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I work with many of the world’s leading bureaus, one of who is the Washington Speakers Bureau. They represent such people as Condoleeza Rice, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, John Kerry, Magic Johnson, Terry Bradshaw — global political, sports and other leaders. They’ve just run a blog post that I wrote on trends in the speaking industry. (Many of the worlds leading bureaus book me ; not only Washington Speakers, but also National Speakers Bureau / Global Speakers; Gail Davis & Associates; Leading Authorities; the Harry Walker Agency; Keppler Speakers ; Executive Speakers and many more!)


You can’t open a newspaper without seeing an article on the impact of ‘disruption.’  We now live in a period of unprecedented change in which your business model and the assumptions by which you operate are set to be forever disrupted.

In my own case, I spend a tremendous amount of time with different organizations in a vast range of different industries and professions, helping executives to understand and respond to the disruptive forces around them. And in the last several years, I’ve noticed some pretty significant changes in the speaking industry as organizations struggle with disruption.

If you are someone on your team responsible for organizing corporate or association meetings, you need to think about and react to the trends and forces at work. Quite simply, change is occurring several ways: with the speed with which speakers and topic experts are being booked, the topic areas that insight is being sought for, and the short time frames that everyone is working within.

As a speaker who focuses on how to link trends and innovation, my tag-line has become ‘the future belongs to those who are fast.”

The world is speeding up – and organizations need to respond faster

Consider the changes that everyone is impacted by today. Business model disruption. The rapid emergence of new competitors. The challenging impact of social media. Products that are almost out of date by the time they are brought to market. The digitization of everything and the impact of the Internet of Things.  All of these trends — and more — require that organizations pick up the pace when it comes to their strategies, actions and innovation efforts.

I’m seeing that within my global client base, where I am being engaged more frequently by senior executives in companies to help them assess and identify strategic plans in the light of these high velocity trends.

The theme of faster innovation is an undercurrent for events. The guiding cry seems to be, ‘we know we need to change — and we know we need to change faster!”

Organizations are booking speakers faster

These rapid changes are leading to some absolutely fascinating booking cycles in my speaking career — with an increasing number of my events booking just a few weeks or a month out. That’s a big change. It used to be that speakers were booked a year or more in advance. That still happens, but it is an increasingly uncommon occurrence.

Consider the old, traditional booking cycles. In the past, the typical speaker was booked by someone with MPI or other event industry credentials – an association or corporate event planner. They would work on a long, elaborate timeline, often a year in advance, for an annual conference of meeting. In addition to the speaker selection the process would involve a detailed site selection, a comprehensive RFP process, site visits, and lots of committee discussions around the tone, direction and theme of the meeting.

This is no longer the case.

In the new high-velocity economy, in which organizations are suddenly confronted with new challenges and opportunities at an increasing pace, organizations must challenge themselves from a leadership and strategic perspective faster.

This involves finding a content or subject effort fast, and bringing that individual in quickly. That’s because rapid market, business, industry, and skills change leads to a need for faster “knowledge delivery”.

The result? Corporate and association events take on a more strategic role, with a resulting shorter planning cycles and smaller, more tightly focused events with a specific strategic purpose.

New strategic meetings need to serve a very specific purpose – not a broad ‘theme’

Organizations don’t just want inspiration any more — they need specific ideas with specific action plans. In a world of fast change, speakers can’t just provide inspiration: they need to provide real solutions.

Audiences are looking not only for detailed trends analysis that are specific to them, but real solutions that they can pursue right out of the gate. Insight on how to develop a relentless focus on growth, or opportunities in solving customer problems before the customer knows it’s a problem. They want to concentrate on ingesting fast ideas; checking their speed and focusing on corporate agility; or focusing on long term wins through constant incremental improvements. They know that skills partnerships are a key success factor. They know that right now is a great time to made bold decisions, and to take decisive advantage to forge aggressive new paths against their competitors.

Whatever the case may be, these new strategic meetings are all about real solutions to real challenges and opportunities.

The shifting role of the event professional

Traditionally, speakers have been booked by meeting professionals, event planners, or others who bear responsibility for their events. That’s no longer the case.

When meetings and events come together with an entirely new, fast and specific strategic purpose, the person charged with the responsibility of organizing the content is someone entirely different. Usually an executive assistant, senior vice president or someone else with many other responsibilities.

Some research indicates that today, only 17% of meeting planners have “meeting planner” in their job titles; and less than 20% of meeting planners spend over 50% of their work time planning meetings!

Connecting with the right speaker

My experience has shown that event professionals often feel overwhelmed by the vast number of speakers available to them and the massive range of potential optics. It’s confusing, overwhelming, and intimidating.

Here’s the most interesting thing: they might not necessarily be aware of the role that a speakers bureau can play in helping them to make their way through the vast number of options that are out there. That’s why I continue to invest a lot of time in ensuring that my friends at the Washington Speakers Bureau understand what I do and how I do it; how I customize; how I work with the client to help them achieve their very specific strategic objectives. In that way, WSB is better positioned to help potential clients understand the very unique role in can play in this highly specialized world.

In other words, if disruption is happening, it’s better to lead the disruption through innovative thinking and actions!

Jim Carroll is one of the world’s leading international futurists, trends and innovation experts, with a client list that ranges from Northrop Grumman to Johnson & Johnson, the Swiss Innovation Forum to the National Australia Bank; the Walt Disney Organization to NASA. His focus is on helping to transform growth oriented organizations into high-velocity innovation heroes.

I’ve been doing quite a few keynotes in the automotive and trucking sector around the fast pace of developments and technology with self-driving vehicle technology.

Here’s a clip from a recent keynote in Phoenix on how quickly things are coming together in the trucking sector.

To learn more about the keynotes I do on this topic, visit the topic page Keynote: Accelerating the Auto & Trucking Industry in the Era of Self-Driving Vehicles.

Supertramp — a band from the 80’s — had a minor hit with the song “On the Long Way Home,” which featured the memorable line, the line, “when you’re up on the stage, it’s so unbelievable.” It is, quite. And when you’re up there, you realize how lucky you are to be able to share with the audience the wisdom you’ve picked up by observing some of the world’s top innovators. When the PGA of America had me in for the 2nd time, one of my key goals was to lay a foundation for the fact that growth in the game will come from innovation!

Recently, after a presentation to an audience of 3,000 people, I was approached by a CEO who was quite inspired by my remarks. He then asked me a fascinating question: “what would you do if you took over the leadership of my company right now?” We chatted for a while and I believe I provided some pretty succinct insight; but since then, I’ve been thinking about that question. Here’s a part of my answer.

  • maximize your best revenue opportunities. I’d make sure that any existing revenue relationships remain intact, and then some. I’d work on having my team obsess on growing existing high value customer relationships through service excellence. Let’s make sure that we meet their needs. It will likely be easier to keep existing revenue flowing rather than finding new ones, particularly through a time of economic challenge.
  • obsess over time to market. I’d work hard to accelerate product innovation; market life-cycles are collapsing, and I’d make sure every member of the team reoriented themselves to that reality. I’d focus on getting R&D to think in terms of faster cycles; I’d ramp up sales force education so that they were better aware of what’s coming next. I’d have the team thinking in terms of 3-6-9-12 : here’s what will be doing in the marketplace 3, 6, 9 and 12 months from now. I’d layer on top of that some insight into 1-2-5-10: what we might be doing 1, 2, 5 and 10 years from now.
  • reduce product costs through process improvement and better project execution: there is no shortage of innovative ideas, structures and concepts involving process and production methodologies. I’d make sure we were looking at finding those who are doing leading edge work in this area, inside or outside our industry, and learn from them.
  • align to customer oriented innovation: go upside-down, in fact. Take a look around and you will probably discover that your customers are inventing your future faster than you are. View their ideas, strategies and actions not as a threat, but as an opportunity for ideas!
  • reduce structural costs through collaboration: at this point in time, in a global world that allows for instant, smart collaboration among teams, there is no reason for massive duplication of skills and talent throughout an organization. I’d start a rethink those silos, and restructure for a new skills deployment approach. Right off the bat, I’d encourage a few cross-organizational collaboration efforts, to get people used to the idea of tackling fast new problems rather than arguing about structure and hierarchy.
  • focus on the pipeline of talent innovation: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The depth the bench strength is critical to future success. I’d have everyone take a good look at our pipeline, to see if it will meet upcoming needs. If not, I’d get a program in place to fix that fast.
  • relentlessly and aggressively chase costs: I’m not talking about spontaneous slash and burn spending cuts: I’d refocus on transitioning the role of staff from tactical efforts to a strategic role. I’ve spent time with the CIO’s and CFO’s of some pretty major organizations: Hunt Oil, Adobe, J Crew, Under Armor. All of them have provided in-depth insight onstage during customer panels that have focused on the role of IT in the business to run the business better, grow the business and transform the business. There remain countless opportunities for IT oriented innovation to rip unnecessary costs out of the business, and it involves this tactical to strategic transition.
  • enhance quality and reliability of product: Last year, I spoke to 2,500 global quality professionals on the challenges that the high velocity economy presents to the concept of quality. The fact is, new issues hit us in the marketplace faster than ever before. And the global idea loop means that quality challenges can become a sudden, massive worldwide PR nightmare faster than we’ve ever been prepared for. That’s why avoiding quality problems remains a critical focus. I’d take a look at how well we’re dealing with quality issues, and whether we’ve got the agility to respond in this new world of heightened PR challenges. I’d also have a group prepare an immediate outline of challenges and problems with customer service and satisfaction.
  • partner up: no one company can do everything on its own anymore. Take a look t the world of self-driving cars — every single auto company is partnering at a furious pace, because they know that access to specialized skills is the defining success factor for the future!
  • capture new emerging growth markets faster: I’d begin to orient the team so that we knew about which market opportunities might come next, and then spend time aligning ourselves to innovate faster in such markets. I recently spent some time with one client, and the focus of our discussion was how a new market was set to unfold in the next three months. Expectations were that the market — for a unique consumer product, with potential sales in the billions of dollars — might last for a period of eighteen months, before being eclipsed by the next stage of development. Essentially, the CEO was looking at a situation where they had to figure out how to jump into this new fast market, and make the most of it in an extremely short period of time. That’s a new skill structure to wrap an organization around, and one that every organization must learn to master.

That’s a good starting point. The key issue: I’d begin by aligning the organization to the concept of “thriving in the high velocity economy.”

Oh, and one of the first things I’d do? I would immediately convene a senior management/leadership meeting, and bring in a futurist and innovation expert to wake my people up to the potential that can come from energizing ourselves towards future opportunities.

My youngest son Tom turns 22 today. Time flies!

Both of my sons have been a huge inspiration to me on my approach to life, innovation, the future and trends — I know they live in a world that is completely different than my own, as they’ve grown up in a world of fast, relentless technology. This is caught, for example, in a stage story I often tell about Things from the Olden Days.

For many years, I told the story on stage of Tom and his hockey blocker. You see, when he was 3, he wanted one (a goalie blocker glove). We explained to him that we wouldn’t just go and buy one at the spur of a moment…

So he made his own. Out of a cereal box. What an inspiration! He kept and used it for two years, until it was absolutely falling apart.

Around that time, I often used Tom and the story of his hockey blocker as part of my “What I Learned from Frogs in Texas” story — which eventually became a book of the same title. His part in the story was the power of initiative, determination and action. It remains for me a powerful lesson.

 You can watch a short form of the video clip in which I talk about Tom and his hockey blocker here:

Happy birthday Tom! Always make sure that you construct the hockey blockers in your life – and always take the initiative!

One of my key themes through the years has been that “faster is the new fast” — that the biggest challenge that organizations must face is how to keep up with the high-velocity economy.

I’m now observing that in many markets and industries, the pace of change is so fast that we need to put in place a senior executive whose sole area of responsibility is ensuring that the organization can keep up with ever-increasing rates of change. Let’s say — a Chief Momentum Officer.

Organizations need to adapt to all kinds of different issues when it comes to the velocity of change: rapidly changing business models, the emergence of new competitors, ever shrinking product life-cylces, a faster pace of new product development, furious rates of technological innovation, furiously fast new trends in terms of customer interaction, the decreasing shelf-life of knowledge and the more rapid emergence of specialized skills: the list could go on!

Hence, a need for someone who aligns all of the moving parts of the organization to high velocity change! This individual will carry a number of responsibilities, such as:

  • managing the product innovation pipeline, so that the organization has a constant supply of new, innovative products, as existing products become obsolete, marginalized, or unprofitable
  • managing the talent pipeline, so that the organization has the ability to quickly ingest all kinds of specialized new skills
  • managing the technology pipeline, so that the organization can adapt itself to constantly improving and ever-more sophisticated IT tools that will help to better manage, run, grow and transform the business
  • maintain and continually enhance brand and corporate image; as I’ve written here many times before, brands can become “tired” and irrelevant if they aren’t continually freshened and refreshed
  • ensuring that the organization is continuing to explore new areas for opportunity, and that it has the right degrees of innovation momentum
  • that the business processes and structure of the organization are fine-tuned on a continuous basis so that it can keep up with all the fast-change swirling around it
  • ensuring that a sufficient number of “experiential” programs are underway with respect to product, branding, markets, and other areas so that the overall expertise level of the organization is continually enhanced

In other words, the CMO has two key responsibilities:

  • keeping a fine tuned eye on the trends which will impact the organization in the future, and which will serve to increase the velocity that the organization is subjected to and;
  • keeping their hands on the appropriate levers throughout the organization such that it can keep evolving at the pace that these future trends will demand.

I don’t know if that makes perfect sense, but I think its a good issue to think about.

One recent client engaged me for a talk for their global team, with the keynote title “Achieving Agility: Aligning Ourselves for an Era of Accelerating Change”. That’s a good example of how I outline the attributes for success in a world of high velocity change. With that, I focus on how organizations and leaders must incorporate four key capabilities: agility, insight, innovation and execution.


Corporate agility concept is perhaps the most critical: organizations must presume that the rate of change today is so fast that product lifecycles are collapsing, business models are relentlessly shifting, and customers are unforgiving and fleeting. To name just a few key trends!

Agility implies that we must innovate and adapt based on rapidly changing circumstances, on a continuous basis.

How do we do that? By adopting several key guiding principles that form the basis for all corporate strategy and activities going forward:

  • plan for short term longevity: No one can presume that markets, products, customers and assumptions will remain static: everything is changing instantly. Business strategies and activities must increasingly become short term oriented while fulfilling a long term mission.
  • presume lack of rigidity: Many organizations undertake plans based on key assumptions. Agile organizations do so by presuming that those key assumptions are going to change regularly over time, and so build into their plans a degree of ongoing flexibility.
  • design for flexibility : In a world of constant change, products or services must be designed in such a way that they can be quickly redesigned without massive cost and effort. Think like Google: every product and service should be a beta, with the inherent foundation being one of flexibility for future change.
  • build with extensibility: Apple understood the potential for rapid change by building into the iPod architecture the fundamental capability for other companies to develop add-on products. Think the same way : tap into the world. Let the customer, supplier, partners and others innovate on your behalf!
  • harness external creativity: In a world in which knowledge is evolving at a furious pace, no one organization can do everything. Recogize your limits, and tap into the skills, insight and capabilities of those who can do things better.
  • plan for supportability: Customers today measure you by a bar that is raised extremely high — they expect you to deliver the same degree of high-quality that they get from the best companies on the planet. They expect instant support, rapid service, and constant innovation. If you don’t provide this, they’ll simply move on to an alternative.
  • revisit with regularity: Banish complacency. Focus on change. Continually revisit your plans, assumptions, models and strategies, because the world next week is going to be different than that of today.

To me, that’s what agility is all about!

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I do a tremendous amount of research as I customize for my keynotes, often reading several hundred articles on a particular issue or topic as I prepare.

A few months back I was going through a set of articles about the Jetsons, a new keynote topic for me that is getting a huge amount of attention! In doing so, I came across a fascinating story about a school in Seattle that just opened a time capsule that was put away in 1962. The article took a look at what was predicted in 1962, where we are today, and what the kids of 1962 now thought we would see in 2062! You can read it below.

This got me thinking — why not get involved in a project to do the same thing! And so I turned to my good buddy Ian Bates, a Grade 5 teacher. I’ve previously written about him in a post, Things I’ve Learned from Golfing with a Grade 5 Teacher, to see if this might be an idea worth pursuing. (I also went into his classroom last year for a fun little project – What’s the Future of Education? Let the Kids Have a Say — with his Grade 5 kids about careers in the future.)


It took him about 30 seconds before he responded, and so we’ve got a project underway. I went into the classroom and spoke to the kids about the project. They are now busy preparing their predictions and ideas; we’ll revisit in April and put away an actual time capsule to be opened in the year 2045.

This should be interesting! Stay tuned! But to really find out what they are thinking, you are going to have to wait a number of years…..


Pocket phones to flying cars: Third-graders predicted them in ’62
15 April 2012, The Seattle Times

How did Laurelhurst’s 1962 third-graders do at predicting the future?

For expert input, we turned to the Pacific Science Center, which tapped two of its “Science Communication Fellows” — Erika Harnett, a University of Washington professor in Earth and space sciences, and Alex Miller, a UW postdoctoral researcher in chemistry.

We also asked the former Laurelhurst students for predictions about life 50 years from now.

Bert Kolde, 57, Mercer Island, senior director of Vulcan
His 1962 prediction: In space “we will eat paste from tubes.”
The reality: Astronauts don’t eat paste from tubes, but they do eat ice cream from foil packets, and other things, too. The word I’ve heard from astronauts is that the food in space is much like what we eat on Earth, and quite good, too — much better than one would find in many a school cafeteria. — Harnett
Kolde’s prediction for 2062: Rosie the Robot, from “The Jetsons,” will be a mainstream household appliance.

Phoebe Russell, 59, West Seattle, soccer scheduler and registrar
Her 1962 prediction: “There will be a rocket for everyone.”
The reality: While we don’t each have a rocket yet, a commercial spaceport is being built in New Mexico and a firm, Virgin Galactic, is taking bookings for the public to fly into space, for a brief few minutes. — Harnett
Russell’s prediction for 2062: “Government-supplied, accident-proof, sustainable nano-tech-fueled vehicles for all.”

Chris Rich, 58, Seattle, forest-resource company executive
Her 1962 prediction: “You will be able to have a telephone in your pocket.”
The reality: Not only do we have pocket phones, but they have cameras, video cameras, music players and the Internet inside them. — Miller
Rich’s prediction for 2062: “We will have a cashless society and use digital money stored on an all-purpose device that fits in your pocket.”

Tom Greene, 58, Bainbridge Island, co-founded frozen-food company
His 1962 prediction: “The best change will be to go way past Pluto in a rocket so we can find more planets and find out if there is any more life way out in space.”
The reality: Four spacecraft have traveled past Pluto’s orbit, Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2. We still receive signals from the Voyager spacecraft with useful science and hope to do so until 2025, when the power systems will fail. — Harnett

Tom Norwalk, 58, Bothell, heads Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau
His 1962 prediction: “If I went to Pluto. Then I could see the Earth as a star.”
The reality: ∫ A spacecraft, called New Horizons, will be flying past Pluto in 2015 … Scientists will likely try to take an image of the Earth but I don’t know how sensitive the optics are and what the Earth will look like. — Harnett
Norwalk’s prediction for 2062: Seattle will finally have an NBA team and our city will be in the top five destinations to visit in America.

David Shulman, 59, Seattle, film-institute founder
His 1962 prediction: “I want to go to Jupiter because it is the largest planet.”
The reality: Although people have not traveled to Jupiter, the U.S. has sent several spacecraft past Jupiter and one, Galileo, not only spent several years orbiting Jupiter, it launched a probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere and then took a final, fatal plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere. — Harnett
Shulman’s prediction for 2062: Communication occurs through touch, voice, and even thought. Global warming and rising sea levels; U.S. power concentrated by wealthy under a near-totalitarian government.

Bruce Williams, 58, Leavenworth, retired bank head
His 1962 prediction: Cars that will “float through the air … without stopping for gasoline.”
The reality: A startup company, Terrafugia, has a working prototype of a flying car, and it is taking pre-sales orders … So, flying cars do exist, but not for everyone yet, but soon. We don’t yet have cars that can travel without stopping for fuel, apart from prototypes. Some spacecraft don’t have to stop for fuel because they use solar panels to generate electricity to power the instruments. — Miller
Williams’ prediction for 2062: Zero communicable-disease deaths; 15 percent probability of a catastrophe, such as a nuclear attack, pandemic, mega-earthquake, volcanic eruption or environmental disaster.

Webb Nelson, 59, Seattle, co-founded toy company
Third-grade prediction: “We would have a new invention to get us somewhere under the Earth … something different. And faster.”
The reality: Subways and tunnels conduct below-ground traffic, but largely in transportation forms that have existed for decades. Nelson’s prediction for 2062: Concrete gets harder and stronger with age; the Space Needle will have a centennial anniversary. — Miller
Nelson’s prediction for 2062: Concrete gets harder and stronger with age; the Space Needle will have a centennial anniversary.

 

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!

I’m always thinking about my clients and my keynotes and the messages that I need to deliver on stage. With that, I’m always keeping my eye open for a good business parable. So here’s another one, that came from a unique opportunity for a quick little ski lesson from one of the top downhill racers in the world, Larisa Yurkiw.

Advice for me in a personal lesson from one of the top 3 downhill ski racers in the world: “Focus forward — keep your shoulders pointed to where you want to go. And be like a slinky. You never know what the next bump in the snow is going to throw at you, so you need to be prepared for anything. You can only do that if you are in a position that will let you flex quickly.”

I was skiing this weekend at my home ski club — it’s a small eastern hill known as Georgian Peaks. Bluebird skies and great conditions. And so at one point, I came down one particular run — Rogers — which is rather steep and challenging for someone who only took up the sport at the age of 40.

Normally, I would look like a total doofus on this hill, but the conditions were so good that maybe I looked like I knew what I was doing or faked it well. But I felt that I actually skied it pretty well.

And then a voice in the lift line behind me — “I followed you all the way down!” Larisa Yurkiw was standing there. “Let’s do a few more runs.

If you don’t know Larisa’s story, you should. She started at the same small Ontario ski hill, and progressed to the elite of the global downhill ski racing circuit, racing against her friends Lindsay Vonn, Julie Mancuso and others. Before her retirement, she was ranked number 3 in the world, competed in the Olympics, and more. What makes the story more unique is that she did it all on her own terms, establishing and funding her own ski team because the national sports association didn’t step up and believe in her. She did!

It’s a great story, and she’s now telling it in a powerful stage keynote – A Daring Need for Speed. (Full disclosure : I’ve been mentoring Larisa on how to take her story to the stage, and she’s doing a great job. If you are looking for a powerhouse speaker with a fascinating keynote, check her out!)

Back to my story — so we went up the lift, and then she gave me a tip at the top. I might not have it exactly right, but it was something like this:

“Focus forward — keep your shoulders pointed to where you want to go. And be like a slinky. You never know what the next bump in the snow is going to throw at you, so you need to be prepared for anything. You can only do that if you are in a position that will let you flex quickly.”

The essence of her 2 point lesson for me was to keep focused on where I was trying to go, and to be flexible and agile in my stance. Did it work? We did several more runs together, and I felt a fair bit more control in what I was doing. It’s too bad the season is coming to an end!

But for me, there was more than just a quick ski lesson — there was a great business story in that simple guidance! It’s almost the perfect business leadership lesson for the high velocity economy! With business model disruption, the emergence of new, nimble competitors, the onrush of technological change, challenging consumers and more, organizations today must have have more flexibility than ever before to respond to a sudden change in conditions, just as on a ski hill.

But that must be done in the context of keeping a key goal and strategy in mind — staying focused on where you want to go on the journey.

So your leadership lesson for today? Focus forward & be a slinky – simple, yet effective and compelling!