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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.’

I’m off to New York, where tomorrow I will be the closing speaker at Nasscom’s inaugaural C-summit

The National Association of Software and Services Companies is a trade association representing the major players in the Indian IT and business process outsourcing industry. The event is taking a look at future trends and opportunities for innovation, and features a wide variety of other fascinating speakers, such as the CIO’s for Johnson and Johnson (also a client of mine), Praxair and Schneider Electric.

Of course, everyone knows that we live in interesting times, and that like many nations and organizations in the world, Nasscom is working hard to align folks to a new world order of crazy twists and turns, often illogical policy directions and massive uncertainty. Such is the world today!

Here’s what I know: every business in every industry is faced with unprecedented change through the next 5 to 10 years as disruption takes hold. Read my 10 Drivers for Disruption, and ask yourself how you will be affected.

Then ask yourself : will you have the skills, agility, strategy and capability to align yourself to a faster future? That’s what I will be covering in my keynote! A key part of that equation involves the skills equation. While there might be wishful thinking in parts of the world as to how to deal with a challenging skills issue, the reality is that having a great skills strategy is a crucial factor for success in the era of disruption.

With that thinking, here’s my keynote description!

Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast: Innovating in the Era of Disruption

We live in a time of massive challenge, and yet one of fascinating opportunity, as 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 trends.

In this keynote, futurist Jim Carroll outlines the key drivers of disruption, but offers a path forward. Undeniably, we must align ourselves to the realty of multiple trends: hyper-connectivity, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, neural networks, deep analytics, autonomous technologies, self-learning systems. All of these trends and more are merging together,  leading to a massively new, connected, intelligent machine that will transform, change, challenge and disrupt every industry. As this happens….every company becomes a software company, and speed defines success. That’s why the New York Times recently indicated that the methodologies of agile software development are increasingly becoming a key general leadership requirement.

In this new world in which the future belongs to those who are fast, experience is oxygen. There’s no time to learn, to study, to plan. It’s time to figure out what you don’t know, and do the things that are necessary to begin to know about it. Experiential capital is the new capital for the 21st century.

How to cope with accelerating change? In this keynote, Jim outlines his simple but transformative structure : Think big, start small and scale fast! Jim has been working with and studying what makes organizations survive in a fast paced world. His clients include NASA, the PGA of America, the Swiss Innovation, the National Australia Bank, the Wall Street Journal, Disney, and many, many more.

Back in 2006, I keynoted the Society of Cable Telecom Engineers at their annual conference in Tampa. At the time, YouTube was only just beginning to have an impact, and social networking was still in a nascent stage. It was January — Twitter wasn’t even around!

My job was to alert them that forthcoming trends would mean that they would be  faced with the need to accelerate the bandwidth on their networks. I spoke to the trends I predicted in my book of 1999, Light Bulbs to Yottabits, which took a look at the forthcoming world of online video.


My job, as opening keynote, was to get them in the right, innovative frame of mind to deal with an upcoming tsunami of change.

I ended up writing an article for Broadband Magazine, on my keynote theme, Are We Thinking “Fast” Enough? I recently dug the article out the other day with respect to another upcoming talk within the industry.

It still makes for good reading today, starting with the observation that “in this era in which new developments and technology are coming to the market faster than ever before, everyone must become an innovator, whether it be with new business models, skills partnerships or customer solutions.”

Some of the key points I raised are even more critical today:

  • Innovation has moved from the corporate to the collective, a trend that is causing absolutely furious rates of discovery.
  • This rate of scientific advance is such that a world of yottabits and zetabits is going to arrive faster than you might think,
  • Things are happening so fast that some industries are beginning
    to witness the end of the concept of the product life-cycle
  • Rapid innovation and technology development means that new competitors can now come into a marketplace and cause fundamental, significant and long lasting change at the drop of a hat
  • Rapidly evolving technology is resulting in an increasing shortage of critical skills

Run through that list, and ask yourself if that is your industry situation today.

Read the full article below.

Continue Reading

As I’ve said before, we are still in the starting gate comes to the Internet of Things. Like the early days of the Internet, the idea has been formulated, ideas are bubbling, and imaginations are being unleashed. Right now, a global creativity engine is emerging in which millions of people are imagining and rethinking the future in the context of a hyper-connected world.

With that, it is important to realize that we limit our thinking if we think there is but one Internet of Things. To my mind, there are many different possibilities that are emerging. Read this in the context of my other post, The 11 Rules of IoT Architecture.

Here’s a starting list. Let me know of others!

1. Internet of Smart Things: AI will quickly come to IoT, and will change the capability of many connected devices into intelligent, aware, self-acting smart devices

2. Internet of Spatial Things. As I wrote in my post the other day, spatial data bubbles are the next wave when it comes to location intelligence. Internet of Things devices that are aware, report and interact based on their location within a 3-dimensional space will come to establish new opportunities and industries.

3. Internet of Swarm Things. IoT devices that operate in concert with other things to achieve some goal will become common, and will provide for an exponential growth in the role and capabilities of IoT devices.

4. Internet of Collaborative Things. They won’t just act together once in a swarm once AI is added into the mix. Put together IoSmartT and IofSwarmT and you’ll have IofCollaborativeT.

5. Internet of Mechanical Things. Devices that will have the ability to control other devices through connectivity. This is  a no-brainer, of course, but one area which shows the most promise for innovative ideas.

6. Internet of Disruptive Things. 20 years from now, we’ll look back and say, ‘wow, where did that come from?’

7.  Internet of Internal Things. Ingestible pills and ingestible medicine. An entirely new frontier is opening up as new tiny sensors come to report on health and other internal issues.

8. Internet of Diagnostic Things. Devices which report and act upon analysis as to whether a device is acting and working correctly; changing entire business models. Trucks, for example, with connectivity being the new horsepower, are migrating to a trucking-as-a-service platform, as we increasingly become aware of when a particular component on a truck is going to break down

9. Internet of Learning Things. Somewhat related to smart things, these IoT devices will learn based upon past performance and actives, and adjust future operations based on that insight.

10. Internet of Secure Things. We’re not there yet. This will become a key selling feature going forward.

11.  Internet of Standardized Things. It’s the Wild West right now, but just as standards emerged over time with the Web, so too will standards for interaction, reporting, communicating, etc.

12. Internet of Bastardized Things: flowing from 11, of course, some new IoT Microsoft-type of company will come along with some ridiculous Internet-Explorer type of IotT device, and will ruin things for many….

13. Internet of Curious Things. IoT devices that will extend their intelligence with the ability to discover things and analyze other IoThings that are around them. “We’re building a new machine, and we don’t yet know what it will do!”

As they say, ‘but wait, there’s more!’

What have you got, and what do you see? Tweet to #IoTaxonomy

 

I’ve always liked the children’s book series which involved Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat. It was fabulous to read to my kids, as it featured this adorable little monkey who was always thinking about things, and always ended up getting into trouble as a result. It made me think about the link between curiosity and future trends and innovation.

(I loved book reading time with the kids! There was always such wonderful innovation insight that came from kids books! ****)

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That’s why I was quite intrigued when I recently came across a study released by Merck — what they called their “First International Curiosity Study” — which featured some not-so-unsurprising results.

  • more than 8 out of 10 people from Germany, the US and China agreed that “a curious person is more likely to bring an idea to life at work”
  • even so, the majority did not describe themselves as innately curious – only 20% did!
  • instead, the majority described themselves as ‘organized, collaborative and detail-oriented’
  • curiosity came in 12th place on a list of attributes! (funny and talkative beat out curiosity, if you can believe it!)

How did the study define curiosity?  Inquisitiveness, creativity, openness, and what they called ‘distress tolerance’ — which I would define as the ability to cope and deal with significant change, and turn it into advantage and opportunity through great ideas.

The result of the lack of curiosity is kind of staggering: buried away in the report is all kinds of other insight:

  • 73% of those surveyed did not feel comfortable in asking more questions at work
  • 50% in Germany indicated that they feel discouraged by their employee from changing the status quo!
  • only 9% felt that the organizations they worked for were “extremely encouraging’ of curiosity
  • 61% indicated that the organization was not at all encouraging at all, or only somewhat encouraging

Gosh, these results are pretty sad! Pathetic, really!

Here’s what it means: many organizations, in the face of rapid business model, technological, competitive, social and political change, would prefer that their staff simply remain in a drone-like state, focused on getting things done, rather than figuring out now to do things better!

What should we do with the observations from such a study? Clearly, since we know that curiosity is at the root of much of innovation, the ideas should be obvious for anyone with a curious mind:

  • curiosity should be encouraged as part of your corporate or organizational DNA
  • people should be provided with some sort of “curiosity time”
  • while unfocused curiosity is great, channelling curiosity into activity is even better
  • the next step beyond having curiosity involves learning how to ask the right questions

And maybe it needs to be taken a step further: Curiosity should be imbued and baked into the organizational structure, and given a suitable level of importance. Why not have a senior VP of Curiosity?

Don’t give up — over at LinkedIn, a simple search shows a list of people who have Curiosity in their job title. There might be hope yet!

**** Kids books and innovation? One day I wrote a promo brochure for fun about the Leadership Secrets of Bob the Builder!

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The NEST Learning Thermostat is a great example of the type of typical business model disruption that we are going to witness in every industry through the next decade!

Give it a few years.

You won’t even recognize the industry you are operating in.

That’s because the rate of business model change is accelerating in every single industry. Here’s why:

  1. Right now, there are probably a bunch of really smart people figuring out to disrupt your business model
  2. If you aren’t busy thinking about to disrupt your business model, they most certainly will.
  3. They’ll probably do this sooner than you think they will.
  4. The result is that 10 years out (or less), your business model will look nothing like it does today.
  5. Those that do mess up your business model are quite likely to be younger than you; for many folks, age provides for complacency.
  6. The fundamental change to your business model driven by this younger generation will be the result of digital, smart, intelligent, location-oriented technology.
  7. They’ll use this technology in such a way they’ll come out of left field with a business model idea that you’ve never even thought of before.
  8. Their business model will carry an undeniable ‘coolness factor’ that you can’t simply match.
  9. Most likely, you’ll discount the importance of their innovation, until it is much too late.
  10. The result will be dramatic change :its likely that your current business model will not even survive: and your company might not as well!

Examples of this type of disruption are occurring all around us right now.

It’s going to happen to you too. So — what are you going to do about it?

 

On stage in Dallas this week, opening EdNet 2016

On stage in Dallas this week, opening EdNet 2016

Earlier this week, I was the opening keynote speaker for EdNET 2016, a conference focused on those in the business and preparing knowledge delivery tools for the K-12 sector (aka textbooks!)

It was a fun talk!

Rather than speaking to the specifics of the education industry, I took an in depth look at the global mega trends which are shaping industries, jobs, careers and knowledge into the future.

I then took a look at a wide variety of approaches to innovation that they might consider to align themselves to fast paced knowledge trends.

The folks over at EdWeek Market Brief ran an article covering my talk.


‘Forge Ahead and Move Fast,’ Futurist Tells Education Businesses
by Michele Molnar, Associate Editor

The “fast-movers” in an industry are most likely to succeed, futurist Jim Carroll told about 400 representatives of education companies on Monday in his keynote address to kick off the EdNET 2016 conference here.

Carroll’s message to “think big, start small, and scale fast” was delivered to an audience of executives who are trying to gain market shaJimCarrollre in the historically slow-paced K-12 marketplace.

It’s advice he’s already given in presentations to NASA, Walt Disney Corp., major pharmaceutical companies, and the Professional Golf Association.

The group gathered here for EdNET are product and service providers in the education industry, meeting for three days to discuss their shared challenges, opportunities, and to network.

“It’s not big organizations that will control the future,” Carroll told the attendees. “It’s speed, agility, flexibility—the ability to respond to rapid change—that will increasingly define our success.” For instance, 60 percent of Apple Inc.’s revenues come from products that didn’t exist four years ago, he said.

Educators in everything from universities to elementary schools are “enveloped by speed,” he said, and asked the audience to reflect on “What can we do with this?”

Carroll drew on the perspective of Bill Gates as part of his rationale: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction,” wrote Bill Gates in his 20-year-old book, The Road Ahead.

Earlier this year, Gates predicted major changes on the horizon in education, particularly around personalized learning, within the next five years.

As educators are being asked to teach students for future jobs that don’t yet exist, Carroll said businesses can help with this challenge. He pointed to the disappearance of existing careers and the rapid emergence of new careers like creators of real-time predictive analytical dashboards to monitor people’s health, and programmers who provide location intelligence.

Carroll encouraged the audience to start thinking of ways it can prepare for a future in which students are accustomed to “just-in-time knowledge,” where they can learn what they want to know from watching a video online or doing an internet search.

“Be the Elon Musk of your industry,” Carroll said, referring to the co-founder of Tesla. “Build experience, build knowledge, build understanding. It’s only by trying to do things we haven’t done before that we can get ahead.”

"Who is going to fix the education system so that it works for me in the future?"

“Who is going to fix the education system so that it works for me in the future?”

I was recently interviewed about the future of knowledge and careers. It was timely; my oldest son has just completed a college degree but is immediately pursuing another educational path at a community college.

Does this make sense? Most certainly.

Here’s an extract from the article.


Want to future-proof your career?
The Globe and Mail, By LEAH EICHLER,
Saturday, 03 September 2016
Life-long education and training are increasingly becoming a key part of staying relevant in the employment world

For many, this week marks a new chapter in their lives: the first week of university. Like countless students before them, those first few weeks are a flurry of experiences and opportunities that sets out the road to independence. However, that expectation that in four short years their education will be complete is rapidly becoming a relic of the past. Rather, they will be entering a professional world where in order to compete, they must embrace the ethos of life-long student.

Jim Carroll, a futurist and speaker based in Mississauga, describes the work force that students can expect to graduate into as one of “rapid knowledge obsolescence.”

To adapt, professionals will need to possess “just-in-time knowledge” and continue learning in order to have the relevant information at the right time to suit a specific purpose.

“We are never going to have the right skills and knowledge to do what needs to be done. The only way we will is to continue to reinvent ourselves, by updating our skills in order to maintain our relevance. We need to accept that as our reality,” Mr. Carroll said.

That’s why it made perfect sense to him when his son, who graduated in June from Carleton University in Ottawa with a bachelor of arts in physical geography with a minor in geomatics, immediately enrolled in a certificate program in geographic information systems at Ottawa’s Algonquin College.

Yet, it’s not only employees that need to adapt; universities, colleges and employers need to change their approaches to in order to stay competitive.

“Everything is going to change,” Mr. Carroll said. “Universities and colleges aren’t really prepared to give us what we need. Employers aren’t really in the right frame of mind either since they rely on old outdated hiring models and recruitment. Also, if you are a graduate, and you don’t have the right frame of mind that you need to continually maintain your skills, then you are wrong as well,” he said.

The key, suggested Mr. Carroll, is to emphasize skill sets rather than degrees, but how? It’s a problem that New York-based Markle Foundation has been trying to solve.

The Unites States, they observed, has a critical need for a skill-based labour market. There are currently 5.5 million job openings, but 6.5 million people are unemployed. They attribute part of this disconnect to the outdated methods employers use to vet candidates and discern skills.

 

…. In other words, just-in-time knowledge, or as one of Mr. Carroll’s favourite quotes from a well-known educator named Lewis Perelman put it, “learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.”

 

Innovation is a mindset. Do you have what it takes?

Are you suffering from what I call ‘aggressive indecision’, unwilling to do the things you need to do to move forward? Set an action plan for innovation!

Here’s a few simple thoughts on how to get out of your innovation rut!

Reward failure, and tone down the “I told-you-so’s”

Too many people think when times are volatile, that it’s not a good time to focus on big ideas. Not true! Consider history: many people stuck their neck out in the 1990’s and tried out new ways of doing business, new technologies, and innovative methods of dealing with markets and customers. Yet many of those efforts collapsed in spectacular fashion due to the dot.com/technology meltdown, and a dangerous sense of complacency set in. Back then, innovators had to hang their head in shame, and the nervous nellies who dared not innovate reigned supreme! Yet those who took risk excelled — they invented Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram…. When times are volatile and fear reigns, that’s the best time to make big bold moves.

Listen up!

We live in a time of unprecedented feedback and communication – and yet few organizations are prepared to listen! Customers are telling you, loudly, what they want. Young people are defining a future that is different from anything we’ve dealt with before. Competitive intelligence capabilities abound. And yet most or- ganizations ignore these signals, or don’t know how to listen – or even where to look. Organizations should reconsider the many effective ways of building effective digital feedback systems, in order that they can stay on top of fast-changing events, rediscover markets, and define opportunity – which will help them understand how and where they need to innovate.

Let your customers in the building

Don’t just listen to your customers – lead them in through the front door! The vir-tual building, that is. Global connectivity now provides an unprecedented opportunity for interactive design and innovation. Customer-oriented innovation should be your guiding phrase — les customers become intimately involved in the overall design and evolution of your products and services.

Encourage frivolous education

Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century” – that’s a phrase that neatly captures the reality of the fast pace of change that envelopes us. Yet, how can employees innovate if they are restricted to formal education programs? Why not establish some “playtime” where staff can try out a multitude of new technologies, go shopping in a mall, or surf social networks – and then share what they’ve learned? Set them out onto frivolous activities with a goal in mind – to measure customer service, examine competitive activities, take a look at new products, or simply come up with some cool new ideas. Maybe you’ll get some unique insight that doesn’t come from traditional, boring, staid educational programs!

Promote offbeat time

Don’t stop at sending them to the mall – send them to the beach! Don’t restrict innovation into the organizational structure. Some years back, a mobile device company developed rainbow-colored cell phones, popular with young people, after some executives decided to hang out at the beach one day. It’s by promoting “whacky time” that organizations can come up with great ideas.

Destroy organizational sclerosis

It’s been said before, but needs to be said again – hierarchy is the enemy of inno-vation. Everyone knows that the big challenge in many organizations are silos, uncommunicative departments, and a culture that doesn‘t promote openness. To improve the ability of an organization to innovate, communication barriers need to be broken down.Today, there are countless methods to  destroy “organizational sclerosis,” particularly through frivolous employee communications. Establish informal innovation idea channels, and magic will flow!

Get young.

Throughout the next year, take the time to listen to young people — anyone 10 years younger than yourself, or even more. They’re building the future right now, and you’d do well to understand it. Their future is hyper-active, interactive and multi-tasking – this generation gets bored quickly, and they are beginning to dominate your workplace. They are also becoming your new competitors. Don’t expect them to subscribe to the same old beliefs as to structure and rules, working hours, and corporate culture, or business models. You won’t survive in their future if you don’t take the time to understand what they are doing, talking about, and thinking.

I’m featured in the July/August issue of AgriSuccess, the national publication of the Farm Credit Coop of Canada. You can read the article below, or access the PDF through the image.

Sadly, they printed only a small part of the interview! I dug into my e-mail archive, and so you’ll find the ‘missing bits’ after the end of the article below!


Highlights

  • Development of Ag Ant and photonic weed detection next steps in crop management
  • Be open but cautious when looking at new technology
  • Crowd thinking making a big impact on technological change
  • Acceleration of science has profound implications for agriculture
AgSuccess

Read the PDF version of the article by clicking on the image!

Acknowledged as one of the world’s leading global futurists, Jim Carroll has an extensive list of blue chip clients and has delivered keynote addresses around the world. He has operated his own advisory firm, J.A. Carroll Consulting, since 1989.

What equipment innovations do you see for agriculture in the years ahead?
At the University of Illinois, they have developed what they call the ‘AgAnt.’ It’s a prototype for an automated robot that can assess and detect stress, disease, weeds, soil status and pests. And at Edith Cowan University, they’re working to develop a ‘photonic weed detection system.’ It aims a series of laser pulses at the field, which are reflected back. A photo-detector then analyzes the information and provides instruction to a spray cylinder and valve as to where to apply a treatment.

Science is real. Science is fast. Science is accelerating. And agriculture is science.

I find it increasingly difficult to keep on top of many trends, simply because it is happening so fast. Just five years ago, I was on stage in Las Vegas speaking about this fascinating new, future idea of ‘3D printing.’ And then, just last year, I found myself on stage in front of a group of dental professionals, talking about the fact that 3D printing of dental implants, crowns and other implants, was coming into the industry at a very fast pace. 3D printing is expected to have ramifications for agriculture too. For instance, your local equipment dealership might in some cases be able to “print” a replacement part that you need.

You’ve said there have been some stunningly bad predictions in past decades. As we consider the range of current predictions, how should we sort the good from the bad?

That’s a tough one. Maybe the best ‘worst’ predictions were the ones that rockets would never reach the moon, or Bill Gates’s comment that 640K should be enough for everyone! And yet, some people carry it to extremes suggesting we will soon have elevators that will take us to space or to the moon. How do we sort out the real from the fanciful? Be open, but cautious.

You note that aggressive indecision often kills innovation in companies. Why is this happening?

During the economic downturn in 2001-02, I noticed that many of my clients, regardless of the industry, seemed to have lost their sense of direction. Quite simply, people decided not to make decisions – and they seemed to like it.

The result is an economy in which everyone seems to be stuck in a rut, unwilling and unable to move forward.

Why is this happening? In part, fear of the unknown. And that extends into the world of agriculture. We have a lot of farmers who are afraid to make decisions because the next unforeseen event might prove to have negative consequences.

So what do you do? Do you wallow in indecision, or make aggressive moves to position for a future in which ag only has an upside? I’m in the latter camp.

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

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

Third, be prepared to make bold decisions. Want to test it? Find the one big decision you’ve been deferring the longest, and decide one way or the other. Right now.

Technological change has been rapid in the past two decades. Will the rate of change slow, stay the same or accelerate in the years ahead?

It’s certainly going to accelerate – that’s why my tag line has become ‘the future belongs to those who are fast.’ There are numerous reasons why it is speeding up. Certainly the idea of ‘crowd thinking’ is having a big impact. We’ve got this big, global collaborative thinking and research machine with the Internet today.

Science itself is accelerating. The new global mind generates new knowledge at furious rates. We’re going from 19 million known chemical substances today to 80 million by 2025 – and five billion by 2100. The discovery of a single chemical substance permitted Apple to miniaturize a hard disk for the first iPad, which led to the birth of a new billion-dollar market.

The acceleration of science has profound implications for agriculture, since much of ag is science-dependent. Consider bio-genomics. The cost to sequence human, animal and plant genomes is collapsing at the same pace that the cost of computer chips collapsed.

Science is real. Science is fast. Science is accelerating. And agriculture is science.


Stuff that didn’t make the cut!

In some of your presentations you talk about the rise of urban farming and jobs for vertical farm infrastructure managers. Most farmers that I know see urban farming as a quaint idea rather than something that will feed a significant number of people. What’s your take on it?

It’s simple — the simple fact is that global food production has to double in the next 30 years to keep up with population growth, and there is little new arable land coming online.

Add to that some basic realities from an international perspective: By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Africa is urbanizing so fast that by 2030 it will cease to be a rural continent

Those trends are already leading to the rapid growth of urban farming. I dug out research that shows that there already there are 800 million ‘city-farmers’ according to UN statistics — some 25% of population of Burkina Faso, 35% in Cameroon, 63% in Kenya, 68% in Tanzania. Consider this: 90% of the fresh vegetables in Accra, Ghana come from farming within the city! That’s why we are seeing a lot of agricultural research and innovation around the idea of vertical farming … and hence, a new profession of farmers involved in this field.

Vertical farming is just an example of the massive types of innovaton occuring throughout the global agricultural sector. That’s why futurists like me exist : our job is to remind those who are very involved in day to day realities, and who don’t have a lot of time to think about what comes next, that there is a tremendous amount of change occuring out there.

Lets’ come back to the idea of vertical farming — visit http://vertical-farming.net, which is a global initiative that brings together researchers, academics and others involved in this field. 20 years ago, we didn’t have that type of global mind, but today, we do. This provides for a lot of collaborative thinking, research and idea sharing. This accelerates the pace of innovation and discovery.

Or take a look at http://www.instructables.com/id/Vertical-Hydroponic-Farm/ . This is an example of a community where people are using low-cost computers known as “Raspberry Pi’s” ($5 to $35 per computer) to advance vertical farming concepts. Sure, it might involve hydroponics, but the fact that tech-enthusiasts can share softawre and code also accelrates technology.

Is there any risk from relying on too much leading edge technology?

There is a tremendous amount of risk — privacy, security, criminal activities, social and ethical challenges. The list goes on. That doesn’t mean the pace of technological change is going to slow down.

When I talk about this on stage, I often help people think about their discomfort with change by quoting Ogden Nash, who observed that, ‘for some people, progress is great, but its gone on way too long.’ That I think captures in a nuthsell the reality that we faced with today. Many in my generation — baby boomers — are extremely uncomfortable with the rapid change that envelopes us.

But I really believe that its going to be differen with the next generation : my sons are 21 and 23, and I really believe they are a part of a generation that has a different view with respect to technological change. They’ve already grown up in a world in which they’ve witnessed the arrival and disappearance of entire technologies: think about DVD-players. I often talk about how they view some things from my life as being ‘things from the olden days’ — 35mm film, TV guides, CD’s.

Those young people are coming into the world of agriculture today — they’re taking over the family farm, or working within large industrial or agriculture cooperatives. They’re open to new ideas, new ways of working, and paritcuularly, new technologies.

They’re sitting in the combine with an iPad, an iPhone, and are eager to utilize rapidly evolving precision farming technoogies to achieve that year over year yield increase.

And when it comes to the risk of rapidly evolving technologies, I think they will deal with it in very different ways.

At least, I hope so. As a futurist, I have to stay relentlessly optimistic!

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