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It’s a funny job, being a futurist.

Essentially, your job is to take people out of their comfort zone, by removing them from today, and taking them into tomorrow.

Tomorrow, of course, involves challenge and change; opportunity and threat; hope and fear. Some people are ready for it; many others are not.

With 25 years and more of helping people comprehend change and what comes next, I’ve come to learn a few things, best captured by an observation I often make on stage: “some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend, and see an opportunity!”

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Think about that phrase, and then think about three situations that just unfolded in the last several days:

  • a large global financial services organization had been looking at me to come in and focus on what they needed to do to align themselves to faster consumer, technology, business model and other disruptive change — all the things I do. I had great interactions with one of the organizers who wanted to bring me in. What happened? The decision for a keynote went to a committee, who decided to do what they’ve always done: they chose an industry expert! As my contact admitted to me, “we should look outside the box and opt for something new, novel, insightful, controversial, not by default vote for the known names, where we will hear the stuff we already know, wrapped in different package.“. But they went with what was comfortable. After the decision, he noted that “it just shows how transformation consultants are not insightful in how to continuously improve and transform themselves, once they get into the comfort zone…”
  • an association that will be heavily impacted by the emergence of smart highways, autonomous, self-driving cars, and the acceleration of the automotive industry, had been looking at me for a keynote on what they needed to do to align to this rate of change. What did they decide? They booked a motivational speaker to come in and ‘energize their group!’ (their words). Can an industry simply motivate themselves out of disruptive change? Probably not…..
  • and in the most fascinating situation, a major agricultural organization that runs a series of events for farmers shortlisted me (for the 10th year in a row). And for the 10th year, I’ve learned, they’ve gone out and selected the same national news anchor they’ve selected for the last 10 years! Who I suppose will deliver the same message, interpreting current events, and basically repeating to them what he says on the national news each and every night. Simple fact? Agriculture in 10 years will look nothing like it does today: and so how can re-interpreting current affairs help them to deal with this fact?

It’s kind of funny, if you think about it.

But it’s also a pretty poor reflection on the ability of people to confront and deal with change.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not terribly bothered by this, other than by writing this post. The fact of the matter is that nature of my business is that I do some 50 keynotes or leadership meetings each year. The number really doesn’t vary; I’ve got a limited number of dates that I make myself available for, and a limited set of time to do the intense industry research for each talk that I am known for. I’ve encountered many situations like this over the past, and regardless of what these folks are doing, I’ll end up being booked by someone else for the dates that were on the table.

I just find it remarkable that so many people live in fear of the future, and yet really aren’t prepared to do anything about it.

My job IS to make people feel uncomfortable with the future, warts and all – and yet also inspire and challenge them to discover the opportunity that comes from the reality of change. This was perhaps best captured in the brochure copy when I did a keynote for 500 mayors and civic officials in Salt Lake City for the Utah League of Cities and Towns a few years ago:

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What a great description!

Jim Carroll’s job is to make people feel uncomfortable …. maybe even a bit confused. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, Jim probably sees it differently. He has a knack for predicting trends and change, and helping business and government leaders see where things are going, and how they can not only adapt to change, but lead it.”

When I first saw the description in the brochure, it took me by surprise. In most cases, the client runs brochure copy past me before it goes to print, but in this case, for various logistics reasons, I didn’t see it in advance. Yet when I first read it, I thought to myself, “hmmm, does that sound right?” I thought perhaps it might put a bit of a negative spin on what I do.

Yet the more I thought about it, I realized it was a great outline of what I do!

That’s because when it comes to the future, far too many people can be complacent about the trends that are going to impact them, and avoid the type of creative ideas that they need to pursue in order to keep up with the pace of change.

If you are too comfortable right now with the future, then you probably aren’t thinking hard enough about the trends that are going to impact you. You need to be scared; nervous; prepared to accept that things are going to change, and ready for action. That’s why you should always remember the comments of Andy Grove of Intel: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

So maybe being a little uncomfortable, dazed and confused is a good state of mind to be in!

 

We have seen more change in the last 5 years than we have seen in the last 100 – and yet there is much more yet to come.

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2017 will prove to be a watershed year as trends continue to accelerate. Self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, business model disruption, hyper-competition and hyper-connectivity, collaborative innovation, scientific acceleration, exponential technology, rapid product innovation, faster market change, empowered consumers — are you ready and focused on the trends that will continue to provide opportunity and challenge going forward?

Every year, organizations kick off a new year by bringing me in for a senior executive leadership meeting or corporate offsite strategic planning session, to get a clear and concise overview of what comes next, and what they should do about it.

2017 is almost here — are you prepared, and ready to kick off the year with the powerful insight that you need to know to move forward?

I’ll take you on a tour of the trends which are reshaping our world in a great way. Big transformative trends involving a renaissance in manufacturing enabled by 3D printing, advanced robotics and massive digitization, self-driving cars and the impact of intelligent highway infrastructure, space tourism, asteroid mining, vertical farming, and other fascinating fast paced trends!. Opportunities for the transformation of entire industries such as healthcare, sports and transportation through unprecedented levels of hyper-connectivity. The acceleration of ideas with science that are allowing us to solve some of the biggest challenges of our time in the world of education, healthcare, the environment and education. A generation of millennials who know that it is a great time to think big ideas and do great things with their boundless enthusiasm and global awareness.

It’s time to turn your mind to the future once again, restore a sense of hope and optimism, and link yourself to the fast paced trends which energize your outlook on opportunity! After all, 2017 is almost here! My clients include Disney, the PGA of America, NASA, Johnson & Johnson, the Swiss Innovation Forum and more — join this elite company and re-energize your view into the future.

Interested? Call me!

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.

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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!

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.

Do you?

It can be difficult to try to be innovative in many organizations. Many people with an innovation-oriented mindset often find their enthusiasm destroyed when they approach senior management with an initiative. And when their effort is turned back, it can extremely frustrating!

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What happens is that a series of excuses are made as to why we don’t need to focus on the future right now:

  • we don’t understand it, so we don’t think we need to do it!
  • maybe we shouldn’t confront the tough issues right now
  • we are too busy fighting fires – there’s no time for anything else!
  • we don’t have the skill sets to deal with this!
  • we haven’t thought about this in our strategic planning process
  • we don’t have time to think about it…
  • we don’t have a budget f
  • what we’ve been doing all along is perfectly ok, isn’t it?
  • there’s so much going on, and we don’t know where it might fit in terms of priorities!
  • and the worst? it’s too far ahead of its time!

Of course, it’s easy to take this wall of negativity and step back from the project and curb your enthusiasm — and give up! Here’s a clip from my keynote in Zurich in which I talk about the challenges you might face.

But real innovators don’t give up! They work to address the organizational sclerosis that might be in place. What you should do  is confront these excuses head on: there are a variety of different reactions depending on the different excuses that are used:

  • if they don’t understand it, educate them! This might involve building a better business case for the initiative; bringing them up to date on the key business drviers and trends that require some bold steps and dramatic change.
  • help them that those who tackle the tough issues usually win. This is a good time to put into perspective the concept of accelerating change. You need to make sure that the leadership team understands that everything around us today is changing faster than ever before, and will continue to do so: business models, methods of customer interaction, new forms of competition. Business today is all about continually confronting a flood of tough issues; we should be bulking up our capabilities to deal with a world of incessant change.
  • if the organization is always in fire-fighting mode, change the agenda. Maybe they won’t be fighting as as many fires over the long term if they have a clear view of the future, and have a strategy that aligns to that future. So rather than asking, “whoah, where’d that come from,” they’re asking “ok, what comes next, and what do we need to do about it?
  • skill sets don’t give us the capability: That’s a weak excuse: if there are shortfalls in certain key skills to deal with current business realities, deal with it and fix it fast.
  • if it’s not part of the strategic planning process, make it part of it. Every organizations has multiple processes in which issues and activities rise to the top because they’ve been idenitified as fitting within the overall strategic plan. If yours isn’t part of the plan, work to get it there.
  • get people thinking about what comes next: Does the organization have a regular series of forward looking leadership meetings? Does it take the time to assess the trends which might impact it on a 1, 2, 5 and 10 year basis? Is it busy looking at we have really spent a lot of time thinking about what comes next
  • we don’t have a budget for that! Following the process of getting the initiative into the strategic plan will help to lead to the next step: getting the project properly approved and funded within the overall budget process for the organization.
  • make it clear that it isn’t ok to keep doing the same thing that has been done in the past. You’ve got to clearly articulate the new threats the organizations faces and the opportunities that it can pursue as a result of ongoing change.
  • there’s so much going on, and we don’t know where it might fit in terms of priorities! This is a tricky one, because in this type of situation, its pretty well certain that there is some weak management in place who doesn’t know how to set a clear action plan that the team must follow. Best bet is to address the other issues on the list, and work to put in place a clear business and strategic plan for your initiative, with sound business reasoning as to why it needs to be done.
  • it’s too far ahead of its time! Frame the future to the organization this way: do we want to always be fast followers, or do we truly want to be market leaders?

In Zurich,I noted on stage that “we develop corporate cultures that stifle — that kill our ability to try to do anything new…..” That’s what you’ve got to work to avoid — it’s not easy to do — but absolutely necessary!

I’ve been quite priviliged through the years to be able to observe, within my global blue chip client base , some of the fascinating innovation strategies that market leaders have pursued.

What is it they do?

Many of them make big, bold decisions that help to frame their innovative thinking and hence, their active strategies.

For example, they:

  • make big bets. In many industries, there are big market and industry transformations that are underway. For example, there’s no doubt that mobile banking is going to be huge, and its going to happen fast with a lot of business model disruption. Innovative financial organizations are willing to make a big bet as to its scope and size, and are innovating at a furious pace to keep up with fast changing technology and even faster evolving customer expectations
  • 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.

These are but a few examples and the list could go on; the essence of the thinking is that we are in a period of big change, and big opportunity comes from bold thinking and big creativity!

I’m thrilled that I’ve again been cover in CG&T Magazine’s annual outlookCGT2015.  This marks 4 years in a row!

This year my comments are short and sweet – I continue to believe that accelerating change with retail models, products, technology, mobile and just about everything else makes it difficult for organizations to ensure that their capabilities are aligned to their strategies.

Here’s what I wroe for this years piece:


Going into 2015 and beyond, the biggest issue for CG executives will be to think about how they have big holes that they need to fix — and fast.

The challenge is that with this tsunami of change, many companies still aren’t capable of coping, and so many mismatches become painfully clear:

  • Strategy mismatch: Are you still trying to solve the social media challenges from 2013, while in 2015 it has shifted mobile?
  • Skills mismatch: What’s your bench strength with all the new technologies flooding the space?
  • Cultural mismatch: Are you equipped for speed? Everyone is talking about being agile and lean — but do you find that even with those strategies you are still falling behind?
  • Worse yet, your technology mismatch is probably becoming bigger than ever. How are you going to fix these holes?

Here are some key secrets of success in an era of high-velocity change: an accelerated innovation cycle, fuelled by the rapid ingestion of new technologies/methodologies. Work on your internal pipelines to gain a faster time to market, and know how to rapidly re-focus resources for opportunity or threat. All that needs to be done in a time in which volatility is the new normal. A pretty tall order, but it will help you close the mismatches that likely exist.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times on Feb 18: “Careers: ‘Board Doctors,’ to Supervise the Supervisors — More companies bring in experts to scrutinize effectiveness of directors, creating a growth business.” (read the article)

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Sadly, with all the current focus on “compliance,” I’ve come to believe that there is a critical lack of future planning on many other corporate boards around the world — Jim Carroll

The article opens with the observation: “Amid unprecedented pressure from investors, more boards are tapping outside experts so they can monitor management better and clean their own house. The legion of advisers — which some dub “board doctors” — scrutinize boards’ inner workings and prescribe cures for such ills as an entrenched chief executive, 800-page briefing books, or even a director who plays Sudoku during management presentations. The experts often enable board members to make tough choices they are too squeamish to do on their own.”

Essentially, the gist of the article boiled down to three key points:

  • boards are becoming less effective at making ‘hard decisions’
  • the result is a trend in which there is more outside (hired) scrutiny of the effectiveness of board performance
  • the scrutiny adds in assessment of the effectiveness of individual board members

In an amusing point, the article comments on one director who was known to regularly play Sudoku during board meetings.

The article is a good read, and a great outline of some of the problems facing the world of corporate governance today. But from my perspective, it missed a key point that I’ve been raising in many of my sessions with Boards through the years — most boards are not structured to deal with issues of future strategic direction.

If you understand how boards work, there are two key issues:

  • it’s a very insular club ; still, globally, very much an ‘old boys network’ (although gender diversity is a key issue that many national Director associations are working hard to solve)
  • the board ‘skills matrix’ — that is, the type of people that boards seek to recruit — generally consists of finance/accounting; legal; executive compensation; IT; human resources; and specific industry experience. Few seem to have expanded their matrix to include “future strategic insight.”

A few years ago, I thought it might be interesting to apply my skill of anticipating and outlining future trends by actively seeking involvement in a few boards. I took a director education course at the University of Rotman. It was a fascinating world to immerse myself in. Sadly, since then, I’ve had few opportunities (probably, to be honest, because I don’t network with the board world as most other folks do.)

What’s the looming crisis? I outlined this back in a post in 2007, “The Future of Governance.” Essentially, there are numerous boards who do not take on the responsibility of actively and regularly assessing trends for future threats and opportunities, and include this assessment in their evaluation of the effectivness of the CEO (which is one of their key responsibilities.)

I’ll repost the 2007 post in fulll below; it still makes what I believe is a useful and powerful read.

I’m not sure much has changed since I wrote it; consider, for example, the recent security/hacking issues with Sony. Should they not have had a high level Board member who would be asking tough questions as to what structure the CEO had in place to deal with an obvious looming security infrastructure challenge. You can lay the Sony debacle at the door of the CEO. You can also lay blame directly against the Board of Directors.

Have a look at the article, and then consider if the Board you participate on has a significant ‘future oriented challenge.’

—–

I was in Colorado Springs yesterday, as the opening keynote of the Leadership Institute for Directors for FCCServices — they’re the business services arm of the US federal Farm Credit System.

In attendance were members of the Boards of Directors for a wide variety of state and community farm credit co-ops; these folks are the backbone of the US farm lending infrastructure. The Directors are local farmers, community leaders and business executives, and hence, need to be aware of the trends impacting the local and global agricultural industries, so that they can plan accordingly, assess risk, and make sound business decisions with respect to their co-ops.

My keynote took a look at “what comes next in the agricultural sector” – it’s one of many talks I do within the industry. And agriculture is certainly subject to high velocity change: there’s rapid evolution in science (bio-crops); new markets (bio-fuel) ; rapidly changing skills; new direct to consumer market opportunities; globalization (current food production must double in the next 30 years to keep up with global population growth.) All of which could spell opportunity if approached correctly — or turmoil and challenge if ignored.

The intent of the talk — and the overall theme of the leadership conference — was to ensure that these folks have the insight to direct their organizations into the future. That’s an important and critical role for Boards; and FCC Services is an example of an organization that has made sure that the “future” is closely linked to the issue of “governance.”

I think there are too many organizations that don’t do this. Sadly, with all the current focus on “compliance,” I’ve come to believe that there is a critical lack of future planning on many other corporate boards around the world. The result is that potential risks are often ignored; then things go wrong; then the company gets sued for significant sums of money. Is this Board negligence? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it!

Here’s an example: years ago, I wrote an article indicating that one of the critical CEO/Board level issues that must be addressed had to do with network security; certainly, everyone knows that organizations should properly secure their information assets. Yet in the article, I suggested that I believe that many Boards aren’t dealing with the issue, and that it was an area ripe for future exposure, noting that: “If I were a tort lawyer, I’d be licking my lips in anticipation of the opportunities to come in the next few years.”

Boards and CEO’s should ensure — as they are required to do with financial controls — that the information assets of the organization are properly locked down. They must understand obvious future trends, and ensure that management has planned accordingly. I strongly believe this to be the next wave in Board responsibility.

Do many Boards of Directors ensure that the organization is properly preparing for the rapidity of trends? Not many. Witness the shenanigans with the TJX Group, which had its corporate network hacked and millions of credit card numbers stolen. (The company runs HomeGoods, Marshalls, A.J. Wright, Bob’s Stores and The Maxx stores; in Canada the chain consists of Winners and HomeSense.) Now comes news that a group of banks want to sue the company with respect to the issue.

I can only imagine the questions that the Board of TJX is now asking!

Currently, much of the focus of board governance has to do with “compliance” — how well are boards, and the companies they are responsible for, dealing with the new realities of the post-Enron era.

I believe that within the next decade, we will see Board responsibility quickly evolve into a new and much more complex era than simply making sure that “i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.’ All we need are a few savvy lawyers to launch a few negligence suits against a few public companies, alleging that a Board failed to develop a plan for and respond to obvious future trends.

It’s a trend worth watching.

Trend: Mobile is Eating Retail
January 16th, 2015

“The next five years will bring more change to retail than the last 100 years” – Cyriac Roeding, CEO of Shopkick

I had the delight of leading a small, intimate talk to a group of leading retailers in New York City earlier this week, at an event sponsored by agile software development firm Thoughtworks. The focus of my talk was to put into perspective the reality of the high-velocity trends that are impacting every single aspect of the world of retail.

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If you are a CEO of any type of retailer, and do not understand the scope of these trends, you need to get onboard — fast.

1. Mobile is eating retail

The future of retail is all about mobile and if any CEO  doesn’t understand that, they should be out of a job.

Already by 2013, statistics show that sales through mobile and tablet devices were up 138% in 2013 from the year before. That takes us to the point where sales through some type of mobile device is estimated to be at least at 30% of *all* retail sales.

If that doesn’t get your attention then consider that another group suggests that by the end of 2015, every single retail transaction in the US will have some type of mobile element. It doesn’t matter what type of element — it could involve the actual purchase transaction, or logistics tracking, or a payment process, or some type of loyalty transaction.

Think about that. Every single retail transaction will somehow involve a mobile device somewhere along the way. That’s significant, because it provides big opportunity for business transformation — but it also provides for the potential for massive business model disruption, new competition, loss of market control and dozens of other challenges.

It gets even bigger over time. In the UK, leading retailer John Lewis suggests that every category will migrate to online shopping in a big way — with their estimate that by 2023, 27% of all fashion sales will be through a mobile device.

2. Control of the speed of innovation has shifted to Silicon Valley

The retail industry, like every other industry, is caught in a trend that  control of the speed of innovation moving to the pace set by Silicon Valley speed? For a long time, the pace of innovation in retail has been relatively slow and deliberate; aside from some cool new cardboard layouts for end-cap displays, and sprucing up a store layout, there wasn’t a lot of need to do anything really fast.

Whoops! Now when you enter a store, you’ll use your iPhone to confirm the transaction, and you’ll get an instant receipt. Loyalty transactions will occur through mobile. Consumers will be influenced by something on their mobile (see below) …..

All of which means — new business models, disruptive competition, a shift in control, customer churn — everything is up for grabs once Silicon Valley seizes control and defines your future!

3. Mobile “influence” is going to completely redefine in-store interaction

We’re in the era of what is known as “shopper marketing,” a method of promotion involving mobile devices. Booz & Company research suggests that shopper marketing is already at $50 billion in the US.IMG_6376

What is it?  I’ll walk into a store, and behind the scenes, the store will recognize me through an interaction with my mobile device, either because of an App that I have with the retailer; a permissive social relationship; or maybe a loyalty relationship. The result is that I’ll either get a message on my phone with an e-coupon. Or perhaps an LCD TV in the store will put up a welcome message for me, with audio, and suggest I walk over to  aisle 7 for a customized special offer just for me!

Farfetched? I don’t think so. Creepy? To us maybe, but perhaps not to the next generation. When we think of the strangeness of the future and our likely negative reaction to some of what might come next, we have to remember this: it’s not bad, it’s just different.

How fast is shopper marketing moving forward? Research suggests that 56% of food wholesalers, 61.1% of manufacturers and 38.3% of sales agencies will likewise invest more in shopper marketing in the coming year. What’s popular? Mobile coupons (51%), personalized mobile offers (44.8%), store-specific mobile apps (40.6%), text messages (36.5%) and location-based services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places (35.4%).

And we’re only in the early stages. If you want to understand the future, grab the Apple Store app, and allow it to check your location. Then go visit your local Apple store, and watch what happens.

4. The change to the mobile wallet provides more potential for massive disruption

Two things are happening: if you think about it, Apple has eliminated the concept of the cash register in stores. And more importantly, they’ve rendered the plastic credit card obsolete with Apple Pay.

And the fascinating thing is that most of the retail and banking world was seemingly caught unawares, which is staggering since everyone knew this was coming for at least the last 20 years! The result is that organizations like Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover now find themselves in a heated competition with Apple, Google, PayPal and other high-velocity, innovative tech companies.

Who would you put your money on?

It’s not just that; the battle of the small vs. incumbents (Square vs Visa/MasterCard/Discovery/Amex) continues. It is still terrifically difficult for any small retailer to get a ‘merchant’ accountant from any of the dinosaurian incumbents. That’s why you see so many new business organizations using devices like Square and other industry disruptors.

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There’s another aspect too! The move to the mobile wallet involves a need for a rapid and massive infrastructure change. Most retailers can’t move that fast; they are still working to solve the big ERP problems they inherited in 2010! So while they are trying to fix the past, the future is unfolding in front of them way too fast.

4. Same day shipping everywhere destroys markets

Can you say “Amazon-Prime?” I am speaking to countless industries that are suddenly waking up to a world in which Amazon might suddenly be able to dominate their retail business model. Flooring products. Thermostats. You name it.

Anne Zybowski, an analyst at Kantar Retail said it best a few years ago: “A few years ago retailers spent a ton of time trying to make their online stores look and act like their physical stores. Now they’ve sort of reversed course, and the challenge is how to take that online shopping experience that’s so personalized, socially connected and heavily layered with data, and essentially bring it into a physical environment.” The model in which stores carry a lot of inventory is disappearing — the future is all about fulfilment.

We live in the era of “omni-channel retail,” and nothing will ever be the same. The future of retail is all about Google vs. Amazon vs. Wal-Mart, all of whom have promised to build an infrastructure that will support same day delivery to 50% of the US population within a few short years. With that, we are witnessing the rapid emergence of instant delivery startups. Amazon is hiring bicycle couriers  to put in place a business model that will offer up one-hour delivery in New York and San Francisco.

But wait! There’s more! ‘Click-and-collect’ infrastructure in major urban centres is happening at a furious pace; sit at your desk, order your groceries, and pick up your order in just one hour from your local grocery store.

Caught flat-footed are a whole bunch of retailers who find that they can’t compete on price, don’t have comparable infrastructure, and frankly, don’t know what to do other than recoil in fear!

5. The “Internet of things” also involves intelligent packaging, which changes everything.

The hype out of CES last week was fascinating. The Internet of things is real — I’ve been talking about it for 15 years.

But what isn’t being talked about in many circles is the impact of intelligent packaging — which completely defines the retail process, not to mention the product.

Intelligent packaging has huge implications.  We are talking about packaging that talks to you — maybe we will see Apple’s SIRI embedded in the package. We’ve already got pharmaceutical packaging that does “electronic event monitoring” for patient adherence. We’re going to see food packaging that automatically uploads calorie, carb, sodium and other data to a customer’s smartphone. We’ve already got packaging that comes with a unique code — and will automatically send a text through your mobile to verify that the product is not counterfeit.

We’ll have packaging that lights up when you pick it up with a small LCD screen, and runs a customized video, just for you, because it links to the app on your phone.

We’re talking about …..interactive packaging, intelligent and active packaging, multi-sensory packaging, edible packaging … packaging as mini-billboards…!

6. All this is happening in the context of collapsing product life-cycles

We are in the era of era of instant obsolescence and disappearing lifespans.

Think about this: 60% of Apple’s revenue came from products that didn’t exist three years prior to the earnings release, according to an analysis of Apple’s revenue by mobile app developer Asymco.

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Think about that in the context of your operations. What if you had to replenish your product or service line every two or three years? It could become the new normal in many industries. The impact on retailers is staggering.

Think about the graph in your marketing textbook from years or decades ago when you first learned about the concept of product life cycles. Remember how it showed a product coming to market: sales increase, reach market maturity and eventually begin to drop off. That’s been the model of product life cycles as taught in business schools for the past 100 years or so.The rule of thumb was that companies would innovate and introduce a new product. If it succeeded, the company would experience growth. At some point, sales would peak. The product would then become obsolete or overtaken by competitors and sales would decline.

That might involve a time period of 10, 15 or even 25 years.

What a quaint model. Too bad it bears no resemblance to today’s reality. The product life-cycle model today is being turned on its ear by instant obsolescence. In some industries, that product obsolescence now occurs during the growth stage; in the high-tech industry, the decline phase caused by instant obsolescence can occur during the introduction of a product or even before a product makes it to the marketplace.

And so in the context of all the change noted above, retailers have to support faster logistics, marketing, branding, sales training, promotions…….

It’s a lot of change. That’s why innovation in the high velocity economy is all about:

  • an accelerated innovation cycle
  • rapid ingestion of new technologies / methodologies
  • faster time to market
  • rapid re-focusing of resources for opportunity or threat
  • rabid focus on operational excellence
  • rapid response to volatility
  • re-orientation to fast paced consumer and brand perception

Are retailers ready? I did two quick text message polls of my audience in New York City, and here’s what I got!

First, they don’t think their ready!

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And second, they think they have a lot of mismatches that they need to fill;

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Retail?

The future belongs to those who are fast — particularly as mobile eats retails!

 

Convenience Store Decisions gave me a call, and wanted to speak about some of the trends impacting the industry.

The intervivew was a piece of cake — I do a lot of keynotes in the retail space. And just last year, a leader in “forecourt marketing” (which is industry speak for c-store marketing…), featured me as the keynote speaker at their Digital Forecourt Marketing Summit

 “It won’t be too long before I am able to fill up my car while my iPhone is communicating with the c-store,” he said. “By the time I walk into the store an LCD TV panel up on the wall is going to recognize me and greet me with a customized commercial.”

Here’s the extract of my observations from the article. (Small error in the article though – I’m not based in Dallas, but Toronto!)

Shift in Consumer Demands
Dallas-based futurist Jim Carroll sees healthier foods becoming a more fundamental offering at more convenience store down the road. “You wouldn’t think it, but there is a very seismic change going on in terms of what the stores are selling,” he said. “I think they’re realizing that what people are consuming—fried foods and fatty snacks—is changing. People are much more conscious of their food consumption.”

This is a trend that Carroll has been hearing about personally—directly from c-store operators. “Wellness—focusing on nutrition and an active lifestyle—is certainly a trend,” he said. “You think about the number of convenience stores that have undertaken a shift to fresh food. The focus is not on Doritos and Twinkies. Sure, some operators do focus on these items, but your industry leaders and top quartile chains are embracing change.”

Retailers, Carroll said, are trying to get away from the traditional popping chips paradigm. “If you play into the sort of ‘life to go’ issue and recognize that people want to get in and get a healthy meal quickly, why not have those items at the ready in convenience and gas stations? Even 7-Elevens now are selling sushi.”

Promotions, too, will gain impact, Carroll predicted. “It won’t be too long before I am able to fill up my car while my iPhone is communicating with the c-store,” he said. “By the time I walk into the store an LCD TV panel up on the wall is going to recognize me and greet me with a customized commercial.”

Once the store recognizes a particular customer there are endless possibilities to upsell merchandise via text messages and electronic coupons. The constant in the equation is change.

“I see c-stores undergoing relentless change in terms of what they do,” said Carroll, “because I think consumers change so quickly. That’s a major part of what’s going on—a very fast format shift. There is a South African chain that is converting its entire c-store strategy over to fresh food—a complete format shift, because even over there they are seeing that same kind of demand for fresh food served fast.”