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Creating a Great Keynote!
November 15th, 2016

During a call yesterday, a client was asking whether I could customize my talk for their group.

Are you kidding?

Here’s a good case study of the typical process that I goes through.

This particular organization was in the retail space; through conversations with several member of global management, we built a list of the key issues that I would focus in on my talk: these being the key issues that the leadership believed that the rest of the team need to be thinking hard about.

  • faster emergence of new store infrastructure : i.e. contact-less payment technology is a fact with iPhone’s, and other smart-phones. What happens when this occurs on customer interactions ; how quickly can a retail / restaurant organization scale to deal with it (i.e. rapid technological innovation is continuing unabated despite the economic downturn, and things like this will have a big impact on how business is done!)
  • faster challenges in terms of freshness of brand image: today, with the impact of the Net and social networks, a brand isn’t what you say it it — it’s what “they” say it is
  • new influencers: consumers are influenced in terms of choice in ways that go beyond traditional advertising. For example, consider the Celebrity Baby Blog (yes, there is such a thing), and how it has come to influence fashion trends for infant wear
  • new forms of brand interaction: the concept of the “location intelligence professional” — corporations are deploying strategies that integrate location into the virtual web, interacting with above mentioned cell phones that provide for in-store product uplift
  • rapid emergence of store architecture issues: intelligent infrastructures – McDonald’s has a $100 million energy saving plan that is based on IP based management of in store energy We’re also seeing the rapid emergence of green / eco design principles that provide more opportunities for savings
  • faster evolution of consumer taste preference : new food trends go from upscale restaurant to broad deployment in as little as 18 months now, compared to 5 years ago; consumer choice changes faster, requiring faster innovation!
  • faster idea cycles. New concepts, ideas, business strategies, advertising concepts happen faster because of greater global collaboration ; brands have to keep up with the idea cycle

Next, my keynote would touch on how the client could be more innovative in dealing with fast paced trends? Some potential methods include:

  • the concept of upside / down innovation – customer oriented innovation
  • generational collaboration – how to unleash the creativity of Gen-Connect
  • concept of business agility: how do we structure ourselves to act faster
  • theme of experiential capital : how can we take on more risk oriented projects simply to build our expertise in new areas such as social networking
  • fast, global, scalable project oriented teams : how do we learn to collaborate better internally
  • innovation “factories”: how can we scale successful internal projects faster to achieve greater benefits
  • partnership oriented innovation: how do collaborate on innovation with our suppliers and others in the supply chain?

Some of the conclusions that came from the global discussions in the lead up to the event? These were responses draw from the audience through the use of online text message polling:

  • we need to learn how to innovate more locally but globally scale
  • a better “innovation factory” to rollout is critical
  • can’t compromise speed to market with structure/bureaucracy
  • spread R&D out
  • collaborate to a greater degree on an international basis
  • innovation should be part of reward and structure
  • more brand clarity, particularly given muddiness of impact of social networking
  • need a more forceful commitment ($, structure, rewards, goals) to innovation

From this, I built my keynote so that it had a structure of “what are the issues,” “what do we need to about them in terms of potential responses”, and “what are some of the organizational changes we need to make to deal with them.”

It turned out to be a great talk!

Here’s some fun – a client had me write up a new topic description and topic focus that would take a look at the trends around us today that are taking us to tomorrow faster.

As we spoke, I had them watch the Spock video on my Web site (below) and they loved it! That got us talking further around the issue of accelerating change and how they needed to prepare their association members for that fact. Which, of course, led to a discussion of the broad range of trends, technologies, ideas and scientific advances that are bringing  the world of the Jetsons – that 1960’s cartoon TV show, set in the year 2016 — to our world sooner than people thought!

And we settled on a really cool keynote title.

So here it is! Have at it, and consider it for your own association or leadership event.

Keynote: The Jetsons Have Arrived 50 Years Early: What Are YOU Going to Do About It

We have a new vocabulary! Self-driving cars, 3d printing, crowdfunding, the sharing economy, blockchains, personal drones, swarmbots, smart dust, vertical farms, Internet of Things, cognitive computing, smart factories, bi0-connectivity, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, bio-engineered body parts, quantum computing, intelligent farms, smart clothing, hyperconnected drugs, active packaging.jetsons

What seemed to be science fiction just a few short years ago has become a reality today, as time compresses and the future accelerates. George Jetson lived in the future, but the future is here now.

Take a voyage with Futurist Jim Carroll into the world of tomorrow, today, as he outlines the key trends, technologies, ideas and initiatives that are transforming our world around us at hypersonic speed. A world in which the medical tri-corder of the 23rd century is available today, the idea of Rosie the Robot is no longer a figment of our imagination but an emerging reality, and the flying car of the future will quickly morph into reality from today’s fast moving drone industry.

In just a few short years, it will the year 2025, and the world of tomorrow will be your reality of today.

Are you ready for what comes next?

 

We live in interesting times, where an inane political debate makes it seem that with a wave of a magic wand, an entire industry can be transformed overnight.

It won’t happen like that, folks.

It will happen through constant innovation, big bold moves, skill set reinvention and challenging thinking that will – and already is — providing for significant transformation.

I speak at quite a few major manufacturing events. Here’s a clip where I’m in front of 2,000 manufacturing executives and engineers in Chicago a few months ago, speaking to the reality of what is occurring on the ground.

The Globe & Mail in Toronto ran a great article last week, which included some key statistics on the reality of manufacturing in America. Those in the sector should keep these in mind, in light of the stupidity of the political debate, and the reality of the real opportunity:

  • in 1960, 24% of the US labor force was involved in manufacturing, while today, that number is 8% (yes, 5 million jobs have vanished)
  • robotics and intelligent manufacturing technology has replace far more US workers than have Mexican or Chinese faciltiies
  • today US factories produce twice as much stuff as they did in 1984 but with 1/3 fewer workers
  • manufacturing as a % of GDP is virtually unchanged since 1960
  • much of US manufacturing has shifted from the rustbelt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan to Southern states, much of which has involved significant new intelligent facilities

It’s kind of sad and tragic that a sector which has been so busy innovating finds itself in the midst of what really is a dishonest debate.

The key going forward? Manufacturing needs to continue to focus on what it has done so well in the past — innovate, focus on the future, reinvent!

I’m often writing and speaking about real trends that matter. Not fads, or social-media driven hot-Youtube videos.

Real, substantive trends which will provide for long term transformation of industries and skills. Business model disruption. The rapid emergence of new competitors. Stuff like that.

Back in 2012, in my end of year post, “Trending in 2012: What’s to come in the year to come?”, I wrote about a wide variety of important trends. The second trend was this one:

The rise of the tinkering economy. The future is once again being built in the garage next door. But this time, it’s the hyper-connected, innovation oriented tinkering economy which is driving things forward. Get used to phrases like “micro factories,” “hobby designers” and”personal factories.”  The future of design, business and manufacturing is being reinvented at collaborative idea factories such as Ponoko, Etsy and  eMachineShop.com. There’s a revolution underway which is being driven by a globally connected, creatively driven new generation of hobbyists, and the impact is going to be massive!

With that, let me introduce my good friend and golfing buddy, Greg McKenzie, Senior VP at Intelliware, Inc. He’s one of the smartest people I know. He’s also a way better golfer than me, but has the patience of a saint.

Greg and his son Iain, who is soon to be headed to Queens University for an engineering degree, following in his fathers footsteps, spent some tinkering in their garage, and just launched the Mark 2 Hovercraft.

Why does stuff like this matter? Greg found the project in a Wired magazine article a year ago. Like many with a tinkering mindset, he engaged with a new project, and came up with some fascinating results.

The future is emerging in garages all over the world. Somewhere out there, right now, there are a few billion dollar industries at their nascent stage. It could be your neighbor or golf buddy, and you don’t even know it.  And it’s this type of change in how R&D is conducted – and then shared online — that is redefining how growth industries are discovered and developed.

Just watch for them. It can be fascinating.

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.

Here’s some of the key trends that I see unfolding through 2012 and beyond.

My unique job allows me the opportunity to see and hear what a lot of CEO’s and senior executives in a lot of organizations are thinking about. The  nature of my keynotes and small board / leadership meetings allows me to understand what folks are focused on. The research I do, whether for a major manufacturing conference in Las Vegas or a small corporate meeting with an ice cream company allows me to see the key trends that are unfolding right now.

And so given this unique perch, here’s some of the most important trends which will play out in the year to come.

  •  Biz competes again. North American and Western European companies have lived with constant fear, with the rapid rise of China, the BRIC countries and the N11 on the world  stage. And yet, we’re now witnessing a scene from the movie 2010: “HAL-9000 – ‘What’s going to happen?’ DAVE – ‘Something wonderful.‘ My sense is that a wide variety of industries, from agriculture to manufacturing to industrial design have been going through a renaissance of thinking in the last few years, and have learned what they need to do to re-innovate, grow again, and aggressively return to local and global markets. Read my “Build-America” blog post for some of what I’m thinking here — and stayed tuned!
  • The rise of the tinkering economy. The future is once again being built in the garage next door. But this time, it’s the hyper-connected, innovation oriented tinkering economy which is driving things forward. Get used to phrases like “micro factories,” “hobby designers” and”personal factories.”  The future of design, business and manufacturing is being reinvented at collaborative idea factories such as Ponoko, Etsy and  eMachineShop.com. There’s a revolution underway which is being driven by a globally connected, creatively driven new generation of hobbyists, and the impact is going to be massive!
  • Relationships change. Everywhere around us, the relationship that we have in our lives with the things that surround is, well, changing. Our relationship with food is changing as mobile technologies come to influence what we buy, how we shop,  and how we track our food intake. Our relationship with our body is undergoing a change as we come to use those same mobile technologies to monitor our diet, track our blood pressure another vital signs. Our relationship with clothing is changing as embedded technology becomes a part of what we wear — think about GPS enabled shoes for Alzheimers patients and Zephyr’s smart-clothing — which can be used by athletes to track their performance. When relationships change, everything changes, and opportunities for growth and innovative thinking abound!
  • Generational re-generation: everywhere we look, there’s a massive generational turnover underway, with a change in ownership of organizations from slow moving change adverse baby-boomers to a younger generation that inhales change as a form of innovation oxygen. As family farms and ranches are passed on from father to son and daughter, the rate of adoption of new farming and herd management ideas takes on a greater degree of speed.  As older doctors and nurses who were weaned on the paper-heavy patient file head into retirement, they being replaced by new medical residents who are arriving in the clinic, operating room and by the hospital bed with their iPads, ready to plug in! A shift from change-aversion to change-is-the-greatest-drug is a trend that speeds up our world even more!
  • Revenue reinvention. Every company is coming to face the reality that they have to become just like Apple in order to survive. The fact that Apple generates over 60% of its revenue from products that didn’t exist 4 years ago might today be an aberration, but given the increasing velocity of business cycles, product innovation, the arrival of new business models, changing customer expectations, the impact of social networks and a series of other trends, and soon every organization will find itself in a reality in which constant, relentless reinvention of its product or service line will the crucial to future success.
  • The Dominance of Design. We’re on the edge of a massive new era of creativity, with a trend that we might even call the ‘IPad-ization of Life.’ All one has to do is look at the new Nest thermostat to realize that a new generation of brilliant creativity is about to remake our world. We’re not doomed to a future in which everything around us in the future is going to look just like it did in the past – Apple’s design influence is quickly going to impact everything around us – from the cars we drive to the lamps we use to the fridges we open, to the buses we catch. Clean, simple, easy interfaces and crisp, cool lines, But it’s not just the looks — its the fact that with this new era of design comes intelligence. Our future is going to look great , intelligent and interactive!
  • Chip-velocity! Moore’s law used to apply only to the computer industry. Yet the rule that the processing power of a computer chip doubles every year while its cost cuts in half is taking on new meaning, as your phone becomes a credit card, your car watches how well you drive on behalf of your insurance company, and your clothing talks to your doctor! All of a sudden, in the era of relentless, pervasive connectivity, innovation in every single industry speeds up when Silicon Valley takes over the innovation agenda!
  • Life beyond politics. While the US Presidential election and political turmoil will dominate the headlines for 2012, a new generation of leaders are focused on BIG THINKING, BIG IDEAS, and BOLD MOVES. There’s a realization that political gridlock is the new normal, whether its the Democrats and Republications staring each other down, or France and Germany looking at Italy and Greece with a mystified sense of stunned confusion. So while politicians fail to get things done, innovative organizations are casting their mind to the future trends which will really provide opportunity in the future. It’s fascinating — the future is back in vogue again! And the thinking that is driving it is that we aren’t going to fix the problems of the future by doing what we’ve done in the past. And if we do things differently with those problems – that’s how we’ll discover the next big opportunity. This is the new mindset driving activities in the world of energy, the environment and healthcare!
  • Leading locally. There’s something odd going on — as the world gets global, we’re all going local.  We’re seeing it with sustainability  and local foods; angst and anger at banks and moves to credit unions; and a new volunteerism – as unemployment grew to 7.6%, volunteer service grew by 16%! We’re seeing it with local business – a University of Pennsylvania study found that areas with small, locally owned business (<100 employees) had greater per capita income growth than those with the presence of larger, nonlocal firms! There’s a new focus on local co-ops — with more than 100 million people employed worldwide in some type of local co-op. Thats’ why its fitting that 2012 is the International Year of the Cooperatives, a business model that has stood the test of time for over 150 years. Where-ever you look, while we are thinking global, we’re acting local!
  • Strategy re-dos. The impact of all these trends? Executives quickly coming to realize that what they’ve been doing in the past isn’t to hold them forward into the future. It’s time to throw out all the old assumptions and try things that are new!

Here’s to 2012!

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.

On a mailing list to which I subscribe, someone just asked how to write a great press release.

Off the top of my head, I jotted out a response. I’m on the receiving end of a ton of press releases sent by various companies because I do a lot of writing. Most are dull; contain no news; announce stuff of absolute insigificance; and really tell me nothing at all. I toss most of them.

So here’s my list:

  • Change the focus. It’s not a press release – it’s a news release. It should have news.
  • Make it new. It should say something your audience hasn’t seen before. They’re jaded. They’ll say ho-hum. They’re bored with press releases. “Been there, done that.” You’ve got to swat them on the head.
  • Get a different droid. Make it different. These folks likely see a zillion PR releases that all look the same, written by PR-droids in PR-factories with tiny-little droid-computers that spew out droid-PR-rubbish. Read what they wrote, and write it differently.
  • Give the facts. Provide interesting tidbits, statistics, factoids. Most people today have the attention span of your average rock, and you’ve got to connect with their innermost-hyperself. You’ve probably got about 5 seconds to get their attention. Use it well.
  • Keep it short. Short.
  • Don’t be dull. Avoid the same old long drawn out boring quotes. “Mr. Peter Didsworth, an expert in our industry, and a distinguished individual of long accomplishment, noted that it was time …. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” Every press release has them, and people hate them. Don’t boast.
  • Do the work. Give them the story, nicely packaged and put together. I find that most news people are lazy. Sorry! But if this is so, prepare the story for them — so that they can rip and rewrite. Want to read tomorrow’s news? Go read a press release wire today. It’s all right there.
  • Give them bullets. People love bullets. I think people like bullets these days more than they like sentences. Sentences are just too much work. Bullets are better!
  • Make it fun! Most people are so bored with routine that you’ll hook them if you can make them laugh.
  • Make it personal. Find out the 100 people who really care about who you are, and send it to them. Send it invidually. Personalize each note. Take the time to ‘relationize’ with them.
  • Make it a list of 10 things. People like lists of 10 things. Then add an 11th item pointing this out, which will make people chuckle. If people chuckle, they remember you.

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