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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.

2014.02.20.08.49-1024x683In May, I’ll open the Professional Records & Information Services Management annual conference in Bonita Springs, Florida, and will focus on some of the key issues in terms of corporate records management.

They recently interviewed me, and have run this article on my keynote.

Futurist Jim Carroll to Urge Faster, More Strategic Innovation During PRISM Keynote Address
By Carolyn Schierhorn

World-renowned futurist and innovation champion Jim Carroll intends to spark conversation, creativity, and commitment to strategically lead change when he delivers the opening keynote address on May 17 at the 2016 PRISM International Annual Conference in Bonita Springs, FL.

My role will be to challenge PRISM members to accelerate their ability to deal with the faster rate of change that their businesses are going through and come up with solutions, opportunities, and ideas faster,” said Carroll, whose upcoming motivational talk is titled “What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t?

During the past 20 years, Carroll has led or keynoted all manner of corporate events and association conferences, serving clients as diverse as Walt Disney Co., NASA, and the Professional Golfers’ Association of America. “I speak in virtually every industry on every kind of topic,” said Carroll, who is based out of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. This gives him a broad, interdisciplinary perspective that allows him to see patterns, identify nascent trends, and gauge whether innovative ideas from one realm will work as well in another.

But Carroll’s knowledge of records and information management (RIM) dates back decades. He made his first foray online in the early 1980s while working as a CPA for a major accounting firm. “I was on the precursors to the Internet before a lot of other folks,” he said. “I had been building a global e-mail system—a global collaboration machine—for the firm when I undertook a new project: the development of a document capture, storage, retrieval, and access system.”

Carroll points out that information management expertise is typically viewed by companies as tactical knowledge. “It’s viewed as a practical role by senior management—simply a necessary evil,” he said. “But records retention, access, security, and privacy are really strategic issues. Look at all the things that can go wrong.” During his address, Carroll will urge the RIM industry to transition to a more strategic role.

Indeed, Program Planning Chair Christopher Powell Jones hopes Carroll will galvanize conference attendees into pressing for a strategic voice in their clients’ decision-making. “We have a window in which we can help our existing clients solve problems related to the way they deal with information,” said Jones, a consulting team leader for Secure Records Solutions in Tallahassee, FL. “We already have our clients’ trust. If we don’t take advantage of that, they’re going to decide to solve their problems elsewhere, perhaps using technologies that aren’t the best fit for them.”

Seizing Opportunities to Lead

Given the explosion of data in many fields, the RIM industry needs to be at the vanguard, proactively seeking and promoting solutions, said Carroll, the author of several books on innovation. For example, he points to the ever-growing amount and complexity of information that could potentially reside in electronic health records. “What happens if you have a patient who is linked to a hospital by a remote blood pressure device or a remote glucose monitoring device?” he asked. “Is that a hospital record, or does that data belong to the patient?” The RIM industry should be at the forefront of defining what is a record and establishing the policies and procedures for storing and retrieving such information, Carroll said.

Similarly, with the advent of the Internet of things—a world of such hyperconnectivity that most household appliances and industrial machines will be monitored and
controlled online—RIM professionals must become thought leaders on how all of this generated data will be organized, protected, and accessed, he emphasized.

In his book The Future Belongs to Those Who Are Fast, Carroll reveals why so many organizations are “innovation laggards,” as he puts it:

  • They fear the unknown.
  • They have a culture that is risk-averse.
  • They are unwilling to confront the truth.
  • They have a short-term focus.
  • Inertia is easy.
  • It’s easy to avoid tough decisions.
  • They fail to adapt to fast markets.
  • They refuse or are unwilling to adapt to new methodologies and ideas.
  • Like most other fields, the RIM industry needs to become more nimble and forward-thinking, according to Carroll.

A lot of research and development today is occurring through Kickstarter,” Carroll observed. “It’s occurring in what we call the maker or tinkerer community. A lot of organizations are flat-footed while kids are reinventing their industry.”

We know this is a world with massively increasing volumes of information. And the ability to sift through it, sort it, find it, and turn it into something relevant is becoming more complex,” said Carroll, noting how important it is for RIM executives to understand what is happening in Silicon Valley. “Clearly, research institutions, universities, and companies like Google and Amazon are developing new algorithms for how to deal with all of this data.” RIM firms will need to reposition themselves to stay relevant, he said.

Carroll’s keynote speech should jump-start discussions and brainstorming among meeting participants. “My objective,” said Jones, “is for Jim to begin a conversation that will inspire the rest of conference, which has the theme ‘Navigating the Oceans of Opportunity.’ Jim will get us thinking about all of the opportunity that is available to us, given our existing resources, and about the opportunities that lie ahead. There is a lot of room for our profession to grow. I expect Jim to paint a picture of the different areas we have to explore.

“My objective is for Jim to begin a conversation that will inspire the rest of conference.”—Christopher Powell Jones

On his website, www.jimcarroll.com, Carroll provides 10 tips on how to become more innovative. During his address, Carroll will elaborate on a number of these insights, explaining how they apply to the RIM profession:

  • Hire people you don’t like. “The reason you don’t like them is because they are different, and that is probably the exact reason why their ideas are important,” he writes.
  • Forget everything you know. “Knowledge is momentary,” he states. “Learn to grab it when you need it. And don’t assume that what you know right now will have any relevance tomorrow.”
  • Get young. “Take the time to listen to young people—anyone 10 years younger than yourself,” he advises. “They’re building the future right now, and you’ll do well to understand it. Their future is hyperactive, interactive, and multi-tasking.” Millennials get bored more easily and are more entrepreneurial than previous generations, Carroll notes.
  • Appreciate wisdom. “At the same time you listen to young people, be patient with anyone 10 years older than yourself,” he writes. “The fact is, they possess something that you might not have yet—experience and the wisdom that comes from having been there. Your impatience for change might delude you into thinking that things are far easier than they really are.”
  • Forget permanence. “Get with the program—everything is temporary and change is constant,” he says. “Accept that, and the rest comes easy since it will help you
    focus on what needs to be done rather than looking back at what was done.”
  • Make decisions. “Don’t be someone who asks ‘What happened?'” Carroll urges. “Make things happen. Far too many people have forgotten how to analyze information and move forward based on what they see.”
  • Change your focus. “Old glories and corporate nostalgia won’t define future success,” he stresses. “Aggressiveness and adaptability will. Stop thinking about the past, and focus firmly on the future.”
  • Trap creativity. “It’s a precious resource,” he says. “The ideas, thoughts, and initiatives of those who surround you can be your most potent weapon.”
  • Think clear and present opportunities. “Don’t focus on the negativity of change,” he warns. “Instead think about what can be done.”
  • Get excited, and be happy. “Studies show that most people don’t like what they do,” he writes. “That’s sad. Change your attitude, and you’ll find that things really can improve. The next year is full of opportunity, and it’s yours if you want it.”

 

Carolyn Schierhorn is a freelance writer based in Wheaton, Ill.

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

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

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

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

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


Keep Those Ideas Coming
Jim Carroll, March 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Often, one of the best ways to discover ideas for doing things differently — of fuelling your innovation engine — can come from studying other organizations or industries that are excelling at dealing with fast market, business model, competitive and technological change. There are many organizations out there who aren’t innovative and are stuck in a rut; there are others who are extremely innovative, at the same time that there are a lot of laggards.

Seek ideas for innovation by studying those who excel at dealing with fast-paced change

One of the best ways to discover new and creative innovation ideas is by studying those who are moving forward at a really fast pace. They might be within your own industry; quite often, they will be in a completely different industry.

Organizations or industries that are subject to extremely high velocity are often the most innovative. They are busy working with the challenges that exist, and are being as creative as possible to deal with those challenges in order to turn them into opportunity.

Regardless of who and where they are, they share several things in common: they’re busy experimenting, adapting, evolving and changing. They’re working hard to make sure that the essential concepts of high-velocity innovation – run the business better, grow the business, transform the business – have become an essential part of their lifeblood.

If you can spot these organizations, you can learn from them, and become inspired by them. They can be a wonderful source of creative ideas!

So how do you find them? By looking for the telltale signs of companies or industries who are faced with all the challenges that the high-velocity economy can throw at them. Given the challenges, the organization or industry will tend to have people who are more innovative, realistic, practical, and open to new ways of thinking. They are likely to be more forward oriented and creative. They will be working to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances, and will be collectively seeking complex solutions to unique problems.

Several signs can provide you with insight as to whether the company is dealing with extreme velocity and is therefore a real innovator. Look for these characteristics:

  • They are significantly impacted by faster science. The fundamentals of the science within the industry are evolving at a furious pace as a result of the infinite idea loop. It is evident that the discovery of new knowledge within the industry is occurring at a faster pace than within other industries. Hint: look to genomics companies. Furious rates of scientific change here!
  • More competition. Business models are changing quickly, with a lot of new competition appearing on the scene as the industry begins to blur and change.
  • A faster degree of product/service innovation. The industry is widely known for being innovative, with a constant stream of new products or services coming to market.
  • More operational innovation. There is a lot of fundamental change within the industry in terms of business models, marketing methodologies, customer relationships and other unique changes. Organizations or industries that are subject to extremely high velocity – that is, significant amounts of fundamental change occurring at a rapid pace – are often the most innovative.
  • Shorter product lifecycles. Products are coming to market faster than previously, or faster than within other industries, due to the previous four trends.
  • Rising tides require fast change. Customer expectations are changing quickly in terms of the products or services being offered, because of the furious rates of innovation that are occurring. In addition, there’s heightened customer service due to hyper-competition; people know that they must absolutely excel in service levels.
  • A significant creativity capability. The organization or industry is dominated by creative thinkers; a workforce and management team that is fully focused on doing things differently, in order to respond to the reality of change that engulfs them. Those who kill ideas aren’t the dominant force; those who suggest how things could be done differently are at the forefront of action within the organization.
  • A partnership orientation. The organization or industry is constantly seeking outside expertise in order to help it go forward; it is willing to make use of complexity partners, nomadic workers, skills banks and other partners in order to grab on to ever more important change capabilities. They know they can’t do it all, and so they are willing to do what it takes to get access to what they need to get it done.
  • They’re plugged in. The organization or industry is linked into and is feeding off of the ideas from within the infinite idea loop. They are constantly scanning and sifting through the constantly evolving collective insight of the global discussion that is taking place; they are always eager to spot how innovation is occurring outside of their organization, and are busy interpreting what is being said in order that they can use this insight for their own purposes.

Organizations or industries that are subject to extremely high velocity – that is, significant amounts of fundamental change occurring at a rapid pace – are often the most innovative. They are busy working with the challenges that exist, and are being as creative as possible to deal with those challenges in order to turn them into opportunity.

You want to find these organizations, study them, and learn from them – since that will be one of the best ways to create your own innovation oxygen.

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