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How many times does this happen – you have a great idea that you know will succeed – only to have it go to a committee, who proceed to destroy your idea?


As I dig into the culture and attitude of a client through interviews with the CEO and other team members, I’m always mystified to find  that some organizations just seem to do everything they can to shut down new ideas. Committees are one of the worst sources of failed innovation.

It happens a lot as a speaker and innovation expert. I will often be contacted by someone in an organization who is convinced that they need my insight in order to move ahead. We have a great discussion, form an outline of how I will help them, and then they try to move it forward. It goes to a committee, gets bogged down, and eventually, they end up booking a motivational speaker!

A few years back, on stage, I went through a list of what goes wrong when it comes to innovation. Innovation failures:

  • form a committee. An absolute sure fired way of shutting down ideas! The herd mentality takes over, and activity sclerosis soon sets in.
  • defer decisions. It’s easier to wait than to make any bold, aggressive moves. Uncertainty is a virtue; indecision is an asset.
  • hide failure. If anyone tries something new and doesn’t succeed, make sure that no one else sees it. You don’t want to set a message that it is important to take risks.
  • let innovators work in secret. You want to make sure that the concept of innovation remains some deep, mysterious process that not everyone can participate in. That will help to ensure that most of your team doesn’t pursue any type of fresh new thinking. They’ll just keep doing what they’ve always done.
  • banish fear. Make sure that everyone thinks that everything is going to be all right. You don’t have to deal with potential business market disruption, new competitors, significant industry transformation or the impact of globalization. Everything will look the same ten years from now, so just keep everyone focused on doing the same old thing!
  • accept the status quo. Things are running perfectly, you’ve got the perfect product mix, and all of your customers are thrilled with your brand and the levels of customer service. There’s no need to do anything new, since it’s all going to work out just fine!
  • be cautious. Don’t make any bold, aggressive moves. Just take things slowly, one step at a time. If you move too fast, things are likely to go wrong. Let complacency settle in like a warm blanket.
  • glorify process.  Make sure that everything is filled out in triplicate; ensure that process slows down any radical ideas.  It’s more important to do things perfectly than to make mistakes.
  • be narrow. Keep a very tiny view of the future. You can’t succeed with any big wins, because there aren’t going to be any dramatic surprises in the future. Think small. Act accordingly.
  • study things to death. Don’t let any uncertainty creep into your decision making process. Make sure that if you are to do anything, that you’ve spent sufficient time and effort to understand all the variables. Your goal is ensuring that any decision is free of risk, unlikely to fail, and will in retrospect be carefully and fully documented.

Wait! That’s 11 ways! And there are certainly more attitudes that help to destroy innovative thinking.

What do you think? What are the other attitudes and ways of thinking that manage to shut down organizational idea machines?

And do you want more insight like this? Check my Innovation Inspiration page!

 

Some of the most fascinating organizations in the world have brought me in to encourage their people to think about the future, and how to nurture a culture of creativity and innovation. Organizations like NASA (twice!), Johnson and Johnson, Whirlpool/Maytag, the Walt Disney Corporation and literally hundreds more!

 

One of my key motivational points for my clients has always been this idea.

Many people see a trend and see a threat. Smart people see the same trend and see opportunity

Think about that, and then ask yourself as to how do you keep yourself in an innovative frame of mind.

A good part of it has to do with the company you keep! To that end, I’d suggest that you surround yourself with:

  • optimists. You need to hang out with people who see all kinds of opportunity – not gloomsters who are convinced there is no future out there!
  • people who do. Action oriented people. Folks who accomplish things. Those that do.
  • people with open minds. Innovators aren’t prepared to accept the status quo – they are willing to explore and understand different viewpoints, and use that as a kickoff for creativity.
  • people who have experienced failure. Innovation comes from risk; risk comes from trying things. Try lots of things, and many will fail. That’s good. That builds up experience, which gives you better insight into a fast paced world.
  • oddballs and rebels. Some of the most brilliant thinking and best ideas can come from those who view the world through a different lens. They may seem odd at times, but they can be brilliantly creative.
  • good listeners and debaters. They’re willing to challenge ideas, analyze issues, and think through the possibilities.
  • people who think differently than you do. If you really want to be innovative, go to two conferences a year that have nothing to do with what you do. You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how it will re-stir your creative juices.

In every single keynote, I focus on future trends and opportunities, and link that to the process and mindset of innovation. I’m an optimist, continually try new things, listen to other people, watch, observe, and listen.

Most important, I refuse to give in to the pervasive negative thinking that so many people seem to envelope themselves within. Maybe that’s why I see so many opportunities in today’s economy.

Think growth!

For close to 25 years, I have been relentlessly studying what makes organizations successful at dealing with the future and innovation. I know why some fail, while others succeed.

In those who fail, there are some common traits :

  • People laugh at new ideas
  • Someone who identifies a problem is shunned
  • Innovation is the privileged practice of a special group
  • The phrase, “you can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way” is used for every new idea
  • No one can remember the last time anyone did anything really cool
  • People think innovation is about R&D
  • People have convinced themselves that competing on price is normal
  • The organization is focused more on process than success
  • There are lots of baby boomers about, and few people younger than 25
  • After any type of surprise — product, market, industry or organizational change — everyone sits back and asks, “wow, where did that come from?”

Innovative companies act differently. In these organizations

  • Ideas flow freely throughout the organization
  • subversion is a virtue
  • success and failure are championed
  • there are many, many leaders who encourage innovative thinking, rather than managers who run a bureaucracy
  • there are creative champions throughout the organization — people who thrive on thinking about how to do things differently
  • ideas get approval and endorsement
  • rather than stating “it can’t be done,” people ask, “how could we do this?”
  • people know that in addition to R&D, innovation is also about ideas about to “run the business better, grow the business and transform the business
  • the word “innovation” is found in most job descriptions as a primary area of responsibility, and a percentage of annual renumeration is based upon achievement of explicitly defined innovation goals

The fact is, every organization should be able to develop innovation as a core virtue — if they aren’t, they certainly won’t survive the rapid rate of change that envelopes us today.

It’s that simple.

Here’s a simple list of companies that were once great successes. Then they weren’t: Blockbuster. Borders. Lehman Bros. Kodak. Circuit City. RadioShack. Pan-Am. Enron. E.F. Hutton.RCA. Tower Records. Polaroid. Woolworths. Compaq. Arthur Anderson. 

The list could go on…. companies that were leaders in their time, and then failed, due to a lack of innovation; a failure to adapt; ethical problems; or other factors that could have been avoided.

In the next 10 years, we will see a number of established companies added to the list. Right now, some of them could be making decisions to avoid that fate.

They aren’t.

Here’s some interesting food for thought from a great article on the trend in which every company is becoming a computer company:

“The S&P 500 lists the 500 most valuable companies in the United States. Dick Foster, a McKinsey consultant, studied their average lifespan. It is a sobering tale that reminds just how fast-paced business innovation has become. In 1937, the average tenure of companies on the list was 75 years. By 1960, it was 61 years. In 1980, 37 years. In 2000, 26 years. Today, an average of 15 years.”

If you are a senior executive, you need a serious gut-check. Here you go:

Your chance for longevity and survival is shrinking.

Disruption, business model change, technological transformation is real, and so you have a simple choice: innovate, or die.

Are you doing enough in your organization to encourage a culture of failure? It not, why not?

Failure is often a prerequisite for success. In other words, many times, you can’t there from here, unless you take a diversion to there…..

That’s an important lesson when it comes to innovation, and it’s always good to keep the idea of failure in mind.

History is littered with examples of massive failures which later led to astonishing success. Consider, for example, the Apple Newton. I remember being given one at an Apple launch event in 1993. I wish I had kept it!

Thinking back, it was an iPhone/iPad long before its time. Yet the Newton failed miserably: it didn’t work well, when it worked at all, and was crazy expensive for it’ feature set. Because of its handwriting analysis capabilities — which really did not work well at all  — Newton was fodder for jokes from late night TV hosts, comic strips, and tech publications. Everyone had a grand old time making fun of the Newton — and of Apple — for bringing to market such a failure!

Years later, Apple would go on to become the world’s largest company with  what some might say is the most successful technological invention of all time, the iPhone. Apple positioned itself for success from failure: many of those who originally worked on the Newton went on to develop the iPhone. They learned a lot from their earlier failure, applying those lessons to succeed the next time around.

That wasn’t the only failure in the orbit of companies that surrounded Apple at the time. NeXT Computers, established by Steve Jobs after being unceremoniously dumped from Apple, was but a running joke to many people, because it failed in the market in a pretty big way.

But the operating system for NeXT became the foundation for OS/X, the operating system at the heart of Apple’s Mac products today.

It gets better. When Apple went to develop the Newton, it couldn’t find a computer chip with the processing power to do the advanced work required of this first PDA (personal digital assistant – remember that phrase?). The result was that they invested in a small chip company, Advanced RiSC Machines —  with a 43% share bought for a $2 million investment.

They sold their share in ARM years later for $800 million. Not a bad return!

And what did they do with that $800 million? It went part way to allowing Apple to buy NeXT form SteveJobs, which led to the reinvention and rebirth  of the company. The largest company in the world!

So … Apple failed with Newton. Steve Jobs failed with NeXT. Two failures led to a massive winner.

Failure. We need more of it!

Innovation? Take risks, and be willing to fail!

As the wild year of 2016 draws to a close, and 2017 arrives, what can you expect in the coming year?  Rather than a list of predictions for 2017, let’s simply focus on some of the words and phrases that will become a bigger part of your life next year and years beyond.

The big phase for 2017? “Destructive, impulsive unpredictability.” Get used to it: and align your strategies, capabilities, skill sets and business plans to deal with this reality as it comes about. It will happen a lot — and a new kind of volatility will be the new normal. I think the early stock-market driven euphoria will prove to be just that…..

Beyond that, what can you expect? Accelerated change! If you do anything in 2017, expand your mind and learn about the things that you don’t know. After all, “you don’t know what you don’t know, until you try and do something you’ve never done before. Then you know!

Here are some of the phrases that indicate what I’m watching carefully in 2017, and advising my global blue chip clients on. Watch this space in 2017, since I’ll be certain to be speaking, writing and blogging about them.

  • smart buildings
  • robotic hype cycles
  • scientific exponentiation
  • virtualized hospitals
  • intelligent infrastructure
  • vertical farming
  • connected energy
  • prognostic diagnostic maintenance
  • extended experience partnerships
  • predictive loss mangement
  • shared mobility
  • generational velocity
  • yottabit pipelines
  • small prototyping
  • magnified cynicism
  • diversity of ideas
  • sketch to scale
  • hypecycle divergence
  • crowd-thinking
  • accelerated disruption
  • digital garage innovation
  • mind-into-matter manufacturing
  • upside down idea generation
  • innovation inertia
  • experiential capital
  • iterative innovation
  • avoidance failures
  • predictive storytelling
  • bionic construction methodologies
  • 4d printing
  • end of runway manufacturing

It’s a funny job, being a futurist.

Essentially, your job is to take people out of their comfort zone, by removing them from today, and taking them into tomorrow.

Tomorrow, of course, involves challenge and change; opportunity and threat; hope and fear. Some people are ready for it; many others are not.

With 25 years and more of helping people comprehend change and what comes next, I’ve come to learn a few things, best captured by an observation I often make on stage: “some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend, and see an opportunity!”

threatoropportunity

Think about that phrase, and then think about three situations that just unfolded in the last several days:

  • a large global financial services organization had been looking at me to come in and focus on what they needed to do to align themselves to faster consumer, technology, business model and other disruptive change — all the things I do. I had great interactions with one of the organizers who wanted to bring me in. What happened? The decision for a keynote went to a committee, who decided to do what they’ve always done: they chose an industry expert! As my contact admitted to me, “we should look outside the box and opt for something new, novel, insightful, controversial, not by default vote for the known names, where we will hear the stuff we already know, wrapped in different package.“. But they went with what was comfortable. After the decision, he noted that “it just shows how transformation consultants are not insightful in how to continuously improve and transform themselves, once they get into the comfort zone…”
  • an association that will be heavily impacted by the emergence of smart highways, autonomous, self-driving cars, and the acceleration of the automotive industry, had been looking at me for a keynote on what they needed to do to align to this rate of change. What did they decide? They booked a motivational speaker to come in and ‘energize their group!’ (their words). Can an industry simply motivate themselves out of disruptive change? Probably not…..
  • and in the most fascinating situation, a major agricultural organization that runs a series of events for farmers shortlisted me (for the 10th year in a row). And for the 10th year, I’ve learned, they’ve gone out and selected the same national news anchor they’ve selected for the last 10 years! Who I suppose will deliver the same message, interpreting current events, and basically repeating to them what he says on the national news each and every night. Simple fact? Agriculture in 10 years will look nothing like it does today: and so how can re-interpreting current affairs help them to deal with this fact?

It’s kind of funny, if you think about it.

But it’s also a pretty poor reflection on the ability of people to confront and deal with change.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not terribly bothered by this, other than by writing this post. The fact of the matter is that nature of my business is that I do some 50 keynotes or leadership meetings each year. The number really doesn’t vary; I’ve got a limited number of dates that I make myself available for, and a limited set of time to do the intense industry research for each talk that I am known for. I’ve encountered many situations like this over the past, and regardless of what these folks are doing, I’ll end up being booked by someone else for the dates that were on the table.

I just find it remarkable that so many people live in fear of the future, and yet really aren’t prepared to do anything about it.

My job IS to make people feel uncomfortable with the future, warts and all – and yet also inspire and challenge them to discover the opportunity that comes from the reality of change. This was perhaps best captured in the brochure copy when I did a keynote for 500 mayors and civic officials in Salt Lake City for the Utah League of Cities and Towns a few years ago:

confused-utah

What a great description!

Jim Carroll’s job is to make people feel uncomfortable …. maybe even a bit confused. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, Jim probably sees it differently. He has a knack for predicting trends and change, and helping business and government leaders see where things are going, and how they can not only adapt to change, but lead it.”

When I first saw the description in the brochure, it took me by surprise. In most cases, the client runs brochure copy past me before it goes to print, but in this case, for various logistics reasons, I didn’t see it in advance. Yet when I first read it, I thought to myself, “hmmm, does that sound right?” I thought perhaps it might put a bit of a negative spin on what I do.

Yet the more I thought about it, I realized it was a great outline of what I do!

That’s because when it comes to the future, far too many people can be complacent about the trends that are going to impact them, and avoid the type of creative ideas that they need to pursue in order to keep up with the pace of change.

If you are too comfortable right now with the future, then you probably aren’t thinking hard enough about the trends that are going to impact you. You need to be scared; nervous; prepared to accept that things are going to change, and ready for action. That’s why you should always remember the comments of Andy Grove of Intel: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

So maybe being a little uncomfortable, dazed and confused is a good state of mind to be in!

 

I was interviewed recently by Independent Banker magazine for my thoughts on trends impacting the world of banking. I do a lot of keynotes in this area — with clients such as VISA, the National Australia Bank, the Texas Credit Union League, American Express, CapitolOne, the American Community Bankers Association, Wells Fargo and many, many more.

bankingwithoutboundaries_770-1

To Carroll, anyone is capable of innovating an aspect of the community banking industry. However, he believes to do so, three essential questions must be asked. What can I do to run the business better? Grow the business? And most important, transform the business?

The full article is available at their Web site: 

 


Instill an innovative mindset to push your bank into the future
By Sam Schaust

Innovation is not a word solely owned by today’s tech giants in Silicon Valley. Or so thinks Jim Carroll, a futurist from Toronto who has given dozens of keynote speeches on the power of innovation to companies such as Walt Disney, Wells Fargo and NASA.

A lot of eyes gloss over the word ‘innovation,’ and people think the word only applies to someone like Steve Jobs who designed cool stuff that changed the world,” Carroll says. “They might think, ‘I’m a banker. What can I do?’”

To Carroll, anyone is capable of innovating an aspect of the community banking industry. However, he believes to do so, three essential questions must be asked , the first of which is: What can be done to run the business better?

There are plenty of opportunities to implement more information technology to reduce costs, streamline processes and become more efficient,” he says.

Which begs the second question: What can be done to grow the business?

Concepts regarding “how to use mobile to capture the millennial generation” and “how to utilize leading-edge transaction technology or new products to attract untapped customers,” Carroll notes, are typical subsections of this question. “Essentially, it all comes down to how you think differently to attract new sources of revenue,” he says.

Finally comes the question: What can be done to transform the business? “Transformation of the business is all about preparing for the fact that, for example, with credit-card payments, now Apple and PayPal are competitors,” Carroll says. “With an increasing number of organizations getting into the banking space, you may need to change the essence of what you do and how you do it to keep up with reality.”

Staying current with today’s banking industry—along with innovating for the future—could require an internal shake-up. As Carroll suggests, “By hiring somebody who thinks just like you, you aren’t going to get any creative, innovative ideas. Instead, if you hire somebody you don’t like or who is dramatically different from you, then you’ll get those different opinions.

Groundbreaking ideas often can come from outside of your field of business, Carroll believes, adding that adopting “an outsider mentality” could prove to be a valuable asset.

“With an increasing number of organizations getting into the banking space, you may need to change the essence of what you do and how you do it to keep up with reality.”
—Jim Carroll, Futurist

Thinking opportunistically

To bring about a new revenue opportunity, Carroll sees an advantage in embracing methods that break from the traditional structure. “Part of what I talk about is speed of opportunity,” he says. “What’s happening out there is new opportunities are emerging faster and you’ve got to have a culture and capability to grab onto that very quickly.”

Growing through experience

Carroll believes that an innovative attitude at a community bank needs to be set from the top. “It’s got to start at the board,” he says. “Although, that’s the toughest thing and it simply doesn’t come overnight.”

By adopting a forward-thinking mindset, mistakes are sure to be made, Carroll adds. “Be an organization that doesn’t just celebrate wins, but failures, too,” he says. “In today’s world, organizations will get ahead through the depth of their financial capital. That’s important, but there’s also our experiential capital—the experience we gain from trying something new.

By hiring somebody who thinks just like you, you aren’t going to get any creative, innovative ideas.” — Jim Carroll, Futurist

Innovation typically comes from a general interest for what’s occurring beyond one’s industry, Carroll notes. By simply embracing the what’s new or unusual, “we build up our experience,” he says. “And the more experiential capital we have, the better positioned we are to make big, bold leaps in the future.

 

One of my favorite innovation phrases that I always use on stage or in a CEO off-site is “think big, start small, scale fast!”

thinksmall

So I woke up this morning and came into the home office, and was thinking about the “start small’ part of that phrase. And quickly jotted down a list of small ideas.

Here goes!

  •  do small projects: too many innovation efforts get bogged down, bloated, and blow up due to big scope and size!
  • celebrate small wins : not every innovation effort needs to be a home run
  • learn from small failures: I love the phrase fail early, fail often, fail fast; you can do that better if your project is small
  • scatter your team for small exploration: there is so much going on in so many industries that is so tiny but has huge implications, you’ve simply got to let your people explore!
  • reframe the idea of small: put into perspective how small changes can have a big impact
  • look for small winners: for example, there are tremendous innovations in manufacturing concepts with small manufacturers — learn from them!
  • give a small bit: in an era of open collaboration and global insight, giving back some R&D can be a good thing
  • seek small heroes: in the global economy, there is probably a small 1 or 2 person company who is doing exactly the cool, innovate thing you need. Find them!
  • establish small decision groups: destroy committees; if there has to be one to make a decision, limit it to 1 or 2 or 3 people.
  • focus on the power of small: one person can change a company, an industry, a country, a world!

Of course, my ideas aren’t original. The original concept of small perhaps came from the greatest advertising campaign of all time — for the VW Beetle, Think Small.

It’s a powerful concept.

In my case, the entirety of my career as a global keynote speaker, futurist, trends and innovation expert is that it’s me, and my wife, and a small home office that is plugged into a great big world. From here, I serve up insight and guidance to a vast range of global organizations, associations, CEO’s and leadership teams.

Thinking big, starting small, scaling fast.

Perhaps the real secret to succeeding in a world where the future belongs to those who are fast!

 

Let’s talk about organizations that are clearly innovation failures — those who are stuck in a rut, and unable to figure out what to do next.

embracechange

While doing so, ask yourself — is this the organization you work within, or are the CEO of?

With a twenty year focus on innovation, I’ve become convinced that many organizations develop a cultural sclerosis that holds them back to such a degree that their failure becomes a blinding liability.

What is common to these organizations? Several things:

  1. Fear of the unknown in times of economic uncertainty: Certainly the US election has placed many companies into a ‘wait-and-see’ mode: decisions are being deferred at a furious pace. The result is that many organizations are driven by uncertainty. What happens if our market doesn’t recover? What happens if we can’t rebuild the top line? What happens if our customers don’t start spending again? So much fear and uncertainty causes a form of leadership and organization wide paralysis to set in; they’re like deer caught in a headlight, and are frozen in time. Avoid that fate – and fast!
  2. Inertia is easy: when confronted by change, many people react by …. doing nothing. When things are uncomfortable, the easiest thing to do to deal with that discomfort is to avoid it. Such thinking causes many organizations and the people within them to fall asleep. They keep doing what they’ve been doing before, hoping that will carry them forward into future. Obviously that can’t work, for a whole variety of different reasons.
  3. It’s easy to avoid tough decisions : organizations are faced with a lot of change, in terms of business models, customer expectations, cost pressures, new competitors, and countless other challenges. To deal with any one of these issues requires tough decisions, but in many cases, it’s easier to put those decisions off into the future rather than having to deal with them.
  4. An unwillingness to confront the truth: your product might be out of date; your brand might not been seen as relevant and keeping up to date with fast paced innovation in your marketplace; your sales force might be wildly out of date in terms of their product knowledge; your competitors might have a more efficient cost structure because they made the heavy IT investments that you did not. I could go on, but the point is this: you might have serious systemic problems, and are simply unable or unwilling to focus on fixing them. Have a reality check, and use that as a catalyst for action.
  5. A short term focus: like many, you don’t think about business trends longer than three months or a year. By doing so, you are missing out on the fascinating transformations occurring in many markets and industries, and don’t see the key drivers for future economic growth, with the result that you aren’t capitalizing on them.
  6. A culture that is risk adverse: so far, you’ve survived through cautious, careful manoeuvres. Yet the fast rate of change around you has left you naked with that strategy: going forward now requires trying to do a lot of things you haven’t done before. You’ve got a culture that doesn’t accept such thinking. Change that — now!
  7. Paralyzed by the fear of failure: related to your risk aversion is a culture that abhors mistakes. Anyone who errs is shunned; people whisper quietly about what went wrong, and what it might mean. Banish that thinking: you should take your failures, analyze them, and better yet, celebrate them! Put them up on a pedestal. It’s more important that you try things out on a regular basis, since it is clear that what worked for you in the past obviously won’t work for you in the future.
  8. Failure to adapt at fast markets : I’m dealing with companies that know that constant innovation with top line revenue — which means product and service innovation — is all about time to market. You must have an innovation pipeline that is constantly inventing and reinventing the next form of revenue. What you sold in the past — you might not sell tomorrow. How are you going to fix that? By getting into the mindset of the high velocity economy!
  9. A refusal or unwillingness to adapt to new methodologies and ideas: in the manufacturing sector, it’s all about Manufacturing 2.0 or 3.0 or the next phase … in every industry, there is no shortage of new ideas, methodologies, processes, and fundamental change in terms of how to get things done. Maybe you’ve closed your mind off to new ideas, with the result that you fail to see how your competitors are rapidly shifting their structure, capabilities, time to market, product line, and other fundamentals. Wake up — we’re in the era of the global idea machine, and the result is that there is a tremendous amount of transformative thinking out there about how to do things differently. Tune in, turn on, and rethink!
  10. A loss of confidence: the economic downturn of 2008-2009 and ongoing volatility since then has had the effect of causing such widespread damage in various industries that some people and organizations and leaders have lost their faith in the future. They aren’t certain they can compete, adapt and change. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge of all to overcome — but you can only overcome it by getting out of your innovation rut and moving forward.

Bill Gates once observed that “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

It couldn’t have been put better. What’s your choice – to be an innovation leader, aware of where we are going in the future, or an innovation laggard, still mired in short term thinking?

Think growth!

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