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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 Products that are almost out of date by the time they are brought to market.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.

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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.

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.

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!

 

When I’m on stage, I often talk about the ‘organizational sclerosis‘ that sets in, that prevents organizations from seizing the opportunities of the future.

To this day, I remain stunned by the slow speed of many organizations. Too often, this comes about because too much time is spent on planning what to do, rather than actually doing it!

As I note often on stage: ‘The high velocity economy economy and massive disruption demands that we act fast — which demands that we often do things in the absence of complete information.”

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!

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!

I keynoted a global packaging company in Prague, and took a look at the future of packaging, retail,and consumer behaviour.

Here’s a clip in which I take a look at how quickly change is coming to impact every aspect of retail.

Aligning your business to high velocity! The future belongs to those who are FAST!

As a popular keynote speaker with a focus on future trends and innovation, I’m often called upon to deliver a talk that focuses on some very unique or current issues. This post will give you a sense of the types of events that I am being booked into today.

11173324_1139955206031162_1350127962545406975_n There are several key trends that continue to define my business:

  • corporate leadership meetings continue to be a big growth market – I’m often engaged by a CEO or other senior executive for an offsite meeting — on a highly customized topic. There’s more information below on some of the very unique and customized topics that I have taken on as of late.
  • economic uncertainty seems to be growing with the collapse in oil prices, the election, and ongoing questions about global economic growth. That’s a good thing — I’ve got plenty of video and blog posts around the theme of “innovating during uncertain economic times.” It led to strong bookings in 2009-2010, and I’m seeing an uptick for this type of topic again today. Global economic turmoil? Time to innovate! Read more.
  • a topic that is drawing continuing attention has to do with a new book I am working on: “Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast“. Many companies continue to be blindsided by the speed of technology change, business model change (think Uber), empowered consumers, new competitors — you name it! This simple phrase resonates with people as a keynote topic: read more!
  • in addition, the topic of the “Internet of Things” ties into the current high velocity change occurring in every industry as Silicon Valley comes to drive the speed d of industry. Industries that have had me in on this topic include the automotive/trucking industry (Volvo / Mack Trucks), packaging/paper (Mondi International out of South Africa), energy and infrastructure (GE Lighting, Lennox, Honeywell, and Trane Ingersoll Rand), among others. Read more.

Customized keynotes

This area continues to be my biggest growth market. I truly believe that clients today are looking for much more than a canned message; they want real insight, deep research, and a highly customized message. I’ve certainly been delivering; here are a few of the unique topics that I have taken on:

  • The Future of Steel” — a keynote for the global leadership meeting of the Finnish company, Konecranes. They build the massive structures used at container ports, shipyards, railroads, oil fields and other industries. They were looking for a keynote that looked at the future of the steel industry, one of their key industry verticals. Watch for an upcoming blog post on the unique research that I undertook
  • Physician Recruitment in the Era of Digital Intimacy” – PracticeMatch is a US company that specializes in the recruitment of doctors/physicians. They were looking for a talk that would take a look at the challenges in recruiting the Millennial medical professional. They didn’t want a canned talk about this unique generation — they wanted real insight. You can read my blog post, which gives you a sense of how deeply I dug into the topic, on this blog post.
  • The Future of Risk in the Era of Big Infrastructure” — this Friday, I’m in Las Vegas with Kiewit, a North American construction company involved in massive oil, energy, highway and other infrastructure projects. More specifically, I’m with their legal team — 50 executives responsible for managing risk throughout the business. My keynote takes a look at new forms of emerging risk, given trends unfolding globally. It’s a very unique and customized topic combining future trends and legal risk — I’ll be blogging about this next week
  • The Future of Energy Infrastructure” — the topic for which GE Lighting, Lennox, Honeywell, and Trane Ingersoll Rand engaged me. This is a good example of very specific customization to an industry of the broader “Internet of Things” topic. You can read a blog post and watch video from the GE event, held in NYC, on the blog post “5 Things to Know About the Connected Future
  • The Future of Intelligent Packaging” — Mondi, a South African based organization, brought me to Prague to open their global leadership meeting. They are deep into the packaging industry in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and wanted a talk that would help their team understand the opportunities that would unfold as packaging materials become intelligent, connected, and interactive. You won’t look at a box of Wheaties the same after you’ve thought about this topic! An Atlanta based company, Neenah Paper and Packaging, was also looking for a similar topic — which is a good example of the fact that almost every industry is being reinvented by an era of “hyperconnectivity.” There’s more here.
  • The Future of Sports and Fitness” – I admit it was a thrill to open the CEO leadership meeting for the Sporting and Fitness Industry Association — and to be followed on stage by Roger Goodell, Commission of the NFL. (I didn’t bring up Tom Brady). This booking relates to the ongoing theme of the future of health, wellness and fitness, and “Healthcare 2020” :
  • Autonomous Vehicle Technology, Self Driving Cars and Intelligent Highways” — both the Colorado Department of Transportation and Volvo have had me in to look at this extremely hot topic. You couldn’t have failed to notice stories in the news that both Google and Apple are developing self-driving vehicles. There is a seismic change underway in this massive industry, and I’ve got some great background with keynotes for major players as it unfolds. Automotive World, one of the leading global publications in the auto industry, covered my thoughts on this topic in the article, Is the Auto Industry Ready for the World of 2030. Read more.

These are just a few examples of some of the unique topics I’ve been taking on. Remember — clients are looking for real, deep, specific, customized and tailored insight.

Feel free to contact me if you want to explore some ideas!

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