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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!

 

Often, one of the best ways to discover ideas for doing things differently — of fuelling your innovation engine — can come from studying other organizations or industries that are excelling at dealing with fast market, business model, competitive and technological change. There are many organizations out there who aren’t innovative and are stuck in a rut; there are others who are extremely innovative, at the same time that there are a lot of laggards.

Seek ideas for innovation by studying those who excel at dealing with fast-paced change

One of the best ways to discover new and creative innovation ideas is by studying those who are moving forward at a really fast pace. They might be within your own industry; quite often, they will be in a completely different industry.

Organizations or industries that are subject to extremely high velocity are often the most innovative. They are busy working with the challenges that exist, and are being as creative as possible to deal with those challenges in order to turn them into opportunity.

Regardless of who and where they are, they share several things in common: they’re busy experimenting, adapting, evolving and changing. They’re working hard to make sure that the essential concepts of high-velocity innovation – run the business better, grow the business, transform the business – have become an essential part of their lifeblood.

If you can spot these organizations, you can learn from them, and become inspired by them. They can be a wonderful source of creative ideas!

So how do you find them? By looking for the telltale signs of companies or industries who are faced with all the challenges that the high-velocity economy can throw at them. Given the challenges, the organization or industry will tend to have people who are more innovative, realistic, practical, and open to new ways of thinking. They are likely to be more forward oriented and creative. They will be working to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances, and will be collectively seeking complex solutions to unique problems.

Several signs can provide you with insight as to whether the company is dealing with extreme velocity and is therefore a real innovator. Look for these characteristics:

  • They are significantly impacted by faster science. The fundamentals of the science within the industry are evolving at a furious pace as a result of the infinite idea loop. It is evident that the discovery of new knowledge within the industry is occurring at a faster pace than within other industries. Hint: look to genomics companies. Furious rates of scientific change here!
  • More competition. Business models are changing quickly, with a lot of new competition appearing on the scene as the industry begins to blur and change.
  • A faster degree of product/service innovation. The industry is widely known for being innovative, with a constant stream of new products or services coming to market.
  • More operational innovation. There is a lot of fundamental change within the industry in terms of business models, marketing methodologies, customer relationships and other unique changes. Organizations or industries that are subject to extremely high velocity – that is, significant amounts of fundamental change occurring at a rapid pace – are often the most innovative.
  • Shorter product lifecycles. Products are coming to market faster than previously, or faster than within other industries, due to the previous four trends.
  • Rising tides require fast change. Customer expectations are changing quickly in terms of the products or services being offered, because of the furious rates of innovation that are occurring. In addition, there’s heightened customer service due to hyper-competition; people know that they must absolutely excel in service levels.
  • A significant creativity capability. The organization or industry is dominated by creative thinkers; a workforce and management team that is fully focused on doing things differently, in order to respond to the reality of change that engulfs them. Those who kill ideas aren’t the dominant force; those who suggest how things could be done differently are at the forefront of action within the organization.
  • A partnership orientation. The organization or industry is constantly seeking outside expertise in order to help it go forward; it is willing to make use of complexity partners, nomadic workers, skills banks and other partners in order to grab on to ever more important change capabilities. They know they can’t do it all, and so they are willing to do what it takes to get access to what they need to get it done.
  • They’re plugged in. The organization or industry is linked into and is feeding off of the ideas from within the infinite idea loop. They are constantly scanning and sifting through the constantly evolving collective insight of the global discussion that is taking place; they are always eager to spot how innovation is occurring outside of their organization, and are busy interpreting what is being said in order that they can use this insight for their own purposes.

Organizations or industries that are subject to extremely high velocity – that is, significant amounts of fundamental change occurring at a rapid pace – are often the most innovative. They are busy working with the challenges that exist, and are being as creative as possible to deal with those challenges in order to turn them into opportunity.

You want to find these organizations, study them, and learn from them – since that will be one of the best ways to create your own innovation oxygen.

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