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Let’s talk about organizations that are clearly innovation failures — those who are stuck in a rut, and unable to figure out what to do next.

embracechange

While doing so, ask yourself — is this the organization you work within, or are the CEO of?

With a twenty year focus on innovation, I’ve become convinced that many organizations develop a cultural sclerosis that holds them back to such a degree that their failure becomes a blinding liability.

What is common to these organizations? Several things:

  1. Fear of the unknown in times of economic uncertainty: Certainly the US election has placed many companies into a ‘wait-and-see’ mode: decisions are being deferred at a furious pace. The result is that many organizations are driven by uncertainty. What happens if our market doesn’t recover? What happens if we can’t rebuild the top line? What happens if our customers don’t start spending again? So much fear and uncertainty causes a form of leadership and organization wide paralysis to set in; they’re like deer caught in a headlight, and are frozen in time. Avoid that fate – and fast!
  2. Inertia is easy: when confronted by change, many people react by …. doing nothing. When things are uncomfortable, the easiest thing to do to deal with that discomfort is to avoid it. Such thinking causes many organizations and the people within them to fall asleep. They keep doing what they’ve been doing before, hoping that will carry them forward into future. Obviously that can’t work, for a whole variety of different reasons.
  3. It’s easy to avoid tough decisions : organizations are faced with a lot of change, in terms of business models, customer expectations, cost pressures, new competitors, and countless other challenges. To deal with any one of these issues requires tough decisions, but in many cases, it’s easier to put those decisions off into the future rather than having to deal with them.
  4. An unwillingness to confront the truth: your product might be out of date; your brand might not been seen as relevant and keeping up to date with fast paced innovation in your marketplace; your sales force might be wildly out of date in terms of their product knowledge; your competitors might have a more efficient cost structure because they made the heavy IT investments that you did not. I could go on, but the point is this: you might have serious systemic problems, and are simply unable or unwilling to focus on fixing them. Have a reality check, and use that as a catalyst for action.
  5. A short term focus: like many, you don’t think about business trends longer than three months or a year. By doing so, you are missing out on the fascinating transformations occurring in many markets and industries, and don’t see the key drivers for future economic growth, with the result that you aren’t capitalizing on them.
  6. A culture that is risk adverse: so far, you’ve survived through cautious, careful manoeuvres. Yet the fast rate of change around you has left you naked with that strategy: going forward now requires trying to do a lot of things you haven’t done before. You’ve got a culture that doesn’t accept such thinking. Change that — now!
  7. Paralyzed by the fear of failure: related to your risk aversion is a culture that abhors mistakes. Anyone who errs is shunned; people whisper quietly about what went wrong, and what it might mean. Banish that thinking: you should take your failures, analyze them, and better yet, celebrate them! Put them up on a pedestal. It’s more important that you try things out on a regular basis, since it is clear that what worked for you in the past obviously won’t work for you in the future.
  8. Failure to adapt at fast markets : I’m dealing with companies that know that constant innovation with top line revenue — which means product and service innovation — is all about time to market. You must have an innovation pipeline that is constantly inventing and reinventing the next form of revenue. What you sold in the past — you might not sell tomorrow. How are you going to fix that? By getting into the mindset of the high velocity economy!
  9. A refusal or unwillingness to adapt to new methodologies and ideas: in the manufacturing sector, it’s all about Manufacturing 2.0 or 3.0 or the next phase … in every industry, there is no shortage of new ideas, methodologies, processes, and fundamental change in terms of how to get things done. Maybe you’ve closed your mind off to new ideas, with the result that you fail to see how your competitors are rapidly shifting their structure, capabilities, time to market, product line, and other fundamentals. Wake up — we’re in the era of the global idea machine, and the result is that there is a tremendous amount of transformative thinking out there about how to do things differently. Tune in, turn on, and rethink!
  10. A loss of confidence: the economic downturn of 2008-2009 and ongoing volatility since then has had the effect of causing such widespread damage in various industries that some people and organizations and leaders have lost their faith in the future. They aren’t certain they can compete, adapt and change. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge of all to overcome — but you can only overcome it by getting out of your innovation rut and moving forward.

Bill Gates once observed that “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

It couldn’t have been put better. What’s your choice – to be an innovation leader, aware of where we are going in the future, or an innovation laggard, still mired in short term thinking?

Think growth!

(This is a long post!)

Were my comments in the video below — recorded in front of 3,000 people at the annual National Recreation and Parks Association annual conference in Salt Lake City in 2009 — quite possibly the stupidest, dumbest  comments I’ve ever made on stage?

Could we really be headed to a world in which we are going to utilize a lot of technology and innovation to help us deal with a very real and significant challenge – that is, dealing with the tsunami of care-giving that will be required in the world of seniors care?

I’ve been debating this for quite some time, given the confluence of two issues: my wife and I  and sons (and her sister and family) have been quite immersed since December with a family member that has involved the rapid onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is a very sad, intense and emotionally challenging situation; it has revealed to me the personal side of a very complex problem.

And while all this has been going, I had been working on and preparing for my keynote to the DSSI Annual Forum. DSSI is a major supplier within the US seniors care industry, and the conference features the participation of probably the bulk of the seniors care operators in the US.

My keynote was to be focused on innovation in the seniors care sector — where might there be opportunities, and what are the trends that will provide those opportunities.

How did I approach the topic? I truly believe that we live in a period of great transformation, and that people must challenge themselves to think boldly when it comes to innovation. Hence, the innovation opportunity comes from “thinking big.”

So let’s think about the scope of the problem. We all know that in Western nations and mature Asian countries, the seniors care challenge is massive. And with longer life expectancy, we are dealing with a reality in which the challenge of Alzheimer’s care for these seniors will go on for much longer periods of time.

In my keynote, I jumped right into the “scope” issue. Consider the reality:

  • in the US, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is set to triple to 16 million by 2050
  • the typical Alzheimer patient is disabled for 9 to 20 years – and this will increase to 40- to 50 years as medical advances continue and life expectancy continues to grow
  • we are spending $172 billion a year in treatment – and that is set to grow to $1.08 trillion by 2050 given the growth in the number of cases, and the impact of longevity
  • there is a lot of family care giving that is involved; as the St. Louis Dispatch noted, “Boomers may be spending more years caring for an aging parent than a child
  • and the challenge shows no end in sight: “40% of people over the age of 80 are suffering from dementia – there will be a million new cases a year by 2050

Put these facts into the context of the reality of what is occuring in the world of seniors care today:

  • an ongoing massive ramp-up in demand with shortfall in available and planned units
  • a funding crisis with plunging investment / housing values, and state, federal and municipal tax deficits
  • ongoing skills and staffing issues
  • increasing scrutiny in public eye
  • heightened expectations on quality of service from the boomer generation

That’s why one of the first points I emphasized is what I often do in my keynotes: “World class innovators aren’t afraid of thinking boldly!” Simply put, we have a huge problem, and society and government needs some pretty bold thinking when it comes to solutions. How is society going to care for, in a respectful way, an increasing number of seniors living with a very complex disease? How can we help the caregivers to give better care?

Which brings me to the Paro therapeutic robot.

“It’s Not a Stuffed Animal, It’s a $6,000 Medical Device; Paro the Robo-Seal Aims to Comfort Elderly, but Is It Ethical?” – Wall Street Journal

When I am preparing for a keynote, I often do research that involves reading through several hundred articles on a topic — I access these through an online research service. In this case, while doing my homework, I came across the Paro, as covered in an article in the Wall Street Journal:

It might be the cuddliest medical device ever to cause an ethical quandary. Five years ago, a Japanese robot manufacturer introduced Paro to the world. Built to resemble a baby harp seal—with a plush coat of antibacterial fur—Paro was hailed in Japan as a pioneer among socially interactive robots, one that would help lift the spirits of millions of elderly adults.

It never quite caught on. “It doesn’t do much other than utter weird sounds like ‘heeee’ or ‘huuuu,'” says Tomoko Iimura, whose adult day-care center in Tsukuba City keeps its Paro in a closet.

Now Paro has come to American shores, appearing in a handful of nursing homes and causing a stir in a way that fake seal pups rarely do.

My first reaction was, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” I was thinking in the context of what my wife was going through; dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s involves a tremendous amount of love, care, time, and emotional commitment.

How, in my mind, could a fake pet ever provide a level of care that would equate to that offered by a loving family member?

And at that point, I had to check myself — after all, I always challenge people to avoid reacting to new ideas with such phrases. It’s a key part of what I often outline on stage — the “innovation killers” that provide such a degree of organizational sclerosis that it clogs up our ability to try to do something new.

So let’s think about the Paro therapeutic robot. It was approved by the FDA as a medical device; the Wall Street Journal had this to say:

“Powering it are two 32-bit processors, three microphones, 12 tactile sensors covering most of its fur, touch-sensitive whiskers and a system of motors that silently move its parts. They allow Paro to recognize voices, track motion and “remember” behaviours that elicit positive responses from patients”

– It’s not a stuffed animal, it’s a $6,000 medical device, WSJ, June 2010

The more I thought about it, I realized that I was probably guilty of the same anti-innovation attitudes that I often talk to my clients about. Who am I to say that such a device might not play a role in helping to provide for bold, transformative solutions to a challenge that is massive in scope?Maybe I’m guilty of the same type of innovation-blockers’s that I speak on stage about! I pondered that thought through the last month during my daily five mile walks….

Read further into the article, and you come across this:

One recent morning, staff at Marian Manor in Pittsburgh, one of Vincentian Collaborative’s homes, circulated three Paros among residents gathered for a sing-a-long. As 77-year-old Anita Biro sat down at a table, she berated two fellow residents and told them to leave, recalls Beth Kuenzi, activities manager for the home’s dementia unit.

But when Ms. Kuenzi put Paro in front of Ms. Biro, her mood changed. As Ms. Biro stroked the robot’s synthetic fur, the machine batted its eyelashes and tracked movement with its head and eyes.

“I love this baby,” Ms. Biro cooed.

Aides also take Paro to residents’ rooms to get them to socialize. At another Vincentian home, Lois Simmeth, 73, doesn’t always participate in group activities, but she ventures into the hall when she hears Paro’s sounds.

“I love animals,” explains Ms. Simmeth. She whispered to the robot in her lap: “I know you’re not real, but somehow, I don’t know, I love you.”

Five years out? 10? 15? Who knows what type of bold, innovative solutions we might see emerging that could help family members who are in a caregiving situation, or which might help to alleviate the huge burden of care within seniors facilities?

Further into my research, I came across the MedCottage. What a unique innovation this was — a small, wired, backyard “cottage” that a family could use to provide independent living for their parents.

It seems to tie into a key trend — at the DSSI event, former Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson (now President of the AHCA / NCAL, the main association representing the seniors care industry in Washington), noted that a survey indicated that 96% of American’s did not want to spend their later retirement years in a nursing home — they wanted to be in a home care environment.

And so could the MedCottage be a fascinating innovation to the trend towards home care?Absolutely — but it too will run into the “innovation blockers.” Such an idea could be doomed because of “NIMBYISM”  – “not in my neighbours backyard!” Yet things are moving fast on that front too:

The State of Virginia has passed a law allowing installation of MEDCottages in residential backyards, over the objections of homeowners who have expressed fears they don’t belong in neighbourhoods.” Checking up on mom from a distance, Toronto Star, September 2010

Telling this story on stage, I reminded my audience that to deal with the really big challenges that we are faced with, we need fundamental shifts in how we approach things, and a lot of bold thinking and big ideas. Certainly the economics for home-care are compelling. I put up these bullets for the audience of seniors care operators:

  • “In Ohio, home care is estimated at $1,400 per month vs $4,300 for nursing care
  • bold goals: plan shift from 42% to 50% within three years
  • the discussion is occurring – you need to be a part of it!

In other words, my challenge to the seniors care industry is this: clearly, there is a massive trend towards home care, which will also involve a lot of family caregiving. Which led to one of the key points in my keynote: “Innovative organizations make bold leaps, in order to keep up — and stay ahead —  of a faster future”, and this point : ““Our innovation mandate won’t involve tinkering around the edges.”

So where does all this lead in terms of the video clip from my NRPA keynote – was this the dumbest thing I ever said on stage? I don’t think so. Clearly, Silicon Valley has health care in its sights — and that will include seniors care, and home care. Noted one researcher at Intel:

We have the potential to aim our innovation engine at the age wave challenge and change the way we do health care from a crisis- driven, assembly-line, hospital approach to a personal-driven approach, with people taking care of themselves with help from family, friends and technologies

This ties into the research that I refer to in my keynote to the NRPA:

Researchers at the University of Missouri are using sensors, computers and communication systems …. to monitor the health of older adults who are living at home.”

“….motion sensor networks installed in seniors homes can detect changes in behavior and physical activity, including walking and sleeping patterns…early identification of changes can prompt health care intervention….

Study the MedCottage web site, and you’ll discover that it involves some monitoring and other technologies that do exactly that.

Clearly, we have some big challenges to solve in the seniors care industry. Clearly, there will be a trend to home care. And clearly, we are witnessing the emergence of new ideas and innovations that will provide for transformative change.

So no, I don’t think I was wrong in my video.

I don’t think that the experience that my family has been through negates the trends. I think as a futurist, sometimes you have to make bold leaps with your imagination, by carefully studying trends and innovations, and putting into perspective what they mean.

The future is coming — and while we might often wonder about the predictions that are made, we must never dare to question the boldness of what might emerge.

 

We are in the era of big thinking, yet a lot of people have a small outlook.

Consider what leading edge innovation organizations are doing today; they’re prepared to:

  • make big transformations: I’m dealing with several organizations who realize that structured operational activities that are based on a centuries old style of thinking no longer can take them into a future that will demand more agility, flexibility and ability to react in real time to shifting demand. They’re pursuing such strategies as building to demand, rather than building to inventory; or pursuing mass customization projects so that they don’t have to compete in markets based on price.
  • undertake big brand reinforcement: one client, realizing the vast scope and impact of social networking on their brand image, made an across the board decision to boost their overall advertising and marketing spend by 20%, with much of the increase going to online advertising. In addition, a good chunk of existing spending is being diverted as well. Clearly, the organization believes that they need to make bi broad, sweeping moves to keep up to date with the big branding and marketing change that is now underway worldwide.
  • anticipate big changes: there’s a lot of innovative thinking going on with energy, the environment and health care. Most of the organizations that have had me in for a keynote on the trends that are providing for growth opportunities have a razor sharp focus on these three areas, anticipating the rapid emergence of big opportunities at a very rapid pace.
  • pursue big math: quite a few financial clients are looking at the opportunities for innovation that come from “competing with analytics,” which offers new ways of examining risk, understanding markets, and drilling down into customer opportunity in new and different ways.
  • focus on big loyalty: one client stated their key strategic goal during the downturn this way: “we’re going to nail the issue of customer retention, by visiting every single one in the next three months to make sure that they are happy and that their needs are being met.” Being big on loyalty means working hard to ensure that existing revenue streams stay intact, and are continually enhanced.
  • focus on big innovation: one client stated their innovation plan in a simple yet highly motivating phrase: “think big, start small, scale fast.” Their key goal is to build up their experiential capital in new areas by working on more innovation projects than ever before. They want to identify big business opportunities, test their potential, and then learn how to roll out new solutions on a tighter, more compact schedule than ever before.
  • thinking big change in scope. One client became obsessed with the innovation strategy of going “upside down” when it came to product development. Rather than pursuing all ideas in house, they opened up their innovation engine to outsiders, looking for more partnership oriented innovation (with suppliers and retailers, for example); open innovation opportunities, and customer-sourced innovation. This lit a fuse under both their speed for innovation as well as their creativity engine
  • innovate in a big way locally: we’re in a big, global world, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t innovate locally. One client in the retail space pursues an innovation strategy that allows for national, coordinated efforts in terms of logistics, merchandising and operations, yet also allows a big degree of freedom when it comes to local advertising, marketing and branding.
  • share big ideas. One association client pursued an innovation that was relentless on community knowledge sharing. They knew if they could build an association culture in which people shared and swapped insight on a regular basis on how to deal with fast changing markets and customers, that they could ensure their members had a leg up and could stay ahead of trends. Collaborative knowledge is a key asset going forward into the future, and there’s a lot of opportunity for creative, innovative thinking here.
  • be big on solving customers problems. Several clients have adopted an innovation strategy that is based on the theme, “we’re busy solving customers problems before they know they have a problem,” or conversely, “we’re providing the customer with a key solution, before the customer knows that they need such a solution.” That’s anticipatory innovation, and it’s a great strategy to pursue.
  • align strategies to the big bets. There’s a lot of organizations out there who are making “big bets” and link innovation strategies to those bets. WalMart has bold goals for the elimination of all packaging by a certain date; this is forcing a stunning amount of innovation within the packaging sector. Some restaurants aim to reduce food and packaging waste by a factor of dozens; this is requiring stunning levels of creativity in the kitchen

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