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It’s that simple.

Here’s a simple list of companies that were once great successes. Then they weren’t: Blockbuster. Borders. Lehman Bros. Kodak. Circuit City. RadioShack. Pan-Am. Enron. E.F. Hutton.RCA. Tower Records. Polaroid. Woolworths. Compaq. Arthur Anderson. 

The list could go on…. companies that were leaders in their time, and then failed, due to a lack of innovation; a failure to adapt; ethical problems; or other factors that could have been avoided.

In the next 10 years, we will see a number of established companies added to the list. Right now, some of them could be making decisions to avoid that fate.

They aren’t.

Here’s some interesting food for thought from a great article on the trend in which every company is becoming a computer company:

“The S&P 500 lists the 500 most valuable companies in the United States. Dick Foster, a McKinsey consultant, studied their average lifespan. It is a sobering tale that reminds just how fast-paced business innovation has become. In 1937, the average tenure of companies on the list was 75 years. By 1960, it was 61 years. In 1980, 37 years. In 2000, 26 years. Today, an average of 15 years.”

If you are a senior executive, you need a serious gut-check. Here you go:

Your chance for longevity and survival is shrinking.

Disruption, business model change, technological transformation is real, and so you have a simple choice: innovate, or die.

While leaving Heathrow airport yesterday after a keynote, I was contacted by The Street for my thoughts on an initiative by Uber to build a flying car.

Crazy science fiction? Maybe not. After all, simply scale up today’s drones, add a human to them, and you’ve got a flying car!

You’ll find my comments below. A key point – tech companies in every industry innovate faster than legacy companies. That’s a big challenge, and the biggest issue for every industry as disruption continues.

Uber Fighting to Stay Ahead in Flying Car Initiative
Uber shows how tech companies are continuing to innovate sectors at a faster rate than traditional industries, futurist Jim Carroll told TheStreet.

Uber has hired 30-year NASA veteran engineer Mark Moore to help its Elevate division design flying cars that will take off and land vertically so it can easily transport commuters in crowded urban areas, Bloomberg reported on Monday. His official title will be director of engineering for aviation.

The company first outlined its vision for the futuristic service in a 97-page white paper in October and claimed it could launch as early as 2026. In its vision of the future, air taxis will transport commuters between aircraft hubs known as “vertiports,” which would be located between 50 miles and 100 miles of each other.

“Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground,” the company wrote.

Moore makes sense for the project, considering he wrote a white paper in 2010 on VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) cars to be used for daily commuting. His paper impressed Alphabet co-founder Larry Page so much that he helped launch flying car startups Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk to bring Moore’s vision to life, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

When most people hear about flying vehicles, they think of the futuristic show “The Jetsons” that ran from 1962 to 1963 as a picture of what the world would look like in 2062. Of course, it included flying cars.

Noted futurist Jim Carroll told TheStreet that a lot of the inventions featured in that show are “becoming real sooner.” Both the Apple smartwatch and video and picture sharing app Snapchat could be compared to similar items featured in the TV program. “Trends are accelerating and the future is coming at us faster,” Carroll explained.

This acceleration is partly due to the rise of tech companies in traditional sectors, he said. Electric car company Tesla is innovating cars at a faster rate than a traditional car company like Mercedes-Benz. Apple Pay and PayPal are innovating the payment space at a quicker pace than Visa (V) . “The tech companies are now the ones dictating,” Carroll explained.

Another example of how quickly new technology is being developed are drones, or unmanned flying aircrafts, which have already gone mainstream, he pointed out. “Scale up and stick a human in there,” he said jokingly.

 

One year ago today, I was the opening keynote speaker for the annual PGA Merchandise Show, one of the largest trade events in the world for the world’s largest working sport. I was on stage directly after Lee Trevino and David Ledbetter spoke; and was followed later by Bubba Watson.

As a hack golfer, it was a huge thrill – and it was the second time the PGA of America has brought me in to help them shape their thoughts on growing the game through innovation.

My talk focused on opportunities to link innovation to the fast trends impacting the world of golf, particularly through technology. Today, we are seeing growth return to the industry because of initiatives like TopGolf, new game tracking and training technologies, on-demand reservation systems, social networks and Instagram golf stars driven interest, and much, much more.

Here’s the really fun part: many of the offsite corporate leadership events that I do are held at really nice golf resorts – and there is usually a bit of golf involved, both for myself, as well as for the client! One recent client had me build a keynote around the trends that are accelerating golf and the need for agility and speed in the business sector.

The topic description I wrote follows. This might be a great theme for your own leadership event – contact me for details!

Driving the Future – Linking the Acceleration of Golf to The Speed of Business

The PGA of America, one of the largest working professional sports organizations in the world, has engaged Futurist Jim Carroll twice to help them align and adjust their focus to a fast paced future. A world that involves the 3D printing of customized golf clubs perfectly matched to a players stance. Course tee time yield management systems that now rival in sophistication those of leading hotels and airlines. An industry in which GPS golf analysis technology such as GameGolf, fast-moving golf entertainment complexes such as TopGolf, and smart clothing technologies are leading the game to new opportunities for growth. One in social media posts involving Instagram stars and Youtube clips are leading to accelerated interest in the game. Forget the idea of golf being a slow moving, traditional game — it is being disrupted to its core and is being positioned for growth through a relentless drive for innovation and high velocity trends.

In this fascinating presentation, Jim Carroll takes you on a fast paced cart-ride of a voyage into the new realities of business, by carefully linking the accelerated trends impacting the traditionally slow game of golf to the new world of business. One that is driven by the acceleration of business cycles, chipped away by the constant arrival of new technologies and competitors, and carefully stroked to success through perfectly aimed strategies. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear this fascinating presentation, carefully customized for those attending your corporate leadership meeting.

At this point in my career, 70% of my keynotes are for leadership meetings, many involving Fortune 1000 organizations. I’m often brought in my a CEO or other senior executive to inspire top leadership to think about the trends that will impact them, and that will provide both opportunity and challenge going forward.

In these events, I often have the chance to listen to the message of the CEO to his or her team. It’s often a chance to understand what organizations are worried about today.

Recently, I spent time with a global Fortune 500. And the senior executive on stage ahead of me made this comment:

We need to become an organization that our customers like to do business with.

That’s a big challenge for legacy organizations, many of whom are my clients: global banks, insurance companies, retailers, organizations with warranty claims systems….

After all, the customer today is used to a world that involves a simple screen like this:

or this….

But when they visit your Web site, they get this!

Today’s customer has a higher bar of expectations: they expect the same level of service from you that they get at Amazon.com. They want:

  • extreme personalization!
  • extreme simplification!
  • a complete interaction history in an instant
  • pro-active notification when changes in their relationship with you occurs
  • instant online support with ticket references for followup
  • and all of this needs to be supported on mobile – NOW!

Innovating with customer service is one of the most important things you can do, and yet one of the most challenging. It involves complex legacy systems, integration with back end databases that run on COBOL! and very difficult development issues.

That’s not to say it can’t be done — and indeed, in this world of increasing expectations, it must be done!

Over the last 25 years, many CEO’s of Fortune 1000’s and other companies have brought me in for sessions to encourage their teams to align to the future. Simply take a look at my client list!

Over this period of time, I’ve become quite adept at spotting the challenges that a client might face. There’s a laundry list of issues I can spot. Ask yourself if you have these ones:

  • actions are based on lifelong lessons that no longer apply
  • variation in routine is abhorred
  • the strategies they have in place are often outdated by faster trends
  • they are structured by command and control structures that don’t allow for agility
  • outdated HR practices reward mediocrity
  • individualism is punished
  • risk is something to be feared, not embraced
  • collaboration is often absent
  • corporate culture breeds change-resistance anti-bodies
  • they prefer to discount the big thinkers who are discounting their industry

It’s an interesting time to be in business. Disruption, fast paced business model change, technology!

The future belongs to those who are fast, and yet many are structured for slow.

 

I’m cleaning up from some of the research that went into my recent talk for the United Soybean Board last week.

Here are some of the fascinating statistics I dug out about the productivity gains that have been achieved in US agriculture:

  • corn yields have gone from 39 bushels to 153 per acre in the last 50 years
  • farmers produce 44% more milk with 65% fewer cows than 1944
  • soil erosion is down 32% from 19282
  • today an acre of land supports one human life – that will decrease to 1/3 acre within 35 years
  • output of eggs and poultry have increased 411% from 1948 to 1994
  • this year, the US posted the longest stretch of falling food prices in 50 years, due to advances in agriculture
  • when planning each year, farmers must select from thousands of potential seed varietals, each tailored to particular geographic, soil and other characteristics
  • Farmers Business Network, Farmers Edge and other initiatives essentially crowd source information from thousands of farmer s as to the perforce of particular seeds and pesticides
  • farm jobs were 90% of all US jobs in 1790 but are less than 2% today
  • advances in science will let us grow crops that use less sunlight, in saltier areas and more arid lands
  • the average American meal travels 1,500 miles to the table – which is why there is so much interest in the field of vertical farming
  • 70% of the final cost of food comes from transportation storage and handling!
  • one acre of a vertical farm can grow 10 to 20 times that of a traditional farm acre

It’s all about less input, more output.

Farmers and agriculture are masters of optimization. I love working with agriculture keynote groups; they thrive on innovation. In the past, I’ve spoken to a wide range of groups, including • CHS • Farm Media Journal • FMC Agriculture • Texas Cattle Feeders Association • Colorado Cattle Ranchers Association • FCC Services US (Farm Credit Cooperative) • MicroBeef Technologies • Mid-America Crop Protection Association • FarmTech • AgProgress Conference • Agricorp • CropLife Canada • US Department of Agriculture • American Agriwoman Society • Syngenta • American Landscape and Nursery Association • Monsanto • and more….

The rest of the business world would do well to learn from farmers and the world of agriculture. Rock stars of innovation!

 

 

I’ve always liked the children’s book series which involved Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat. It was fabulous to read to my kids, as it featured this adorable little monkey who was always thinking about things, and always ended up getting into trouble as a result. It made me think about the link between curiosity and future trends and innovation.

(I loved book reading time with the kids! There was always such wonderful innovation insight that came from kids books! ****)

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That’s why I was quite intrigued when I recently came across a study released by Merck — what they called their “First International Curiosity Study” — which featured some not-so-unsurprising results.

  • more than 8 out of 10 people from Germany, the US and China agreed that “a curious person is more likely to bring an idea to life at work”
  • even so, the majority did not describe themselves as innately curious – only 20% did!
  • instead, the majority described themselves as ‘organized, collaborative and detail-oriented’
  • curiosity came in 12th place on a list of attributes! (funny and talkative beat out curiosity, if you can believe it!)

How did the study define curiosity?  Inquisitiveness, creativity, openness, and what they called ‘distress tolerance’ — which I would define as the ability to cope and deal with significant change, and turn it into advantage and opportunity through great ideas.

The result of the lack of curiosity is kind of staggering: buried away in the report is all kinds of other insight:

  • 73% of those surveyed did not feel comfortable in asking more questions at work
  • 50% in Germany indicated that they feel discouraged by their employee from changing the status quo!
  • only 9% felt that the organizations they worked for were “extremely encouraging’ of curiosity
  • 61% indicated that the organization was not at all encouraging at all, or only somewhat encouraging

Gosh, these results are pretty sad! Pathetic, really!

Here’s what it means: many organizations, in the face of rapid business model, technological, competitive, social and political change, would prefer that their staff simply remain in a drone-like state, focused on getting things done, rather than figuring out now to do things better!

What should we do with the observations from such a study? Clearly, since we know that curiosity is at the root of much of innovation, the ideas should be obvious for anyone with a curious mind:

  • curiosity should be encouraged as part of your corporate or organizational DNA
  • people should be provided with some sort of “curiosity time”
  • while unfocused curiosity is great, channelling curiosity into activity is even better
  • the next step beyond having curiosity involves learning how to ask the right questions

And maybe it needs to be taken a step further: Curiosity should be imbued and baked into the organizational structure, and given a suitable level of importance. Why not have a senior VP of Curiosity?

Don’t give up — over at LinkedIn, a simple search shows a list of people who have Curiosity in their job title. There might be hope yet!

**** Kids books and innovation? One day I wrote a promo brochure for fun about the Leadership Secrets of Bob the Builder!

In my keynotes, I often talk about how the rate of change — whether with business models, product life cycles, the rapid emergence of new competitors, business model disruption, skills and knowledge and more!  — is speeding up. With such change, there’s a lot of uncertainty within many industries as to what to do next: a senior executive of one client commented to me from his perspective, “….entities are engaged in survival tactics because they don’t know what to do next ….”

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Here’s a simple reality: Innovation is all about adapting to the future — and if the future is coming at you faster, then you need to innovate faster.

Given that, innovation shouldn’t be about trying to survive the future — it should be about thriving.

At a recent keynote to senior executives, I outlined some truths as to the future:

  • It’s incredibly fast: Product life cycles are collapsing. It’s said that half of what students learn in their freshman year about science and technology is obsolete or revised by their senior year. There are furious rates of new scientific discovery. Time is being compressed.
  • It involves a huge adaptability gap: Earlier generations — boomers — have had participated in countless “change management workshops,” reflecting the reality that many of them have long struggled with change. Gen-Connect — today’s 35 and under — will never think of change management issue. They just change.
  • It has a huge instantaneity: The average consumer scans 12 feet of shelf space per second. Most news becomes old hat within 36 hours of emerging. Rapid prototyping, 3D printing and the maker community mean that a product can go from conception to reality in a matter of weeks – if not days. We live in the era of the rapid idea-cycle.
  • It hits you most when you don’t expect it: Every organization must deal with two realities: the rapid emergence of new technologies, and the sudden adoption of old-hat ideas. If you want to understand what comes next, study Gartner’s concept of “hype-cycles”
  • It’s being defined by renegades and rebels: 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, whether you like it or not
  • It involves partnership: Old business models involved asking, “what can we do to run our business better?” The new business model is this: “What can we do to run our customers, suppliers and partners business better?
  • It involves intensity: 80% of the revenue from the typical video game is earned within 4 to 5 days of release. That’s becoming the norm in many industries — although not in days, but perhaps months. Companies are discovering their new reality involves short, sharp shocks of revenue, followed by a need to constantly re-asses and reinvent. We must learn to run our business at video-game intensity: in fast paced markets, we need fast paced business capabilities!
  • It’s bigger than you think: I used to joke, back in 2003,  about a futuristic GoogleCar, and an era in which Silicon Valley would become the new centre of the automotive universe. With self-driving cars and other efforts, its not a joke anymore. Every industry is witnessing similar levels of disruption and acceleration. Complacency is a dangerous thing, particular when every organization is faced with constant, relentless external innovation from unexpected competitors.
  • It involves innovation intensity: With rapid change, everyone in an organization must innovate. Some years ago, I appeared on a the CNBC Business of Innovation show. It featured a lot of “innovation elitists” who seemed to indicate that only special people can “do” innovation. Wrong : thriving in the future has a leadership that involves everyone in innovation. No idea is too dumb, no opportunity is too small. In an era of fast change, organizations must be relentlessly innovative, and that requires drawing on the skills and creativity of everyone
  • It comes from experiential capital: With a fast future, you must learn and relearn. Corporate equity isn’t just money: it’s the cumulative experience and knowledge of the team. Yeas ago, Verizon took a lot of abuse from analysts for its’ big fiber optic bet, yet here’s what I see: the CEO stating that the cost of installing fiber dropped 30% in 2005, and that there was a further reduction of 15-20% by  2006. By the end of end of 2006, they expected it to cost 1/2 that of 2005. The more they do, the better they get. That’s experiential capital, and that’s an invaluable asset.

The future is going to hit you whether you like it or not; it’s your approach to it, and how you innovate with it, that defines your future success.

It’s a funny job, being a futurist.

Essentially, your job is to take people out of their comfort zone, by removing them from today, and taking them into tomorrow.

Tomorrow, of course, involves challenge and change; opportunity and threat; hope and fear. Some people are ready for it; many others are not.

With 25 years and more of helping people comprehend change and what comes next, I’ve come to learn a few things, best captured by an observation I often make on stage: “some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend, and see an opportunity!”

threatoropportunity

Think about that phrase, and then think about three situations that just unfolded in the last several days:

  • a large global financial services organization had been looking at me to come in and focus on what they needed to do to align themselves to faster consumer, technology, business model and other disruptive change — all the things I do. I had great interactions with one of the organizers who wanted to bring me in. What happened? The decision for a keynote went to a committee, who decided to do what they’ve always done: they chose an industry expert! As my contact admitted to me, “we should look outside the box and opt for something new, novel, insightful, controversial, not by default vote for the known names, where we will hear the stuff we already know, wrapped in different package.“. But they went with what was comfortable. After the decision, he noted that “it just shows how transformation consultants are not insightful in how to continuously improve and transform themselves, once they get into the comfort zone…”
  • an association that will be heavily impacted by the emergence of smart highways, autonomous, self-driving cars, and the acceleration of the automotive industry, had been looking at me for a keynote on what they needed to do to align to this rate of change. What did they decide? They booked a motivational speaker to come in and ‘energize their group!’ (their words). Can an industry simply motivate themselves out of disruptive change? Probably not…..
  • and in the most fascinating situation, a major agricultural organization that runs a series of events for farmers shortlisted me (for the 10th year in a row). And for the 10th year, I’ve learned, they’ve gone out and selected the same national news anchor they’ve selected for the last 10 years! Who I suppose will deliver the same message, interpreting current events, and basically repeating to them what he says on the national news each and every night. Simple fact? Agriculture in 10 years will look nothing like it does today: and so how can re-interpreting current affairs help them to deal with this fact?

It’s kind of funny, if you think about it.

But it’s also a pretty poor reflection on the ability of people to confront and deal with change.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not terribly bothered by this, other than by writing this post. The fact of the matter is that nature of my business is that I do some 50 keynotes or leadership meetings each year. The number really doesn’t vary; I’ve got a limited number of dates that I make myself available for, and a limited set of time to do the intense industry research for each talk that I am known for. I’ve encountered many situations like this over the past, and regardless of what these folks are doing, I’ll end up being booked by someone else for the dates that were on the table.

I just find it remarkable that so many people live in fear of the future, and yet really aren’t prepared to do anything about it.

My job IS to make people feel uncomfortable with the future, warts and all – and yet also inspire and challenge them to discover the opportunity that comes from the reality of change. This was perhaps best captured in the brochure copy when I did a keynote for 500 mayors and civic officials in Salt Lake City for the Utah League of Cities and Towns a few years ago:

confused-utah

What a great description!

Jim Carroll’s job is to make people feel uncomfortable …. maybe even a bit confused. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, Jim probably sees it differently. He has a knack for predicting trends and change, and helping business and government leaders see where things are going, and how they can not only adapt to change, but lead it.”

When I first saw the description in the brochure, it took me by surprise. In most cases, the client runs brochure copy past me before it goes to print, but in this case, for various logistics reasons, I didn’t see it in advance. Yet when I first read it, I thought to myself, “hmmm, does that sound right?” I thought perhaps it might put a bit of a negative spin on what I do.

Yet the more I thought about it, I realized it was a great outline of what I do!

That’s because when it comes to the future, far too many people can be complacent about the trends that are going to impact them, and avoid the type of creative ideas that they need to pursue in order to keep up with the pace of change.

If you are too comfortable right now with the future, then you probably aren’t thinking hard enough about the trends that are going to impact you. You need to be scared; nervous; prepared to accept that things are going to change, and ready for action. That’s why you should always remember the comments of Andy Grove of Intel: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

So maybe being a little uncomfortable, dazed and confused is a good state of mind to be in!

 

I was interviewed recently by Independent Banker magazine for my thoughts on trends impacting the world of banking. I do a lot of keynotes in this area — with clients such as VISA, the National Australia Bank, the Texas Credit Union League, American Express, CapitolOne, the American Community Bankers Association, Wells Fargo and many, many more.

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To Carroll, anyone is capable of innovating an aspect of the community banking industry. However, he believes to do so, three essential questions must be asked. What can I do to run the business better? Grow the business? And most important, transform the business?

The full article is available at their Web site: 

 


Instill an innovative mindset to push your bank into the future
By Sam Schaust

Innovation is not a word solely owned by today’s tech giants in Silicon Valley. Or so thinks Jim Carroll, a futurist from Toronto who has given dozens of keynote speeches on the power of innovation to companies such as Walt Disney, Wells Fargo and NASA.

A lot of eyes gloss over the word ‘innovation,’ and people think the word only applies to someone like Steve Jobs who designed cool stuff that changed the world,” Carroll says. “They might think, ‘I’m a banker. What can I do?’”

To Carroll, anyone is capable of innovating an aspect of the community banking industry. However, he believes to do so, three essential questions must be asked , the first of which is: What can be done to run the business better?

There are plenty of opportunities to implement more information technology to reduce costs, streamline processes and become more efficient,” he says.

Which begs the second question: What can be done to grow the business?

Concepts regarding “how to use mobile to capture the millennial generation” and “how to utilize leading-edge transaction technology or new products to attract untapped customers,” Carroll notes, are typical subsections of this question. “Essentially, it all comes down to how you think differently to attract new sources of revenue,” he says.

Finally comes the question: What can be done to transform the business? “Transformation of the business is all about preparing for the fact that, for example, with credit-card payments, now Apple and PayPal are competitors,” Carroll says. “With an increasing number of organizations getting into the banking space, you may need to change the essence of what you do and how you do it to keep up with reality.”

Staying current with today’s banking industry—along with innovating for the future—could require an internal shake-up. As Carroll suggests, “By hiring somebody who thinks just like you, you aren’t going to get any creative, innovative ideas. Instead, if you hire somebody you don’t like or who is dramatically different from you, then you’ll get those different opinions.

Groundbreaking ideas often can come from outside of your field of business, Carroll believes, adding that adopting “an outsider mentality” could prove to be a valuable asset.

“With an increasing number of organizations getting into the banking space, you may need to change the essence of what you do and how you do it to keep up with reality.”
—Jim Carroll, Futurist

Thinking opportunistically

To bring about a new revenue opportunity, Carroll sees an advantage in embracing methods that break from the traditional structure. “Part of what I talk about is speed of opportunity,” he says. “What’s happening out there is new opportunities are emerging faster and you’ve got to have a culture and capability to grab onto that very quickly.”

Growing through experience

Carroll believes that an innovative attitude at a community bank needs to be set from the top. “It’s got to start at the board,” he says. “Although, that’s the toughest thing and it simply doesn’t come overnight.”

By adopting a forward-thinking mindset, mistakes are sure to be made, Carroll adds. “Be an organization that doesn’t just celebrate wins, but failures, too,” he says. “In today’s world, organizations will get ahead through the depth of their financial capital. That’s important, but there’s also our experiential capital—the experience we gain from trying something new.

By hiring somebody who thinks just like you, you aren’t going to get any creative, innovative ideas.” — Jim Carroll, Futurist

Innovation typically comes from a general interest for what’s occurring beyond one’s industry, Carroll notes. By simply embracing the what’s new or unusual, “we build up our experience,” he says. “And the more experiential capital we have, the better positioned we are to make big, bold leaps in the future.