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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.’

Last autumn, I was the luncheon keynote speaker for the Electronics Representatives Association in Chicago. This is a group of folks who act as middlemen between a vast number of large and small electronic/equipment manufacturers and their eventual sales targets — other manufacturing companies.

The truth, according to Carroll, is that businesses tend to underestimate the rate of change that will occur. Many companies sit around discussing what their competitors may be doing 10 years from now. Instead, they need to think in terms of what doesn’t even yet exist.

On stage in Chicago. “The truth, according to Carroll, is that businesses tend to underestimate the rate of change that will occur. Many companies sit around discussing what their competitors may be doing 10 years from now. Instead, they need to think in terms of what doesn’t even yet exist.”

My focus : how a world of fast change in manufacturing, product design, innovation, and other issues will come to challenge their role — and what they must do to “step up to the plate.”

My keynote ended with an interactive workshop based on live text message polling — I built the polls live in real time, on stage, with direct audience interation. You can read about it here. If you want something different with your keynote, I’m the guy to talk to! (We have video…..)


The ‘fast future’ is here!
How innovators are driving emerging markets
by  Suzi Wirtz, CAE, on assignment for ERA.

Change is no longer an option. It’s not only happening at lightning speed, but it has become a necessary part of the world in which everyone lives today. The secret to success lies in how a company responds to this rapid change and plans to meet its inherent challenges. In a word, it’s about innovation. Will your company be ahead of change and create ways to survive and succeed? Or will it be left behind?

To help reps, manufacturers and distributors answer these questions, ERA called on Jim Carroll, an international futurist and authority on global trends, to deliver the keynote presentations at the association’s 46th Management and Marketing Conference this past October. Carroll spoke about what it takes to recognize emerging markets and to become part of what he calls the “fast future.”

Benchmarking Rep Firm Income and Expenses
He urged conference attendees to rethink the role of “electronics” in a world that is hyperconnected, always on and always interactive. He quoted Rupert Murdoch, saying, “It’s no longer the biggest organizations that will win and own and control the future. It’s the fastest.” And, Carroll explained to the ERA audience, this “truth” couldn’t be any more appropriate for them.

“You [in the electronics industry] are in the whirlwind of the change that is occurring today,” he said. “Change is occurring faster than ever before. It’s the same for NASA as it is for the Electronics Representatives Association.”

He provided three rather mind-boggling statistics to put into perspective the rate of change:

  1. Sixty-five percent of the children who are now in preschool will work in jobs that do not exist today.
  2. For any scientific degree today (e.g., agriculture, architecture, medical), it is estimated that half of what students learn in their freshman year is obsolete by the time they graduate.
  3. In the technology industry, companies have three to six months to sell their product before it becomes obsolete.

With these facts in mind, Carroll stated emphatically that companies need to talk about the trends that are happening now so they make it a habit to think about their next set of opportunities and to challenge themselves to do things differently. The big question, he stressed, is, “What do world-class innovators do that others don’t do?” Furthermore, how can ERA members learn from these innovators in order to be well-positioned for success and to ensure they are maximizing the opportunities for the future?

Six things world-class innovators do

1. They are relentless in the face of uncertainty.

As far back as 2002, according to Carroll, this phenomenon was happening with respect to the dot-com bust. People were driven by indecision, and they simply didn’t want to explore or invest in new ideas because the economy was uncertain. He referred to this as “aggressive indecision.”

Interestingly, Carroll has been asking audiences for the past seven years when they feel the economy will recover. Consistently, they have responded that it’s between six months and two years. However, one industry felt it was happening “right now,” and that was the American manufacturing industry.

The lesson is that optimism can go a long way, and it’s a necessary function for not only survival, but success. In fact, as Carroll related, the Head of Innovation at General Electric (yes, that is an actual title!) decided it would be interesting to examine trends in economic recovery over the years. He found that 60 percent of companies performed typical things in the same situation. That is, they cut back on costs and didn’t make any bold moves. The result? Thirty percent didn’t survive while 60 percent just barely made it. However, 10 percent actually became break-through performers because they decided that, despite lingering economic uncertainty, they would make big moves.

2. They realign with the longer term.

World-class innovators think big picture and devise big ideas, Carroll described. They challenge their industries to do things in new and different ways.

He referenced Star Trek and The Jetsons, saying, “Some of what they envisioned is now being challenged to become reality today. The period of time in which we talk about science fiction and when it actually happens is compressing. That is part of the accelerating change today.”

The truth, according to Carroll, is that businesses tend to underestimate the rate of change that will occur. Many companies sit around discussing what their competitors may be doing 10 years from now. Instead, they need to think in terms of what doesn’t even yet exist.

As an example, he cited the auto industry and the notion of Google Maps back in 2003. Google Maps was just beginning, but Carroll suggested that cars would soon provide a way, within the car itself, for the driver to locate directions, destinations and so on. In fact, he predicted Google could also be responsible for delivering cars via FedEx.
The downfall, he suggested, was the response, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Fast forward to 2013 and Tesla Motors. Tesla has transformed the auto industry with its distribution of cars.

Another emerging idea Carroll discussed was that cellphones will actually become credit cards in the near future. And he challenged the ERA audience with, “Will you be one of the representatives out there pounding the pavement discovering all the opportunity that lies in these emerging marketplaces?”

3. They watch the innovation at the edges.

Carroll urged the conference attendees to constantly monitor research and development and assess what is happening there. He recently talked with a home automation group about Ninja Blocks, which began as a crowdfunding initiative. Immediately, $100,000 was invested and, within a matter of weeks, a million dollars was raised via angel funding. Ninja Blocks are “cool,” Carroll noted, and “coolness” is very important with products going forward.

Consider the Ninja Blocks’ website address itself: ANinjaIsBorn.com. It’s not just cool, Carroll commented, but people then talk about how cool it is and spread the word to everyone they know. That kind of viral marketing serves to expand that market. Think about robotics and 3D printing, cloud computing and the ability to build something entirely unique. He believes, as do others, that these advances will bring in a new phase of luxuriant and wired home living that is highly personal and customized.

4. They align to Silicon Valley innovation velocity.

One of the most fascinating trends unfolding today, Carroll related, is pervasive connectivity. In other words, it’s the Internet and the fact that everything that is a part of everyone’s daily lives is about to become plugged into the Internet. Entire industries are being built around this soon-to-be reality.

He referenced a scale now being sold by Apple, whereby a person’s body mass is measured, charted and shared with other devices for an overall picture of the individual’s health and well-being. Chips and electronic sensors will plug into everything, and this is “massive” for the electronics industry’s future opportunity.

Think about healthcare and genetic-based medicine, Carroll encouraged. “It’s gone from a system that can fix you after you are sick into a system that can predict what you are going to become sick with, based on DNA and so forth, and then design solutions based upon that.”

Consider the notion of velocity in these terms: It took $3 billion to sequence the first genome. In 2009, the cost dropped to $100,000. It is now under $10,000, and Carroll feels it will likely go down to even $1,000.

He also cited the thermostat and how it now has programmable capabilities. In the not-too-distant future, there will likely be a facial recognition component built in so that the device can remember who you are when you enter a room and adjust to your preferences.

And as a final reference in this category of what world-class innovators do, Carroll discussed wearable technology, as in clothing with sensors in it. This should be another near-future opportunity for electronics industry companies.

5. They check their speed.

Carroll explained that Apple is in a position in which 60 percent of its revenue comes from sources that didn’t exist four years ago. It’s called “chameleon revenue,” and he urged every company to think about this fact because this is the type of future for which companies should be positioning themselves.

“Change your market, change your capability, change your products so that you are continually generating new sources of revenue,” he advocated.

Using the manufacturing industry as an example again, Carroll noted that it is focused on continually changing the manufacturing process. The business model has been one in which companies build to inventory. Here, Carroll referenced the auto industry and Henry Ford’s once-novel idea of the assembly line. Honda, on the other hand, is building to demand. The company watches the trends, sees what is selling one week and then changes to meet that demand. In today’s world, this type of almost-instant response is not only possible – thanks to rapid concept generation and rapid prototyping – but it is becoming necessary.

6. They know everything changes with the next generation.

To reinforce this fact, Carroll pointed out that about 90 percent of the ERA conference attendees (and those in their similar generations) are the only ones to have ever met the computer punch card, and no one else since even knows what Cobol and Fortan are. They are that obsolete.

Children who are now 18 to 20 years old have never known a world without the Internet. The older generation often feels battered and bruised by the rapid change and may likely just wish all the progress would just stop.

Carroll quoted Ogden Nash, “Progress is great, but it’s gone on far too long.” However, Carroll said, “It’s not going to go away, and one reason it will continue to accelerate is because of the next generation.”

Think about all the times older generations have had to look to their children to help with installing software or working on a computer. Then consider these statistics:
Half of the global population is under the age of 25.

Younger generations are globally wired, entrepreneurial, collaborative and change oriented.

Younger generations are also now driving rapid business model change and industry transformation as they move into managerial and executive positions.

To wrap up his presentation, Carroll delivered some succinct advice: Watch the emerging markets. Stop clinging to that which is familiar. Begin to thrive on innovation. Think big in terms of the scope of opportunities. Start small and get familiar with the technology today. Then, finally, scale fast.

The closing segment of the conference keynote program consisted of round table workshop discussions by attendees. For the first time at an ERA event, interactive polling was used so the entire audience could rank the various responses that were reported by table leaders from their discussions. (Carroll had employed the text message polling several times during his presentation, so attendees were famiiar with the method.). The attendees discussed and then ranked the responses to three questions. A summary of the feedback follows.

Workshop questions and discussions

Mark Motsinger, CPMR, of Wallace Electronic Sales, the conference workshop coordinator, and Carroll first asked the attendees, What is the most significant challenge facing your industry today?

There were many varied responses, and once those were all posted on the ballroom screens, Carroll asked the full audience to rank them. He felt there were four dominant answers (shown below with the percentage of the audience that gave a number one ranking to each answer). The top challenges cited were:

  • Relationship development (26 percent);
  • Attracting the next generation (17 percent);
  • Ability to innovate (16 percent);
  • Alignment of resources and picking a winner (15 percent).

The second question for attendees was, How will you respond to that challenge?

  • After using the same process of reporting as many responses as possible and then polling all attendees to determine their number one choices, the top vote-getters were:
  • Get young (17 percent);
  • Social media (14 percent); (Carroll noted this goes hand-in-hand with “get young.”)
  • Deeper CRM usage and analysis (13 percent); (Carroll commented that one of his leading agricultural clients knows which 87 customers, out of 12,000 farmers, generate 93 percent of the company’s profit.)
  • More flexible relationships (13 percent); (Carroll added that this could be at the core for ERA members. “You’ve built your relationships,” he said, “but are you challenging and changing your relationships?”)
  • Customer centricity/collaboration (9 percent). (“The opportunity here is great,” according to Carroll.)

The third and last question conference attendees answered was, When it comes to a “fast future,” how well positioned are you? The responses were perhaps more reassuring than some might expect. The majority of attendees felt that they are at least somewhat positioned or extremely well positioned for success. Here’s the percentage breakdown:

  • Extremely well positioned for success (19 percent)
  • Somewhat positioned for success (59 percent);
  • Behind in our ability to keep up (20 percent);
  • “We’re toast! It’s way too fast!” (2 percent).

On a final note, Carroll highlighted the fact that 297 out of 300 customers in the next generation are using smartphones, and “they are seeking your support on a mobile device!” He urged everyone to use interactive polling on smartphones with their own customers.

This article was written by Suzi Wirtz, CAE, on assignment for ERA.

So I was on the phone today with the CEO of a major global organization headquartered in Canada. I’ll be opening a leadership meeting for the company in early 2013, and this was a call to begin planning for the structure of my talk.

During the call, comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada about the US economic relationship came up. Clearly, this is a country that is seeing it’s share of challenge due to fast-paced challenges in it’s “special relationship” with the US.

I mentioned to the CEO that  as far back as 2009, I was already predicting that Canada would likely have challenges in selling it’s oil in the future into the US market. And many other challenges! And that it would have to re-orient its economy further away from the US and take on much more of a global view!

This was plainly evident to me back then — and look where things are today. What are serious people and politicians and everyday folk in Canada suddenly talking about that no one really took seriously just a year ago?“…a Pacific energy pipeline….”  “…. aligning more natural resources and commodities with long term Asian contracts….”    “…… a serious free trade relationship with Europe that goes beyond NAFTA.”

With that in mind, I just dug out an old post I wrote way back in 2009 that was written as a bit of a joke at the time — surmising that Canada would see many reasons to reorient it’s global economy in the future. It’s a press release written very much tongue-in-cheek. It was briefly posted to my blog. (I removed it after a short time, since I thought that many people might find it offensive. But back then, it was covered in Bourque.org and a few other breaking-Canadian-news blogs….)

I now find it remarkably prescient, though some of it is still very clearly written for fun. For example, the border wall!


Canada announces end of economic relationship with US, & a bold new strategy to 2020

Ottawa, May 14, 2009

The country of Canada today announced the end of its centuries long relationship with the United States, and a bold new seven-point “Canada Transformed!” strategy that will re-orient its economic, cultural, societal values and innovation engine towards the world economy of 2020.

“It has come to the point that we can no longer rely on the United States as a reliable economic partner,” stated Canada at a news conference. “It is time that we adopt a bold new strategy that will align our economy away from the US, and towards the growth economies of the 21st century in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As well, we will immediately begin working to enhance our long standing relationships with reliable partner nations in Europe.”

The massive scope of the plan was not lost on Canada in the emotional conference. “We aim to reduce our role of being the largest trading partner with the United States, to becoming a marginal partner at best. We believe that this is the only right way forward.”

Bold new thinking is required Canada spoke bluntly at the news conference of the need for bold new thinking. “Our relationship with the US is one that has become, through no fault of our own, increasingly abusive. We’re honest, faithful, and do our part to provide to the relationship. We have been the largest trading partner to the United States for over a century. And yet, in return, we find ourselves taking on an increasing amount of abuse, neglect, and ever more hostile actions. We’re sad that it must come to an end, but we believe that it is time.”

Canada cited a long list of complaints and grievances, ranging from ongoing trade disputes, “downright hostile treatment” of Canadian citizens by US border guards, and increasingly aggressive use of a “Buy America” policy by state and local governments in the US — despite a promise in Ottawa by President Barak Obama that he did not believe protectionism was the right way forward.

Canada Transformed!

At the press conference, Canada announced a significant 10 year, 7 point plan, branded “Canada Transformed!”, that will re-orient it’s economy away from the United States to the AEA (Asia, Europe and Africa) markets, by the 2020, with a number of key goals:

  •  Energy & oil: Canada will invest in a massive infrastructure project that will allow it to deliver the bulk of it’s significant energy/oil resources to Asia, Europe and Africa within 5-7 years. The infrastructure project will consist of a number of significant pipeline projects that will direct Canadian oil, natural gas and other energy sources to east and west coast ports, as well as shipping and marine infrastructure, that will provide for a “ocean railway of energy” destined to the AEA countries.”Today, Canada is the largest supplier of energy to the United States. By 2020, Canada aims to provide almost no energy to the US,” noted Canada at the news conference. “We wish them well in their efforts to solve their energy crisis. We do not intend to help them any further.”
  • Food & agriculture: Global food production must double to meet world population growth, and Canadian grain, beef, pork and other producers will work to achieve an AEA target market of 90% by 2020. “Quite simply, the rest of the world beyond the US needs a stable, reliable food supplier, and Canada intends to become the leading global brand in that regard.”
  • Resources: Canada will seek investment from major Asian and mid-East sovereign wealth funds in an ambitious effort to re-orient the target markets for at least 80% of Canadian mineral commodities to AEA nations by 2015.”Quite simply, Canada has the natural resources — iron, nickel, copper, uranium and just every other type of metal — that the newly industrialized world in Asia needs. As we witness a continued declined in US economic power, particularly in the manufacturing sector, we must ensure that we pursue growth opportunities elsewhere in the world. As China re-industrializes with the economic recovery, we intend to be their partner of choice.
  • Manufacturing: Since the advent of the US-Canada free-trade agreement in 1994, Canada has shared in one of the modern world’s greatest economic successes — the highly integrated Canadian-US manufacturing network supply chain. However, the collapse of the US manufacturing sector, as well as continuous suffocation of the border flow of goods, it is clear that Canada must re-orient itself to the new realities of the 21st century.”A nation does not move forward suffering from the ongoing implementation of economic choke points,” noted Canada. “We will re-align ourselves to economies that believe the way forward is through intelligent, smart-border policies that encourage the free flow of goods and people; not a nation that has a border policy that is driven by  politics. We will immediately provide strong incentives for Canadian manufacturers to re-focus on Canadian markets, as well as the establishment of significant new markets in AEA countries. There are over 2 billion people in these markets, and but 280 million in the US.””Clearly, our future lies outside of North America, and we will align our manufacturing sector to this reality.
  • Immigration-based knowledge factories: Canada is the envy of other nations throughout the world for its’ open, welcoming culture towards new immigrants. It plans to build on this reputation by establishing itself as the world’s dominant source for high-level, specialized knowledge expertise in almost every single professional field.”We believe that we are entering the second era of off-shoring,” noted Canada, “with the next wave going far beyond customer support call centers. Nations around the world will need access to high level talent in the fields of medicine and health care, scientific research, agricultural and architectural skills, legal and professional services — and will seek to access that knowledge through the global communications networks that will dominate the economy of the 21st century” said Canada. “We will welcome global knowledge experts in every field of human endeavor to relocate to Canada, enjoy all the attributes that our nation has to offer, and provide their skills to a massive offshore groups of clients in AEA nations. In doing so, we will establish Canada as the global hub for the knowledge economy of the 21st century. Quite simply, Brand Canada will become the most widely recognized phase when it comes to the need for access to knowledge.”
  • Immediate border construction: Finally, Canada announced that it would immediately begin construction of border that would prevent unauthorized entry into Canada by US citizens. “We will immediately begin planning construction of a 4,500 mile physical border along our common frontier with the US,” noted Canada. “We increasingly view the US health care system to be in peril — within a decade, some US states will be devoting more than 60% of their GDP to health care. Clearly, many US citizens will plan to flee to Canada to take advantage of our world-class universal health care system. We must prevent this mass migration of Americans into Canada, and believe that significantly enhanced border structures are the only means of doing so.”

At the close of the news conference, Canada stated that it was taking these actions with reluctance, but with conviction that it was the right thing to do.

Nations have always achieved continued economic success by making bold leaps. We believe, given the continuing deterioration in our relationship with the US, and the ongoing and continued lack of respect that they provide to us, that it is time to move on.

Canada is the most resource rich, tolerant, energy abundant, agriculturally advanced, second largest country in the world, with a massive base of skills, energy, commodities, food, and capabilities. We intend to assert our place in the economy of the 21st century with a sense of pride, purpose, and clear direction,” said Canada at the conclusion of the press conference.

Besides that, we’re just plain nice,” said Canada, blushing, in a closing comment.

We are excited about our future, and believe that we have made the right decision at the right time for the right purpose. Canada Transformed! will see our nation emerge as one of the leading economies on the world stage by 2020, and we embark on this voyage with a sense of courage, enthusiasm, and certainty as to its’ impact.”

The United States was not immediately available for comment.

As I wrote in one of my columns last year (“Smartphones are changing everything,” August 2011), when I give a keynote I like to use a service called Poll Everywhere — the same technology at the heart of the American Idol voting process. I put a poll on the front screen and audience members can reply by text or online with their smartphones, laptops or tablets. The results start to appear on the screen instantly — it’s a very powerful tool.

American manufacturing executives have proven to the most optimistic group of audiences I have been dealing with through the last two years.

There’s one question I pose at the start of every talk: “when do you think we will see an economic recovery?” After running more than 200 polls over four years based on this question, I can tell you the majority of North Americans and Europeans I’ve encountered think the economic recovery is at least six months to two years away, or more than two years away. Few offer up the answer “It’s happening right now.” (And of course, I always have a few who go for the option, “Run for the hills! It’s all over!” I figure they might have been up late at the bar the night before.)

So the majority of my audiences — which represent virtually every type of industry and region from the heartland of the US to major global cities — are still skeptical about the future and economic recovery.

Except for one distinct group: North American manufacturers.

In the past year I’ve addressed 1,000 manufactures at major conferences in Orlando and Las Vegas, and at both events an overwhelming 70% indicated the recovery is happening now. At a February 2011 event in Ohio, 200 executives in the sector — one of the hardest hit during the downturn — indicated a similar positive outlook. As did executives at advanced robotics manufacturer Genesis Systems in Davenport, Iowa, where I spoke in April.

What’s driving this optimism? Manufacturers have been innovating like mad for the past decade, and are more likely than any other sector to bring the North American economy roaring back. We’ve seen them focus on agility-based manufacturing, which allows them to change their product faster so they can deal with a higher rate of change at the consumer level. They’ve completely automated the design process with powerful tools such as AutoCAD (which now even runs on an iPad) to such a degree that they’ve mastered the skills of rapid concept generation, rapid concept development and rapid prototyping. They’ve become experts at mass customization and rapid time to market. Not to mention learning to win the battle against offshore competition by mastering the one key advantage they have: time.

The sophistication of the machinery North American manufacturers use places them ahead of the pack. As one executive told me, “The education level of our workforce has increased so much — the machinists in this industry do trigonometry in their heads.”

That’s why a comment in the San Francisco Herald in July 2009 was so bang on: “We don’t have to give up on manufacturing — it will be a different type of manufacturing.”

That’s what’s happening now. There’s also a lot of experimentation with new manufacturing business models. One of the most fascinating involves micro-factories, where the average Joe can design a product and have it built to spec.

Take a look at Ponoko for some fascinating insight on the future of manufacturing, where the average Joe can design a product and have it built to spec. And then think about the rapidly emerging concept of 3D printing, 3D printers and the inevitable shift to “additive manufacturing” (laying down additional quantities of material to create a product) from “subtractive manufacturing” (based on cutting, drilling and bashing metal) which has been used for more than 100 years

Who’d a thunk it? While most people are still skeptical about the pace of the future, it’s the manufacturing folks who are most positive of all.

One thing I love to do when I’m working with an audience is to build a totally interactive keynote with them.

Jim Carroll has set the conference world on fire with his live, interactive text message / mobile phone polling from the stage.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve got 40 people in the room and I do some simple Q&A, or if I’ve got 2,000 in a cavernous Las Vegas conference hall.

In the latter case, I do a series of live text message polls – people use their cell phones and other mobile devices to give me a sense as to what they are thinking about the issues I’ve built into my talk.

Manufacturing Engineering Magazine just ran an article commenting on the live text message poll that I did during my keynote at the IMX 2011 – Interactive Manufacturing Exchange Conference – in Las Vegas last month.

This type of interaction matters — it helps me to shape my comments and the direction of my remarks to the mindset that exists in the room. Consider the comments, because this is significant:

Up Front – Your Opinion Matters
1 October 2011, Manufacturing Engineering

Anyone who can text can take part in a real-time opinion poll. This was demonstrated at the imX keynote address of Jim Carroll, global futurist and trends and innovation expert (his billing). Carroll asked a basic question about how optimistic/pessimistic the authence was about the future of the economy, Authence response through texting was displayed on monitors in real-time as they “voted” with their fingers. The audience of manufacturers, their suppliers, and technologists who shape the future of manufacturing was more optimistic about the future than the headlines in any of our major media would lead one to believe they would be.

It goes without saying that that same manufacturing authence and our readers would have the best opinions about how to ensure that public policy- too often heid hostage by politicians- could best serve the interests of manufacturing. Policy should support and not hinder manufacturers in the successful use of all the resources available to them.

There’s a key issue that I’ve observed with manufacturing audiences through this type of live interaction that is quite worth mentioning — and that is that North American manufacturing executives tend to be far more optimistic about the state of the economic recovery then any other industry group I deal with.

This, despite the drumbeat of news negativity that continues around the sector. I asked the audience about this issue — whether the reality they saw matched what they saw in the media. The response was pretty overwhelming:

And there’s the paradox: everyone is convinced that manufacturing in America is dead – except for those who actually work within the sector.

I’ve never encountered a sector with such a degree of optimism about the future. And believe me, I deal with virtually every type of industry out there, and have been doing this type of live interactive polling on stage for over four years. I ask every single audience what they think is going on with the global economy. (You can watch me doing this when I opened the PGA – Professional Golfers Association of America — conference last year in Boston.)

At the IMX conference and at a previous keynote for a manufacturing group in Ohio, I was floored by the optimism in the room. I don’t see this mindset to exist anywhere else, to be quite honest, regardless of where I’m speaking in the world

And this mindset in manufacturing is confirmed by the number of forward looking inquiries and bookings that I have with various manufacturing groups and conferences going forward from here.

There’s a variety of attitudes at work, some of which I spoke at IMX in Las Vegas:

  • the industry has seen tremendous opportunities for innovation through advanced technology and changes within the manufacturing process
  • manufacturers are learning quickly how to streamline the process, such that they can focus more on agility and such capabilities as mass customization
  • the rapid emergence of new methodologies such as 3D printing is providing new opportunities for transformation in process
  • the arrival of the ‘digital natives’ is accelerating the rate of adoption of new ways of doing things

What it is really leading to is a fascinating new trend that I think is just bubbling below the surface, but that I suspect will be mainstream within the year — “Build America.”

There’s a realization and a push within the manufacturing sector that given this new mindset and the capabilities that emerged, with the emergence of challenges within the global supply chain (i.e. Japan and the tsunami), the impact of increasing Asian wage inflation (the Chinese cost advantage beings to erode); and the eventual arrival of reskilled, retained American workers who can work within the new sophistication of American manufacturing — that the time has come for the sector to grab the reins once again and show the world what can be done with American ingenuity and innovation.

It’s there — I can see it with my audiences — and it’s my projection that there is a real and significant mindset and trend here.

You saw it here first, folks: Build America.

  • Jim Carroll’s “Manufacturing Trends” page  
  • The Future of North American Manufacturing? Brighter Than You Think 
  • Report from the Heartland: Is there life in manufacturing in Ohio? You Bet! 

 

I’ve just returned from Las Vegas, where I was the keynote speaker for a new manufacturing conference that has attracted quite a bit of attention – IMX 2011 – “The Interactive Manufacturing Experience.”

Seen on Twitter: “@imXevent this morning’s speaker Jim Carroll was amazing and insightful! had powerful information! #imXevent”

I was in esteemed company on the stage; the other two keynote speakers were Peter Schutz, author and retired CEO of Porsche AG, and President Barack Obama’s new “Chief Manufacturing Officer, Michael Molnar, who chose this conference to deliver his first public address.

I actually had two keynotes, starting out with a quick 20 minute talk at the Gala celebration dinner on the second day of the conference, an invitation only event with the CEO’s and senior management of some of the largest manufacturing based organizations worldwide. The next morning featured an opening keynote for Day 3, for about 400 manufacturing executives.

Let’s turn to the Gala. It was a celebratory dinner — and my goal came to be one of highlighing the transformative trends that are driving the manufacturing industry in North America forward and providing for future opportunity and potential rebirth of the sector.

Wait a moment, you might think! Isn’t this an industry that is dying by degrees? Certainly the media spin is that manufacturing in North America might be all but over!

Consider, for example, a headline that ran in the Huffington Post just a few days before my talk:

The article goes on to note that August saw a net loss of “3,000 jobs” — and that perhaps this is a sign of the yet continuing decline of the industry.

My first bit of advice to the audience. Knowing that economic volatility is the new normal, they should tune out the day to day media noise, and focus on the fact that there is a significant reinvention and transformation of the manufacturing sector that is well underway!

Given that, what’s the mindset of some of the leading manufacturing based organizations from throughout North America. On the stage, i summoned up a quick text message poll: and in a matter of two minutes, had a good summary of the belief in the room that an economic recovery was well underway:

This echoes the experience I had earlier this year when I keynoted Techsolve 2011, a meeting of leading manufacturers in the state of Ohio (Read: “Report from the Heartland: Is There Life in Manufacturing in Ohio?” You Bet!“) — who also responded in resounding fashion that they believe the economic recovery is happening now.

So what’s going on in the world of manufacturing that’s “right” and that will allow organizations to seize advantage of opportunity in the future.

Many things which I began to cover off in my keynote. Read these points and check the related posts, since it will help to clarify each point where necessary.

Agility: I wrote a story into an article a few years back — actually, about 2004. It’s self explanatory on the agility theme:

I recently spent time with the CIO of a US-based patio furniture manufacturer. His organization was hammered in the last decade by countless factors, including the fact that a Chinese manufacturer could provide a similar product for a much lower price.

He convinced his leadership team that it needed a financial management system that would permit it to run leaner, faster and with more insight into operations. The company spent a whack of money on it and suffered greatly with the challenges that came with implementation.

Then one day, it reaped the rewards of a financial management insight system. Last winter, it had a call from Wal-Mart, asking if it might supply 110,000 patio swings; Wal-Mart was unable to source the product from its usual Chinese supplier. With the analytical tools the organization had put in place it was able to look up and down the supply chain to ensure supplies could be immediately sourced. In an instant, it was able to analyse the numbers and determine a price bid it could live with. It examined its resources and changed the production schedule to fit things in. The company was able to go to production two weeks later, delivering the product in advance of the order date, and on budget.

The company had the agility necessary to respond to a world of rapid change — and serve as a perfect case study of what we can really do when we focus on the benefits that sophisticated accounting insight can bring.

There’s a tremendous amount of focus on agility today, and it is one of the key trends that is driving the transformation of the sector.

Flexibility: I often compare the “old” business model of “building to inventory” to the new business model of building to demand. Read my blog post, in which I compared the approach of Ford, vs that of Honda. (“The new face of manufacturing: agility, insight and execution“. ) There’s also YouTube video you can watch – “Innovators focus on corporate agility.” I’m that video I’m actually on stage for 3,000 people for a global food company — in the exact same conference room at the Bellagio hotel a few years previous to the IMX event! Another key concept is that of “chameleon revenue” — success comes from the ability to generate new streams of revenue that haven’t existed before. Read “Innovation and the concept of chameleon revenue” for insight into what is happening here.

Post-flat strategies: smart companies avoid the complications of the “flat-world” by changing the rules of the game. Take a look at “What do you do after the world gets flat? Put a ripple in it!” in which I outline the attributes that I’ve seen successful manufacturing organizations make. And for more enthusiasm, read a 2008 post, “Is there hope for manufacturing?” which continues with the theme.

Faster time to market: tools have emerged that permit rapid industrial design: rapid concept generation, rapid concept development, and rapid prototyping.  We’ve got the capable for physical plant modelling, virtual commissioning, process simulation, analysis of factory flow in a virtual tool pre-design — all kinds of new capabilities. Quite simply, organizations that upgrade their skills and capabilities with these new tools are discovering the very real pathway to agility and flexibility.

Arrival of the digital natives: The speed with which the new methodologies is being adopted is increasing due to the arrival of a new generation of tech-savvy, innovation-oriented, open-minded individuals who are fully ready and willing to exploit and take advantage of every digital tool, methodology and capability to expand the capabilities of the manufacturing sector to respond to the demands of todays new, fast paced world.

The tinkering economy. Spend some time at MakerBot, Ponoko (which bills itself as “your personal factory….” or similar sites, and you’ll discover an entire global collaborative culture that is sharing ideas and insight on how to “build the next thing.” This “tinkering mindset” is going to influence manufacturing, for it is drawing in the skills and interest of this next generation, and also their unique way of thinking about the world. Read the article “Tinkering Makes a Comeback Amid Crisis” and you’ll get a sense of the fascinating things that are underway — and project this trend into its impact on manufacturing.

The inevitability of mass customization: Of course, one way of avoiding a “flat-world” is by premium pricing your product — and you can do that by establishing a market of one. Mass customization has been around a long time, and there are a number of successful examples. Yet the arrival of the digital natives is going to speed up this trend, helping to lead to a  resurgence of manufacturing.

New business model exploration: at the same time, they’re also busy exploring new methods of reaching out to consumers, raising equity funds, or collaborating on fascinating new projects. Sites like KickStarter.com are going to have a profound impact on manufacturing — for a really innovative story, take a look at the TikTok and LunaTik Multi Touch Watch Kits and the story behind their development.

Pervasive connectivity and intelligent assembly: the definitive trend for the next decade, in which “everything plugs into everything else.” Quite simply, we have a lot of opportunity to reinvent the future with transformative technology, because we will know three things about every device on the planet — including those that include the manufacturing process — their location, their status, and their Internet address. This is going to permit a STUNNING level of rethinking of assembly lines, manufacturing process and methodology, cost efficiency, and all kinds of other fascinating new opportunities. Not only that, but it leads to the opportunity to manufacture new intelligent devices for use in the areas of energy, health care, or just about anything else.

Transformation change: I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is yet to come. One of the most fascinating developments, well underway in the move from the conceptual to the practical stage, involves the use of “3D printers” and the inevitable shift to “additive manufacturing” from “subtractive manufacturing based on cutting, drilling and bashing metal…” There’s a good article on recent developments at MIT . Noted the Observer newspaper in a recent article: “Just as Bill Gates wanted to put a computer in every home …. all of us will eventually own a 3D printer. The key will be making them affordable.”

Here’s what it comes down to : there are a lot of negative trends happening with North American manufacturing. But as shown at IMX, there are also a lot of trends that are providing for transformative change and opportunity.

I closed my keynote with the observation that “some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend and see nothing but opportunity.” So it is in the world of manufacturing.

Back in April, I opened the 2011 International Society of Medical Publication Professionals annual conference in Washington. Their newsletter on the conference is now out, with a report on my keynote.


The meeting opened Monday afternoon with Jim Carroll’s keynote presentation, which focused on the importance of innovation and on future changes that may occur with healthcare and the practice of medicine.

According to Mr. Carroll, “So much change is going on in the world today that every organization is struggling with what will happen in the future.” To drive home the point that “the future belongs to those who are fast,” Mr. Carroll shared three statistics that he carries with him:

  • 65% of children in preschool today will work in jobs that do not yet exist
  • 50% of material learned in the first year of a college-science degree will be obsolete by the time of graduation
  • • A manufacturer has only 3-6 months to sell a new digital camera before it becomes obsolete

To highlight the rapid pace of technology, Mr. Carroll used several interactive “text” polls where he asked a question of the audience who used their cell phones to text in their answers. Mr. Carroll noted that the world is changing quickly and that 2-3 years ago, very few people would have been comfortable texting a response to a question asked at a meeting.

Mr. Carroll then discussed how companies need to embrace the rapid speed of innovation to remain successful. He described how the head of innovation at General Electric studied innovation during times of economic downturn and found that 60% of companies barely survived such a downturn. However, the 10% of companies that focused their dollars on innovation were the companies that came out in a positive position when the economic recovery happened. Those that didn’t developed “organizational sclerosis,” which shuts down the ability to innovate and adapt to changing environments.

Mr. Carroll then quoted from his book: “Some people see a trend and see a threat—other people see the same trend and see an opportunity.”

Over the next 10 years, Mr. Carroll predicted that major changes will occur regarding healthcare, the environment, and energy. He then described several trends that will result from these changes including:

  • Movement to a model of preventive healthcare.
  • Embracing Health 2.0 (referring to when patient records are all electronic).
  • Connecting all relevant devices. For example, a cell phone connected to a biometric sensing system could allow your doctor to monitor your blood pressure via your phone. As a result of bioconnectivity, more healthcare will occur through virtual care instead of at hospitals, extending the reach of the primary care provider to the home.
  • Utilizing the power of the cloud, which is the mass of data that exists on remote servers or social networks (outside of hard drives).
  • Delivering medical knowledge to providers as needed (ie, the concept of “just in time knowledge”). Mr. Carroll noted that medical knowledge is doubling every 8 years.
  • Developing systems that can handle the new scientific velocity.
  • Developing innovations based on an optimism for the future.

Challenges for such innovation may include the velocity of change, ethics (what is considered ethical may vary in different parts of the world), and the ability of regulatory systems to keep up with scientific velocity.

Mr. Carroll concluded by stressing how ISMPP needs to become more aggressive in educating others about the important role of those involved in developing medical publications. Mr. Carroll ended his talk with what he described as Ten Great Words:

  1. Observe – Pick up knowledge.
  2. Think – Think about the message and how to provide Big Bold Solutions.
  3. Change – What can you change personally?
  4. Dare – Watch for 3 ideas you think you would never do and then try them.
  5. Banish – Discard anything that is an innovation killer.
  6. Try – Try 3 things you said you would.
  7. Question – Challenge the assumptions.
  8. Growth – Challenge yourself to grow.
  9. Do – What do I, myself, need to do?
  10. Enjoy – Enjoy what you are doing!

 

My recent post about using a live text message poll while speaking to a group of high school students drew a fair bit of attention as an example of the novel use of a social networking tool.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been using this type of tool on stage — I’ve been doing this for close to four years, and it always provides for an amazing amount of interaction with the audience.

Here I am opening the 94th Annual General Meeting of the Professional Golfers Association of America, immediately diving into a poll with the audience in order to gauge their thoughts on when we would see an economic recovery. While running the poll, I challenge the PGA to think about the impact of mobile technology out on the golf course!


Pretty darned effective, isn’t it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're more optimistic in Ohio than you think!

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

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

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

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

Focused on growth and transformation!

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

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

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

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

What do they think about the media?

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

Reaction to Jim Carroll's keynote

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

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

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

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

Is there a manufacturing sector in Ohio! You bet!

Well, the headline caught your attention, didn’t it?

So what gives? How could “golf” possibly be the most important word in a year which promises ongoing economic volatility, potential signs of a recovery, restless consumers, potential challenges with the housing market, extremely fast paced business model change driven by technology — and countless other opportunities and worries?

Because the game of golf is probably one of the best barometers for the pace of the economic recovery. And in and of itself, the fact that the game is examining its future is probably the best sign that innovation and change has risen to the top of the leadership agenda.

Consider the first issue: golf and the economy. When the economy is hot, and companies are secure in their belief in economic growth, there are a lot of leadership events in which strategies are discussed, customers are engaged, and new business ideas are launched.

Corporate off-sites. Leadership meetings. Customer events. CEO-led strategy sessions. All the things that organizations do to ensure that they can focus on opportunity and growth. When the economy is in a good way, we see a lot of these events, and inevitably, they’re held at a resort, conference center or hotel that includes some great opportunities for golf, because that’s where a lot of the real business gets done.

Two years ago, many of these events disappeared or were scaled back in a significant way, as many organizations were focused on survival rather than growth. In the darkest days of the economic downturn and the subsequent era of gloom, customer and leadership events were small, low key, local, and didn’t have an element of golf.

But these events are back in a big way, and they’re being done in such a way that “golf” is most definitely back on the agenda. Only it’s not labelled “golf” on the agenda anymore – instead, you’ll see something like : “1:00PM – Private meetings”. In the last while, I’ve been doing or having been booked for a significant number of leadership, CEO and customer-oriented events at golf-oriented conference centers and locations all over North America.

Smart Meetings Magazine, a US publication, covered my thoughts in the January 2011 issue this way:

“Jim Carroll, a futurist, trend and innovation expert who has written and spoken about the economic horizon, often quotes the American Chamber of Commerce when discussing what lies ahead: “We’re going from a really bad economy to a new economy.” Here’s a rundown of what that will look like. … While Carroll says he’s seen a dip in association bookings, “corporate leadership events are way up.” In this sector of the industry, 2011 bodes well for the amount of meetings held and the funds devoted to them. …. With the economy in ascent, planners should see more hefty budgets allocated for meetings (or, as Carroll puts it, “There will be more golf this year.”)

Here’s the second reason why the world “golf” is so important — because the game itself know that innovation and change has become absolutely critical to provide opportunities for growth.

Read about the PGA of America’s reaction to Jim Carroll’s keynote

Last November, I was invited to be the opening speaker for the 94th Annual General Meeting of the PGA of America.

It’s the first time they have EVER had an external speaker open their event.

When I first got the call, I was a little bit stunned. This was THE PGA.

But then I began to think about my conversation with their senior management. Everyone knows that growth of the game is challenged by a variety of issues, including demographics, the collapse of attention spans, time availability, and a host of other issues. The PGA knows this, and they know that focusing on innovation and change — and confronting these trends — has become one of the most important things they needed to do.

And so they found me — and invited me in to challenge their members to begin just such a dialogue.

I’m seeing many such events. Heck, just over a month ago, NASA — yes, that NASA — had me down to Texas to speak to a senior leadership team on the issue of “Transformational Leadership”. I had in the room with me a very fascinating audience — astronauts, program directors, launch controllers. What was the real issue on the table? NASA’s world is changing fast, and the need for innovative thinking has become critical.

If organizations like the PGA and NASA are putting innovation at the top of their agenda, and innovation is the driver of economic growth — then clearly, golf has to be most important word in indicating where we are going with the economy in 2011.

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