulcast.

Your presentation was outstanding and really validated much of what I am trying to do at my company. I am the General Manager at a company that has been very out of touch with innovation and has been a sleeping giant. Our new team is driving significant change. I needed a dose of motivation and your presentation certainly provided it to me!

Thanks for taking the time to share your exciting views and vision with us, Ohio companies certainly need it!

Is there a manufacturing sector in Ohio! You bet!

A quick little video from a keynote in which I outline what organizations often do — with good intentions that go horribly wrong.


Think about what happens — suddenly, a message is established that only ‘special people’ on the ‘special team’ are responsible for innovation.

Here’s what I wrote in What I Learned From Frogs in Texas — which, by the way, you can now buy for your Kindle from Amazon or for your iPhone/IPad on iTunes.

Three Simple Ideas

The essence of innovation is really quite simple. It is all about coming up with new ideas that help you to run the business better, grow the business and transform the business. But it isn’t just about idea generation—innovative companies excel at implementing these ideas and making them work.

Let’s examine each of these areas.

Run the Business Better

There is plenty of opportunity in every organization for operational innovation; that is, doing what you can to “run the business better.” This type of innovation involves a continuous effort to change, improve and redefine business processes, whether they involve customer service, HR practices, logistics and shipping methodologies, purchasing processes or just about anything else.

Never think there isn’t huge room for improvement—most organizations are inherently inefficient, with outdated or illogical processes in place. There is countless potential for improving the way organizations work, and plenty of opportunities for innovative thinking with respect to the way things are done.

Add it up and look at the benefits from doing things smarter or more effectively and there can be a huge return.

Grow the Business

Second, make sure you understand the opportunities from “growing the business,” or what might also be called “revenue-focused innovation.”

Most often, new revenue comes from new products and the ability to enter a new marketplace. Yet that isn’t the only way to enhance revenue. Think about business model innovation, for example: new business ideas involving expansion in existing markets or new ways of reaching the customer that weren’t previously possible (or that no one had thought of before).

Revenue enhancement can also come from changing the nature of existing products, such as adding a service component to a product that can bring in additional revenue. It might involve enhancing the perceived image of a product so it is more valuable to the customer, resulting in the customer being willing to pay more for it.

The key is, don’t think about “growing the business” and revenue enhancement as simply coming from new products or new markets; there are plenty of other methods for innovative thinking that can lead to revenue enhancement.

Transform the Business

Last but not least, always keep in mind the concept of “transformational innovation.”

Transformational innovation involves taking a look at the way the organization is structured, and thinking how it might be able to work smarter, more efficiently and with better results by changing the skills makeup of the organization. It involves constant, probing questions that continually assess the organization and its skills, such as:

Do we have the people we need in the right places/positions?

Do we have the right people with the right skills available at the right time?

If we are suddenly faced with rapid market change, do we know how to access specialized skills and talent we might need?

With the global connectivity that has emerged over the last few decades, there is plenty of opportunity to do today what couldn’t have been done even five years ago, in terms of how an organization accesses the skills, resources, talents and capabilities that it needs to get the job done..

Organizational transformation also recognizes the concept of “partnership” as a key corporate structure for the future. In a world of mammoth complexity and constant change, organizations must focus on their core competencies and partner with others to accomplish the things they cannot or should not do. In essence, they must recognize that the path to the future is to concentrate on what they do well and on what is critical to their central mission, and to seek partners to help out with everything else.

It’s been confirmed that I’ll be keynoting this event in early September. [ link ]

Cyber-skepticism is rooted deep….it’s going to take a ton of work to bring people in the business world back

I just got back from Orlando, where I did a few sessions on my Thriving on Change! How to Create an Innovation Culture theme at the PLUS International conference. [ link ]

PLUS stands for Professional Liability Underwriting Society — in other words, the folks who underwrite liability policies for doctors, dentists, architects, lawyers and accountants. Given the year of scandal, its an industry in quite a bit of turmoil.

My focus was to talk about how emerging business systems will cause quite a bit of change within the industry. I once said that “the truth is that many insurance companies are using 1950s methods to deal with customers who deal with other financial institutions using 21st century methods.” [ link ]

Fact is, it’s not an industry that has been successful at leveraging technology — a 2000 Deloitte & Touche survey indicated that more than 90% of agent-carrier communications go by phone, paper and fax. Paper-intense! Did you know that there are 70 million pre-printed insurance forms floating around out there??? Imagine the cost-inefficiencies in the business.

Fortunately, the big carriers seem to have finally figured the Internet out, after a lot of false starts. Indicative of what is happening is Lloyd’s of London Project Blue Mountain initiative. Simply put, the objective is all about “creating efficiencies for both brokers and underwriters to get more reliable data on which to base their decisions.” In other words, streamline business processes and transactions — the paper! — in order to achieve cost savings between the providers and the brokers and underwriters in the business chain. [ link ]

The industry is slowly moving to a world where brokers and agents can bind policies on behalf of their clients online, and can access all kinds of other policy and transactional detail. In other words — ebiz in the insurance industry isn’t about having customers buy policies online — its about using technology to help the broker and agent do their job better.

OK, so the insurance companies have figured it out. But from every session I do for insurance companies and industry events such as this, I get the feeling that a) the staff is really in the dark ages about what is going on and that b) they’re skeptical of anything technology related overall.

We can fix a) — there simply needs to be better communication of the strategies that are driving this.

But b) is a big problem, and the fact that they think like that isn’t surprising. In their industry, they’ve seen futurists come along and predict “distintermediation. “It was said that all the brokers would disappear, as insurance companies began to sell direct. That didn’t happen, and won’t happen, because insurance is a fear-based product, and is sold, not bought.

Then they were told that there would be vast new insurance marketplaces online that would forever change the industry. That didn’t happen either.

The fact is, they’ve seen a lot of things come and go from the technology world, and the result of all these “big changes” that have never come about is that the typical employee in any insurance company — whether it be life, property and casualty, medical benefits or professional liability — is skeptical of any pronouncement made these days about new technology directions. There’s sort of an attitude there of “yeah, we’ve heard it all before, and it’s just another story. It won’t happen.”

Which means that insurance companies are going to have a real tough time making their new systems work. After all, how can they do so in a culture which has become so darned skeptical?

Food for thought. The terrible thing is that this is a reality in almost every industry. The lingering hangover effect of the dot.com years lingers on.

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