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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.

Over the last 25 years as a speaker on future trends and innovation, I’ve seen many cases where companies have jumped onto a trend simply because everyone else. Or, they’ve suddenly decided that ‘innovation’ is important, without really defining a purpose or goal behind such a focus.

Rather than by just jumping on a bandwagon and doing what others are doing , try asking better questions as to why you should or should not be doing something!

Innovation that is based on “jumping on the bandwagon” is doomed to fail, for many, many reasons:

  • it’s lazy: true innovation takes hard work. It involves massive cultural, organizational, structural change. It involves an organization and leadership team that is willing to try all kinds of radical and new ideas to deal with rapid change. An innovative organization can’t innovate simply by jumping on a trend. Trying to do so is just trying to find an easy solution to deep, complex problems.
  • it involves little new creativity: by linking a new approach to doing things with a “hot topic” or trend means that people end up shutting their brains down. Creativity is immediately doomed through commonality.
  • it’s just a bandaid: bandwagon based innovation causes people to look for instant solutions and a quick fix, rather than trying to really figure out how to do something differently.
  • it’s misfocused: it involves putting in a solution is sought without identifying a problem. It’s backward in terms of approach.
  • it encourages mediocrity: it reduces innovation to an “idea of the week,” and does nothing to encourage people to really look at their world in a different way.
  • it reduces innovation to sloganeering: truly creative people within organizations are tried of slogan-based management. They’ve seen far too many ‘radical right turns’ and ‘new beginnings’ — and when they realize that their management team has jumped onto the latest hot trend, their faith and motivation goes out the window.
  • it destroys innovation: after the bandwagon effect ultimately fails (as they always do for the reasons above), people end up feeling burned out, cynical, demotivated — and they’ll be prepared to do little when the “next big thing” comes along.

 

It’s more important — and more difficult — than that.

With 25 years of working with some of the leading organization in the world on issues related to creativity and innovation,  I’ve seen some of the best and worst approaches to the issue. The worst approach? An innovation suggestion box! That will doom your efforts from the start!

I will often sit back and analyze what I’ve seen in order to establish some powerful lessons for other people. Here’s just such 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.

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!

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.

Investing in experiential capital is one of the most important things you can do.”

When people ask me about the “secrets” of innovative organizations, this is one of the key attributes I outline. They realize they are immersed in a world of fast-paced ideas — and they take on many different projects, some of which are doomed to fail, in order to build the overall experience of the organization.

I’m featured, this month, in an article in Medical Products Outsourcing Magazine, entitled “Artful Adaptation: Packaging and sterilization providers must keep pace with rapid change to innovate, grow and improve product safety.”

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“The medtech industry—perhaps more so than other industrial sectors—has long subscribed to the Carroll Testament. Medical device manufacturers with an “adapt or die” core philosophy, for instance, have higher survival rates than those resistant to changing market forces”

You can read the full article here — it’s well worth a read! Very much focused on several of my major themes, include that organizations must continually seek and hunt new revenue opportunities where those opportunities have not existed before.

It’s kind of funny, though — while the author (the Managing Editor) quotes me and some my video clips at length, he does seem to be a little disparaging at times. I’m called an “Innovation Whisperer”) (that’s a first for me) and a preacher with disciples! Interesting stuff!

Whatever! It’s all fun — here’s some choice quotes from the article. I really recommend you read the entire article.


 

Artful Adaptation: Packaging and sterilization providers must keep pace with rapid change to innovate, grow and improve product safety”
Medical Products Outsourcing Magazine, June 2014

Jim Carroll, a.k.a. the “Innovation Whisperer,” is a preacher of sorts.

The internationally-renowned futurist and social trends expert has crisscrossed the globe, extolling the virtues of change and creative thinking to thousands of business owners searching for the secret to entrepreneurial immortality.

Carroll, however, spreads his gospel in a most paradoxical and unoriginal way—usually by repeating the same tag line in keynote speeches: “the future belongs to those who are fast.

While it’s not the catchiest aphorism, it effectively conveys Carroll’s professional doctrine to his faithful disciples: Embracing innovation and keeping pace with a rapidly changing world will ensure future business growth and survival. “The world is changing very fast. Things are evolving at lightning speed,” Carroll told an audience of business executives several years ago in Las Vegas, Nev. “The reality going forward at this point in time is that it isn’t necessarily the big organizations who will own, win and control the future. It will be the fast, the agile…it will be those who can keep up with very rapid change and ingest that change. The high-velocity economy demands that we do, demands that we think, demands that we collaborate, demands that we share, and demands that we innovate in different ways.”

The medtech industry—perhaps more so than other industrial sectors—has long subscribed to the Carroll Testament. Medical device manufacturers with an “adapt or die” core philosophy, for instance, have higher survival rates than those resistant to changing market forces. Medtronic Inc. is a classic example: The Minneapolis, Minn., firm ascended to Fortune 500 heaven by catering its products to physicians, once the sole agents of purchasing decisions. Now, however, innovation revolves around cost containment and clinical efficacy to satisfy penny-pinching hospital administrators and insurers.


 

“The world demands that we look at the future and constantly ask ourselves, ‘Given the rapid rate of change coming at us, how do we ingest that future?’ “Carroll said during one of his countless public sermons. “How do we do things differently in order to deal with the future in which the future is happening faster than ever before? We have to completely rethink what we are doing and focus on innovation. Because the same rules of the past do not apply in the future.”


 

All companies innovate but few, if any, live up to Jim Carroll’s definition of the word. In his eyes, innovators are not the quintessential “cool” people developing “cool” products but rather the ordinary minions who have learned how to grow and transform their business. “Innovation is a funny word. We hear the word ‘innovation’ and who do we think of? We think of Steve Jobs,” Carroll once mused to CEOs and senior executives. “But innovation is about much more than people who innovate new products. To a degree the ability to innovate hinges on how quickly you can ingest all of the new ideas, capabilities and methodologies that are emerging. We’re in a world in which it can no longer take five years to plan and release something new. Innovative organizations know we’re in a world where volatility is the new normal. Everything is changing faster than ever before. Innovative organizations concentrate on how to build global scale. Innovative organizations know that things are going to evolve and change and twist and turn, particularly with the global economy.”

The most innovative organizations perfectly fit all those curves and evolve just as quickly as the hypercompetitive world in which they exist. They are the ones to first invest in emerging markets, or support new, unproven yet potentially disruptive technologies. Innovative organizations can anticipate trends before they happen, enabling them to avoid the “tyranny of success” trap that has led to the demise of countless corporations.

Here’s a new clip — I’m challenging the audience to move away from a tactical role to a strategic role, as part of their focus on innovation — and to confront the innovation killers that can cause organizational sclerosis!

Part way through, you’ll notice I do a live text message poll to get my audience thinking about the attitudes and issues that are holding them back from pursuing opportunities.

Learn more about my text message polling during my keynotes here — it’s a very effective tool whether in front of an audience of 50 or 7,000!

 

I spend a lot of time speaking to global financial organizations —some of the world’s largest institutions — helping them understand what they need to do from an innovation perspective to stay ahead of fast paced change.

These talks are often aimed at the idea of “how do we need to transition our advisory services — as financial planners, investment advisors, wealth managers — to keep up with fast paced change?”

No where is that question more important than when thinking about the impact of technology and social networks on investing. Think about the change that the investment industry faces. We are witnessing the early stages of a massive transition of wealth from one generation to another. The numbers are staggering: we’ll see $12 to $18 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfer In the next12 years (US GDP is $12 trillion) in North America; and by 2053, some $130 trillion will have moved from one generation to another.

When it comes to financial services, adopt change as a mantra and prepare yourself to reach, support and interact with Gen-Connect in new and different ways.

That’s a lot of money sloshing around — and much of it is going to a new, tech-savvy financial consumer.

This next generation — I call them Gen-Connect — continue to aggressively integrate technology into their lives; they’re busy researching health care, insurance, retirement planning and investment advice online, on Facebook and through other social channels.

So what do you do? Adopt change as a mantra and prepare yourself to reach, support and interact with Gen-Connect in new and different ways.

Here’s a list of innovation strategies I provided in a recent keynote for a major global financial institution

1. Focus on growth

With so much volatility in the financial sector, it’s all too easy to take your eye off of the “opportunity ball.”

Yet there are huge opportunities that surround us ; probably the biggest is that we are going to witness a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth from the baby boomer generation to their uber-wiredGen-Connect children. In every area of the world this is going to involve a requirement for a lot of financial advice. As I noted in my remarks for a recent keynote to a group of senior bankers: “Never before has the need for financial advice for Australians been greater; only 20% of Australians are currently getting professional advice.”The same holds true for North America.

That means there are tremendous opportunities for growth! For many, access to financial advice is still too hard and complicated – that’s why it’s a great time to innovate, in order to build market share!!!!

2. Structure for fast paced change

There are several certainties in the financial sector as a result of the impact of technology.

We will see more business model change as companies leverage technology to change relationships in the world of wealth management; we will see more sophisticated competition as a result, and continuous business model disruption with new, young upstarts that really know how to leverage technology and social network relationships. Combine this with continual shifts in consumer behaviour as we manage more of our money and investments using online tools — and speed things up with even faster technology-driven fast change, such as with the impact of mobile technologies.

What happens when ‘there’s an App for everything’ in wealth management? That’s what you need to keep up with!

3. Reshape brand messages faster

Clearly there’s a lot of fast-paced change in financial services , and it’s critical that financial institutions continue to reshape their brand at the pace of rapidly changing consumer perception.

Part of this has to do with how quickly volatility comes and goes. Noted Jim Buchanan, Senior VP of Consumer Marketing at the Bank of America in an article in Advertising Age, October 2009: “Six months ago, we were trying to re-assure the market and consumers that we are safe and secure….now consumers are telling us they’re not worried about those things anymore…..What they are interested in is ‘How can you help me manage my finances?‘”

Innovative organizations ensure that the brand message evolves at the pace of a world in which volatility is the new normal. As a financial manager, you must make sure that your brand and image are seen to be modern, up to date, and in tune with the brand expectations of Gen-Connect. You can’t be “your grandfathers’ wealth manager” anymore.

4. Adapt to momentum of financial consumer change

Quite simply, the new financial client is online in a big way, and smart financial organizations will evolve their service and support message to these platforms.

The numbers are staggering; in the case one recent keynote I provided for a major financial institution, I emphasized that:

    • 147 million people interact globally on social networks via their mobile phones – we can expect 1 billion within five years!
    • usage of Twitter continues to grow at a staggering pace — and people spend more time on Facebook each week than they do on watching television.
    • they spend far less time reading newspapers and magazines in paper fashion — and in fact, some don’t look at such products at all!

The result of this i that they are increasingly influenced by advertising, marketing and branding messages that they see online. If you are still trying to reach out to them through traditional media, you might be missing them altogether.

It’s not just about marketing — it’s also about customer support. The entire world of customer support has gone online, and you need to be able to support them in the world to which they are accustomed.

The bottom line for financial and investment advisors is that social networks are an extremely effective tool to keep core clients in the loop; as an outreach tool, they’re fast, effective, unique, quirky, and certainly the story of the day. Financial advisors have to go where the client is going, and should be thinking about how to become socially-networked oriented advisers. Given regulatory issues, that can be a big challenge!

5. Adjust platforms to this changing behaviour

I continue to emphasize with my global financial clients that the impact of mobile technologies on financial services is absolutely massive. Think about Wizzit, a South African service that is essentially a text message based banking system.The reality is that the new financial consumer expects to be served on new platforms: as noted by Thomas Kunz, Senior VP at PNC Financial: “Gen-Y does not reconcile chequebooks  and they don’t believe in float. For them, their balance is their balance.”

That’s why PNC has released a “virtual wallet app” available for iPhones. They’re reaching out to this new financial consumer in a big way. That’s why every organization is scrambling to keep up with “Appworld” particularly considering that Apple sold 3 million iPad 3′ within the first 3 days of release.

Aggressive change with business platforms provides big opportunity for business model disruption. A key factor here has to do with new client acquisition: what’s happening is the point of origination of the relationship might change as people transition their banking to mobile devices. Opportunity can come from continuing to build the advisor and distribution channel into these new platforms.

And that’s not a threat – that’s a huge opportunity!

6. Leverage off of new peer-to-peer behaviour trends

The new financial consumer relies more than ever before for advice from their social networks. Peer-to-peer social driven advice through sites such as TradeKing is coming to the forefront: it’s a service that allows people to share stock tips and research through extended social networks.

Does this diminish the role of advisory services — not at all, if you drive in and become a part of the peer-to-peer conversation!

7. Re-orient distribution channels

Here’s another key point: I’ve emphasized to my insurance and other financial clients that the next-generation advisor/broker/agent expects ever more sophisticated technology platforms to help support their role.You’ve got to make sure you are keeping up with their needs.

In one survey in the insurance sector, 80% of brokers indicated that the sophistication of the technology platform of the provider would influence who they would choose to do business with.

According to Kevin Murray, EVP and CIO at New York-based AXA Equitable: “The younger generation of financial professional will almost demand online self-service….they will want to text any questions they have into the service centre or self-service from their mobile device. We’re going to have to be able to provide that capability. It’s how they will operate.”

8. Build your own peer-to-peer collaborative knowledge networks

The new financial advisor is also thinking socially, and is actively looking for peer-to-peer collaborative knowledge. Imagine building a financial advisory team that is collaborative for ideas, share insight on market wins, constantly leverages insight from new branding campaigns that work in unique ways, and constantly shares great idea son new methods of converting leads into clients — that’s how this next generation works!

Back to Kevin Murray: “They will also want an online collaboration tool to …find answers concerning product or questions from their customers. The X and Ygenerations are going to demand a different way of selling and servicing their customers.”

What’s it really all about? Freeing up their time to build opportunity, make sales, close deals.

9. Reduce churn through electronic relationships

Here’s something else to think about according to Chief Marketer (October 2009), “The average brand saw one third of highly loyal consumers in 2007completely defect to another brand in 2008“.

People are far less loyal, and far more likely to jump ship at the drop of a hat. That’s why continuous innovation in terms of the relationship is critical — and that’s maybe why continually transitioning to new technology platforms such as an iPhone app might reduce that churn

10. Better, more focused niche marketing

We’re in the new era  of analytics and analysis, which provides new opportunities for advisors to reach out to markets previously unattainable. As noted by Money Management Executive in October 2009: “Financial advisers generally prefer to manage a small number of high-net-worth clients rather than a large number of small accounts, but recent advances in automation technology could change this dynamic.”

11. Evolve the approach

Insurance and financial advisory services are products that are always sold based on fear — they aren’t bought.

This reality doesn’t go away because of new technologies. What does change is that technology is a powerful enabler that frees advisors forum having to focus on the mundane, routine, time wasting stuff, in order to focus on providing the advice & guidance that advisors can provide. Focus on the core role!

12. Enact change

Many advisors will be in comfortable, established routines. Change is not easy. That’s why organizations in the financial sector that are trying to be innovative need to help existing advisors focus on the opportunity and the benefits that come with rapid change, rather than being fearful of the change that technology is bringing to the industry.

Bottom line? As I sum up in many of my keynotes — “Innovative organizations make bold leaps, in order to keep up — and stay ahead —of a faster future.

Here’s some of the key trends that I see unfolding through 2012 and beyond.

My unique job allows me the opportunity to see and hear what a lot of CEO’s and senior executives in a lot of organizations are thinking about. The  nature of my keynotes and small board / leadership meetings allows me to understand what folks are focused on. The research I do, whether for a major manufacturing conference in Las Vegas or a small corporate meeting with an ice cream company allows me to see the key trends that are unfolding right now.

And so given this unique perch, here’s some of the most important trends which will play out in the year to come.

  •  Biz competes again. North American and Western European companies have lived with constant fear, with the rapid rise of China, the BRIC countries and the N11 on the world  stage. And yet, we’re now witnessing a scene from the movie 2010: “HAL-9000 – ‘What’s going to happen?’ DAVE – ‘Something wonderful.‘ My sense is that a wide variety of industries, from agriculture to manufacturing to industrial design have been going through a renaissance of thinking in the last few years, and have learned what they need to do to re-innovate, grow again, and aggressively return to local and global markets. Read my “Build-America” blog post for some of what I’m thinking here — and stayed tuned!
  • The rise of the tinkering economy. The future is once again being built in the garage next door. But this time, it’s the hyper-connected, innovation oriented tinkering economy which is driving things forward. Get used to phrases like “micro factories,” “hobby designers” and”personal factories.”  The future of design, business and manufacturing is being reinvented at collaborative idea factories such as Ponoko, Etsy and  eMachineShop.com. There’s a revolution underway which is being driven by a globally connected, creatively driven new generation of hobbyists, and the impact is going to be massive!
  • Relationships change. Everywhere around us, the relationship that we have in our lives with the things that surround is, well, changing. Our relationship with food is changing as mobile technologies come to influence what we buy, how we shop,  and how we track our food intake. Our relationship with our body is undergoing a change as we come to use those same mobile technologies to monitor our diet, track our blood pressure another vital signs. Our relationship with clothing is changing as embedded technology becomes a part of what we wear — think about GPS enabled shoes for Alzheimers patients and Zephyr’s smart-clothing — which can be used by athletes to track their performance. When relationships change, everything changes, and opportunities for growth and innovative thinking abound!
  • Generational re-generation: everywhere we look, there’s a massive generational turnover underway, with a change in ownership of organizations from slow moving change adverse baby-boomers to a younger generation that inhales change as a form of innovation oxygen. As family farms and ranches are passed on from father to son and daughter, the rate of adoption of new farming and herd management ideas takes on a greater degree of speed.  As older doctors and nurses who were weaned on the paper-heavy patient file head into retirement, they being replaced by new medical residents who are arriving in the clinic, operating room and by the hospital bed with their iPads, ready to plug in! A shift from change-aversion to change-is-the-greatest-drug is a trend that speeds up our world even more!
  • Revenue reinvention. Every company is coming to face the reality that they have to become just like Apple in order to survive. The fact that Apple generates over 60% of its revenue from products that didn’t exist 4 years ago might today be an aberration, but given the increasing velocity of business cycles, product innovation, the arrival of new business models, changing customer expectations, the impact of social networks and a series of other trends, and soon every organization will find itself in a reality in which constant, relentless reinvention of its product or service line will the crucial to future success.
  • The Dominance of Design. We’re on the edge of a massive new era of creativity, with a trend that we might even call the ‘IPad-ization of Life.’ All one has to do is look at the new Nest thermostat to realize that a new generation of brilliant creativity is about to remake our world. We’re not doomed to a future in which everything around us in the future is going to look just like it did in the past – Apple’s design influence is quickly going to impact everything around us – from the cars we drive to the lamps we use to the fridges we open, to the buses we catch. Clean, simple, easy interfaces and crisp, cool lines, But it’s not just the looks — its the fact that with this new era of design comes intelligence. Our future is going to look great , intelligent and interactive!
  • Chip-velocity! Moore’s law used to apply only to the computer industry. Yet the rule that the processing power of a computer chip doubles every year while its cost cuts in half is taking on new meaning, as your phone becomes a credit card, your car watches how well you drive on behalf of your insurance company, and your clothing talks to your doctor! All of a sudden, in the era of relentless, pervasive connectivity, innovation in every single industry speeds up when Silicon Valley takes over the innovation agenda!
  • Life beyond politics. While the US Presidential election and political turmoil will dominate the headlines for 2012, a new generation of leaders are focused on BIG THINKING, BIG IDEAS, and BOLD MOVES. There’s a realization that political gridlock is the new normal, whether its the Democrats and Republications staring each other down, or France and Germany looking at Italy and Greece with a mystified sense of stunned confusion. So while politicians fail to get things done, innovative organizations are casting their mind to the future trends which will really provide opportunity in the future. It’s fascinating — the future is back in vogue again! And the thinking that is driving it is that we aren’t going to fix the problems of the future by doing what we’ve done in the past. And if we do things differently with those problems – that’s how we’ll discover the next big opportunity. This is the new mindset driving activities in the world of energy, the environment and healthcare!
  • Leading locally. There’s something odd going on — as the world gets global, we’re all going local.  We’re seeing it with sustainability  and local foods; angst and anger at banks and moves to credit unions; and a new volunteerism – as unemployment grew to 7.6%, volunteer service grew by 16%! We’re seeing it with local business – a University of Pennsylvania study found that areas with small, locally owned business (<100 employees) had greater per capita income growth than those with the presence of larger, nonlocal firms! There’s a new focus on local co-ops — with more than 100 million people employed worldwide in some type of local co-op. Thats’ why its fitting that 2012 is the International Year of the Cooperatives, a business model that has stood the test of time for over 150 years. Where-ever you look, while we are thinking global, we’re acting local!
  • Strategy re-dos. The impact of all these trends? Executives quickly coming to realize that what they’ve been doing in the past isn’t to hold them forward into the future. It’s time to throw out all the old assumptions and try things that are new!

Here’s to 2012!

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)  

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