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I spend a huge amount of my time dealing with senior executives in global companies; just hit my client list for a sense of what I do. This usually involves a lot of conversations with CEO’s of Fortune 1000’s, startups, and other C-suite executives.

With that, I’m always fascinated by the public promise of a company, and the eventual reality of what is delivered.  With that, I give you the public promise of Sir Richard Branson of Virgin when it comes to his staff:


That’s a good message for a CEO to promise. Treat people as you would like to be treated.

Sir Richard, maybe you should make sure your staff treats potential business partners with the same degree of respect. Just a thought…..

As a global expert on trends and innovation, I often see the dichotomy between the promise of a brand and the reality. So here’s a story for you to ponder. Is the promise above real?

Maybe not, from a recent experience of mine. Listen in: it’s not much a story, but I  find it interesting and want to get this off my chest…. and you might find it to be so too.

It was a thrill for me back in February of this year when I was contacted by the office of Sir Richard Branson to see if I might contribute to a “book”  his office was putting together, specifically:

Virgin is embarking on a project to consider the future of UK work and business 20 years from now. We’re keen to bring together some of the best minds in the country – to form predictions on the most pertinent emerging trends and recommendations for how we best work towards a thriving 2037.”

Their ask  was to see if I could contribute to a section on the future of the workplace, as in:

The How you Work chapter will focus on working environments, communication with colleagues, access to the office, commuting, global vs local, access to support communities”

The idea was that they would deliver this sometime towards the end of this month, with a number of contributors participating. They indicated that given my background with speaking and writing about the future of the workplace, workforce and the organization that I would have some ‘powerful’ insight.

I don’t mind saying that being involved in such a project would certainly be a thrill and probably one of the highlights of my global career, next to such things as doing talks for Disney, NASA and the Swiss Innovation Forum!

With that, an exploratory call was arranged by the folks at Sir Richards office to discuss my potential contribution. I took the call while out on a ski hill, and we kicked ideas back and forth for about 1/2 hour. The call certainly seemed to go well, and they indicated they would get back to me within a week to talk about ‘next steps.’

And then, silence. Nothing. So I followed up with an email. Then another, and then another. And ….nothing. Complete and utter — and baffling — radio silence. Not a simple, single response to several emails asking if the project was moving on. Not even anything telling me, ‘thanks for the exploratory call, but we’ve moved in other directions…..”

To this day, I still don’t even know what happened with the project. Who knows — maybe we’ll see something in the next few weeks, and I will know that I didn’t make the cut.

So what? Well, here’s the thing: what I see from Virgin in this case is complete disrespect from Sir Richards staff. The complete and simple lack of the courtesy of a response to several inquiries, following up on our original conversation. How do you square that with the promise of a CEO to treat his staff with respect? If that very staff can’t treat potential external business partners with similar respect….?

This isn’t sour grapes; it would have been a lot of fun to participate. Heavens knows I’ve got plenty of other things to do….

But what gets me is this: Sir Richard is known for establishing companies, and a culture, that thrives on the utmost of respect and service. Virgin Airlines, for example, can put many other companies to shame for its ability to be relentlessly customer centric. His promise in a quote such as above is to excel in establishing a staff culture based on respect…

Yet that respect doesn’t seem to trickle down from his office….

My question to Sir Richard is this — why can the staff in your office not carry the same attributes? It might be time for you to ask a few questions….

Just wondering.

Half of the events I do as a futurist and innovation expert are spent at corporate leadership events. I’m frequently engaged by a CEO or other senior executive for a global Fortune 1000 company to come in and challenge their team as to how to align to a fast paced, disruptive future. After all, the reality is that speed is a new success metric.

There’s a lot of work and customization that goes into each and every talk — just last week, I met with 20 executives in the nuclear industry, and spent a lot of time updating myself as to trends in the energy and nuclear sector so that I could guide and challenge their thinking in a powerful way.

While researching and preparing, or while delivering my insight, I’ve noticed an increasing number of organizations are seeking to set their innovation energies on fire by encouraging their younger, interactive generation to explore opportunities for the digital, disruptive future through what I’ve come to call an Xbox room!

Why? Because this generation gets-it, knows how to innovate, and is the most powerful force for change in our world today. Consider the reality:

  • half of the global population is under the age of 25
  • we know they are globally wired, entrepreneurial, collaborative, and change oriented
  • and they are now now driving rapid business model change, and industry transformation as they move into executive positions

With that reality, organizations are realizing they should allow this generation to light their creative energies on fire, even if they aren’t sure as to what they might do or where their efforts might go!

The idea is to set them up with an innovation facility by which they can explore and accelerate the adoption of leading digital tools throughout the organization that can accelerate innovation efforts, provide for better collaboration and so much more.

Case in point: I spent some time in St. Louis with Amsted Rail: they manufacture the ‘bogies’ which are the wheel-undercarriage assemblies found on railcars. It was a thrill for my wife and I to have a tour of their manufacturing facility before my talk to see what they are doing to realign themselves to opportunities for innovation in manufacturing.

And the tour included what they call their iLab — or, what I would call for the fun of it, an Xbox room! In this facility, they are continually examining a variety of ideas as to how to continue to move the organization forward. This includes exploring a variety of ideas and technologies, including:

  • state of the art brainstorming centres to facilitate ideas colliding from all corners of our company
  • real-time employee collaboration tools across geographically diverse sites (to promote “a collision of ideas”)
  • how to use connected SMART Boards to simultaneously write/draw/share over any application using “digital ink”
  • 3D scanning/modelling systems to enhance product R&D and quality capabilities
  • advanced tensile testing techniques for enhanced product strength & durability

I had a chance to chat with the young fellows in the Xbox room — and listen to their ideas. It’s obvious its a rocket engine for innovative thinking!

That’s but one example: the more I witness what organizations are doing to accelerate innovation, the more I discover some sort of ‘Xbox room.’ I recently keynoted a major conference on the future of trucking in Phoenix.

While on stage, I spoke about a company in Winnipeg, Canada — Bison Trucking. They’ve set up a facility to encourage younger staff to explore how to align the fast pace of technological change in trucking to opportunities for digital technologies — read an extensive blog post about their efforts in the post Trend: In Trucking, Aircraft Control Towers Are the New Offices.

There’s plenty of others – Xbox rooms seem to be springing up everywhere!

Here’s what you need to think about:

  • you should set up a digital facility with all kinds of ‘toys’ relevant to your industry, and set the creative energies of a group of young staff free to explore
  • don’t set any specific goals, objectives or deliverables on the project — simply set it free to explore!
  • explain the purpose and mission of the group to the rest of the organization, and encourage them to bring unique problems to the group

Go ahead – make an Xbox room!

 

 

At this point in my career, 70% of my keynotes are for leadership meetings, many involving Fortune 1000 organizations. I’m often brought in my a CEO or other senior executive to inspire top leadership to think about the trends that will impact them, and that will provide both opportunity and challenge going forward.

In these events, I often have the chance to listen to the message of the CEO to his or her team. It’s often a chance to understand what organizations are worried about today.

Recently, I spent time with a global Fortune 500. And the senior executive on stage ahead of me made this comment:

We need to become an organization that our customers like to do business with.

That’s a big challenge for legacy organizations, many of whom are my clients: global banks, insurance companies, retailers, organizations with warranty claims systems….

After all, the customer today is used to a world that involves a simple screen like this:

or this….

But when they visit your Web site, they get this!

Today’s customer has a higher bar of expectations: they expect the same level of service from you that they get at Amazon.com. They want:

  • extreme personalization!
  • extreme simplification!
  • a complete interaction history in an instant
  • pro-active notification when changes in their relationship with you occurs
  • instant online support with ticket references for followup
  • and all of this needs to be supported on mobile – NOW!

Innovating with customer service is one of the most important things you can do, and yet one of the most challenging. It involves complex legacy systems, integration with back end databases that run on COBOL! and very difficult development issues.

That’s not to say it can’t be done — and indeed, in this world of increasing expectations, it must be done!

Over the last 25 years, many CEO’s of Fortune 1000’s and other companies have brought me in for sessions to encourage their teams to align to the future. Simply take a look at my client list!

Over this period of time, I’ve become quite adept at spotting the challenges that a client might face. There’s a laundry list of issues I can spot. Ask yourself if you have these ones:

  • actions are based on lifelong lessons that no longer apply
  • variation in routine is abhorred
  • the strategies they have in place are often outdated by faster trends
  • they are structured by command and control structures that don’t allow for agility
  • outdated HR practices reward mediocrity
  • individualism is punished
  • risk is something to be feared, not embraced
  • collaboration is often absent
  • corporate culture breeds change-resistance anti-bodies
  • they prefer to discount the big thinkers who are discounting their industry

It’s an interesting time to be in business. Disruption, fast paced business model change, technology!

The future belongs to those who are fast, and yet many are structured for slow.

 

I do a lot of Fortune 1000 leadership events. By way of example, I’ll be spending time with a massive manufacturer in the rail industry in just a few weeks, and will deliver them a highly customized talk that will help them accelerate their innovation efforts.

For them, it’s important that my leadership keynote speaks to the concept of innovation in a way that is relevant to everyone in the room.

Hence, three simple things about innovation!

My leadership keynotes speak to the issue of innovation in a way that is relevant to everyone in the room

  • it’s urgent that the organization focuses on innovation right now
  • it’s important that as they do so, they re-evaluate the concept of what they believe innovation to be
  • it’s critical that they take on a large number of experimental projects oriented towards innovative thinking

Putting each of this issues into perspective explains my thinking:

Do it now: Every industry is faced with unprecedented change. Think about financial services: there’s the impact of mobile banking, the transfer of wealth to a new generation who thinks about financial management in entirely different ways, the emergence of new competitors. The list goes on and on. You can come up with a similar list for any industry. That’s why it important that organizations establish a culture in which innovation is a priority, in order to keep up with and take advantage of the trends swirling around them

Reframe the concept:  Many organizations fail at innovation because they don’t really understand what it could be. For many people, they think innovation is for cool people who design cool products that change the world: call it the “Apple effect.” But for years, I’ve been reframing innovation from another perspective that helps to open up the minds of people as to its opportunity.

Innovation is a culture in which the leadership and the entire team continually challenges themselves with three questions: what can I do to run the business better, grow the business, or transform the business?

There’s a good video clip that you can watch on that theme, “Rethinking Innovation”  

 

Experiment – a lot:  Technology is the driver of disruptive business model change in every industry. Social networks, new competitors, the Internet of Things, the Amazon effect — you name it, and there is an absolute flood of disruption. Most organizations don’t have the skill or insight to deal with fas technology-driven change. But world class innovators continually establish a regular series of projects by which they can build up their experience with the stuff that comes from the idea-flood. The more experience they build up, the more “experiential capital” they create. I’ve argued that going into the high velocity 21st century economy, “experiential capital” will become as critical if not more important than financial capital.

I actually spoke about the concept of “experiential capital” when I was the opening keynote speaker for the annual general meeting of the PGA of America – it’s worth a watch.  

Suffice it to say, if you rethink innovation in terms of these three basic concepts, it will help you deal with a world in which the future belongs to those who are fast!

Does your organization have a culture that has it perfectly aligned for failure?

Probably! I see it all the time, and I can tell you exactly the mindset that your organization has, with a simple little list of questions…. read them below.

Dude-550

The fact is,I spend a LOT of time doing talks at corporate meetings; often, a CEO or CxO leadership event for Fortune 1000 companies as well as associations and smaller organizations.

These involve highly customized talks that focus on future trends that might impact the organization, and outline some opportunities for innovation.

What fascinates me is the number of organizations that, given fast paced change, seem like a like a deer in the headlights, stuck and unable to move, staring at the future with fear. For them, innovation remains a concept that is somehow totally foreign.

Is this you? Ask yourself these questions: is this YOUR organization today?

  • everybody knows something needs to be done
  • there are an awful lot of ideas as to what to do
  • no one knows where to start
  • no one has the courage to make the first step
  • and in fact, no one has been charged with the responsibility to take over and take that first step
  • there is a rampant fear that if something is done, it won’t end up going well!
  • everyone remembers the other time that somebody tried to do something new, they ended up being blamed when it didn’t go well
  • and so no one is prepared to try anything
  • the result is that likely some other company – most likely a competitor — will end up doing exactly what should have been done

World class innovators don’t fall into this trap.

They just do what needs to be done!

Get out of your innovation rut.

Embrace the future, innovate and change!

Video: Meet Jim Carroll!
October 16th, 2015

Essentially, Jim assists in organizations in dealing with the future, trends and innovation through three distinct types of events:

  • as the opening or closing keynote speaker for the annual meetings/conferences of national or international associations
  • keynotes or workshops for private corporate leadership events, ranging from small groups of 15 to several hundred executives, often sponsored by the CEO, for a vast range of global Fortune 1000 companies
  • keynotes or panel discussions on customer oriented meetings or promotional events

I did a keynote a few weeks back for a leading North American food company.

It was a highly customized keynote, built around the theme, “Being Agile: How Innovators Thrive in the High Velocity Economy.” I think it took about 5 or 6 conference calls with senior executives at the client as I worked to build my content and insight into their overall theme. They had about 200 of their top executives at the corporate offsite. (This is typical of about 50% of the events I do ; a lot of “corporate off-sites” for Fortune 1000 companies, often at the behest of a CEO).

Agility2015

A quick screen shot of one of my opening slides!

What is “corporate agility” or “business agility”? From my perspective, it involves an organization that has aligned itself so that it can “respond to fast external trends in order to spot opportunity, ward off challenge and align resources for fast success.”

Of course, a good part of my talk focused on the trends in this particular sector that are driving the need for agility; specifically, the rapid emergence of new forms of in-store promotion known as “shopper marketing,” which combines location intelligence, mobile technology and in-store display technology; massive changes to the in-store payment process, including mobile payment involving Apple Pay and the complete elimination of the concept of the cash-register; the emergence of same-day shipping from titans such as Google, Amazon and Walmart; the rapid installation of “click and collect” infrastructure (i.e. an online purchase, with same day pickup at a retail location); faster ‘store fashion’ with rapid evolution of in-store promotion, layout and interaction; the arrival of intelligent packaging and intelligent (“Internet of Things”) products; and collapsing product life-cycles, rapid product obsolescence and the implications on inventory and supply chain! (All of which is covered in depth in a previous retail trends post….). Not to mention all the fast changing consumer, taste, food and social networking trends influencing today’s food purchasing decisions…

How do achieve agility in a fast moving environment? I focused on these issues:

  • structure for execution
  • rebuild your competitive intelligence capabilities
  • watch the “edges”, particular crowdfunding initiaitves in your space
  • abandon tradition – get more projects on the leading edge
  • be decisive – avoid aggressive indecision
  • innovate with structure – form fast teams!
  • enourage entrepreneurial units – spin out units rather than reining them in
  • partner up in unique ways
  • redefine strategic planing – flex it to short term thinking
  • build a culture that supports new ideas
  • challenge decisions
  • rapidly ingest new technology
  • “test and learn”
  • spots trends quicker
  • risk failure faster
  • align different generations on social projects

I spent some time walking through each of these issues in a fair bit of depth; and there is a copious amount of insight on each elsewhere throughout my blog.

And of course, avoid the “innovation killers” — which can shut down opportunities in learning how to be agile!

It was a great keynote talk on agility, and the client was genuinely thrilled.

Agility is a critical issue that organizations need to think about in a world in which the future belongs to those fast….! Here’s a video clip to whet your appetite!

 

A report from T. Rowe Price on my recent keynote for the 2011 Investment Symposium follows, where I was one of three keynote speakers (the other two being Colin Powell and Charlie Cook). You can find some blog links to each of the three key themes in the article at the end of the article below.

""We thought Jim was amazing - just the positive message we wanted to leave folks with"

It was a fabulous event, and a great opportunity to get a pretty impressive audience — investment managers for a broad range of investment managers for a broad range of Fortune 1000 organizations, pension funds and government agencies.

Summary:

Futurist Jim Carroll, one of the world’s leading experts in global trends and innovation, described how advances in technology and human innovation will combine to create positive change in the future. He explained how businesses can be held back by what he calls “aggressive indecision”— postponing action because they are constantly waiting for economic conditions to improve. Carroll noted that as the pace of change accelerates, the companies that prosper will be those that can adapt and innovate most quickly.

Key Points

  • Long-term trends that will lead us into the future. Silicon Valley is redefining everything—industries that get involved with Silicon Valley will be brought up to their speed. One powerful trend is pervasive interconnectivity—the fact that electronic devices are connected and can communicate with each other—as a driving force. For example, a staid industry such as air conditioning and heating benefits when people can control their entire home environment remotely through a cell phone. On the health care front, sensors can monitor the activities of seniors and report any changes in behavior, allowing people to live independently longer. On a more dramatic note, he believes advances in exploring the human genome will change medicine’s focus from reactively treating disease to proactively searching for potential health problems before they occur.
  • The paradox of pessimism and reality. While many business people are pessimistic about the future and believe economic recovery is at least two years away, technological advances are creating the potential for greater productivity and efficiency. For example, the auto industry now has the flexibility to produce in response to demand instead of building huge inventories that may go unsold. Products can also be brought to market much faster to take advantage of changes in consumer tastes.
  • The next generation. The next generation has grown up with rapid advances in technology, so they are at home with change. This familiarity means young people will greatly increase the rate of innovation as they enter the workforce. This group is not afraid to take independent action—50% believe self employment offers more job security than working for a company. The next generation will receive $12 billion to $18 billion in intergenerational wealth transfers in the next 12 years alone, which could help fund their ambition.

  • Major 10 year trend: The future of every industry to be controlled by Silicon Valley Innovation  
  • The new face of manufacturing: agility, insight and execution 
  • Creativity and the new workforce 

 

If knowledge is doubling every eight years, no single person can keep up with it. That fosters greater fragmentation of skills, and thus greater competition in the marketplace for niche-oriented skills.

I’m working away at preparing for a keynote for an ice-cream and dairy company today. Not that this has anything to do with the topic of the “future of knowledge.”

But going through some old slide decks while preparing, I came across a list I used a year ago for a keynote that summarized my thoughts about the “future of knowledge.”

I’ve written extensively about all of these topics online or speak to them at various keynotes, particularly in the education sector. In essence, we’re living in a period of time that is witnessing these trends unfold at blinding speed, all related to the evolution of knowledge.

  1. Rapid knowledge obsolescence
  2. Rapid knowledge emergence
  3. Disappearance of existing careers due to 1)
  4. Rapid emergence of new careers due to 2)
  5. An ongoing need for continuous knowledge replenishment because of 1-4
  6. The migration of knowledge generation further away from academia (i.e. community colleges, high end manufacturing skills) because of the need for faster new knowledge deployment
  7. A massively increased challenge from overseas knowledge generation
  8. The fast emergence of new micro-careers because of specialized knowledge
  9. An economy that succeeds through knowledge deployment
  10. A fundamental transformation in knowledge delivery

Putting a little more detail on these trends? A few years ago I addressed a prestigious groups of educators on this theme. Here’s what I covered. All the quotes are verbatim from my keynote.

1. Knowledge is growing exponentially. For example, the rate of discovery based on research into gene variants for common diseases is increasing rapidly: One or two were discovered each year beginning in 2000; thousands were discovered in 2007. “This knowledge reorients the entire medical system, from one where patients are treated once they are sick to one where patients are treated for what they are likely to develop as a result of their genetic makeup.
The volume of medical knowledge is doubling every eight years, and similar changes are occurring in other trades and professions.”

How is the fundamental business model of education challenged by exponential growth? Should it continue to focus on providing a fundamental body of knowledge over four years of higher education and then send graduates out into the world? Or should it be doing more?

2. The foundation of knowledge generation has changed. Academia was once the home of most of the fundamental research that occurred in the world; a majority of new discoveries took place in the world of higher education. “Higher education is no longer the central force in the generation of knowledge There are different terms for what has replaced it: peer-based knowledge, community knowledge or the infinite global idea cycle. For example, in terms of renewable energy and green technologies, some of the research and development is occurring in the world of academia, but it is also occurring in the global idea machine. Ten years ago, knowledge generation was based on peer-review journals (a slow, careful and deliberative process) — but today, backyard tinkerers are plugged into a global network of peers. The impact of this trend is that the rate of scientific discovery speeds up; the new way leads to much faster innovation.”

What is the role of traditional academia in the era of community knowledge? How should the business model change to respond to this new reality?

3. The velocity of knowledge is accelerating. The typical video game makes 60 to 70 percent of its money in the first four or five days after it is released. Everything is focused on maximizing revenue at the beginning. The next generation of televisions, LED televisions, is expected to have only 18 to 24 months to maximize revenue before they are obsolete and replaced by the next generation of televisions. “Ideas can go from concepts to an industry literally overnight. Anyone can put an idea out into the global idea machine where someone else can grab it and build on it. Knowledge is being impacted by velocity.”

All areas are affected; for example, in construction, new methods, new materials and new priorities, such as eco-design, are changing the way buildings are built. In every profession and career, the ability to keep up with new knowledge and to act upon it defines success. College graduates will encounter constant change in their work lives. Can education challenge itself to deploy knowledge faster? Or do we have a fundamental business model that is slow to react in a world that is quickly catching up?

4. Exponential growth of knowledge leads to massive career specialization. It increases the volume of knowledge workers are expected to have, and it speeds up the pace of developments that can impact careers. “If knowledge is doubling every eight years, no single person can keep up with it. That fosters greater fragmentation of skills, and thus greater competition in the marketplace for niche-oriented skills.”

For example, in terms of the trades, there is a huge volume of new technical knowledge to master. There is a niche for manufacturing engineers who understand all the new manufacturing methodologies and thus can help companies compete with offshore manufacturers. There is a need for manufacturing engineers who are “process transformation specialists,” focused on how to streamline an existing manufacturing process. “We are reaching a world in which everything around us is getting plugged into everything else. And as everything is getting plugged in, manufacturing is fundamentally changing.”

Is our future narrow in terms of what we deliver? Is our future wide? Do we focus on narrow niches, wide areas of knowledge, or both?

5. Fundamental structural organizational change is occurring. How we think about careers and jobs is undergoing a substantial change. There are unique ideas as to what constitutes a career. “Evidence of this shift is that baby boomers tend to ask, ‘What do you do for a living?’ while those under age 25 ask, ‘What do you like to do?’ Watch for this. The new generation prefers to get work done in odd hours, using BlackBerrys; they care less about structure. They define their lives not by what they do for a living, but what they like to do. It is a fundamental, significant transformation — and I don’t think we appreciate the depths of what it means in terms of the future of knowledge.

But it’s not just happening with them. There is a prediction that in the U.S., 60 percent of consulting engineers will be freelancers — nomadic workers for hire — making their specialized skills available to organizations on a just-in-time basis. Do you think a lot of Fortune 1000 companies will hire full-time employees after the current economic situation is resolved? No, because they will recognize the cost of employees in terms of health care and other long-term investment. Increasingly, American workers will become nomadic workers for hire. We are witnessing the end of the concept of the organization as we know it. As far back as 1987, an op-ed in the New York Times referenced a ‘world without walls,’ where corporations would hire people with specialized skills on a demand basis. What’s fascinating here is that we are seeing the development of the extreme specialist at the same time that we see the emergence of the extreme knowledge generalist. For example, “hospitalists”: People who understand all the medical specialists and understand how hospitals work; their role is to guide patients through the increasing complexities of the system. This career is expected to grow from the current 12,000 hospitalists to 130,000 by 2010. We have to acknowledge these two key trends — the fast emergence of niche skills deployment and the emergence of masters of generalization — to determine how to educate people to simply understand the high-velocity knowledge niching that is occurring in the world today.

6. By 2020 or sooner, it will be all about “just-in-time knowledge.”In a world of fast knowledge development, none of us will have the capability to know much of anything at all. The most important skill we will have will be the ability to go out to get the right knowledge for the right purpose at the right time.”

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