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The folks at New Equipment Digest interviewed me a few weeks back for an article on manufacturing,  ahead of a major keynote I had earlier this month.

 

You’ll have a 50-year old guy or lady in the factory, and you bring these tools to help streamline processes and they say, “Oh my God! This is terrible that can take my job away. I’m done; I’m toast.” And somebody in their 20’s is going to say, “cool.” It’s a much more agile workforce, much more willing to try new things.

It’s but one talk I do in this sector; on Monday, I’ll headline the International Asset Management Council on future manufacturing trends. They’re the folks from Fortune 1000 organizations who make the decisions on where to locate future factories, logistics locations and supply chain investments.

INDUSTRY TRENDS
Futurist Says “Fast & Furious” Changes Coming to Manufacturing

Forget your Magic 8-Ball or fancy-schmancy predictive analytics. Futurist Jim Carroll knows what lies ahead for manufacturing and technology, and we have the scoop for you here. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
John Hitch | Sep 21, 2017

Jim Carroll, a former accountant and current author/corporate speaker, is confident he knows what’s going to happen in the world of manufacturing. And the world renowned Canadian futurist doesn’t need a flux capacitor or any other sci-fi MacGuffin to make bold claims in front of millions about what technologies they need to adopt now, and what the world will look like for our children after we’re rocketed to our Martian retirement homes — where our corpses will no doubt be used as fertilizer for space yams. (You’re welcome, Elon.)

No, Carroll’s trick is to absorb as much knowledge about technology’s past and present, and combine that with critical thinking to make educate guesses on its future for NASA, GE, Lockheed Martin, and dozens of other global tech leaders. It’s not as salacious as predicting robots will take our jobs and spouses, but the accomplished author has a track record for getting things right. He’s the opening keynote speaker for the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show in Toronto on Sep. 25, and he recently found some time for us.

NED: Why did you become a futurist and how does a person go about becoming one?
Jim Carroll: I’m actually a C.P.A. by background. You know from ’79 to ’89 I was with predecessor firms of KPMG and Ernst & Young. I was probably one of the first 1,000 guys in the world on the Internet and I wrote 34 book about the Internet in the ’90s that sold a million books. That got me out there talking about future trends and what comes next. So much of the future is about technology and connectivity and it just sort of morphed into this broader thing of overall trends and innovation.

NED: What can you say was the first future prediction that you had?
JC: Probably the Internet of Things. I can go back to articles I was writing in 1993-94, that this world in which every device that was a part of our daily life is becoming connected to the big global machine known as the Internet. I was absolutely bang-on on. A lot of that is still coming true.

NED: What you see happening with technology and what the world’s going to look like in 10 to 20 years?
JC: We’re in a situation in which companies that do not yet exist will build products not yet conceived using materials not yet invented with maybe manufacturing methodologies that don’t exist fulfilling a customer need we don’t even yet know. That’s the way I view the future.

When I get in front of my audiences, the picture I paint for them is that everything’s on the table, everything is coming out faster and we need to prepare for that. We can make these broad predictions of where we’re going, but one thing is for certain: it’s going to happen faster than we think.

One of my jokes on stage is, “We don’t know where we’re going but we’re making great time.”

NED: What technology would you say should people be right to be a little suspicious of?
JC: The hype du jour is that robots and artificial intelligence are going to take all our jobs and we’ll need a government that gives us a guaranteed income supplement. I wrote a blog post in which I dig out these articles from Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines from the 1930s and 1940s that predicted giant robot brains were going to take away our jobs, that machines were going to make us all unemployed. The 1950s and 1960s Reader’s Digest issues I read about had computers that were going to lead to a world in which we’d all be working two hours, day two days a week.

We’re going to have all the leisure time in the 21st century. Well, how’d that work out? There’s a lot of hype and hysteria about robotics and AI right now. No doubt, there’s a real trend, but people are carried away in the hype and hysteria. What they’re not talking about at the same time is that while all these jobs disappear, there’s the emergence of all kinds of new job new careers, new capabilities.

I mean, we used to make horseshoes, now we make tires, and what are we going to make next? The old skills are dead gone. Those jobs aren’t coming back. There’s new jobs, new skills, more advanced skills. And everybody in manufacturing knows that.

NED: Do you ever think about how the next couple generations, raised in age of smartphones and unlimited information age, will deal with all these changes?
JC: I view the world through my kids, who are 22 and 24. They’ve never known a world without the Internet or mobile devices. A one-year-old can walk up to the TV and touch the screen and wonder why it doesn’t respond like an iPad does.

During my speaking engagements, I ask the question, “How many of you, took computer courses that involved COBOL, BASIC, or FORTRAN?” A whole bunch of hands go up. We were freaked out by technology, because we saw the ugly side, while this generation has not. And so I think the defining difference is that they are far more willing to ingest and innovate with and work with new technologies and new ways of doing things. They’re not burdened by the past in the same way that baby boomers are.

They don’t have a hang up that baby boomers have with technology. Behold the The future of manufacturing innovation! Bob Dylan did warn that “the times, they are a changin’.”

NED: How do you think that’s going to translate to the so-called future?
JC: Think about manufacturing and robotics. You’ll have a 50-year old guy or lady in the factory, and you bring these tools to help streamline processes and they say, “Oh my God! This is terrible that can take my job away. I’m done; I’m toast.”

And somebody in their 20’s is going to say, “cool.” It’s a much more agile workforce, much more willing to try new things.

NED: What is one of these new technologies people should adopt now?
JC: The whole trend towards rapid prototyping. I can design something in CAD/ CAM, I can send it to a 3D printing contract manufacturer, get a prototype back to see if that works. If it doesn’t work, redo the blueprints, send it back. Boom, boom. All of a sudden I’ve got this iterative product design methodology. The old methodology was we had to figure out how to design something, commit to a production run, bring it to market.

NED: Is this something that’s going to exponentially improve the future innovations, because we have so many more people that are able to take engineering chances and it’s not costing them as much in terms of time or resources?
JC: The coolest thing I saw in the last 24 hours was Elon Musk putting out this video done to very cool music from all the rocket failures. His tweet essentially said, “This is what it takes to get to a workable product.” They celebrate failure. You look at that and go, “Wow, what a mindset!”

Obviously, for safety, security, supply reasons, quality control, etc., we can’t do that through regular manufacturing, but we can do that with rapid prototyping and 3D printing, iterative design and testing base design and all those types of things.

NED: So what other technology will play a big part in the factories of the future?
JC: I speak a lot with companies about the future of manufacturing and we talk about the Internet of Things. There’s a lot of experimentation and a lot of belief that this is going to take us to a very new and real and different world of digitization of the factory. Where we are right now is real time spotting of production defects with a lot of IoT-based technology through the supply chain in the manufacturing process. But there’s still a lot more yet to come.

There’s the business model change that is coming fast and furious with this very thing called 3discovered.com. And it’s sort of like an Uber for 3D printing. You send me your CAD files and I’ll line you up with a 3D printing manufacturer which can do it.

I think cobots are coming out very quickly. We’re getting away from two-plane robotic capability to six or eight or 10-plane capability and more spatial awareness, because spatial technology is going along at a fast and furious pace. The return of Google Glass with the manufacturing focus. And I was with a welding group doing virtual welding. I think we’re going to witness all kinds of fascinating capabilities there very quickly.

NED: What about securing all this technology? Could that be a real issue, or is that more fear mongering?
JC: No. It’s real. I’ll say two things: Equifax and South Park. Part of the Equifax problem happened because an employee portal as I understand it in Argentina was protected with the default user ID password combination of “admin” and “admin.” Companies don’t put enough senior level prospective on security. That’s number one.

The second thing is you know we’re still in the area that we’re not really thinking through where it takes us. In the South Park season premier that aired the other night, the characters were doing Amazon Echo commands throughout the show and they were ordering products. People were discovering products were being added to their Amazon checkout boxes. They were setting alarms for people at really weird hours in the morning, they were turning up their Nest thermostat to 110°. To me is the most hilarious story ever. No one ever thought about this and here it takes a cartoon to come along and show us this glaring massive security weakness. The issues are huge and I think we’ve really only begun to scratch the surface of what’s going to happen.

NED: If there’s one thing people should know about the future, what is it?
JC: I really try to leave people with this message: Some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend and see an opportunity. There’s a huge opportunity for North American manufacturing to reinvent itself to compete in the world economy. We’re not going to do it by building crazy walls and wishing that the job of the 1950s will come back. It’s all about robotics, 3D printing, and mass customization.

I spent the morning yesterday with the Board of Directors of a multi-billion dollar credit union, taking a good hard look at the trends sweeping the financial services space. They know that disruption is real, and that it is happening now.

And disruption is everywhere: every business, and every industry is  being redefined at blinding speed by technology, globalization, the rapid emergence of new competitors, new forms of collaborative global R&D, and countless other challenges.


The speed with which these changes occur are now being increasingly driven by he arrival of a younger, more entrepreneurial generation; a group that seems determined to change the world to reflect their ideas and concept of opportunity. They’ve grown up networked, wired, and are collaborative in ways that no previous generation seems to be.

And therein lies the challenge.

Most organizations are bound up in traditions, process, certain defined ways of doing things — rules — that have helped them succeed in the past. Over time, they have developed a corporate culture which might have worked at the slower paced world of the past — but now has them on the sick-bed, suffering from an organizational sclerosis that clogs up their ability to try to do anything new.

Those very things which worked for them in the past might be the anchors that could now hold them back as the future rushes at them with ever increasing speed.

They are being challenged in a fundamental way by those who think big, and by some really big, transformative trends.

How to cope with accelerating change?  Think big, start small and scale fast!

I’m doing many keynotes in which I outline the major trends and opportunities that come from “thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast,” by addressing some of the fundamental changes that are underway.

1. Entire industries are going “upside down”

One thing you need to know is this: entire industries are being flipped on their back by some pretty big trends.

Consider the world of health care. Essentially, today, it’s a system in which we fix people after they become sick. You come down with some type of medical condition; your doctor does a diagnosis, and a form of treatment is put in place. That’s overly simplifying things, but essentially that is how it works.

Yet that is going to change in a pretty fundamental way with genomic, or DNA based medicine. It takes us into a world in which we can more easily understand what health conditions are you susceptible or at risk for throughout your life. It moves us from a world in which we fix you after you are sick — to one in which we know what you are likely to become sick with, and come up with a course of action before things go wrong. That’s a pretty BIG and pretty fundamental change. I like to say that the system is going “upside down.”

So it is with the automotive and transport industry. One day, most people drove their own cars. One day in the future, cars will do much of the driving on their own. That’s a pretty change — sort of the reverse, or upside-down, from how it use to be.

Or think about education: at one time, most people went to the place where education is delivered. But with the massive explosion of connectivity and new education delivery methods involving technology, an increasing number of people are in a situation where education is delivered to them. That’s upside down too!

You can go through any industry and see similar signs. That’s a lot of opportunity for big change.

2. Moore’s law – everywhere!

Another big trend that is driving a lot of change comes about as technology takes over the rate of change in the industry.

Going forward, every single industry, from health care to agriculture to insurance and banking, will find out that change will start to come at the speed of Moore’s law — a speed of change that is MUCH faster than they are used too. (Remember, Moore’s law explains that roughly, the processing power of a computer chip doubles every 18 months while its cost cuts in half. It provides for the pretty extreme exponential growth curve we see with a lot of consumer and computer technology today.)

Back to health care. We know that genomic medicine is moving us from a world in which we fix people after they are sick – to one where we know what they will likely become sick with as a result of DNA testing. But now kick in the impact of Moore’s law, as Silicon Valley takes over the pace of development of the genomic sequencing machines. It took $3 billion to sequence the first genome, which by 2009 had dropped to $100,000. It’s said that by mid-summer, the cost had dropped to under $10,000, and by the end of the year, $1,000. In just a few years, you’ll be able to go to a local Source by Circuit City and buy a little $5 genomic sequencer – and one day, such a device will cost just a few pennies.

The collapsing cost and increasing sophistication of these machines portends a revolution in the world of health care. Similar trends are occurring elsewhere – in every single industry, we know one thing: that Moore’s law rules!

3. Loss of the control of the pace of innovation

What happens when Moore’s law appears in every industry? Accelerating change, and massive business model disruption as staid, slow moving organizations struggle to keep up with faster paced technology upstarts.

Consider the world of car insurance — we are witnessing a flood of GPS based driver monitoring technologies that measure your speed, acceleration and whether you are stopping at all the stop signs. Show good driving behaviour, and you’ll get a rebate on your insurance. It’s happening in banking, with the the imminent emergence of the digital wallet and the trend in which your cell phone becomes a credit card.

In both cases, large, stodgy, slow insurance companies and banks that move like molasses will have to struggle to fine tune their ability to innovate and keep up : they’re not used to working at the same fast pace as technology companies.

Not only that, while they work to get their innovation agenda on track, they’ll realize with horror that its really hard to compete with companies like Google, PayPal, Facebook, and Apple — all of whom compete at the speed of light.

It should make for lots of fun!

4.  “Follow the leader” business methodologies

We’re also witnessing the more rapid emergence of new ways of doing business, and it’s leading us to a time in which companies have to instantly be able to copy any move by their competition – or risk falling behind.

For example, think about what is going on in retail, with one major trend defining the future: the Apple checkout process. Given what they’ve done, it seems to be all of a sudden, cash registers seemed to become obsolete. And if you take a look around, you’ll notice a trend in which a lot of other retailers are scrambling to duplicate the process, trying to link themselves to the cool Apple cachet.

That’s the new reality in the world of business — pacesetters today can swiftly and suddenly change the pace and structure of an industry, and other competitors have to scramble to keep up.  Consider this scenario: Amazon announces a same day delivery in some major centres. Google and Walmart almost immediately jump on board. And in just a short time, retailers in every major city are going to have be able to play the same game!

Fast format change, instant business model implementation, rapid fire strategic moves. That’s the new reality for business, and it’s the innovators who will adapt.

5. All interaction — all the time!

If there is one other major trend that is defining the world of retail and shopping, take a look at all the big television screens scattered all over the store! We’re entering the era of constant video bombardment in the retail space. How fast is the trend towards constant interaction evolving? Consider the comments by

Ron Boire, the new Chief Marketing Officer for Sears in the US (and former chief executive of Brookstone Inc.): “My focus will really be on creating more and better theatre in the stores.”

We are going to see a linking of this ‘in-store theatre’ with our mobile devices and our social networking relationships. Our Facebook app for a store brand (or the fact we’ve ‘liked’ the brand) will know we’re in the store, causing a a customized commercial to run, offering us a personalized product promotion with a  hefty discount. This type of scenario will be here faster than you think!

6. Products reinvented

Smart entrepreneurs have long realized something that few others have clued into : the future of products is all about enhancement through intelligence and connectivity. Nail those two aspects, and you suddenly sell an old product at significantly higher new prices.

Consider the NEST Learning Thermostat. It’s design is uber-cutting edge, and was in fact dreamed up by one of the key designers of the iPad. It looks cool, it’s smart, connected, and there’s an App for that! Then there is a Phillips Hue Smart LED Lightbulb, a $69 light bulb that is uber-smart, connected, and can be controlled from your mobile device. Both are sold at the Apple store!

Or take a look at the Whitings Wi-Fi Body Scale. Splash a bit of design onto the concept of a home weigh scale, build it with connectivity, link it to some cool online graphs and you’ve got a device that will take your daily weight, BMI and body-fat-mass tracking into a real motivational tool.  Where is it sold? Why, at the Apple store too!

Do you notice a trend here?

7. Careers reinvented

For those who that the post-2008 North American recovery from the recession was slow, here’s an open secret: there was a significant economic recovery underway for quite some time, as companies in every sector ranging from manufacturing to agriculture worked hard to reinvent themselves. It just didn’t involve a lot of new jobs, because the knowledge required to do a new job in today’s economy is pretty complex. We’ve moved quickly from the economy of menial, brute force jobs to new careers that require a lot of high level skill. The trend has been underway for a long, long time.

Consider the North American manufacturing sector, a true renaissance industry if there ever was one! Smart engineers at a wide variety of manufacturing organizations have transformed process to such a degree, and involved the use of such sophisticated robotic technology, that the economic recovery in this sector involves workers who have to master a lot of new knowledge. One client observed of their manufacturing staff: “The education level of our workforce has increased so much….The machinists in this industry do trigonometry in their heads.”

Similar skills transitions are underway in a wide variety of other industries….

8. The Rise of the Small over Incumbents

We are living in the era that involves the end of incumbency. Companies aren’t assured that they will own the marketplace and industry they operate within because of past success ; they’ll have to continually re-prove themselves through innovation.

Consider Square, the small little device that lets your iPhone become a credit card. What a fascinating little concept that has such big potential for disruption. And it’s a case where once again, small little upstarts are causing turmoil, disruption and competitive challenge in larger industries — and often times, the incumbents are too slow to react.

Anyone who has ever tried to get a Merchant Account from Visa, MasterCard or American Express in order to accept credit cards knows that it is likely trying to pull teeth from a pen – many folks just give up in exasperation. Square, on the other hand, will send you this little device for free (or you can pick one up at the Apple Store.) Link it to your bank account, and you’re in business.

So while credit card companies have been trying to figure out the complexities of the future of their industry, a small little company comes along and just does something magical! No complexities, no challenges, no problems.

* * * *
There are people who are making big bold bets, big bold decisions, who are going to change the world and who are going to do things differently.” That phrase was from my opening keynote for the Accenture International Utilities and Energy Conference in San Francisco some years back.

It’s a good sentiment, and is a good way to think about the idea of ‘thinking big.’

Credit Union Magazine just ran a great article on my keynote yesterday in Las Vegas for Drive 17, the annual conference from CU Direct on trends in the automotive lending space for credit unions.

Self-driving cars, drone technology, Apple Watch, and even FaceTime.

It’s technology we see depicted in “The Jetsons,” a cartoon from 1962 that depicted the life of a futuristic family. But we’re already seeing much of the technology today, more than 40 years before the cartoon takes place in 2062.

It’s staggering to think how quickly the world around us is changing,” says innovator and futurist Jim Carroll, who addressed CU Direct’s Drive 17 Conference Wednesday in Las Vegas.

The technology in The Jetsons is just another reminder that credit unions need to innovate and not only develop new products, but also transform to keep up with the speed of change, Carroll says.

Given the fast pace of change, more than 80% of conference attendees believe their current business model will not stay the same in the next 10 years due to the significant disruption.

We need to deal with the innovation killers which hold us back from pursuing the opportunities of the future. The future is coming at us with a greater intensity and great speed,” Carroll says. “We need to think big, start small, and scale fast.

Carroll offers credit unions five strategies for successful innovation:

1. Think big

Innovators need to make big, bold decisions to be transformative. This is the only way credit unions will be able to counter the impacts that disrupters, such as fintech companies, have, Carroll says.

Think of Tesla, Carroll says, which has transformed the auto industry by manufacturing vehicles on demand and have placed their dealerships in retail shopping areas rather than in stand-alone structures. Some 400,000 people have signed up for these vehicles, he adds.

2. Presume that everything will speed up

Credit unions are not the only industry struggling with the speed of technology.

Technology is rapidly changing in vehicles, says Carroll, who believes Siri or Alexa buttons, augmented reality screens, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and payment technology embedded in the dashboard may be features in vehicles by 2020.

For credit unions, think about how biometric scans can be used at ATMs.

3. Align to Moore’s Law of innovation

This law says the processing power of a computer chip doubles every 18 months. Technology is constantly changing and is becoming embedded in more items, such as garage doors, ceiling fans, and even grills, Carroll says.

Hyperconnectivity is becoming the rule.

Credit unions need to be aware of the expectations members have for personalization, their use of technology, and a desire for real-time support or interaction when needed.

You need to be prepared to innovate quickly,” he says.

4. Align changing business models and consumer behavior

Mobile devices have a huge influence on people’s purchasing and financing decisions. Research shows the average consumer scans 12 feet of shelf space in a second, and 80% would leave a store if they must wait more than five minutes to pay.

Determine ways to grab your members’ attention and provide solutions faster, in addition to providing a way for members to interact online, Carroll says.

5. Realign to the impact of generations

Recognize how younger generations live their lives. Don’t cling to a routine or process just because that’s the way your credit union has always operated.

Millennials, for example, have been weaned on technology, speed, and innovation, and are open to transformations and changes that take this into account, Carroll says.

 

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.

Here’s a good quote to live by:  it is said that doing the right thing when it’s easy to do is easy — it’s doing the right thing when it’s tough that is really tough!

It can be difficult to be tough about things, because it’s always easier to be nicer, to avoid stress, to keep away from things that are challenging systems. But if you study innovative people, the fact of the matter is that they are willing to deal with discomfort, and even seem to thrive on it! They thrive on this by being willing to:

  • ask the tough questions
  • act on the answers to those tough questions!
  • ask questions that make people uncomfortable
  • challenge others to ask tough questions
  • ask why it has become acceptable to not ask questions!
  • ask questions that challenge fundamental assumptions
  • ask questions that show their complete lack of knowledge about something — which is ok
  • ask questions that might make their boss unhappy
  • indicate that while they don’t know the answer to the tough questions, they’re prepared to find out
  • suggest that maybe there have now been too many questions, and now something simply must be done in order to move forward

What’s the key to this line of thinking?

Organizations can become too comfortable with routine, and unless this is challenged on a regular basis, complacency becomes a killer.

By constantly putting a whole bunch of tough questions on the table, innovators can ensure that innovation paralysis does not set in.

Words to live by!

How many times does this happen – you have a great idea that you know will succeed – only to have it go to a committee, who proceed to destroy your idea?


As I dig into the culture and attitude of a client through interviews with the CEO and other team members, I’m always mystified to find  that some organizations just seem to do everything they can to shut down new ideas. Committees are one of the worst sources of failed innovation.

It happens a lot as a speaker and innovation expert. I will often be contacted by someone in an organization who is convinced that they need my insight in order to move ahead. We have a great discussion, form an outline of how I will help them, and then they try to move it forward. It goes to a committee, gets bogged down, and eventually, they end up booking a motivational speaker!

A few years back, on stage, I went through a list of what goes wrong when it comes to innovation. Innovation failures:

  • form a committee. An absolute sure fired way of shutting down ideas! The herd mentality takes over, and activity sclerosis soon sets in.
  • defer decisions. It’s easier to wait than to make any bold, aggressive moves. Uncertainty is a virtue; indecision is an asset.
  • hide failure. If anyone tries something new and doesn’t succeed, make sure that no one else sees it. You don’t want to set a message that it is important to take risks.
  • let innovators work in secret. You want to make sure that the concept of innovation remains some deep, mysterious process that not everyone can participate in. That will help to ensure that most of your team doesn’t pursue any type of fresh new thinking. They’ll just keep doing what they’ve always done.
  • banish fear. Make sure that everyone thinks that everything is going to be all right. You don’t have to deal with potential business market disruption, new competitors, significant industry transformation or the impact of globalization. Everything will look the same ten years from now, so just keep everyone focused on doing the same old thing!
  • accept the status quo. Things are running perfectly, you’ve got the perfect product mix, and all of your customers are thrilled with your brand and the levels of customer service. There’s no need to do anything new, since it’s all going to work out just fine!
  • be cautious. Don’t make any bold, aggressive moves. Just take things slowly, one step at a time. If you move too fast, things are likely to go wrong. Let complacency settle in like a warm blanket.
  • glorify process.  Make sure that everything is filled out in triplicate; ensure that process slows down any radical ideas.  It’s more important to do things perfectly than to make mistakes.
  • be narrow. Keep a very tiny view of the future. You can’t succeed with any big wins, because there aren’t going to be any dramatic surprises in the future. Think small. Act accordingly.
  • study things to death. Don’t let any uncertainty creep into your decision making process. Make sure that if you are to do anything, that you’ve spent sufficient time and effort to understand all the variables. Your goal is ensuring that any decision is free of risk, unlikely to fail, and will in retrospect be carefully and fully documented.

Wait! That’s 11 ways! And there are certainly more attitudes that help to destroy innovative thinking.

What do you think? What are the other attitudes and ways of thinking that manage to shut down organizational idea machines?

And do you want more insight like this? Check my Innovation Inspiration page!

 

Some of the most fascinating organizations in the world have brought me in to encourage their people to think about the future, and how to nurture a culture of creativity and innovation. Organizations like NASA (twice!), Johnson and Johnson, Whirlpool/Maytag, the Walt Disney Corporation and literally hundreds more!

 

One of my key motivational points for my clients has always been this idea.

Many people see a trend and see a threat. Smart people see the same trend and see opportunity

Think about that, and then ask yourself as to how do you keep yourself in an innovative frame of mind.

A good part of it has to do with the company you keep! To that end, I’d suggest that you surround yourself with:

  • optimists. You need to hang out with people who see all kinds of opportunity – not gloomsters who are convinced there is no future out there!
  • people who do. Action oriented people. Folks who accomplish things. Those that do.
  • people with open minds. Innovators aren’t prepared to accept the status quo – they are willing to explore and understand different viewpoints, and use that as a kickoff for creativity.
  • people who have experienced failure. Innovation comes from risk; risk comes from trying things. Try lots of things, and many will fail. That’s good. That builds up experience, which gives you better insight into a fast paced world.
  • oddballs and rebels. Some of the most brilliant thinking and best ideas can come from those who view the world through a different lens. They may seem odd at times, but they can be brilliantly creative.
  • good listeners and debaters. They’re willing to challenge ideas, analyze issues, and think through the possibilities.
  • people who think differently than you do. If you really want to be innovative, go to two conferences a year that have nothing to do with what you do. You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how it will re-stir your creative juices.

In every single keynote, I focus on future trends and opportunities, and link that to the process and mindset of innovation. I’m an optimist, continually try new things, listen to other people, watch, observe, and listen.

Most important, I refuse to give in to the pervasive negative thinking that so many people seem to envelope themselves within. Maybe that’s why I see so many opportunities in today’s economy.

Think growth!

This one is from a stage in New Orleans. The story itself is simple and to the point.

In my list of global clients, I encounter far too many people and leaders who subscribe to the idea that if they are going to do something, they need to do it absolutely perfectly the first time around.

In my view, this doesn’t fit within the fast economy of today. Take a look around at successful innovators, and they are willing to do something fast, see how it worked, and try again. Obviously quality and risk issues come into play.

The best way is to understand how manufacturing is changing with 3D printing. We now have the ability to conceive product, design them, build them, test them, and then re-conceive and re-design and re-deploy. It’s become an iterative process instead of a final step process. That type of innovation thinking needs to come to every process and every industry.

Is your organization an innovation laggard, a timid warrior without the resolve to try to achieve great things?

A common focus for many of the keynotes I’ve given for senior executive as of late revolves around the theme, ‘what is it that world class innovators do that others don’t do?”

Over a period of time of 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe and learn from many organizations as to what they are doing to deal with a time that involves both massive challenge as well as significant opportunity.

Everyone is being impacted by business model disruption, the emergence of new competitors, the impact of technology, the collapse of product lifecycle, ongoing political volatility and ever-more challenging customers.

In that context, it’s clear that those very things which might worked for them in the past might be the very anchors that could now hold them back in the future. In the era of Uber, Tesla and Amazon, leaders must have the insight into unique opportunities for innovation and change.

That’s why they are booking me, as I am providing them with a customized overview of the key trends impacting them, and invaluable leadership lessons that provide a clear path for going forward.

What are some of these lessons? Here’s a short list:

  • fast beats big: In a time of unprecedented change, those who are prepared to think fast are those who are moving forward. Those who move fast get things done, and keep getting things done. Others wallow in a state of aggressive indecision; inaction breeds decay.
  • bold beats old: all around you right now, there are countless numbers of people and organizations who are out to mess up your business model. Given that, are you the Elon Musk of your industry, prepared to think big and take big bold steps? Or is your organization an innovation laggard, a timid warrior without the resolve to try to achieve great things? Bold thinkers make bold steps, aggressive moves, and big decisions. This is not a time for timidity; it’s a time for BIG ideas and the pursuit of the offbeat.
  • velocity trumps strategy: careful strategic planning can be a critical step in adapting to the future, but in some areas, things are happening so fast that you can’t take the time to strategize: you just need to jump in and go. That’s experiential capital it’s one of the most important investments that you need to be making now. Understand what it is, and why you need to be investing in it NOW.
  • flexibility beats structure: successful innovators have mastered the ability to form fast teams: they know their that their ability to quickly scale resources to tackle fast emerging opportunities or challenges are the only way that they can win in the future. They avoid the organizational sclerosis that bogs too many organizations down
  • disruptors destroy laggards: step into any industry, and there are people who are busy messing about the fundamental business models which have long existed. Start your own disruption before you find yourself disrupted
  • connectivity is the new loyalty: with the forthcoming dominance of mobile technology in everyday lives, everything you know about customer relationships is dead. Right now, it’s all about exploring and building new relationships throughout the mobile data cloud in which the customer lives. If you don’t get that, your brand is dead.
  • location is the new intelligence: with connectivity comes location, which results in new applications, business models, methods of customer interaction, and just about everything. If you don’t have a location strategy for your business, you really don’t understand how quickly your world is changing around you

For more on this thinking, check out the ‘innovation’ tag on my blog.

We certainly live in interesting times!

Here’s what I’ve noticed in this new era of hyper-turmoil and uncertainty — many organizations are turning off their innovation engines, waiting to see what happens next in a world in which volatility is the new normal.

bigbolddecisions

The New Yorker had a great article in 2009 after the financial meltdown, “Hanging tough,” that outlined  how some companies choose to ensure that they stay innovative in recessionary times – while others did not. In the context of the uncertainty of today, it’s worth a read. For example, they contrast two cereal companies: one that chose to focus on innovation despite uncertainty, while another did not.

“You’d think that everyone would want to emulate Kellogg’s success, but, when hard times hit, most companies end up behaving more like Post. They hunker down, cut spending, and wait for good times to return. They make fewer acquisitions, even though prices are cheaper. They cut advertising budgets. And often they invest less in research and development. They do all this to preserve what they have.”

My recent discussions with Fortune 1000 CEOs and senior executives in both UK and the US certainly indicate that this is happening again. Post-Brexit, uncertainty and aggressive indecision is roiling the C-suite in the UK — deferring decisions has become the norm. In the US, the never-ending election has placed a pause on most big decisions — inaction has settled in like a wet-sponge!

Big question – in this context, is the UK done? Can America innovate again, or is this a cultural and leadership ‘new normal?’ Here’s what I know – the winners and losers of the future are being determined right now!

Yet history has taught us, over and over again, that those who are aggressive with innovation, and who align themselves to future trends in times of uncertainty, are those who win in the long run. For years, I’ve talked on stage and in my leadership meetings of the key observation by GE’s Chief Innovation Consultant. Simple, powerful guidance: breakthrough performers manage to accomplish great things because of a decision to focus on innovation right in the middle of an economic challenge or an era of uncertainty– rather than waiting till they came into a recovery phase.

The research found that during the oil shock of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s recession, and the 2000 dot com bust, of those companies surveyed, 70% of companies barely survived, 30% died, but 10% became breakthrough performers. Noted the GE head of innovation: it was explicitly “…because of choices they made in the recession.”

So it really comes down to this: when do you innovate? Are you going to wait until you are comfortable that an era of uncertainty is over? Bad decision — because economic and political volatility is the new normal!

Everything we have learned has taught us that the winners were those who decided that it was an important thing to keep moving ahead despite massive amounts of uncertainty. Get out of your future-funk! Try this clip from a keynote I undertook on stage after the meltdown of 2008-2009. “Innovators get out in front of the recession“.

Consider this: the New Yorker article is pretty blunt with it’s findings on innovation-losers:

  • “numerous studies have shown that companies that keep spending on acquisition, advertising, and R. & D. during recessions do significantly better than those which make big cuts”
  • “a McKinsey study of the 1990-91 recession found that companies that remained market leaders or became serious challengers during the downturn had increased their acquisition, R. & D., and ad budgets, while companies at the bottom of the pile had reduced them”
  • “Uncertainty is always a part of business, but in a recession it dominates everything else: no one’s sure how long the downturn will last, how shoppers will react, whether we’ll go back to the way things were before or see permanent changes in consumer behavior. So it’s natural to focus on what you can control: minimizing losses and improving short-term results.”

Innovation winners?

  • “Kraft introduced Miracle Whip in 1933 and saw it become America’s best-selling dressing in six months; Texas Instruments brought out the transistor radio in the 1954 recession; Apple launched the iPod in 2001.”

Read the article. It’s powerful stuff!

Given that, what do you do? Change your culture and set out to achieve breakthrough results despite uncertainty!


Here is some more innovation-soup for your innovation-soul!

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