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For close to 25 years, I have been relentlessly studying what makes organizations successful at dealing with the future and innovation. I know why some fail, while others succeed.

In those who fail, there are some common traits :

  • People laugh at new ideas
  • Someone who identifies a problem is shunned
  • Innovation is the privileged practice of a special group
  • The phrase, “you can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way” is used for every new idea
  • No one can remember the last time anyone did anything really cool
  • People think innovation is about R&D
  • People have convinced themselves that competing on price is normal
  • The organization is focused more on process than success
  • There are lots of baby boomers about, and few people younger than 25
  • After any type of surprise — product, market, industry or organizational change — everyone sits back and asks, “wow, where did that come from?”

Innovative companies act differently. In these organizations

  • Ideas flow freely throughout the organization
  • subversion is a virtue
  • success and failure are championed
  • there are many, many leaders who encourage innovative thinking, rather than managers who run a bureaucracy
  • there are creative champions throughout the organization — people who thrive on thinking about how to do things differently
  • ideas get approval and endorsement
  • rather than stating “it can’t be done,” people ask, “how could we do this?”
  • people know that in addition to R&D, innovation is also about ideas about to “run the business better, grow the business and transform the business
  • the word “innovation” is found in most job descriptions as a primary area of responsibility, and a percentage of annual renumeration is based upon achievement of explicitly defined innovation goals

The fact is, every organization should be able to develop innovation as a core virtue — if they aren’t, they certainly won’t survive the rapid rate of change that envelopes us today.

Franchise

I found this recently from a keynote two years back….

Future Trends: Futurist, Trends, and Innovation Expert to Keynote Multi-Unit Conference

Jim Carroll loves to predict where the world is going. As such, he has become one of the world’s leading international futurists, trends, and innovation experts. His analysis digs deep into topics such as technology, business model change, fast paced innovation, and global challenges and growth. He’s been in demand with such clients as Northrop Grumman, Visa, Rockwell Collins, Lincoln Financial, and the Walt Disney organization. He was featured as an innovation expert on the global CNBC show, the Business of Innovation, and was named one of four leading sources for insight into innovation by Business Week magazine.

Jim Carroll loves to predict where the world is going. As such, he has become one of the world’s leading international futurists, trends, and innovation experts. His analysis digs deep into topics such as technology, business model change, fast paced innovation, and global challenges and growth. He’s been in demand with such clients as Northrop Grumman, Visa, Rockwell Collins, Lincoln Financial, and the Walt Disney organization. He was featured as an innovation expert on the global CNBC show, the Business of Innovation, and was named one of four leading sources for insight into innovation by Business Week magazine.

He’ll be bringing his latest insight to the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference this April at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas where he’ll be a keynote speaker.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Carroll and posed some franchise-specific questions. Here’s what he shared with us.

In terms of the future, what do multi-unit franchisees have to fear?

Well, there’s nothing to fear really, if you view future trends as being full of opportunities rather than as a threat. I find that many of my clients think about future trends and think, “oh, this can’t be good, it’s going to be pretty difficult to deal with.” The first step with getting into an innovative frame of mind is to think of every trend as an opportunity, not a threat.

So let’s think about a few of them. Consider social networks, there are huge impacts on how consumers perceive, interact, and provide feedback on brands. Obviously, if you don’t pay attention to the trend, it can turn into a big negative for you.

But if you get involved, engage the new consumer, and continually experiment with new ways of taking advantage of this new form of interaction, then you are doing the right thing.

What kinds of things do multi-unit franchisees have to look forward to?

Oh, there are just so many opportunities to grow the business. We’ve got all kind of new location-intelligence oriented opportunities – people walking around with mobile devices that have GPS capabilities built in. Think about instant couponing apps that might encourage customers to drop in and purchase something. There are new methods of getting the brand image out there – we’ve seen so many franchise groups with successful viral videos. For restaurant franchisees, there’s the rapid emergence of the new health-conscious consumer and opportunities to reshape the menu to take advantage of that. I look around and I just see a countless number of methods by which a franchisee can run the business better, grow, and transform their business. And that’s what innovation is all about!

What kinds of things do multi-unit franchisees need to be doing in their businesses right now?

Investing in experiential capital. Look, there’s so much new stuff happening out there, and markets are changing so quickly, that the only way to get ahead is to try out a lot of new ideas. In a world in which Apple generates 60 percent of its revenue from products that didn’t exist four years ago, it’s critically important that an organization constantly enhance the skill, capabilities, and insight of their people. They do this by constantly working on projects that might have an uncertain return and payback – but which will provide in-depth experience and insight into change. It’s by understanding change that opportunity is defined, and that’s what experiential capital happens to be. In the future, it will be one of the most important assets you can possess.

What kinds of things should multi-unit franchisees stop doing?

Making excuses. Look, it’s all too easy to avoid the future and not do the tough things. Stop using what I call the “innovation killers,” phrases like:

  • “We’ve always done it this way”
  • “It won’t work”
  • “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard”
  • “That’s not my problem”
  • “You can’t do that”
  • “I don’t know how”
  • “I don’t think I can”
  • “I didn’t know that”
  • “The boss won’t go for it”
  • “Why should I care?”

What can multi-unit franchisees do better right now and how?

Change their attitude to try new things. Innovation is critical. Innovative companies act differently.

In these organizations ideas flow freely throughout, subversion is a virtue and success and failure are championed. There are many, many leaders who encourage innovative thinking, rather than managers who run a bureaucracy. There are creative champions throughout the organization – people who thrive on thinking about how to do things differently. Ideas get approval and endorsement rather than stating “it can’t be done,” people ask, “how could we do this?”

People know that in addition to R&D, innovation is also about ideas to “run the business better, grow the business, and transform the business.” The word “innovation” is found in most job descriptions as a primary area of responsibility, and a percentage of annual remuneration is based upon achievement of explicitly defined innovation goals The fact is, every organization should be able to develop innovation as a core virtue — if they aren’t, they certainly won’t survive the rapid rate of change that envelopes us today.

10 Enemies of Innovation!
November 22nd, 2011

I had a conference call with a client yesterday with respect to an upcoming leadership meeting; I’ll be helping the organization think about some of the barriers they have towards innovation, and what they need to do to overcome these challenges.

As we were talking, I scribbled down a short list of some of the issues that I was identifying with them.

  •  tradition. Some organizations are too caught up with the past, which causes them to lose sight of opportunities for the future.
  • culture. Often corporate culture can stifling, if not deadening. Some build up an organizational sclerosis which eventually clogs up their ability to try to do anything new.
  • organizational memory. It causes people to focus on the past instead of the future.
  • bureaucrats. Their job is simply to shut down ideas, get people to fill out forms, and reduce the everyday work experience to a series of mind-numbing tasks.
  • stock markets. They cause too many senior executives to spend their time thinking about short term hits that can keep the stock price up, rather than working on the big bets that can provide for transformative opportunities. No wonder so many organizations are going private!
  • job descriptions. They reduce the role of people to a narrowly defined set of activities and small goals. I’ve encountered few organizations where innovation success is actually enshrined into the job description, let alone the HR reward system.
  • mission statements. They can be a great thing to give everyone an overall sense of purpose. On the other hand, most organizations don’t update and refresh them, which means that in many cases, the mission statement has nothing to do with what the organization actually needs to be doing.
  • strategic planning. Some organizations get so caught up in the process of strategic planning that they never get beyond the planing statge. Where do you think the phrases “analysis paralysis” comes from — organizations who are busy analyzing things as part of their planning process!
  • lone wolves. They’re often folks who can lead innovation, since they can have the brilliant ideas that are the spark for greatness. On the other hand, they can become so blinded by their belief that they refuse to accept the ideas and insight of anyone else, forgetting that collaboration is often at the root of all great innovations
  • history and legacy. What made you successful in the past won’t work for you in the future.

That’s a short list of some of the enemies of innovation – there are lots more!

“If Carroll had his way, the phrase “You can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way” would be grounds for immediate dismissal”.

The following article was just published in July in AkzoNoble’s  “A” Magazine, featuring some of my thoughts on innovation in organizations.The organization is the largest global paints and coatings company and is a leading producer of specialty chemicals.

The article is a good read as to how I think and work.

It was distributed in print form to several hundred thousand readers in their global client base.

You can grab the PDF of the article by clicking on the magazine cover on the right.

WHAT’S YOUR VISION OF THE FUTURE
by Jim Wake

If routine rules your working life, you could be stifling any chance of growing and improving your business. Worse still, if you fail to encourage creative thinking, you could well be doomed to failure.

Innovation is not what you think it is, says Jim Carroll, a selfdescribed “futurist” who makes a living advising companies on how they can reinvent themselves to compete effectively in a fast-changing world. “When it comes to the word innovation,” he explains, “a lot of people hear that word and they think it isn’t something that applies to them. I call it the ‘Steve Jobs effect.’ People hear the word and they think: ‘That’s about the design of cool products and only cool people get to do that. I manage purchasing, so how could I be responsible for innovation?’”

But what Carroll tells them – in ways designed to get them to laugh at themselves and squirm in uncomfortable self-recognition – is that innovation is both more mundane and more achievabe than dreaming up the next breakthrough consumer product, writing brilliant computer code, or developing new methods for microsurgery. “I step back and reframe the question,” he continues. “To me, innovation is three things that apply to everyone in the organization. Whether they are the head of purchasing or product development, or the CEO or the Vice-President of sales, it’s about challenging yourself with three questions. What can I do to run this business better? What can I do to grow this business? And what can I do to transform this business?”

To Carroll, it’s a lot more about awareness than it is about genius. “Running the business? Innovation offers all kinds of opportunities to take costs out of the business. With computerized technologies to streamline processes, for example. It’s just unlimited potential. Growing the business is all about how we get into new markets, new product development, how we generate revenue where revenue hasn’t existed before. Transforming the business is about restructuring ourselves. How we collaborate better, how we reshape the way we’re doing R&D, how we do things differently as an organization.

“A lot of people still think that innovation is some deep mysterious thing,” he goes on. “To me, the link is that there’s a whole bunch of obvious trends which are going to impact an organization, whether they’re demographic, social, political, business trends, whatever. Innovation is simply responding to and keeping up with those trends. Some of it is drop-dead obvious: in Western society, we have a looming boom of baby boomers who are going to become older and sicker and require more care, so that just impacts a whole variety of different industries. With technology, there’s a whole bunch of fascinating trends underway where a lot of everyday devices around us are going to gain intelligence, are going to be linked to the internet, so that’s an obvious trend. And in terms of politics, what’s playing out in Egypt – where there’s a transition of power from one generation that is unplugged, unconnected, to a different generation that is plugged in and connected. Those are the kinds of obvious trends I’m talking about.”

But of course, what is obvious to Carroll – who acknowledges that research is an important part of what he does – may not be so obvious to the person who is focused on meeting deadlines and paying the bills. Still, he is convinced that management can nurture an environment which encourages creative thinking and the willingness to take risks that is pretty much a prerequisite for innovation. “I call it tone at the top. It is something that is CEO-led. He or she has to set the tone for a culture which allows for continual change and adaptation and innovation, in order to keep up with the very fast-paced change around us. If you don’t set that tone at the top, then you really are doomed to failure. I see a lot of organizations try to make innovation something special. They form a little innovation team and go off in a little room and study innovation. But that just doesn’t work. It’s a culture throughout the organization where the leadership is saying to everyone that you’ve got to challenge yourself on those three questions, and we will judge you during the annual review process and in your remuneration and in your job description.”

One example he points to is Google, which provides “innovation time off” – a provision allowing engineers to devote up to 20 percent of their time on projects not directly related to their job descriptions or responsibilities. “It’s important,” says Carroll, “that organizations establish a whole series of projects that are very focused on innovative outcomes, in addition to having everyone responsible for day-to-day innovation.” He also suggests that routine is one of the biggest threats to innovation. “I think it’s very easy for an organization to go into autopilot. If you can do something to shake up their complacency – whether it’s the rebel coming on board or doing something to cause some chaos – that’s a good thing because people need to wake up to how quickly their world is changing around them.” In his talks – he gives dozens every year to audiences as diverse as Texas bankers, California cattle farmers, national park management professionals and the US Professional Golfers’ Association – he can almost be aggressive in trying to combat complacency.

“Here’s what I’ve learned,” he says during one of his videos from a keynote speech. “In every single organization there are people who wake up every single day. The very first thought that comes to their mind is ‘what am I going to do today to kill new ideas?’” It’s a comment which provokes nervous laughter, but that’s because everyone in the audience recognizes a kernel of truth there. “You know that they’re out there because they come into their meetings and you’re presenting new concepts and new ways of doing things, and they’ve got all these little code words that they use to shut ideas down.”

If Carroll had his way, the phrase “You can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way” would be grounds for immediate dismissal. “Never mind that the world is going to change, that the world is going to go over there really, really fast, and we’re still here and we have to get over there with the rest of the world,” he says mockingly. “There are people out there who’ve adopted the attitude of ‘you can’t do that; we’ve always done it this way – it won’t work!’ You come up with a really good idea, you put it out there, you seek some reaction and there is a naysayer at the table who immediately says: ‘It won’t work’; or ‘Dumbest idea I ever heard, it’s too risky, we’re not an organization that takes risk.’” He lets the thought hang there for an instant and then points out the obvious: “The only way to get ahead is to take risks.” As if he himself has suddenly been appointed CEO, he then starts issuing orders to the audience: “Each of you from this point on agrees that you will never use, or permit to be used in one of your meetings, that phrase ‘you can’t do this because we’ve always done it this way’. You’re going to completely ban that phrase ‘it won’t work, dumbest idea I ever heard’. You’re going to banish the type of thinking that tries to hold us back from doing new things.”

He encourages his audience to conduct a simple test the next time they are sitting in a meeting – keep score of the “innovation killing” phrases that come up: a point for every time they hear “it won’t work”, “you can’t do that”, “I don’t know how”, and several others demonstrating fear of trying. Five bonus points for “The boss won’t go for it” and ten for “Why should I care?” Your company is already in trouble – innovation-adverse, in his words – if you score more than five, “innovation dead” if you score more than ten, and you might as well either close up shop or give him a call if you score more than 15.

At the other end of the spectrum are the behaviors, practices and corporate cultures that generate new ideas – ideas flow freely throughout the organization, subversion is considered a virtue, creative champions are present throughout the company, people understand that innovation is not just about

technology, but about doing things differently and better, and that failure is an inevitable – and acceptable – part of the innovation process. “Hire people you don’t like,” he urges, and “forget everything you know”. In this changing world, he claims, we don’t need MBAs so much as we need “MBIs” – Masters of Business Imagination. “The phrase Master of Business Administration is about running the business. That’s great, but what are you going to do to grow and transform the business? We [spend] more time thinking about how our markets are changing, how we might build new relationships with our customers, thinking about how we might go in and disrupt other business models and how we might ingest technology faster to do awesome things within our industry. We should just have a lot more people with a lot more imagination on our team.”

Carroll wasn’t always a change guru – he spent 12 years as an accountant. But somewhere along the way, he realized that technology was moving much faster than the business world, and that there was a business opportunity convincing the corporate world that it needed to change to accommodate new technologies and trends, or get left behind. He points out that Apple generates 60 percent of its revenue from products that didn’t even exist four years ago, and that the only thing that is certain is

that everything will be different before you know it. Half of what students learn in their first year in college is obsolete by the time they graduate. “Having been at this for 15 years,” he says, “I think that the necessity for organizations to get on board with this type of thinking is becoming more critical, because business is changing faster, customers are changing faster and technology is changing faster. My key word is velocity. The need to do a lot of radical things is speeding up because everything out there is speeding up.”

 

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