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A brand today can go from hero to zero in a matter of months….” In that context, you’d better get ahead of the fast future, before it gets ahead of you!

Consider Sony. Once they were a really cool company with the coolest technology on the planet — the Walkman.

Then they weren’t, because they didn’t keep up with the future, and didn’t innovate fast enough.

We live in an era of instant obsolescence. I often tell the story on stage of how my sons — now 24 and 22– perceive many of the things which were once a part of my life as being from the “olden days.” We’ve actually come up with a pretty long list.

Sony once had a really cool brand name, and the Walkman had deep, deep brand value. Yet Sony seemed to lose its innovative spirit, and started going wrong in a big way. It ended up destroying a good chunk of the brand value behind the Sony name — when I think of Sony now, I think of a company that is slow, behind the times, ponderous.

Which begs the question : are you operating with enough agility and rapidity in order to ensure that your own brand doesn’t become a “brand from the olden days?”

The rate at which the Sony brand lost its value is nothing short of stunning — and was due to a series of well known missteps (among others):

  • they failed to keep up with the rapid growth and demand for flat panel TV’s and other hot new technologies: they failed with market agility.
  • they decided that going to war with their customers (by slipping destructive software onto their music CD’s) was more important than developing great technology that caught the next wave of consumer electronics. Look up “Sony rootkit” for the story from over a decade ago.
  • they dropped the ball on the necessity for continuous operational excellence , as evidenced by a disastrous recall of laptop batteries some years back.

The list goes on. Are you making similar mistakes that is costing you brand image? You certainly are, if:

  • Your brand looks tired, because it is tired. Case in point — many companies in the automobile industry missed out on the revolution as the dashboard becomes a computer, because they weren’t watching what their customers were doing. They were busy releasing automobiles that were some five years behind the living rooms of their customers — and that certainly brought the brand sheen off of some of the biggest auto companies. They are still trying to catch up.
  • Customers see a lack of innovation: Consumers today are immersed in a global cloud of new ideas. They’re witnessing constant, relentless, awe-inspiring forms of innovation all around them, as they deal with a flood of new consumer technologies, packaging based product innovation, and ongoing advancements in retail environments, both offline and online. They’ve come to expect that the brands they deal with are at the leading edge, in design, functionality, message and purpose.
  • Lousy, ineffective customer service: Guess what – when it comes to interaction with your customers, they measure you up against the world’s best. If you don’t add up, you are doing some significant damage to your brand equity right there. Customer support is no longer good enough — fanatical support is better.
  • You don’t know that you customers know more about your brand than you do: Your customers today are immersed in the global innovation idea feedback loop. They busy sharing ideas on what’s really cool, and they are even busier taking apart the folly of those who have been left behind. In doing so, they are rapidly reinventing products, services, brands and image. If you aren’t listening, you are guaranteeing that you’ll fall behind.
  • A lack of purpose or urgency: I’ve studied many organizations who still don’t have the key information they need for market agility. They don’t have instant feedback mechanisms which tell them of rapid developments in specific markets. They don’t know how to regroup quickly “when bad things happen.” They still operate blind, as if it’s 1990: their sales force goes into a customer meeting, oblivious as to what that customer has been thinking about them. They approach every day as if it were the same as yesterday; meanwhile, their market and their customers have run away from them!
  • A lack of market and competitive intelligence: It’s the information-age, get it? There’s no shortage of information to be had. Yet I see companies who seem shocked when a competitor drops a ‘bombshell’ announcement — only to realize that they were the only one who thought it was a bombshell. Everybody else knew what the competition was up to, because in this new hyper-connected world, everyone knows what everyone else is doing!
  • A regular series of fumbling missteps: The saddest thing is that Sony has messed up in so many ways, that some customers now look at as if it has a “L” on its forehead. Today, small mistakes can be instantly compounded. Take the concept of compounded financial interest. Now realize that a small PR mistake, a lousy executive decision, or poor execution, can lead to the same type of instant, global brand devaluation — that can compound on itself at an extremely high interest rate!

A brand today can go from hero to zero in a matter of months. How do you avoid such a fate?

  • Recognize that brand longevity is now a critical issue
  • Ensure your sales, marketing, development and customer support team are relentlessly focused on the currency of the brand
  • Make sure that continuous brand innovation is part of your corporate mantra
  • When confronted with the new and challenging customer, learn from them rather than running away
  • Be incessantly focused on the likely innovations that will come to impact your brand
  • Learn to think five to six product lifecycles in advance — and plan to do them all within six months.
  • Make forward oriented intelligence a critical aspect of what you do.

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

Obviously, I spend a lot of time thinking about innovation. And given my global client list, I have a unique front-row seat into what organizations are doing to succeed — or, as they case may be, not succeed — with their innovation efforts.

With that, here’s a quick list of 10 more things that smart, innovative companies do to create an overall sense of innovation-purpose.

  • Heighten the importance of innovation. One major client with several billons in revenue has 8 senior VP’s who are responsible for innovation. And the fact is, they don’t just walk the talk — they do it. The message to the rest of the company? Innovation is critical — get involved.
  • Create a compelling sense of urgency. With product lifecycles compressing and markets witnessing fierce competition, now is not the time for studies, committee meetings and reports. It’s time for action. Simply do things. Now. Get it done. Analyze it later to figure out how to do it better next time.
  • Ignite each spark. Innovative leaders know that everyone in the organization has some type of unique creativity and talent. They know how to find it, harness it, and use it to advantage.
  • Re-evaluate the mission. You might have been selling widgets five years ago, but the market doesn’t want widgets anymore. If the world has moved on, and you haven’t, it is time to re-evaluate your purpose, goals and strategies. Rethink the fundamentals in light of changing circumstances.
  • Build up experiential capital. Innovation comes from risk, and risk comes from experience. The most important asset today isn’t found on your balance sheet — it is found in the accumulated wisdom from the many risks that you’ve taken. The more experiential capital you have, the more you’ll succeed.
  • Shift from threat to opportunity. Innovative organizations don’t have management and staff who quiver from the fear at what might be coming next. Instead, they’re alive from breathing the oxygen of opportunity.
  • Banish complacency and skepticism. It’s all too easy for an organization, bound by a history of inaction, to develop a defeatist culture. Innovative leaders turn this around by motivating everyone to realize that in an era of rapid change, anything is possible..
  • Innovation osmosis. If you don’t have it, get it — that’s a good rule of thumb for innovation culture. One client lit a fuse in their innovation culture by buying up small, aggressive, young innovative companies in their industry. They then spent the time to carefully nurture their ideas and harness their creativity.
  • Stop selling product, and sell results. The word solution is overused and overdone, but let’s face it — in a world in which everything is becoming a commodity and everyone is focused on price, change the rules of the game. Refuse to play — by thinking about how to play in a completely new game.
  • Create excitement. I don’t know how many surveys I saw this year which indicated that the majority of most people in most jobs are bored, unhappy, and ready to bolt. Not at innovative companies! The opportunity for creativity, initiative and purpose results in a different attitude. Where might your organization be on a “corporate happiness index?” If it’s low, then you don’t have the right environment. Fix that problem — and fix it quick.

One recent client engaged me for a talk for their global team, with the keynote title “Achieving Agility: Aligning Ourselves for an Era of Accelerating Change”. That’s a good example of how I outline the attributes for success in a world of high velocity change. With that, I focus on how organizations and leaders must incorporate four key capabilities: agility, insight, innovation and execution.


Corporate agility concept is perhaps the most critical: organizations must presume that the rate of change today is so fast that product lifecycles are collapsing, business models are relentlessly shifting, and customers are unforgiving and fleeting. To name just a few key trends!

Agility implies that we must innovate and adapt based on rapidly changing circumstances, on a continuous basis.

How do we do that? By adopting several key guiding principles that form the basis for all corporate strategy and activities going forward:

  • plan for short term longevity: No one can presume that markets, products, customers and assumptions will remain static: everything is changing instantly. Business strategies and activities must increasingly become short term oriented while fulfilling a long term mission.
  • presume lack of rigidity: Many organizations undertake plans based on key assumptions. Agile organizations do so by presuming that those key assumptions are going to change regularly over time, and so build into their plans a degree of ongoing flexibility.
  • design for flexibility : In a world of constant change, products or services must be designed in such a way that they can be quickly redesigned without massive cost and effort. Think like Google: every product and service should be a beta, with the inherent foundation being one of flexibility for future change.
  • build with extensibility: Apple understood the potential for rapid change by building into the iPod architecture the fundamental capability for other companies to develop add-on products. Think the same way : tap into the world. Let the customer, supplier, partners and others innovate on your behalf!
  • harness external creativity: In a world in which knowledge is evolving at a furious pace, no one organization can do everything. Recogize your limits, and tap into the skills, insight and capabilities of those who can do things better.
  • plan for supportability: Customers today measure you by a bar that is raised extremely high — they expect you to deliver the same degree of high-quality that they get from the best companies on the planet. They expect instant support, rapid service, and constant innovation. If you don’t provide this, they’ll simply move on to an alternative.
  • revisit with regularity: Banish complacency. Focus on change. Continually revisit your plans, assumptions, models and strategies, because the world next week is going to be different than that of today.

To me, that’s what agility is all about!

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

I will often sit back and analyze what I’ve seen in order to establish some powerful lessons for other people. Here’s just such a quick list of 10 more things that smart, innovative companies do to create an overall sense of innovation-purpose.

  • Heighten the importance of innovation. One major client with several billons in revenue has 8 senior VP’s who are responsible for innovation. And the fact is, they don’t just walk the talk — they do it. The message to the rest of the company? Innovation is critical — get involved.
  • Create a compelling sense of urgency. With product lifecycles compressing and markets witnessing fierce competition, now is not the time for studies, committee meetings and reports. It’s time for action. Simply do things. Now. Get it done. Analyze it later to figure out how to do it better next time.
  • Ignite each spark. Innovative leaders know that everyone in the organization has some type of unique creativity and talent. They know how to find it, harness it, and use it to advantage.
  • Re-evaluate the mission. You might have been selling widgets five years ago, but the market doesn’t want widgets anymore. If the world has moved on, and you haven’t, it is time to re-evaluate your purpose, goals and strategies. Rethink the fundamentals in light of changing circumstances.
  • Build up experiential capital. Innovation comes from risk, and risk comes from experience. The most important asset today isn’t found on your balance sheet — it is found in the accumulated wisdom from the many risks that you’ve taken. The more experiential capital you have, the more you’ll succeed.
  • Shift from threat to opportunity. Innovative organizations don’t have management and staff who quiver from the fear at what might be coming next. Instead, they’re alive from breathing the oxygen of opportunity.
  • Banish complacency and skepticism. It’s all too easy for an organization, bound by a history of inaction, to develop a defeatist culture. Innovative leaders turn this around by motivating everyone to realize that in an era of rapid change, anything is possible..
  • Innovation osmosis. If you don’t have it, get it — that’s a good rule of thumb for innovation culture. One client lit a fuse in their innovation culture by buying up small, aggressive, young innovative companies in their industry. They then spent the time to carefully nurture their ideas and harness their creativity.
  • Stop selling product, and sell results. The word solution is overused and overdone, but let’s face it — in a world in which everything is becoming a commodity and everyone is focused on price, change the rules of the game. Refuse to play — by thinking about how to play in a completely new game.
  • Create excitement. I don’t know how many surveys I saw this year which indicated that the majority of most people in most jobs are bored, unhappy, and ready to bolt. Not at innovative companies! The opportunity for creativity, initiative and purpose results in a different attitude. Where might your organization be on a “corporate happiness index?” If it’s low, then you don’t have the right environment. Fix that problem — and fix it quick.

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.

Did you know that the typical truck today contains more technology than your typical small plane? They shouldn’t be called truckers anymore — they’re “pilots!” That’s but one of the tidbits I’ll explore in my keynote next week for the Natioanl Association of Truck Stock Operators in National, when I open their annual conference!

2014Trucks

Autonomous road trains! That’s but one of the fast paced trends to drive forward the global trucking industry — topics I’ll cover in Nashville at the end of January.

World-Leading Futurist To Give Keynote Address At The NATSO Show
Thursday, November 14, 2013

Preparing for the future means focusing on innovation. This year at The NATSO Show,Jan. 26-29, 2014, Nashville, Tenn., world-leading futurist Jim Carroll will provide insight and inspiration to help NATSO members improve their business operations today while making innovative business decisions geared to the future.

In the keynote address, sponsored by Chevron Lubricants, Carroll will share ideas that will show operators how to link future trends to today’s creative decision making. He will also help attendees learn how to deal with the challenges of the economic correction through a focus on innovation.

“The rate of change today—whether with business models, product lifecycles, skills and knowledge, marketing methodologies or customer support concepts—is speeding up. We live in a world where being faster is better than being fast. That’s why innovation is the most important word that you need to be thinking about,” Carroll said.

Right now, truckstop and travel plaza operators are witnessing rapid technological advances with fuel economy impacting truck fleets and passenger vehicles and seeing shifts in business models that are affecting logistics and the routes heavy trucks travel. We’re also seeing customers that are demanding new ways of interacting with retailers and purchasing their products. These changes make staying ahead of the curve more important than ever. To capitalize on both current and future opportunities, operators need to be in a frame of mind in which innovation is at the forefront and Carroll will help get them there.

As an author, columnist, media commentator and consultant, Carroll has a 20-year track record in providing direct, independent guidance to a diverse global client base. He has spoken to hundreds of groups, including NASA, Disney, the PGA of America and Johnson & Johnson.

Carroll has researched key innovation success factors for dozens of associations, professions, companies and individuals. His books include The Future Belongs To Those Who Are Fast and Ready, Set, Done: How to Innovate When Faster is the New Fast.

– See more at: http://www.natso.com/press/press/view/52#sthash.7n59qchN.dpuf

Rethinking Human Capital
March 7th, 2012

I was in New Orleans two weeks ago, where I was a keynote speaker for Talent Strategies 2012.

We live in an era of unprecedented, relentless change — a time of hyper-innovation, rapid skills obsolescence and the rapid emergence of new knowledge, constant career upheaval and evolution of existing careers and emergence of new careers - Jim Carroll

The working title of my keynote was “Talent Management 2020: What Comes Next?“, with this description being provided to program attendees.

We live in an era of unprecedented, relentless change — a time of hyper-innovation, rapid skills obsolescence and the rapid emergence of new knowledge, constant career upheaval and evolution of existing careers and emergence of new careers. In an era such as this, every organization is faced with a need for a new type of talent management flexibility. That’s why some leaders are focused on “human capital agility”: the ability to deploy the right skills at the right time for the right purpose — just in time skills deployment. Whether it is dealing with the impact of faster rates of business model change, the rapid emergence of new markets and products, or more challenging organizational complexities, they are orienting themselves toward skills management as a key organizations success factor.

Join futurist, trends and innovation expert Jim Carroll as he shares his insight into the methods by which organizations are preparing for the changing economy of the 21st century through skills management strategies that focus on agility, insight and execution.”

I do an extensive number of talks about the future of the workforce and human capital issues; indeed, I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been selected to open the 2012 HR Southwest Conference in October in Fort Worth, Texas – it is the largest regional human resources Conference in the United States – and will focus on a similar theme.

The folks over at Talent Strategies 2012 ran a conference blog, and had this to say about my keynote:

In keeping with the topic of change, futurist and trends and innovation expert Jim Carroll began the day’s second keynote session with this conundrum for human capital leaders to ruminate on: Seven out of 10 preschoolers will work in jobs or careers that don’t even exist today, so how can talent leaders plan for this?

The way Carroll described the velocity of change that’s occurring in our society and our organizations today can be likened to this analogy: Digital camera makers have barely three to six months to sell their gadget before it becomes obsolete. “This is a defining trend that’ll challenge our assumptions and show that we need to keep up in [the] human capital [space],” he said.

His speech was rife with forward-thinking — almost eerily futuristic — technological innovations that are or will become reality in the not-so-distant future. A connected thermostat that can be controlled from any location; a smartphone that’s also a credit card; and a therapeutic robotic animal were just a handful of examples he cited.

“We have to completely rethink what we’re doing with human capital because the same rules will not apply in the future,” he said. Yet, many or most HR leaders default to the mode of deferring decisions about future because of the uncertainty that exists in today’s economic environment. It’s what Carroll calls “aggressive indecision” when it comes to implementing talent strategies – “I’m not going to make decisions [regarding HR] because I don’t know when the economic recovery will occur. In the meantime, our competitors are making decisions that are going to position them for the future,” he said. Keeping up with the rapid pace of change, then, is good business sense because it helps organizations maintain a competitive advantage.

And with that mostly optimistic outlook, it’s in the hands of human capital leaders to become more proactive in creating the conditions for which the workforce of the future can thrive.

Read the summary of "10 Unique Characteristics of 21st century skills" to get a concise issue of the HR issues that are now critical.

In my keynote, I focused on the theme of 10 Unique Characteristics of 21st CenturySkills – which provides a concise overview of just how differently we have to treat the issue of human capital and talent going forward. There’s a nice PDF summary that you can grab through the image.

What are the key issues? In essence, there are a variety of human capital issues that you should be thinking about:

  • Experiential Capital. In a world in which Apple generates 60% 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.
  • Skills Accessibility Capital. Talent, not money, will be the new corporate battlefront. Simply put, there is so much happening that no one person or organization can know everything there is to know. With ongoing rapid knowledge growth, instant market change, fast-paced scientific discovery and constant skills evolution, getting the right people at the right time for the right purpose will be the key to successful change.
  • Creativity Capital. It is the ability to see the world differently, and the skill to imagine how to do things differently, that will be more important than any other skill. This will bring the needed forward oriented depth that organizations require. When product lifecycles are disappearing, and market longevity is measured in weeks and months, the ability to think, adapt, and imagine will be the foundation to provide for necessary change.
  • Generational Capital. We are set to see the emergence of the most unique workforce in history, with the widest age-span ever. Boomers won’t retire, and kids won’t want to get hired. The result will be a workforce that is transient, temporary, shifting and flexible. It will be those organizations who can match up the experience and wisdom of the aging baby boomers with the insight, enthusiasm and change-adept younger generation who will find the most powerful force to be found in business – an organization that is fuelled by the pure energy of change-oxygen.
  • Collaborative Capital. Forget the idea of having a strategic planning department, and think collaborative culture instead. Take a look around you, and ask yourself, who is succeeding today? It is those organizations who are plugged into the infinite idea loop that surrounds us. They’ve dropped any pretense that they can create the future, and instead realize that the future is being devel-oped by everyone all around them. They have come to learn that their role isn’t to plan for that future, but simply to listen to it, plug into it, and plug their growth-engine into it.
  • Complexity Partnership Capital. In the 20th century, organizations focused on hiring the skills that they needed to get the job done. You simply can’t do that today – skills are too fragmented and too specialized. That’s why successful organizations have mastered the art of complexity supply and demand. They provide their own unique complex skills to those of their partners who need such skills. And when they are short on other skills, they tap into the skills bank of their partners. By selling and buying skills with a broad partnership base, they’ve managed to become complexity partners – organizations that spend most of their time focusing on their core mission, and spend less time worrying about how they are going to do what they need to do.
  • Innovation Capital. Companies that understand that all future innovation comes from the ability to tap into the global innovation loop will thrive; those that follow traditional innovation models, self-centered and insular, will find that their creativity and uniqueness has been smothered.

I think my talk was effective, with one Tweet noting: “Talent Strategies: @jimcarroll is killing it. Great discussion on change, innovation, the future of work, & the evolution of jobs. #strat12”.

 

If you want to known why you need to speed up your organization, spend a bit more time staring at an iPhone — or for that matter, any Apple device that you might happen to have in your home or office.

Think about the fact that Apple now masters such a torrid pace of product development that 60% of its’ revenue comes from products that didn’t exist four years ago. Then ask yourself if your organization could do the same thing.

Many of the organizations who bring me in for a CEO level leadership meeting, board retreat or staff event want to focus on a message that revolves around the idea of ‘how can we innovate faster.’ They recognize that increasingly, they too are becoming like Apple, in a world in which they must continually reinvent their products and services to stay relevant to their customers, or simply to keep up with the pacesetters in their industry.

With that context in mind, watch this video from a recent keynote in which I talk about the how innovators align themselves for this world of fast-paced innovation by taking advantage of what I call the “big global idea machine.”

 This is a great story, since it demonstrates how organizations are realizing that we are in a world of ever accelerating scientific velocity, driven by global collaboration, increasing speed with pure and accidental research, the impact of a global ‘tinkering’ culture, and other factors which are speeding up the discovery of new knowledge.

New knowledge drives new innovation — and its’ by learning to tap into new knowledge that you can accelerate your innovation cycles.

That’s where an increasing number of organizations have been engaging me — to help them understand how to speed up their knowledge ingestion capabilities. They know they have to do this because the shelf life of the product or service that they have in the marketplace is continuing to decrease at an often alarming rate. And in some industries, products are obsolete before they get to market. (Just ask HP with its’ new Tablet product, which was abandoned shortly after being brought to market!)

Think about that for a moment: we now find ourselves in a period of time in which innovation and change is occurring so quickly that the very concept of a product lifecycle is beginning to disappear. And just as product lifecycles collapse, so too does the half life of knowledge and the relevance of skills. It’s only by picking up the pace of reinventing that knowledge and skills that you can get ahead — and one of the ways to do that is through the “global idea machine.” Hence, people are focused on open innovation, global innovate idea sourcing, new forms of collaboration, and other methods to generate insight and knowledge faster — to speed up the process of R&D.

Whether I’m dealing with a company driven by rapid change in the  medical, scientific, financial, mechanical or engineering knowledge, one thing is clear: the knowledge that a organization needs to succeed in the future  is becoming infinitely more complex every minute, with a constant, relentless flood of that which is new. And from my perspective, the story of the Apple is becoming increasingly common — as every organization is driven by the same rates of change that are enveloping this global giant.

The bottom line is simple:

  • the ability of obtaining rapid, instant knowledge generation is becoming an urgent necessity in almost every field of endeavor;
  • the ability to quickly digest, understand and assess new knowledge is an increasingly important skill – one that not a lot of organizations have mastered;
  • the ability to reformulate our thinking, assumptions and capabilities to respond to the constant change being thrust upon our organization is of increasing importance

In a nutshell, I coined the phrase “just in time knowledge” over a decade ago to describe the nexus of these realities. In the world of hyper-change represented by the Apple iPhone, it’s clear that we are already there.

Just in time knowledge involves a form of continuous learning that is instant, fast, and urgent. Think about situations where a need for JIT-knowledge is evident:

  • Some estimates suggest that medical knowledge is now doubling every eight years. Rapid advances in new methodologies, technologies, treatments and methods of care evolve at a furious pace. In such a world, medical professionals can’t be expected to know everything there is to know within their particular field of endeavor. The new reality going forward for doctors, nurses and any other professional is that these professionals are increasingly forced to go out and obtain new knowledge, just at the time that they need it. The same holds true for pharmaceutical companies, medical device technology manufacturers, and anyone else remotely involved with health care.
  • Sales based organizations are quickly discovering that furious rates of hyper-innovation in their marketplace require a sales force that is extremely adaptable, agile, flexible — and quick to understand the potential of new markets. If a product has a life of about six months in the marketplace, an organization can’t afford to waste any time in preparing to assault the market. The result is that there is an ever increasing need for sales based organizations gain deep, rapid insight into the sales potential of a new product line, while discarding the knowledge and understanding they have of the old product line.
  • Mechanical engineers continue to see rapid developments in manufacturing methodologies, as well as a need to quickly master the art of managing ever more complex global supply chains. With increasing sophistication and agility in the manufacturing process, every engineer involved in process automation must have the ability to quickly gain insight and intelligence into leading edge issues associated with plant design, construction, automation, assembly, robotics, and all kinds of other complex topics.

The reality going forward? If an organization is to succeed in the future, it must be a master of the ability to succeed with just-in-time-knowledge.

Are you ready for the world of just-in-time knowledge? Here’s what you should do to answer the question:

  • Undertake a knowledge turnover assessment. The first thing you need to do is get an accurate picture of just how quickly the issue of just-in-time knowledge is becoming a critical success factor in your industry. How quickly does new knowledge expire? How quickly is new knowledge generated? And what does this suggest to you in terms of the knowledge replenishment role that you need to master?
  • Consider the risks and opportunities. What happens if your company doesn’t adapt to this fast paced new reality? What’s the downside? Now is a good time to frame the future in terms of bold contrasts, and in terms of the cost of inaction.
  • Envision the future. If your organization excels at just-in-time knowledge, what will they be doing in 2015? 2020? How will their role have changed? What might they be doing day to day on January 15, 2015, compared to what they are doing today? And what you will, as their knowledge mentor, have done to have helped them make the transition?
  • Educate your leadership and staff. I’d hazard a guess that few of your executive team are even thinking about the issue and challenges that come with just-in-time knowledge. If they aren’t aware that it is an issue, they likely aren’t aware that their future opportunity and success will come from mastering this critical new corporate capability. If they don’t know about the challenges that lie ahead, educate them now.
  • Prepare a road map and adjust your strategy. Attaining the objective of having an organization master just in time knowledge promises to be a long, complex and arduous task – but what an opportunity! Start to rethink everything you do in terms of your new just-in-time knowledge role – whether in your board meetings, strategy sessions, or leadership discussions, and you’ll find that everyone is thinking the same thing: we need to start working to prepare for it now.

Product lifecyclesThis graph represents the model of product life cycles as taught in business schools for the last, oh, I don’t know, 100 years?

Companies would innovate, and introduce a new product. If it succeeded, they would experience growth. At some point, sales would peak. The product would then tend to become obsolete or overtaken by competitors,  and sales would decline.

What a quaint model. Too bad it bears no resemblance to todays’ reality. Many industries are now finding that product obsolescence now occurs during the growth stage; in the hi-tech industry, the “decline” phase caused by instant obsolescence can even occur during the introduction,

Back in June, I was the opening speaker for the Consumer Electronics Association CEO Summit in Ojai, California, and spoke to this trend. At the time, Lenovo had just pulled the plug on a pad-like product, even before it was released, because it was obvious that its’ limited feature set had already made it irrelevant and obsolete in a very fast paced market.

The reality of today’s market is that of instant obsolescence, and if you want to master innovation, you need to think about how your own product life cycle is changing.

Here’s a video take that is worth watching on the trend:

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