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Obviously, I spend a lot of time thinking about innovation. And given my global client list, I have a unique front-row seat into what organizations are doing to succeed — or, as they case may be, not succeed — with their innovation efforts.

With that, here’s a quick list of 10 more things that smart, innovative companies do to create an overall sense of innovation-purpose.

  • Heighten the importance of innovation. One major client with several billons in revenue has 8 senior VP’s who are responsible for innovation. And the fact is, they don’t just walk the talk — they do it. The message to the rest of the company? Innovation is critical — get involved.
  • Create a compelling sense of urgency. With product lifecycles compressing and markets witnessing fierce competition, now is not the time for studies, committee meetings and reports. It’s time for action. Simply do things. Now. Get it done. Analyze it later to figure out how to do it better next time.
  • Ignite each spark. Innovative leaders know that everyone in the organization has some type of unique creativity and talent. They know how to find it, harness it, and use it to advantage.
  • Re-evaluate the mission. You might have been selling widgets five years ago, but the market doesn’t want widgets anymore. If the world has moved on, and you haven’t, it is time to re-evaluate your purpose, goals and strategies. Rethink the fundamentals in light of changing circumstances.
  • Build up experiential capital. Innovation comes from risk, and risk comes from experience. The most important asset today isn’t found on your balance sheet — it is found in the accumulated wisdom from the many risks that you’ve taken. The more experiential capital you have, the more you’ll succeed.
  • Shift from threat to opportunity. Innovative organizations don’t have management and staff who quiver from the fear at what might be coming next. Instead, they’re alive from breathing the oxygen of opportunity.
  • Banish complacency and skepticism. It’s all too easy for an organization, bound by a history of inaction, to develop a defeatist culture. Innovative leaders turn this around by motivating everyone to realize that in an era of rapid change, anything is possible..
  • Innovation osmosis. If you don’t have it, get it — that’s a good rule of thumb for innovation culture. One client lit a fuse in their innovation culture by buying up small, aggressive, young innovative companies in their industry. They then spent the time to carefully nurture their ideas and harness their creativity.
  • Stop selling product, and sell results. The word solution is overused and overdone, but let’s face it — in a world in which everything is becoming a commodity and everyone is focused on price, change the rules of the game. Refuse to play — by thinking about how to play in a completely new game.
  • Create excitement. I don’t know how many surveys I saw this year which indicated that the majority of most people in most jobs are bored, unhappy, and ready to bolt. Not at innovative companies! The opportunity for creativity, initiative and purpose results in a different attitude. Where might your organization be on a “corporate happiness index?” If it’s low, then you don’t have the right environment. Fix that problem — and fix it quick.

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

thinksmall

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

Here goes!

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

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

It’s a powerful concept.

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

Thinking big, starting small, scaling fast.

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

 

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

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

Here goes!

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

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

It’s a powerful concept. And while I was writing this post, I was looking for an image related to that campaign — and came across this ad from a small California design firm — one that extolls the power of their smallness.

It’s right there : “Small teams work best.”

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

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

 

I recently discovered that I was quoted in one of the Phillipines major business journals, BusinessWorld, n an article, “Biggest Business Innovations Engines of Innovation” published back in February.

It’s always great to see the media pick up on a few of the key themes that I am always trying to hammer home to people — there’a s lot of very simple and basic guidance, that often seems so obvious, that can help organizations get on the right path with their innovation efforts.

So it is with the two points that are referred to in this article.

They picked up on two key themes that I often focus on, and it’s worth pointing them out:

Stagnation will also buy a company a quick ticket out of business. According to futurist and innovation speaker Jim Carroll, the most original firms and industries are those that experience very high velocity, or a lot of fundamental change at a fast pace. For them, this is a necessity in the face of various trends and challenges – whether it’s to address shorter product life cycles, to keep up with ever-changing customer expectations, or to collaborate with a partner organization and leverage their skills.

Taking notes from firms that evolve at such a pace is one way to rekindle that creative spark. Curiously, Mr. Carroll has noted that these sources of inspiration are often found in completely different sectors from one’s own.”

I’ve often suggested that companies try to deepen their creative pool, either by studying innovation in completely dissimilar industries, and event o the point of hiring people you don’t like. Otherwise, you can simply get stifled with the sameness that comes with unoriginal thinking. I’ve even suggested to people that rather than going to the same old conferences every year, they should pick one or two events from entirely different industries in order to site their creative juices.

  • 10 great innovation ideas – “hire people you don’t like” 
  • Article – Re-energize your association – Listen beyond the grassroots 

I also find that too many organizations get caught up in fads when trying to innovate. Certainly that is true right now with social networking; while it is certainly important, I think too many are jumping in without a clear idea of what they are trying to do. This was referred to in the article:

On the other hand, Mr. Carroll has warned against blindly pursuing the latest innovation trend, a common trap he has called “bandwagon innovation.” If taking the hip approach ends in failure, it can derail any creative progress the company has made so far.

By then, employees may become too disillusioned and burned out to try out the next “in” strategy. A company’s real free-thinking workers are not compelled by the “slogan-based management” that comes with bandwagon innovation, and will hardly be enthused when they see their execs following the crowd.”

 I’m also referring to situations in which I’ve seen a company or organization form a special innovation team. They start up their project, go into a special room — and everyone wonders, ‘what’s up?” This fails because it makes innovation special; it makes it seem like it is something you do once as a project; it is just wrong on so many different levels. Innovation is a corporate culture — an attitude driven from the leadership that continually challenges everyone to ask themselves, “what can I do to run this better, grow the business, and transform the business.”

  • 10 surefire ways to destroy innovation – Form a secret committee 

 

A few days ago, the Smart Blog on Leadership wrote a blog post covering my recent keynote at the IMXchange manufacturing conference in Las Vegas. It drew quite a bit of attention on Twitter, particularly the vein having to do with my concept of what holds back a lot of innovation  efforts.

Some of the Twitter retweets began to focus on the section in the post which concentrated on my idea that what holds back a lot of innovation is a culture of “aggressive indecision.”

This is a topic that I’ve been writing about and speaking about on stage for well over a decade — indeed, since the dot.com bust more than a decade ago!

I’ve actually got the video clip from the Las Vegas keynote available on this blog — watch it here — and you’ll see the comments that the SmartBlog on Leadership picked up on.

In addition, I thought it might be a good time to pull tout an article that I wrote way back in 2003 about aggressive indecision. It made sense back then — it seems to make even more sense today given increased economic volatility. There’s valuable lessons you might use to challenge yourself as to whether you or the organization you work for is suffering from this malady.

Paralyzed by indecision? Just do it; Fear of the unknown has made doing nothing the new reality in business. Here’s how to stop spinning your wheels
18 July 2003, The Globe and Mail

You’ve been providing clients with a project quote every quarter — and when you decide to finally press them to close the deal, they are shocked to learn that you’ve been doing it for 2½ years.

You have a new initiative based on a key business trend that is still on the list of “things to deal with” — long after the trend has gone supernova and disappeared.

You finally decide to upgrade some of your significant business systems — only to learn that you’ve waited so long that the software you plan on purchasing is already out of date.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the new reality in business: aggressive indecision.

Corporations have lost their sense of direction. In the nineties, people had a sense of purpose, a desire to get things done. “Nobody knows where we’re going, but we’re making great time” could have been the catch phrase. Well, now no one knows where they are going, and they sure are taking their time getting there.

Quite simply, people have decided not to make decisions — and they like it. The result is a economy in which everyone seems to be stuck in a rut, unwilling and unable to move forward.

Why is this happening? In part, fear of the unknown. Executives are afraid to make decisions because the next unforeseen event might prove to have negative consequences. Combine this with the current focus on cost-cutting, a disastrous number of ill-advised decisions in the past decade during the investment bubble and increasing corporate scrutiny as a result of ethics scandals, and you’ve got a general reluctance with many executives to do anything new.

The fact is, our confidence in the future has been shattered. Corporate nervousness has become the watchword, with the result that everyone is taking the easy way out: Deal with uncertainty by doing nothing.

What should you do to deal with this new reality?

First, look for the warning signs: a business mindset that is adverse to any type of risk; an absence of any new product or marketing initiatives; or an organization that is stuck in a rut, wheels spinning, and no one has decided even to call a tow truck.

Second, realize that aggressive indecision means that you’ll likely have to respond to external pressures faster than ever before. That’s because while people have learned that they can hold off until the very last minute, they are also learning that they can still get things right. This leads to a business cycle that involves extended periods of frustrated waiting, followed by a blur of activity as organizations rush about to respond to the customers’ demands for instant action.

Third, be prepared to change your corporate culture and work processes. You can’t get mad at your clients for waiting for 2½ years and then making a decision with a demand that you be there tomorrow. Don’t let it lead to an expectation gap — when your customer lives with aggressive indecision and you are still geared up to perform and deliver at the slow and steady pace that might have been appropriate in the past.

Finally, make some decisions. Remember what it used to be like when you had the courage to do something? Let’s call it the decision adrenaline rush. It’s good — and it can be addictive.

Want to test it? Find the one big decision that you’ve been deferring the longest, and decide one way or the other. Right now. Didn’t that feel good? Try it again — immediately. See? Isn’t that an amazing feeling?

You might not have made the right decision, and something could go wrong — but at least you’ve decided to start moving forward, rather than spinning your wheels in the mud. Battle aggressive indecision and you’ll find that you’ll gain back control over the future.

If your company is in the indecision funk, there is hope:

  • Recognize the problem. Aggressive indecision can be an addictive vice, and like any other thing that isn’t good for you, the first step is recognizing the problem.
  • Accept that uncertainty will continue to rule our economy. Making decisions in a vacuum has become one of the most needed corporate skills. Sure, things could go wrong as soon as you do, but that’s the way the world works today. The important thing is that you are again working to define the future, before the focus on an uncertain future does you in.
  • Accept the inevitability of change. Back in the nineties, people believed that we would see a lot of change in the business world. But now, with all that has gone wrong, it has become far too easy for people to convince themselves that they won’t be challenged by new business models, competitors or innovation. That’s a dangerous attitude to carry around, and one that can also help to doom you to a state of inertia.
  • Watch trends and react appropriately. Now is not the time to let your radar down. Fact is, while you might be suffering from active inaction, your competitors might not, with the result that you are almost guaranteeing yourself some sort of surprise in the future.
  • Redefine goals, establish priorities and set targets. Companies mired in the mud of aggressive indecision are often directionless, drifting. They’ve lost sight of the need to constantly innovate and establish new directions, with the result that most staff don’t feel any compelling sense of urgency for change. Fix that in a hurry.
  • Re-examine your business strategy. For the past several years, organizations have primarily focused on cost-cutting, and yet taking the knife to operations can only go so far. Restate where you plan to go in the next several years, and communicate that vision and direction to your staff.

If your clients or colleagues are suffering, you can:

  • Share the risk. If it is the uncertainty that is killing many a business deal, see what you can do to minimize the fear.
  • Be clear about the potential downside. If they aren’t making a decision, then why not be more open about any potential problems? If there are risks in the deal, be up front about them.
  • Clearly define the benefits. In an economy in which accountants rule the future, with every expenditure under the microscope, you’ve got to outline the benefits and return on investment clearly.
  • Scare them into action. If they are stalling, then put into perspective how their peers, competition or others in a similar position are moving ahead. People hate to be left behind, and if you can provide information on how others are charging ahead it might spur some momentum.
  • Be prepared to move on. Sadly, some people have become so bogged down with aggressive indecision that it might be time to cut your losses. If an existing client seems unlikely to do anything, then maybe you’d do better spending your time opening doors to new clients.
  • Don’t give up. Continuing aggressive indecision within your client or customer base can drive you to distraction. A continuously negative message can dissuade you. In times like these, you must constantly battle the negative energy that aggressive indecision can place within you.

The natural human inclination when faced with something that is uncomfortable is to turn away from it — lingering uncertainty is the root cause of our aggressive indecision. But we can’t afford to do this any longer — our careers, our companies and our future depend upon our ability to cope with a world of constant change. We’d better get used to it and take the time to learn the skills — and the attitude — that will help us to thrive in this era of uncertainty.

  • Watch: The recent Las Vegas keynote clip that inspired the CPI post  
  • See the original newspaper article on aggressive indecision (cool picture) (PDF)  

This article was released in my CAMagazine column in March 2009. shortly after the great economic collapse of 2008.

Inertia — real or implied — establishes a culture of inaction, and that can lead to another slippery slope

Given the new economic volatility, shrieking stock market headlines, and the reappearance of a sense of dread in the corporate world in September 2010, it’s probably a good time to re-read the article.

There are countless examples where history has shown us that it is those organizations who focused on ensuring that they were still actively pursuing innovation — whether through product development, the exploration of new business models, external partnerships, the pursuit of new markets and customer groups — were those who managed to achieve the greatest success in the long run.

Catch the key line at the end: “The greatest mistake any organization can make right now is to do nothing.”


Keep Those Ideas Coming
Jim Carroll, March 2009

I have started to think about the events of the past few months in the context of economic grief — an emotional process closely related to the stages of bereavement. The economy unraveled so quickly that many organizations still find themselves in the early phases of economic grief, marked by shock and denial. Corporate idea factories have come to a standstill and innovation paralysis is settling in.

The result is that we’re not just in an economic recession; we’re entering an idea recession, similar to that of the last downturn starting in 2001. Yet, in allowing innovation to dry up, businesses are missing out on great opportunities for success. After all, companies such as Burger King, Microsoft, CNN and FedEx were all started up during recessions.

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania released a provocative article in November 2008 suggesting a recession is the perfect time for disruptive innovation — that is, rewriting an industry’s business model to achieve significant growth. Think of Steve Jobs and the iPod, which he first released during a less-than-rosy economy in 2001.

So what do companies need to do to make the most of this recession? First, accept the economic reality. Those unable to move past shock, denial and anger through to acceptance will be innovation laggards and will only be ready to innovate once the market and industry recovery is underway. Unfortunately, that may be too late.

Innovation leaders, however, are prepared to keep their idea factories running (perhaps not at full tilt, but running nevertheless) in the face of uncertainty. They know there is still a place for innovative thinking despite the vast sections of the economy under stress. They know there are growth markets and opportunities for marketplace, distribution-channel and operational innovation. These leaders are aware ongoing change in consumer behaviour means there are still new ways to brand, grab customer mind share and forge unique and distinct relationships.

It is critical that organizations begin to undertake a series of bold actions that reorients them to face future challenges. These actions should include several integrated elements.

  • Boost the experiential capital of the organization. Get your teams working on projects and ideas that build up their experience. For example, they might explore new methods of branding and marketing (particularly to the next generation); investigate technologies that can stream-line business processes; or work with distribution models that expand market potential.
  • Identify weaknesses or areas for improvement. Consider what elements of the organization’s product line, skills or structure could benefit from specific innovation efforts. For example, are competitive threats emerging that you haven’t really thought about? What should you be doing to innovate your way around those challenges?
  • Explore key opportunities through a variety of risk-oriented initiatives. If, for example, you focus on a customer-retention strategy (such as visiting every customer in the next three months to see if you are meeting their needs) can you put a stop to future revenue leakage?

The greatest mistake any organization can make right now is to do nothing. Inertia — real or implied — establishes a culture of inaction, and that can lead to another slippery slope. Today, innovation isn’t simply an option — it’s critical because it is the best way to gain traction.

Here’s another week of unique insight from my blog tracking tool, ReInvigorate, that links the search phrases that people used to find a page on my site.

It’s a useful way to see what people are thinking about, and to also access some nuggets from the hundreds of blog posts that I’ve written through the years.

I started running this report weekly starting in early December. You can read these earlier posts with the “What’s Hot” tag on my site.

Below, you’ll find the search phrase that someone used on a search engine like Google or Bing, and second, a bit of commentary on the blog page that the search led them to.

  • “importance of innovation” led to the blog post, “The importance of innovation in the era of the new normal,” which outlines five key areas for focusing your innovation efforts as an economic recovery takes hold
  • “Consumers more demanding innovation in retail sector” led to “Innovation: Riding fast paced trends in the consumer / retail sector“, which is a pretty good overview of the key trends impacting those sectors today
  • “the best speakers in the world” led to my home page. Maybe they were looking for someone like me. Maybe they were looking for some stereo speakers!
  • “imagination and business” took someone straight to my “Masters in Business Imagination” manifesto — still a great read to stir up your creative thinking!
  • “an error occurred saving image location” takes you to the page “My digital life – bumps along the way.” This is from way back in 2003, when I had a problem with a particular HP scanner, which I wrote about in the early stages of my blog. It stuns me that 7 years later, some people are still getting this error message, and do what any computer user does – they search the Web for the phrase, which leads them to this old blog post. Has HP not fixed this bug yet? Astonishing!
  • “recreation trends 2010” led the searcher to the page, “Upcoming keynote: The Future of Recreation“, with details on my 2009 keynote for 4,000 parks and rec professionals in Salt Lake City. I’ve certainly been busy in this field, with keynotes for the PGA of America and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. More on that in a blog post to come tomorrow
  • “technology innovation and retail” provides the post “High Velocity Retail Innovation” about trends in the retail sector, including the impact of “zero-attention span customers”
  • “21st century characteristics” led the person to the page, “10 Unique Characteristics of 21st century skills“, a good read for anyone seeking to understand talent management and workforce trends
  • “Snowboarding technology trends” led the researcher to one of my favouritie blog posts (with a video clip), “The future of snowboarding and skiing.” I took up skiing with my family 10 years ago, and it is one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
  • “High velocity markets” provides a blog post, “High velocity globalization – Massive markets, major trends” written just before the market meltdown of 2008. What’s interesting is that if you read that post, post-crash, the same trends are still in play — they were just deferred a bit by global economic upheaval.

That’s it for this week – stay tuned next week for more unique insight from what people find in the thousands of posts in my blog!

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