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Trends Expert Jim Carroll to Keynote CGT’s Leadership Event

Trends and innovation expert Jim Carroll will deliver the keynote address at this year’s premiereConsumer Goods Business & Technology Leadership Conference, October 23-25, 2011 at the Ritz Carleton Grand Lakes in Orlando, Fla.

CGT is the leading magazine and information source on the technology and other trends impacting the CPG industry.

A leading international futurist, Carroll (www.jimcarroll.com) is widely recognized as a thought leader and authority on global trends, rapid business model change, business transformation during economic uncertainty and the necessity for fast-paced innovation. He is an author, columnist, media commentator and consultant with a focus on linking future trends to innovation and creativity. He has previously spoken at events for the Professional Golf Association (PGA), HJ Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), among others.

Hosted by the Consumer Goods Technology (CGT) magazine, a publication of Edgell Communications, the Consumer Goods Business & Technology Leadership Conference remains one of the most significant consumer goods industry events and is now in its 13th consecutive year. In attendance will be senior-level marketing, supply chain and IT executives from leading CG companies. Carroll joins an agenda jam-packed with presentations from leading consumer goods companies, like Kimberly-Clark, Dean Foods, PepsiCo, Del Monte and many more.

“We are the only event that covers all aspects of the consumer goods industry, with an extremely broad range of attendees by managerial function,” noted Albert Guffanti, publisher, CGT.

Guffanti continued: “We are very pleased to announce Jim Carroll as our keynote speaker, who will challenge our audience to ‘think big’ about their future by focusing on the theme, ‘What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t Do’. He has a track record that is recognized worldwide as a ‘thought leader’ and authority on global trends; rapid business model change; business transformation in a period of economic uncertainty; and the necessity for fast paced innovation.”

Carroll will concentrate on several key trends in his engaging keynote address: how world-class innovators possess a relentless focus on growth. They continually transition their revenue source through relentless product and service reinvention and solve customer problems before the customer knows there’s a problem. They focus on upside down innovation by sourcing innovation ideas through their customers and focus on long-term wins through constant incremental improvements. Carroll will also share his perspective on why right now is a great time to make bold decisions and do great things.

“I’m thrilled to participate in this annual conference,” noted Carroll. “While we might be in a period of economic volatility, history has taught us that it is those organizations who focused on innovation thinking during a period of uncertainty are those who are best positioned as economic growth returns. There is plenty of opportunity in the CG industry in all area of product development, operations, partnership structures, retail activities, taking advantage of the rapid evolution of mobile technologies, and branding and marketing opportunities. The future belongs to those who are fast — today, it’s all about scalability, rapidity and the ability to deal with extremely fast rates of change from every perspective. I’ll challenge attendees to concentrate on the core activities that will help them focus on the opportunities of the future, rather than the challenges of the past.”

Click here to access the event’s web page, view the outstanding agenda and/or to register.

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)  

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.

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

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

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

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

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


Keep Those Ideas Coming
Jim Carroll, March 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m finally back in the office full time after a very busy summer with my family.

And what do I return to? A September that seems to feature screaming headlines about a potential recession and some pretty wild economic and market volatility.

If you are thinking about how you are reacting to this fast-paced world in which we find ourselves, then here is a key question: are you going to stay focused on the future, opportunity and innovation – or are you going to allow yourself fall into the trap of aggressive indecision.

Watch this clip from a recent keynote I gave in which I challenge the audience on this very issue:

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