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I work with many of the world’s leading bureaus, one of who is the Washington Speakers Bureau. They represent such people as Condoleeza Rice, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, John Kerry, Magic Johnson, Terry Bradshaw — global political, sports and other leaders. They’ve just run a blog post that I wrote on trends in the speaking industry. (Many of the worlds leading bureaus book me ; not only Washington Speakers, but also National Speakers Bureau / Global Speakers; Gail Davis & Associates; Leading Authorities; the Harry Walker Agency; Keppler Speakers ; Executive Speakers and many more!)


You can’t open a newspaper without seeing an article on the impact of ‘disruption.’  We now live in a period of unprecedented change in which your business model and the assumptions by which you operate are set to be forever disrupted.

In my own case, I spend a tremendous amount of time with different organizations in a vast range of different industries and professions, helping executives to understand and respond to the disruptive forces around them. And in the last several years, I’ve noticed some pretty significant changes in the speaking industry as organizations struggle with disruption.

If you are someone on your team responsible for organizing corporate or association meetings, you need to think about and react to the trends and forces at work. Quite simply, change is occurring several ways: with the speed with which speakers and topic experts are being booked, the topic areas that insight is being sought for, and the short time frames that everyone is working within.

As a speaker who focuses on how to link trends and innovation, my tag-line has become ‘the future belongs to those who are fast.”

The world is speeding up – and organizations need to respond faster

Consider the changes that everyone is impacted by today. Business model disruption. The rapid emergence of new competitors. The challenging impact of social media. Products that are almost out of date by the time they are brought to market. The digitization of everything and the impact of the Internet of Things.  All of these trends — and more — require that organizations pick up the pace when it comes to their strategies, actions and innovation efforts.

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Supertramp — a band from the 80’s — had a minor hit with the song “On the Long Way Home,” which featured the memorable line, the line, “when you’re up on the stage, it’s so unbelievable.” It is, quite. And when you’re up there, you realize how lucky you are to be able to share with the audience the wisdom you’ve picked up by observing some of the world’s top innovators. When the PGA of America had me in for the 2nd time, one of my key goals was to lay a foundation for the fact that growth in the game will come from innovation!

Recently, after a presentation to an audience of 3,000 people, I was approached by a CEO who was quite inspired by my remarks. He then asked me a fascinating question: “what would you do if you took over the leadership of my company right now?” We chatted for a while and I believe I provided some pretty succinct insight; but since then, I’ve been thinking about that question. Here’s a part of my answer.

  • maximize your best revenue opportunities. I’d make sure that any existing revenue relationships remain intact, and then some. I’d work on having my team obsess on growing existing high value customer relationships through service excellence. Let’s make sure that we meet their needs. It will likely be easier to keep existing revenue flowing rather than finding new ones, particularly through a time of economic challenge.
  • obsess over time to market. I’d work hard to accelerate product innovation; market life-cycles are collapsing, and I’d make sure every member of the team reoriented themselves to that reality. I’d focus on getting R&D to think in terms of faster cycles; I’d ramp up sales force education so that they were better aware of what’s coming next. I’d have the team thinking in terms of 3-6-9-12 : here’s what will be doing in the marketplace 3, 6, 9 and 12 months from now. I’d layer on top of that some insight into 1-2-5-10: what we might be doing 1, 2, 5 and 10 years from now.
  • reduce product costs through process improvement and better project execution: there is no shortage of innovative ideas, structures and concepts involving process and production methodologies. I’d make sure we were looking at finding those who are doing leading edge work in this area, inside or outside our industry, and learn from them.
  • align to customer oriented innovation: go upside-down, in fact. Take a look around and you will probably discover that your customers are inventing your future faster than you are. View their ideas, strategies and actions not as a threat, but as an opportunity for ideas!
  • reduce structural costs through collaboration: at this point in time, in a global world that allows for instant, smart collaboration among teams, there is no reason for massive duplication of skills and talent throughout an organization. I’d start a rethink those silos, and restructure for a new skills deployment approach. Right off the bat, I’d encourage a few cross-organizational collaboration efforts, to get people used to the idea of tackling fast new problems rather than arguing about structure and hierarchy.
  • focus on the pipeline of talent innovation: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The depth the bench strength is critical to future success. I’d have everyone take a good look at our pipeline, to see if it will meet upcoming needs. If not, I’d get a program in place to fix that fast.
  • relentlessly and aggressively chase costs: I’m not talking about spontaneous slash and burn spending cuts: I’d refocus on transitioning the role of staff from tactical efforts to a strategic role. I’ve spent time with the CIO’s and CFO’s of some pretty major organizations: Hunt Oil, Adobe, J Crew, Under Armor. All of them have provided in-depth insight onstage during customer panels that have focused on the role of IT in the business to run the business better, grow the business and transform the business. There remain countless opportunities for IT oriented innovation to rip unnecessary costs out of the business, and it involves this tactical to strategic transition.
  • enhance quality and reliability of product: Last year, I spoke to 2,500 global quality professionals on the challenges that the high velocity economy presents to the concept of quality. The fact is, new issues hit us in the marketplace faster than ever before. And the global idea loop means that quality challenges can become a sudden, massive worldwide PR nightmare faster than we’ve ever been prepared for. That’s why avoiding quality problems remains a critical focus. I’d take a look at how well we’re dealing with quality issues, and whether we’ve got the agility to respond in this new world of heightened PR challenges. I’d also have a group prepare an immediate outline of challenges and problems with customer service and satisfaction.
  • partner up: no one company can do everything on its own anymore. Take a look t the world of self-driving cars — every single auto company is partnering at a furious pace, because they know that access to specialized skills is the defining success factor for the future!
  • capture new emerging growth markets faster: I’d begin to orient the team so that we knew about which market opportunities might come next, and then spend time aligning ourselves to innovate faster in such markets. I recently spent some time with one client, and the focus of our discussion was how a new market was set to unfold in the next three months. Expectations were that the market — for a unique consumer product, with potential sales in the billions of dollars — might last for a period of eighteen months, before being eclipsed by the next stage of development. Essentially, the CEO was looking at a situation where they had to figure out how to jump into this new fast market, and make the most of it in an extremely short period of time. That’s a new skill structure to wrap an organization around, and one that every organization must learn to master.

That’s a good starting point. The key issue: I’d begin by aligning the organization to the concept of “thriving in the high velocity economy.”

Oh, and one of the first things I’d do? I would immediately convene a senior management/leadership meeting, and bring in a futurist and innovation expert to wake my people up to the potential that can come from energizing ourselves towards future opportunities.

One of my key themes through the years has been that “faster is the new fast” — that the biggest challenge that organizations must face is how to keep up with the high-velocity economy.

I’m now observing that in many markets and industries, the pace of change is so fast that we need to put in place a senior executive whose sole area of responsibility is ensuring that the organization can keep up with ever-increasing rates of change. Let’s say — a Chief Momentum Officer.

Organizations need to adapt to all kinds of different issues when it comes to the velocity of change: rapidly changing business models, the emergence of new competitors, ever shrinking product life-cylces, a faster pace of new product development, furious rates of technological innovation, furiously fast new trends in terms of customer interaction, the decreasing shelf-life of knowledge and the more rapid emergence of specialized skills: the list could go on!

Hence, a need for someone who aligns all of the moving parts of the organization to high velocity change! This individual will carry a number of responsibilities, such as:

  • managing the product innovation pipeline, so that the organization has a constant supply of new, innovative products, as existing products become obsolete, marginalized, or unprofitable
  • managing the talent pipeline, so that the organization has the ability to quickly ingest all kinds of specialized new skills
  • managing the technology pipeline, so that the organization can adapt itself to constantly improving and ever-more sophisticated IT tools that will help to better manage, run, grow and transform the business
  • maintain and continually enhance brand and corporate image; as I’ve written here many times before, brands can become “tired” and irrelevant if they aren’t continually freshened and refreshed
  • ensuring that the organization is continuing to explore new areas for opportunity, and that it has the right degrees of innovation momentum
  • that the business processes and structure of the organization are fine-tuned on a continuous basis so that it can keep up with all the fast-change swirling around it
  • ensuring that a sufficient number of “experiential” programs are underway with respect to product, branding, markets, and other areas so that the overall expertise level of the organization is continually enhanced

In other words, the CMO has two key responsibilities:

  • keeping a fine tuned eye on the trends which will impact the organization in the future, and which will serve to increase the velocity that the organization is subjected to and;
  • keeping their hands on the appropriate levers throughout the organization such that it can keep evolving at the pace that these future trends will demand.

I don’t know if that makes perfect sense, but I think its a good issue to think about.

I’m always thinking about my clients and my keynotes and the messages that I need to deliver on stage. With that, I’m always keeping my eye open for a good business parable. So here’s another one, that came from a unique opportunity for a quick little ski lesson from one of the top downhill racers in the world, Larisa Yurkiw.

Advice for me in a personal lesson from one of the top 3 downhill ski racers in the world: “Focus forward — keep your shoulders pointed to where you want to go. And be like a slinky. You never know what the next bump in the snow is going to throw at you, so you need to be prepared for anything. You can only do that if you are in a position that will let you flex quickly.”

I was skiing this weekend at my home ski club — it’s a small eastern hill known as Georgian Peaks. Bluebird skies and great conditions. And so at one point, I came down one particular run — Rogers — which is rather steep and challenging for someone who only took up the sport at the age of 40.

Normally, I would look like a total doofus on this hill, but the conditions were so good that maybe I looked like I knew what I was doing or faked it well. But I felt that I actually skied it pretty well.

And then a voice in the lift line behind me — “I followed you all the way down!” Larisa Yurkiw was standing there. “Let’s do a few more runs.

If you don’t know Larisa’s story, you should. She started at the same small Ontario ski hill, and progressed to the elite of the global downhill ski racing circuit, racing against her friends Lindsay Vonn, Julie Mancuso and others. Before her retirement, she was ranked number 3 in the world, competed in the Olympics, and more. What makes the story more unique is that she did it all on her own terms, establishing and funding her own ski team because the national sports association didn’t step up and believe in her. She did!

It’s a great story, and she’s now telling it in a powerful stage keynote – A Daring Need for Speed. (Full disclosure : I’ve been mentoring Larisa on how to take her story to the stage, and she’s doing a great job. If you are looking for a powerhouse speaker with a fascinating keynote, check her out!)

Back to my story — so we went up the lift, and then she gave me a tip at the top. I might not have it exactly right, but it was something like this:

“Focus forward — keep your shoulders pointed to where you want to go. And be like a slinky. You never know what the next bump in the snow is going to throw at you, so you need to be prepared for anything. You can only do that if you are in a position that will let you flex quickly.”

The essence of her 2 point lesson for me was to keep focused on where I was trying to go, and to be flexible and agile in my stance. Did it work? We did several more runs together, and I felt a fair bit more control in what I was doing. It’s too bad the season is coming to an end!

But for me, there was more than just a quick ski lesson — there was a great business story in that simple guidance! It’s almost the perfect business leadership lesson for the high velocity economy! With business model disruption, the emergence of new, nimble competitors, the onrush of technological change, challenging consumers and more, organizations today must have have more flexibility than ever before to respond to a sudden change in conditions, just as on a ski hill.

But that must be done in the context of keeping a key goal and strategy in mind — staying focused on where you want to go on the journey.

So your leadership lesson for today? Focus forward & be a slinky – simple, yet effective and compelling!

 

Many organizations engage me for an offsite CEO or executive session that is focused on how to move the organization forward in a period fast paced change. So it was this client in the hi-tech sector — where I delivered a keynote around the idea of ‘agility’ as a key response to an extremely fast moving industry.

It’s not just in the world of hi-tech that is subjected to extremely fast change – everyone is!

Today, I was scheduled to be in NYC for a leadership meeting for a company in the medical device/supplies industry. The event was cancelled/ postponed due to weather….

My keynote was built on the theme of “collaboration, ac celebration and transformation.”

In other words, to get ahead in the high-velocity business world, organizations need to do 3 things, and do them well:

  • collaborate. Things are happening so fast, we need to focus on how to best shares ideas, insight into customer and external change, and other issues. A connected team is a better team
  • acceleration: we need to move faster, in terms of keeping up with rapidly changing customers, the rapid evolution/change in the products that we sell, the impact of Amazon and other new competitors
  • transformation: our business model is and will continue to be subject to big change — so we need to think how we will evolve it, change it, transform it

We live in a time in which leaders and people need inspiration on how to live and work in a world in which the future belongs to those who are fast.

That’s my job, and that’s what I do!

My job as a futurist has me doing an increasing number of CEO level events for Fortune 500 companies around the world, helping at leadership meetings which are focused on the massive transformations and disruption occurring in every single industry.

Disruption is real, it’s big, and it’s happening faster than you think.

Here’s what you need to think about today, as the pace of change picks up:

1. Multiple trends merge. At no other time in the world of business have we seen so many trends come together all at once. Computers, exponentiating bandwidth, connectivity, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, neural networks, deep analytics, autonomous vehicles, self-learning systems. All of these trends and more are merging together,  leading to a massively new, connected, intelligent machine that will transform, change, challenge and disrupt every industry. As this happens….

2 Every company becomes a software company. From healthcare, home appliances to automotive, manufacturing to packaging, retail to sports & fitness, energy to agriculture: every industry is seeing massive change as it becomes enabled, challenged and transformed by technology and connectivity. From precision agriculture to self-driving cars, smart clothing to connected microwaves, remote medical monitoring devices to active packaging  — every company in every industry is becoming a computer company, with software and technology at its heart and soul. What this means is that …..

3. Velocity accelerates and speed defines success. Moore’s law — the rule that defines that the processing power of a computer chip constantly increases while the cost collapses at an exponential rate — is coming to drive the speed of innovation in every single industry. Companies are having to innovate and transform at a pace never seen before. Some can do it, and others can’t, which leads to the new rule in the economy that….

4. Small beats big. Agility and speed are the new metrics for success. Big organizations are often encumbered by legacy, and are suffering from the disease of  organizational sclerosis. New, aggressive upstarts can move faster, with the result that they can make decisions that provide for big disruption and challenge. In their world….

5. Edge thinking dominates. These small upstarts don’t follow long-established ‘rules’ for changing the future. To move faster, they source ideas and inspiration through crowd-thinking, raise their funds through crowd-funding, and prototype products through 3D printing and other fast-to-market methodologies. Global R&D has moved from massive labs to globally dispersed idea factories. The result of this trend is that ….

6. Ideas accelerate. In every field, the pace of innovation and discovery is speeding up to an unprecedented level. What use to seem like science fiction just a few years ago is todays’ reality. In such an environment …

7. Big, bold thinking predominates. We are seeing the emergence of an entire world of big dreamers and doers, individuals who dare to challenge the orthodox, and abandon routines. The concept of the ‘moonshot’ is no longer restricted to those with deep pockets — but is oxygen for those with big ideas. To get their fast, they realize that….

8. Skills access is the new gold. Did you notice Ford paid $1 billion to get access to some experts in self-driving car technology? Enough said. Those who can access the skills in trend #1 above win. We’re in a global war for niche talent, and that pretty much defines a critical strategy for the future. If it is all about skills, then success involves a strategy in which ….

9. Experience is oxygen. There’s no time to learn, to study, to plan. It’s time to figure out what you don’t know, and do the things that are necessary to begin to know about it. Experiential capital is the new capital for the 21st century. To get there, you need to know that….

10. Action is the best reaction. If you don’t disrupt, you will be disrupted. It’s your ability to quickly act, react and do that will allow for future success. There’s not a lot of time for debate, studying; inertia is abhorred. Simply DO. That should be you.

Remember that song by the Who? “I hope I die before I get old!”

You better change before you can’t.

You might be obsolete before you know it.

Quit talking about disruption.

Do something about it.

When I’m on stage, I often talk about the ‘organizational sclerosis‘ that sets in, that prevents organizations from seizing the opportunities of the future.

To this day, I remain stunned by the slow speed of many organizations. Too often, this comes about because too much time is spent on planning what to do, rather than actually doing it!

As I note often on stage: ‘The high velocity economy economy and massive disruption demands that we act fast — which demands that we often do things in the absence of complete information.”

Structure for intensity. Execute relentlessly. #innovation

velocity

The Canadian Society of Association Executives had me write a series of articles with some of the unique challenges presented to associations in the context of fast-trends. Over the new week, I’ll play out these articles in a series of blog posts. They provide good food for though!

Your future members will work in industries, businesses and organizations that evolve faster in terms of their focus, products, services and mandates - what are you doing to challenge your mandate to deal with that?

Your future members will work in industries, businesses and organizations that evolve faster in terms of their focus, products, services and mandates – what are you doing to challenge your mandate to deal with that?

Over 20 years, I’ve keynoted numerous association and meeting professional events. Check the Association section (under Trends) of my Web site for more!

Crowd Thinking

Crowd thinking has replaced most forms of peer research. Most long established medical and science journals have transitioned – big time – accepting a new form of instant crowd thinking as
the best way to evaluate the new world hyper-science. In an instant, a researcher can summon acrowd of vetted, quality specialists who have niche knowledge in a rapidly changing field.

The result? A further acceleration of knowledge and in the pace of the discovery of new ideas and concepts. The impact? Massive velocity in the development of new technologies,pharmaceuticals, medical devices and forms of treatment, agricultural concepts an methodologies — every industry and profession has seen a profound shift bigger than the once amazing macro-knowledge burst of the Manhattan project.

Questions for Association Leaders:

  • Are you capable of migrating the professional education component of our role, so that rapid advances with crowd thinking become part of the curriculum/training?
  •  How quickly will the acceleration of knowledge that comes from crowd thinking challenge our professional skill set?

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!

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