What you sell today isn’t likely what you’ll be selling in 10 years – Jim Carroll

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I spent the morning yesterday with the Board of Directors of a multi-billion dollar credit union, taking a good hard look at the trends sweeping the financial services space. They know that disruption is real, and that it is happening now.

And disruption is everywhere: 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 challenges.


The speed with which these changes occur are now being increasingly driven by he arrival of a younger, more entrepreneurial generation; a group that seems determined to change the world to reflect their ideas and concept of opportunity. They’ve grown up networked, wired, and are collaborative in ways that no previous generation seems to be.

And therein lies the challenge.

Most organizations are bound up in traditions, process, certain defined ways of doing things — rules — that have helped them succeed in the past. Over time, they have developed a corporate culture which might have worked at the slower paced world of the past — but now has them on the sick-bed, suffering from an organizational sclerosis that clogs up their ability to try to do anything new.

Those very things which worked for them in the past might be the anchors that could now hold them back as the future rushes at them with ever increasing speed.

They are being challenged in a fundamental way by those who think big, and by some really big, transformative trends.

How to cope with accelerating change?  Think big, start small and scale fast!

I’m doing many keynotes in which I outline the major trends and opportunities that come from “thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast,” by addressing some of the fundamental changes that are underway.

1. Entire industries are going “upside down”

One thing you need to know is this: entire industries are being flipped on their back by some pretty big trends.

Consider the world of health care. Essentially, today, it’s a system in which we fix people after they become sick. You come down with some type of medical condition; your doctor does a diagnosis, and a form of treatment is put in place. That’s overly simplifying things, but essentially that is how it works.

Yet that is going to change in a pretty fundamental way with genomic, or DNA based medicine. It takes us into a world in which we can more easily understand what health conditions are you susceptible or at risk for throughout your life. It moves us from a world in which we fix you after you are sick — to one in which we know what you are likely to become sick with, and come up with a course of action before things go wrong. That’s a pretty BIG and pretty fundamental change. I like to say that the system is going “upside down.”

So it is with the automotive and transport industry. One day, most people drove their own cars. One day in the future, cars will do much of the driving on their own. That’s a pretty change — sort of the reverse, or upside-down, from how it use to be.

Or think about education: at one time, most people went to the place where education is delivered. But with the massive explosion of connectivity and new education delivery methods involving technology, an increasing number of people are in a situation where education is delivered to them. That’s upside down too!

You can go through any industry and see similar signs. That’s a lot of opportunity for big change.

2. Moore’s law – everywhere!

Another big trend that is driving a lot of change comes about as technology takes over the rate of change in the industry.

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

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

The collapsing cost and increasing sophistication of these machines portends a revolution in the world of health care. Similar trends are occurring elsewhere – in every single industry, we know one thing: that Moore’s law rules!

3. Loss of the control of the pace of innovation

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

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

In both cases, large, stodgy, slow insurance companies and banks that move like molasses will have to struggle to fine tune their ability to innovate and keep up : they’re not used to working at the same fast pace as technology companies.

Not only that, while they work to get their innovation agenda on track, they’ll realize with horror that its really hard to compete with companies like Google, PayPal, Facebook, and Apple — all of whom compete at the speed of light.

It should make for lots of fun!

4.  “Follow the leader” business methodologies

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

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

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

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

5. All interaction — all the time!

If there is one other major trend that is defining the world of retail and shopping, take a look at all the big television screens scattered all over the store! We’re entering the era of constant video bombardment in the retail space. How fast is the trend towards constant interaction evolving? Consider the comments by

Ron Boire, the new Chief Marketing Officer for Sears in the US (and former chief executive of Brookstone Inc.): “My focus will really be on creating more and better theatre in the stores.”

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

6. Products reinvented

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

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

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

Do you notice a trend here?

7. Careers reinvented

For those who that the post-2008 North American recovery from the recession was slow, here’s an open secret: there was a significant economic recovery underway for quite some time, as companies in every sector ranging from manufacturing to agriculture worked hard to reinvent themselves. It just didn’t involve a lot of new jobs, because the knowledge required to do a new job in today’s economy is pretty complex. We’ve moved quickly from the economy of menial, brute force jobs to new careers that require a lot of high level skill. The trend has been underway for a long, long time.

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

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

8. The Rise of the Small over Incumbents

We are living in the era that involves the end of incumbency. Companies aren’t assured that they will own the marketplace and industry they operate within because of past success ; they’ll have to continually re-prove themselves through innovation.

Consider Square, the small little device that lets your iPhone become a credit card. What a fascinating little concept that has such big potential for disruption. And it’s a case where once again, small little upstarts are causing turmoil, disruption and competitive challenge in larger industries — and often times, the incumbents are too slow to react.

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

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

* * * *
There are people who are making big bold bets, big bold decisions, who are going to change the world and who are going to do things differently.” That phrase was from my opening keynote for the Accenture International Utilities and Energy Conference in San Francisco some years back.

It’s a good sentiment, and is a good way to think about the idea of ‘thinking big.’

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.

 

Do you?

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

hirepeopleyoudontlike

What happens is that a series of excuses are made as to why we don’t need to focus on the future right now:

  • we don’t understand it, so we don’t think we need to do it!
  • maybe we shouldn’t confront the tough issues right now
  • we are too busy fighting fires – there’s no time for anything else!
  • we don’t have the skill sets to deal with this!
  • we haven’t thought about this in our strategic planning process
  • we don’t have time to think about it…
  • we don’t have a budget f
  • what we’ve been doing all along is perfectly ok, isn’t it?
  • there’s so much going on, and we don’t know where it might fit in terms of priorities!
  • and the worst? it’s too far ahead of its time!

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

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

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

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

Innovation is a mindset. Do you have what it takes?

Are you suffering from what I call ‘aggressive indecision’, unwilling to do the things you need to do to move forward? Set an action plan for innovation!

Here’s a few simple thoughts on how to get out of your innovation rut!

Reward failure, and tone down the “I told-you-so’s”

Too many people think when times are volatile, that it’s not a good time to focus on big ideas. Not true! Consider history: many people stuck their neck out in the 1990’s and tried out new ways of doing business, new technologies, and innovative methods of dealing with markets and customers. Yet many of those efforts collapsed in spectacular fashion due to the dot.com/technology meltdown, and a dangerous sense of complacency set in. Back then, innovators had to hang their head in shame, and the nervous nellies who dared not innovate reigned supreme! Yet those who took risk excelled — they invented Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram…. When times are volatile and fear reigns, that’s the best time to make big bold moves.

Listen up!

We live in a time of unprecedented feedback and communication – and yet few organizations are prepared to listen! Customers are telling you, loudly, what they want. Young people are defining a future that is different from anything we’ve dealt with before. Competitive intelligence capabilities abound. And yet most or- ganizations ignore these signals, or don’t know how to listen – or even where to look. Organizations should reconsider the many effective ways of building effective digital feedback systems, in order that they can stay on top of fast-changing events, rediscover markets, and define opportunity – which will help them understand how and where they need to innovate.

Let your customers in the building

Don’t just listen to your customers – lead them in through the front door! The vir-tual building, that is. Global connectivity now provides an unprecedented opportunity for interactive design and innovation. Customer-oriented innovation should be your guiding phrase — les customers become intimately involved in the overall design and evolution of your products and services.

Encourage frivolous education

Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century” – that’s a phrase that neatly captures the reality of the fast pace of change that envelopes us. Yet, how can employees innovate if they are restricted to formal education programs? Why not establish some “playtime” where staff can try out a multitude of new technologies, go shopping in a mall, or surf social networks – and then share what they’ve learned? Set them out onto frivolous activities with a goal in mind – to measure customer service, examine competitive activities, take a look at new products, or simply come up with some cool new ideas. Maybe you’ll get some unique insight that doesn’t come from traditional, boring, staid educational programs!

Promote offbeat time

Don’t stop at sending them to the mall – send them to the beach! Don’t restrict innovation into the organizational structure. Some years back, a mobile device company developed rainbow-colored cell phones, popular with young people, after some executives decided to hang out at the beach one day. It’s by promoting “whacky time” that organizations can come up with great ideas.

Destroy organizational sclerosis

It’s been said before, but needs to be said again – hierarchy is the enemy of inno-vation. Everyone knows that the big challenge in many organizations are silos, uncommunicative departments, and a culture that doesn‘t promote openness. To improve the ability of an organization to innovate, communication barriers need to be broken down.Today, there are countless methods to  destroy “organizational sclerosis,” particularly through frivolous employee communications. Establish informal innovation idea channels, and magic will flow!

Get young.

Throughout the next year, take the time to listen to young people — anyone 10 years younger than yourself, or even more. They’re building the future right now, and you’d do well to understand it. Their future is hyper-active, interactive and multi-tasking – this generation gets bored quickly, and they are beginning to dominate your workplace. They are also becoming your new competitors. Don’t expect them to subscribe to the same old beliefs as to structure and rules, working hours, and corporate culture, or business models. You won’t survive in their future if you don’t take the time to understand what they are doing, talking about, and thinking.

I recently discovered that I was quoted in one of the Phillipines major business journals, BusinessWorld, n an article, “Biggest Business Innovations Engines of Innovation” published back in February.

It’s always great to see the media pick up on a few of the key themes that I am always trying to hammer home to people — there’a s lot of very simple and basic guidance, that often seems so obvious, that can help organizations get on the right path with their innovation efforts.

So it is with the two points that are referred to in this article.

They picked up on two key themes that I often focus on, and it’s worth pointing them out:

Stagnation will also buy a company a quick ticket out of business. According to futurist and innovation speaker Jim Carroll, the most original firms and industries are those that experience very high velocity, or a lot of fundamental change at a fast pace. For them, this is a necessity in the face of various trends and challenges – whether it’s to address shorter product life cycles, to keep up with ever-changing customer expectations, or to collaborate with a partner organization and leverage their skills.

Taking notes from firms that evolve at such a pace is one way to rekindle that creative spark. Curiously, Mr. Carroll has noted that these sources of inspiration are often found in completely different sectors from one’s own.”

I’ve often suggested that companies try to deepen their creative pool, either by studying innovation in completely dissimilar industries, and event o the point of hiring people you don’t like. Otherwise, you can simply get stifled with the sameness that comes with unoriginal thinking. I’ve even suggested to people that rather than going to the same old conferences every year, they should pick one or two events from entirely different industries in order to site their creative juices.

  • 10 great innovation ideas – “hire people you don’t like” 
  • Article – Re-energize your association – Listen beyond the grassroots 

I also find that too many organizations get caught up in fads when trying to innovate. Certainly that is true right now with social networking; while it is certainly important, I think too many are jumping in without a clear idea of what they are trying to do. This was referred to in the article:

On the other hand, Mr. Carroll has warned against blindly pursuing the latest innovation trend, a common trap he has called “bandwagon innovation.” If taking the hip approach ends in failure, it can derail any creative progress the company has made so far.

By then, employees may become too disillusioned and burned out to try out the next “in” strategy. A company’s real free-thinking workers are not compelled by the “slogan-based management” that comes with bandwagon innovation, and will hardly be enthused when they see their execs following the crowd.”

 I’m also referring to situations in which I’ve seen a company or organization form a special innovation team. They start up their project, go into a special room — and everyone wonders, ‘what’s up?” This fails because it makes innovation special; it makes it seem like it is something you do once as a project; it is just wrong on so many different levels. Innovation is a corporate culture — an attitude driven from the leadership that continually challenges everyone to ask themselves, “what can I do to run this better, grow the business, and transform the business.”

  • 10 surefire ways to destroy innovation – Form a secret committee 

 

10 Enemies of Innovation!
November 22nd, 2011

I had a conference call with a client yesterday with respect to an upcoming leadership meeting; I’ll be helping the organization think about some of the barriers they have towards innovation, and what they need to do to overcome these challenges.

As we were talking, I scribbled down a short list of some of the issues that I was identifying with them.

  •  tradition. Some organizations are too caught up with the past, which causes them to lose sight of opportunities for the future.
  • culture. Often corporate culture can stifling, if not deadening. Some build up an organizational sclerosis which eventually clogs up their ability to try to do anything new.
  • organizational memory. It causes people to focus on the past instead of the future.
  • bureaucrats. Their job is simply to shut down ideas, get people to fill out forms, and reduce the everyday work experience to a series of mind-numbing tasks.
  • stock markets. They cause too many senior executives to spend their time thinking about short term hits that can keep the stock price up, rather than working on the big bets that can provide for transformative opportunities. No wonder so many organizations are going private!
  • job descriptions. They reduce the role of people to a narrowly defined set of activities and small goals. I’ve encountered few organizations where innovation success is actually enshrined into the job description, let alone the HR reward system.
  • mission statements. They can be a great thing to give everyone an overall sense of purpose. On the other hand, most organizations don’t update and refresh them, which means that in many cases, the mission statement has nothing to do with what the organization actually needs to be doing.
  • strategic planning. Some organizations get so caught up in the process of strategic planning that they never get beyond the planing statge. Where do you think the phrases “analysis paralysis” comes from — organizations who are busy analyzing things as part of their planning process!
  • lone wolves. They’re often folks who can lead innovation, since they can have the brilliant ideas that are the spark for greatness. On the other hand, they can become so blinded by their belief that they refuse to accept the ideas and insight of anyone else, forgetting that collaboration is often at the root of all great innovations
  • history and legacy. What made you successful in the past won’t work for you in the future.

That’s a short list of some of the enemies of innovation – there are lots more!

A few days ago, the Smart Blog on Leadership wrote a blog post covering my recent keynote at the IMXchange manufacturing conference in Las Vegas. It drew quite a bit of attention on Twitter, particularly the vein having to do with my concept of what holds back a lot of innovation  efforts.

Some of the Twitter retweets began to focus on the section in the post which concentrated on my idea that what holds back a lot of innovation is a culture of “aggressive indecision.”

This is a topic that I’ve been writing about and speaking about on stage for well over a decade — indeed, since the dot.com bust more than a decade ago!

I’ve actually got the video clip from the Las Vegas keynote available on this blog — watch it here — and you’ll see the comments that the SmartBlog on Leadership picked up on.

In addition, I thought it might be a good time to pull tout an article that I wrote way back in 2003 about aggressive indecision. It made sense back then — it seems to make even more sense today given increased economic volatility. There’s valuable lessons you might use to challenge yourself as to whether you or the organization you work for is suffering from this malady.

Paralyzed by indecision? Just do it; Fear of the unknown has made doing nothing the new reality in business. Here’s how to stop spinning your wheels
18 July 2003, The Globe and Mail

You’ve been providing clients with a project quote every quarter — and when you decide to finally press them to close the deal, they are shocked to learn that you’ve been doing it for 2½ years.

You have a new initiative based on a key business trend that is still on the list of “things to deal with” — long after the trend has gone supernova and disappeared.

You finally decide to upgrade some of your significant business systems — only to learn that you’ve waited so long that the software you plan on purchasing is already out of date.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the new reality in business: aggressive indecision.

Corporations have lost their sense of direction. In the nineties, people had a sense of purpose, a desire to get things done. “Nobody knows where we’re going, but we’re making great time” could have been the catch phrase. Well, now no one knows where they are going, and they sure are taking their time getting there.

Quite simply, people have decided not to make decisions — and they like it. The result is a economy in which everyone seems to be stuck in a rut, unwilling and unable to move forward.

Why is this happening? In part, fear of the unknown. Executives are afraid to make decisions because the next unforeseen event might prove to have negative consequences. Combine this with the current focus on cost-cutting, a disastrous number of ill-advised decisions in the past decade during the investment bubble and increasing corporate scrutiny as a result of ethics scandals, and you’ve got a general reluctance with many executives to do anything new.

The fact is, our confidence in the future has been shattered. Corporate nervousness has become the watchword, with the result that everyone is taking the easy way out: Deal with uncertainty by doing nothing.

What should you do to deal with this new reality?

First, look for the warning signs: a business mindset that is adverse to any type of risk; an absence of any new product or marketing initiatives; or an organization that is stuck in a rut, wheels spinning, and no one has decided even to call a tow truck.

Second, realize that aggressive indecision means that you’ll likely have to respond to external pressures faster than ever before. That’s because while people have learned that they can hold off until the very last minute, they are also learning that they can still get things right. This leads to a business cycle that involves extended periods of frustrated waiting, followed by a blur of activity as organizations rush about to respond to the customers’ demands for instant action.

Third, be prepared to change your corporate culture and work processes. You can’t get mad at your clients for waiting for 2½ years and then making a decision with a demand that you be there tomorrow. Don’t let it lead to an expectation gap — when your customer lives with aggressive indecision and you are still geared up to perform and deliver at the slow and steady pace that might have been appropriate in the past.

Finally, make some decisions. Remember what it used to be like when you had the courage to do something? Let’s call it the decision adrenaline rush. It’s good — and it can be addictive.

Want to test it? Find the one big decision that you’ve been deferring the longest, and decide one way or the other. Right now. Didn’t that feel good? Try it again — immediately. See? Isn’t that an amazing feeling?

You might not have made the right decision, and something could go wrong — but at least you’ve decided to start moving forward, rather than spinning your wheels in the mud. Battle aggressive indecision and you’ll find that you’ll gain back control over the future.

If your company is in the indecision funk, there is hope:

  • Recognize the problem. Aggressive indecision can be an addictive vice, and like any other thing that isn’t good for you, the first step is recognizing the problem.
  • Accept that uncertainty will continue to rule our economy. Making decisions in a vacuum has become one of the most needed corporate skills. Sure, things could go wrong as soon as you do, but that’s the way the world works today. The important thing is that you are again working to define the future, before the focus on an uncertain future does you in.
  • Accept the inevitability of change. Back in the nineties, people believed that we would see a lot of change in the business world. But now, with all that has gone wrong, it has become far too easy for people to convince themselves that they won’t be challenged by new business models, competitors or innovation. That’s a dangerous attitude to carry around, and one that can also help to doom you to a state of inertia.
  • Watch trends and react appropriately. Now is not the time to let your radar down. Fact is, while you might be suffering from active inaction, your competitors might not, with the result that you are almost guaranteeing yourself some sort of surprise in the future.
  • Redefine goals, establish priorities and set targets. Companies mired in the mud of aggressive indecision are often directionless, drifting. They’ve lost sight of the need to constantly innovate and establish new directions, with the result that most staff don’t feel any compelling sense of urgency for change. Fix that in a hurry.
  • Re-examine your business strategy. For the past several years, organizations have primarily focused on cost-cutting, and yet taking the knife to operations can only go so far. Restate where you plan to go in the next several years, and communicate that vision and direction to your staff.

If your clients or colleagues are suffering, you can:

  • Share the risk. If it is the uncertainty that is killing many a business deal, see what you can do to minimize the fear.
  • Be clear about the potential downside. If they aren’t making a decision, then why not be more open about any potential problems? If there are risks in the deal, be up front about them.
  • Clearly define the benefits. In an economy in which accountants rule the future, with every expenditure under the microscope, you’ve got to outline the benefits and return on investment clearly.
  • Scare them into action. If they are stalling, then put into perspective how their peers, competition or others in a similar position are moving ahead. People hate to be left behind, and if you can provide information on how others are charging ahead it might spur some momentum.
  • Be prepared to move on. Sadly, some people have become so bogged down with aggressive indecision that it might be time to cut your losses. If an existing client seems unlikely to do anything, then maybe you’d do better spending your time opening doors to new clients.
  • Don’t give up. Continuing aggressive indecision within your client or customer base can drive you to distraction. A continuously negative message can dissuade you. In times like these, you must constantly battle the negative energy that aggressive indecision can place within you.

The natural human inclination when faced with something that is uncomfortable is to turn away from it — lingering uncertainty is the root cause of our aggressive indecision. But we can’t afford to do this any longer — our careers, our companies and our future depend upon our ability to cope with a world of constant change. We’d better get used to it and take the time to learn the skills — and the attitude — that will help us to thrive in this era of uncertainty.

  • Watch: The recent Las Vegas keynote clip that inspired the CPI post  
  • See the original newspaper article on aggressive indecision (cool picture) (PDF)  

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT’S YOUR VISION OF THE FUTURE
by Jim Wake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Do you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Carroll suggests business owners should pop a few Advils, drink lots of water and get over their dot-com hangover already“. — from “ Tech ‘guru’ says business is gripped by indecision , Sat Sep 20 2003, Winnipeg Free Press

Get over the dot-com hangover
Tech ‘guru’ says business is gripped by indecision
Sat Sep 20 2003
By Geoff Kirbyson

Jim Carroll suggests business owners should pop a few Advils, drink lots of water and get over their dot-com hangover already.

The man who made his mark in the mid-1990s advising people how to drive their business’s profitability through the Internet has changed his tune. Sure, he still thinks there are countless opportunities to be had for firms in the wired world, but corporate cultures that used to breed new ideas like rabbits have gone platonic.

“We’ve gone from irrational exuberance to irrational pessimism,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home office in Mississauga, Ont. “Everybody went to a party in the ’90s, they did a lot of dumb things, they bought stocks that were outrageously overvalued, they drank the dot-com Kool-Aid and after it all came crashing down, they woke up and said, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’.”

Carroll is one of eight keynote speakers headlining the bill at the Business Connections Trade Show to be held at the Winnipeg Convention Centre on Sept. 30.

Carroll said far too many senior executives and managers are too focused on cost cutting, or “panic cutting” as he calls it, that people with good ideas within an organization don’t dare open their mouths.

“We’ve reached the stage of aggressive indecision. I’m hearing from marketing and advertising agencies that are making proposals to companies that fit a good strategic purpose and the companies are sitting on (the proposals) for six months, a year or two years,” he said. “We need to learn to act aggressively again. We’ve had an absolute disappearance of the attitude that we can improve our business or discover new opportunities by taking a risk.”

Carroll said the corporate equivalent of the deer-caught-in-the-headlights phenomena can’t be blamed solely on the dot-com collapse. The ongoing war on terror, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the accounting scandals of 2002 still resonate in the business world.

But once people have shaken out the cobwebs and cured their hangovers, they should chart a course for innovation once again, he said.

“There’s so much we can do not just with technology but with product development and the ways we interact with our customers. A lot of the ideas we talked about in the ’90s, they weren’t bad ideas, it’s just the execution was all wrong and greed took over,” he said.

Carol-Ann Borody-Siemens, chair of the trade show, now in its third year, called Carroll a guru in the tech field, citing his prediction of the dot-com downfall during the height of Internet mania in the late ’90s.

“He’s down to earth and realistic about what the Internet can do (for businesses). He’ll tell people they need to make some common-sense decisions how they’re going to use the Internet to enhance their business,” she said in a recent interview. Borody-Siemens said much of the day’s agenda will centre on the pending privacy act that will come into effect next January, legislation she said will affect “every business in Canada.”

“It’s an act which determines how we deal with private information, what you can legally collect, how to disseminate it, who can look at it and what recourse your clients have if they don’t like how their personal material is being handled,” she said.

The trade show itself is geared towards the business to business sector, she noted, and will feature booths that touch on topics such as financial tools, marketing information and insurance.

Other speakers include Mark Chipman, president of Megill-Stephenson Company Ltd. but perhaps best known as the majority owner of the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose, Chuck Loewen, founder and chief strategy officer for Online Business Systems, Lori Mitchell, director of National Learning & Development and Barbara Bowes, president of Bowes Leadership Group Inc. and a Free Press columnist.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

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