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Some of the most fascinating organizations in the world have brought me in to encourage their people to think about the future, and how to nurture a culture of creativity and innovation. Organizations like NASA (twice!), Johnson and Johnson, Whirlpool/Maytag, the Walt Disney Corporation and literally hundreds more!

 

One of my key motivational points for my clients has always been this idea.

Many people see a trend and see a threat. Smart people see the same trend and see opportunity

Think about that, and then ask yourself as to how do you keep yourself in an innovative frame of mind.

A good part of it has to do with the company you keep! To that end, I’d suggest that you surround yourself with:

  • optimists. You need to hang out with people who see all kinds of opportunity – not gloomsters who are convinced there is no future out there!
  • people who do. Action oriented people. Folks who accomplish things. Those that do.
  • people with open minds. Innovators aren’t prepared to accept the status quo – they are willing to explore and understand different viewpoints, and use that as a kickoff for creativity.
  • people who have experienced failure. Innovation comes from risk; risk comes from trying things. Try lots of things, and many will fail. That’s good. That builds up experience, which gives you better insight into a fast paced world.
  • oddballs and rebels. Some of the most brilliant thinking and best ideas can come from those who view the world through a different lens. They may seem odd at times, but they can be brilliantly creative.
  • good listeners and debaters. They’re willing to challenge ideas, analyze issues, and think through the possibilities.
  • people who think differently than you do. If you really want to be innovative, go to two conferences a year that have nothing to do with what you do. You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how it will re-stir your creative juices.

In every single keynote, I focus on future trends and opportunities, and link that to the process and mindset of innovation. I’m an optimist, continually try new things, listen to other people, watch, observe, and listen.

Most important, I refuse to give in to the pervasive negative thinking that so many people seem to envelope themselves within. Maybe that’s why I see so many opportunities in today’s economy.

Think growth!

“Why did this get me in trouble? The firm I was with had a contract with a large national postal services organization, and it seems the CEO took exception to someone internal promoting the virtues of a whacky new form of communication that could replace paper mail.”

The folks at Postal and Parcel Technology Magazine approached me some months back to write an article about the future of mail in the era of technology, and particularly, e-mail.

I suggested to them that rather than looking forward, why not look to the past for valuable lessons?

Such as, how organizations seem to always react in a negative way to new technologies, new ideas and innovation?

What better way to do so than by writing about the fact that I was almost fired in 1989 (yup, 28 years ago) because of a cover story that I was featured in about electronic mail. And the fact that some folks who had a vested interest in paper mail read the article, didn’t like it, and complained. Kind of loudly. Because they didn’t like change….

The folks at Postal and Parcel loved the idea – and so we ran an article, below.

So what happened in 1989? I wasn’t fired. I ended up quitting the firm some months later, after 10 years, because the senior leadership team couldn’t comprehend my indications that something ‘big’ was happening.

For a few years, I made a lot of money actually consulting to companies on technology. Then I wrote some books (34, actually) about the Internet, and sold about 2 million books. That got me on the speaker circuit. I started speaking about the future. Companies took notice of what I was saying. More and more people and companies noticed, and I soon found myself providing guidance on the future to some fascinating organizations. One day, I found myself in front of some astronauts and astrophysicists at NASA, speaking to them about the future of space, the space industry, and the realities of innovation!

The article — click the image for a full version. Or access the PDF : . Read it below!

 

 

Fright Club
Jim Carroll Explains Why Organizations Should Never Fear Change
Postal and Parcel Technology International, March 2017

In October 1989 I was almost fired from a job with a global professional services firm because of email! Not because of anything I had sent or received, but because I appeared in an office automation magazine extolling the benefits of using electronic mail over regular paper mail.

Why did this get me in trouble? The firm I was with had a contract with a large national postal services organization, and it seems the CEO took exception to someone internal promoting the virtues of a whacky new form of communication that could replace paper mail. After some explaining that I had no nefarious intent, cooler heads prevailed and I kept my job, although I later decided it was developments like email that really interested me, so I became a global futurist and expert on innovation, and today count Disney, NASA and Johnson & Johnson among my clients.

Email is an example of something that forever changed the way we communicate, but as my story shows, there are people who don’t like new technology and the change it represents. But it also makes the point that you have to move beyond that type of thinking if you are to survive.

Over the years, I have spent time with a tremendous number of organizations and have seen some business models decimated by technology – just as others turn the same ideas into an opportunity. Ideally you want to be in the latter camp, but how?

First of all, accept that in the future you won’t even recognize the industry you are operating in. That’s because the rate of business model change is accelerating in every single industry. In 10 years’ time your business model will look nothing like it does today, with a huge disruption most likely to stem from a younger generation with a better grasp of the latest technologies.

Now, the technology they use will probably seem unrelated or irrelevant to your area of business at first, and you may discount it, but the truth will be that if you don’t embrace it, your operation won’t survive. Examples of this type of disruption are occurring right now.

Battling against a culture of innovation can set you upward this. form of organizational sclerosis. It will clog up your ability to pursue new ideas. How do you recognize if you have a problem? There are a few recognizable signs For example, do you laugh at new ideas? Is your organization more focused on process than success/ Is the company culture very much, “Well, this is how we do it because we’ve always done it this way?”

Innovative companies are different. Ideas flow freely throughout the organization, and success and failure are championed. There are many leaders who encourage innovative thinking, rather than magaers who run a bureacracracy, and a number of creative champions who thrive on thinking about how to do things differently. These companies recognize that innovation is also about how to run, grow and transform the business.

The fact is, every organization should be able to develop innovation as a core virtue – if it isn’t, it certainly won’t survive the rapid rate of change that envelopes us today.

I am a big believer that the world of communications and logistics – as found in the postal industry – has a fascinating and marvellous future in this new, fast-paced, virtual/physical economy that is being created. But to do that, you must have an open mind and a willingness to embrace the future.

In other words, don’t fire the messenger. Ask yourself, “What is the messenger really trying to tell us?

 1989office_automation

Read the original 1989 article here!

Does your organization have the right stuff to deal with todays’ information-empowered, globally collaborative, we-know-better-than-you-do customer? Probably not!


Imagine that you are a big company. Imagine that you roll out a new piece of software that was supposed to make things better for your customers.

Imagine that it doesn’t do that — and it makes things worse, in that a feature that existed for your best customers has now disappeared. Even worse — those very same customers now have to pay a fee to do what they could previously do for free. In other words, imagine that you’ve broken a customer-system, and you are now penalizing those customers for your mistake.

Imagine this : you’ve tried to make things better, and you’ve only made them worse. Does this happen in the real world? Alarmingly, often. I’m going through this exact type of experience right now with a billion-dollar company that I deal with regularly.

Out of respect — since I think their CEO is a smart guy — I won’t name names. I will, however, offer up my advice on how to respect, not mistreat, your customers. The fact is, in this hyper-connected world, your customers know a lot more about what is going on than you do. If you fail at customer service or customer interaction, it can go public in a big way.

You don’t just need to be excellent in customer relationships – you need to be relentless excellent.

These are the fundamental truths of the new customer relationship.

  1. Fix things fast, because things break fast. As things go wrong, fix them fast. Have a communications plan. Be prepared to reassure the customer quickly. In this new era of hyper-information feedback, don’t let the customer sit and stew for a moment — proactive information and proactive action is the only weapon you have, and you have to use it.
  2. Adopt customer-niceness as a core virtue during the pain period. There are rules and fees and structure that can exist in any customer relationship. But make everyone aware on the team that there are likely some things that are going to have to be waived during the rollout. The core virtue is, “we’re going to be nice to the customer, because we know it is not the customers fault that things have gone wrong.”
  3. Admit that mistakes will happen . It’s ok. It’s the 21st century. Bad things go wrong all the time. Accept that, and use that as a go-forward strategy. “Things will go wrong and we will work to fix them fast” is a better strategy than “we plan on rolling it out and holding our breath that things don’t get messed up.”
  4. Don’t hide from the customers. Customers today can turn on you in an instant. Rumors, stories, misinformation can abound. The customer has a lot of information, and might not always be reading it right — but they can certainly make it go wrong in a hurry. A clear, and open, and honest, reactive strategy with the customer is in your best interest. More communication is the best rule.
  5. Be open. Solicit feedback – get the customers on side. Don’t just rollout new ideas, technologies, services or other things, and hope for the best. Know that there will be problems, issues, and things that will go wrong. Start out on the right foot with the customer base when things go wrong by admitting that you screwed up, and by seeking their input, guidance. The new business world is all a beta — Google gets this, and you should get this too.
  6. Turn customers into fixers. The customer is a new customer. They expect operational excellence, and if they don’t get it off the bat, they are prepared to help fix it. The complexity of a new customer software system can undergo all kinds of testing internally, but some things will never show up until it goes live. That’s why you want to recruit the customer as a problem solver. Turn it from a “bad rollout of new software” into something different, by letting the customer know that you want them to help stress test the system and find the things that aren’t working quite right.
  7. Get everyone inside on the same page. Let everyone throughout the organization know that something new is going to be happening that could cause customer stress. Get them to understand that the new JOB #1 is Customer-Destressification.
  8. Have an escalation plan. As things go wrong, be prepared to pump them up the chain in a hurry. Have a team ready to analyze what the customers are saying, do triage on the big ones, and work them quickly.
  9. Empower people with niceness. Customer-centricity and the instant-age demands that the customer be made happy — quickly. Give staff who have not previously had the authority, the authority to do things to the customer that are nice. That will help to ease the early part of the “pain process.”
  10. Learn from the experience. Learn from this rollout to figure out how to do it better the next time.

In today’s hyper-competitive environment, your customer relationship can be fleeting at best. They often know more about your market than your staff does. Act accordingly, or you look like a fool — and you end up losing customer loyalty.

As with anything, the opportunity around the idea of the ‘smart home’, and the reality of what will transpire, varies to a large degree. We are in early days yet!

That was the essence of an exchange I had with a potential client in the home/condo construction market; they were looking at me for an executive offsite concerning their plans in this space, and wanted a senior level executive session that outlined opportunities with smart home construction in the future.

My key goal was to get across to them that a smart home doesn’t just involve throwing in some Internet-connected devices;  it’s not just about the Internet of Things; there is a lot more potential, and the scope of the opportunity is pretty significant in the long term. Given that, they really needed to take a substantive approach that involved not just short term goals but some long term thinking.

Here’s what I outlined:

  1. It”s bigger than you think. The smart home of the future will not only play a role in security and energy, but also also a role in economic development, healthcare virtualization, the reengineering of local energy grids and much, much more
  2. We’ve only just begun. Major organizations, such as appliance and other home device manufacturers, are only just starting to understand where they can go with the smart home. This is outlined in my recent post, The 11 Rules of IoT Architecture – they are coming to understand that just as Tesla is building cars that can be upgradable, they can play a role in smart homes that will be upgradable and changeable over time. That’s a pretty big scope of opportunity.
  3. The energy side is much more than just connected thermostats The real smart home of the future will be designed with major energy implications in mind. This will involve @ home energy generation, as well as sharable energy systems and support for local community micro-grids. Catch my video on this, Will the Energy Industry be Mp3’d?
  4. AI will play a big role, but no one is sure what that means yet. We are in early days with home AI devices such as Amazon Alexa and other intelligent assistants. Alexa and other devices have caught the attention of the innovators; someone out there is busy engineering future solutions that are barely an idea yet. We don’t know where this aspect will take us!
  5.  Virtual healthcare in the home is a bigger component of the smart home than you realize. Bioconnectivity – the virtualization of healthcare, is massive. The hospital is being reengineered to incorporate the monitoring of patients from afar. Big, bold thinking in the seniors care and other industries will lead to transformation of the very essence of what we think a hospital is – because the home becomes a part of the hospital. Look to the MedCottage for guidance on the opportunity with this issue.
  6. Making it work is pretty complex. An API has been built, but people are only just beginning to use it. Head over to the site, If This Then That. It’s at the vanguard of where we can go with this massive form of hyperconnctivity. It involves a series of rules -if this device does this, then do that. Talk to your phone to turn on your thermostat. Use your phone to see where you are and define a rule if your garage door should open. The number of companies joining IFTT is staggering — it is likely the World Wide Web for the Internet of Things!
  7. Existing players aren’t necessarily the major players. Google was big and early into the game with NEST, but don’t expect that big organizations like GE, Whirlpool and others will easily give up the potential market. While big companies aren’t necessarily the best innovators, I’m seeing a lot of deep, substantive thinking in these organizations as to the real nature of a smart home eco-system.
  8. The economic implications are huge. In the 1950’s, the modern suburb defined the future of economic relocation – companies made decisions based upon where the employees might live. In the future, smart communities wired by smart infrastructure, particularly those supporting the nomadic worker, will have an economic leg up. Wild card: self-driving cars and economic success.
  9. Architectural / design issues are only just being explored. If we can build ultra-smart, energy efficient, secure homes, have we yet hit an understanding of the design opportunity? In this area, think about the Jetsons – it really provides guidance!
  10. The skills issues are massive! I had one of the first Internet enabled thermostats about 17 years ago. My HVAC contractor flipped out when he saw it, complaining he didn’t know how to wire Ethernet stuff. I said that’s ok, my teenage son will do it — and he did! Its going to take a lot of knowledge re-skilling for the future of the smart home!

For each of these areas, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 20 years. By way of examples:

  •  I’ve spent time with many of the companies in the home energy sector; all of Honeywell, Trane, and Lennox have had me in for CEO level events or dealer meetings
  • with the era of smart appliances, I just keynoted a session at Whirlpool/Maytag on the implications and opportunities of the Internet of Things.
  • in the energy field, I’ve spoken about the future of micro-grids and shared energy for the CEO of PG&E, as well as many global energy conferences
  • I’ve done multiple keynotes around the future of virtualized, community oriented healthcare, most recently, for several thousand folks in the seniors care industry
  • on the economic implications , lots of talks — I’ve just been booked by the Western Nevada Economic Development Association for a keynote around this theme, by way of example
  • on the architectural / design issues, I recently had a keynote in St. Louis for Alberici Construction…. and others
  • and on the skills issues, a lot of time, including talking about the future challenges for HVAC contractors and others at the WorldSkills conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil!

One of my favourite future phases is from Bill Gates: Most people tend to overstate the rate of change that will occur on a two year basis, and underestimate the rate of change on a 10 year basis. So it is with the smart, connected home. We’re going to be in a different space 10 years from now, but we are only just starting to define that!

Closing comment? Back in the late 90’s, I wrote a monthly column for one of the world’s leading airlines — Canadian Airlines! One of my columns had to do with the smart home of the future. It’s a fun read today – and I was pretty right about the trends going forward! Have a read!

Soon you’ll be programming the drapes
September 1999 – Canadian Magazine
by Jim Carroll PDF

The last few decades have been marked by promised of innovative new technology for the home. The presumption, of course, is that more technology is good for us and that, in the process, our homes will become “smart.” Yet today, as we consider the number of people whose VCRs still flash 12:00, we wonder just how smart our homes have become.

YESTERDAY

Ever since the 1930s, many industries have predicated a variety of fanciful technologies that would find their way into our homes and make our lives much easier. Most predictions are, in retrospect, hilarious.

Perhaps one of the earliest examples was the introduction of the automatic dishwasher at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. Westinghouse presented a dishwashing contest between Mrs. Modern (using a Westinghouse dishwasher) and Mrs. Drudge (cleaning her dishes by hand). At the close of the contest (you know who won), the moderator commented that in addition to losing, Mrs. Drudge was not nearly as “neat and refreshed as when she started.” Yes, technology would make us feel better!

Washing dishes seemed to be a favourite theme of the World’s Fair: some 25 years later, the 1964 Fair featured the Norge Dish Maker. The appliance washed and dried plastic dishes – and then ground them up into tiny pellets, which it would then mould them into new plates, cups and saucers!

Walter Cronkite got in on the act, appearing on March 12, 1967 in At Home 2001, a half-hour show about the nature of the home at the dawn of the new millennium. He explained, for example, the duties of the host: “When a guest arrives, he just pulls out his inflatable chair – a small pressurized air capsule would inflate it and it would be ready for use. At the end of the evening he’d just pull out the plug and put the deflated chair back into his little bag.” Need to cook for the guests? Simply reach for the ultimate in convenience food. “A meal might be stored for years and then cooked in seconds,” he said, without a trace of scepticism.

Optimism continued to reign. In 1977, the Vancouver Sun reported on a “domestic android” manufactured by Quasar Industries, which could “serve your dinner, vacuum your rugs, baby-sit your kids and insult your enemies.”

There was a common undercurrent to many of the predictions about the “smart home.” We would have push-button control over everything, a “remote control for the home,” that would allow us to draw the drapes, water the plants, turn down the thermostat, and control virtually every other aspect of the house simply by punching a few buttons.

TODAY

Of course, few of us today have such capabilities – and we wonder if we’d be able to use it even if it were available. After all, how many of us could manage that “remote control for the home” when we find ourselves stymied by the typical 50-button VCR remote control?

The industry is certainly trying to deal with the problem. There is no shortage of ‘smart-home” technology available and apparently some people are buying this stuff – the U.S.-based National Association of Home Builders estimates that, worldwide, some $2 to $4 billion is spent each year on smart-home devices that link security systems, lighting, and entertainment communication systems.

Who buys them? John and Missy Butcher of Chicago, for example. They have spent $100,000 on a home automation system, which means that (if they are in the mood), they can click the “Romance” button on their home automation controller and watch as the curtains are drawn and the lights dim, while listening to music designed to get them in the mood. “Our lives are much easier,” they note.

Of course, we might think, anyone who can spend $100,000 on a home automation system already has an easy life.

TOMORROW

Will the smart home remain largely a concept, an expensive curiosity available only to the richest and most gadget-hungry among us? Likely not. This is one technology that is set to explode in terms of the number of customers it will gain and the practical role it will play in our daily lives. There are several reasons for this.

First, many people now have more than one computer in the home. The computer industry recognizes that linking them together into a home-based local area network is going to be one of the biggest opportunities of the next three years.

We won’t simply be linking the computers in our home. The technology will link all of our devices based on the computer chip into a central control panel, bringing us one step closer to the remote control concept of earlier decades. Three years from now, you may be buying a set of drapes with a microchip. Plug them in, program them – and forget about them.

Second, the emergence of the Internet plays a significant role. Though we think of it as a tool to surf the Web and read e-mail, it is also a technology that will one day link our refrigerator to its manufacturer, notifying the company when the appliance is about to break down – and, in the process, taking us through the next step in home automation.

And finally, there is the ever-decreasing cost of technology. The smart home has always been held back by the fact that the minimum investment was at least $2,000, but that figure is dropping quickly.

And, most significant of all, we’ll barely notice the technology as it sneaks into our home! We’ll be buying appliances, garage door openers, alarm systems and other things for our home, unaware that they contain the necessary intelligence to plug into our home network.

It’s not that we’ll choose to have a smart home – one day, we’ll discover that it’s already smart.

Not quite convinced? Let me quote Walter Cronkite, from that 1967 program. “Sounds preposterous,” he told his audience, with a bit of a smile, “but some people are convinced it will happen.”

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.

I have been providing my insight, and have been speaking to organizations about the future, for more than 25 years.

Over the years, I have come to realize that while the majority of my audience appreciates a whirlwind ride into the future, there are others who just wish the future would go away.

I used to worry and obsess over this challenge, often leaving a stage wondering why I wasn’t able to get through to everyone. Then years ago, I realized that no matter what I do, there will always be a core group who prefer the status quo. They fall prey to the sentiment of Ogden Nash: “progress is great, but its gone on way too long.”

This issue and challenge has become more pronounced and visible in the last year. And a recent event demonstrates to me that leaders today must work harder to deal with, manage and confront the internal conflict that exists over how to deal with the fast future.

Since I’m on a Jetsons’ theme this year with many of keynotes (Keynote: The Jetsons Have Arrived 50 Years Early: What are YOU Going to Do About it?) , I thought that the image below beset captures the nature of challenge!

Leaders today must steer their organization into a fast paced future — through the shoals of disruption, the emergence of new competitors, technology, automation and other challenges — while understanding that there is a core group that will do little to embrace that change. It’s the Flintstones and the Jetsons, in one workplace!

I’m having quite a bit of fun watching the movie in which the Jetsons meet the Flintstones. Consider what is happening with the acceleration of the automotive industry: self-driving cars, intelligent highways, prognostic self-diagnosing vehicles. The industry will be barely recognizable in 10 years! Cars tomorrow will be barely recognizable compared to what we drive today.

And yet, there remain folks who just refuse to participate in the inevitability of the future, and that can be a significant leadership, strategic challenge.

The issue became crystal clear to me with a recent keynote. Anyone familiar with my keynotes knows that I do a variety of text message polls while on stage, whether in front of a few thousand in Vegas or with a small executive group of 15 or 20. It’s a fun, interactive way to get insight from those I am working with.

I started out with my opening poll, after I spoke briefly about the fast trends that envelop our world. The response is typical : most people today feel that the world is moving way too fast for them! Fair enough — the pace of change is overwhelming.

My next question, before I dove into the issues of business model disruption and innovation? A question asking them if they thought their industry would see much change.

Not at all, indicated 40%! In 10 years, things would be the same as they would today. To be honest, this left me kind of stunned. It’s not the typical response.

 

In my wrap up, I asked the audience what barriers might exist in the way of dealing with change? And the answers here were untypical of the many hundreds of such polls I’ve done, with a majority indicating a belief that it isn’t necessary to do anything!

What are we left with? An organization that feels overwhelmed by change; in which almost half this change won’t impact them, and that they didn’t really need to do anhyting to deal with it.

In other words, the future can be safely ignored.

I started using the Jetsons-Meets-the-Flintstones cartoon as a joke; a bit of ill-conceived humour on some recent political events. But it’s not a joke, and this is a real and substantive leadership issue.

As a CEO or senior executive, how are you going to align a fast paced future — one full of challenge and opportunity — to an organization where a significant number of people don’t think that the future will impact them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

confused-utah

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!

 

committtee

Why are committees so bad for innovation? Here’s a list of 10 reasons….

  • it sends the message that innovation is something special; that not everyone is responsible for great ideas
  • it often leads to the worst form of group-think, whereas divergent thinking is the essence of innovation and creativity
  • it usually results in the lowest common denominator of idea generation; mediocrity rules!
  • it leads to the deferral of decisions – by design, committees can’t make decisions!
  • committees breed bureaucracy; bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation
  • committees, by design, seek consensus. Innovation, by its nature, requires independence of thought
  • committees are ruled by inertia and inaction; innovation requires regular action and re-analysis
  • people don’t like conflict. Committees seek agreement; innovation often thrives on disagreement
  • committees are usually established for short term goals; innovation is, by necessity, a long term cultural initiative
  • committees meet on a timed, organized, scheduled basis. Innovation is usually spontaneous and requires instantaneity
  • committees are usually closed to outside thinking; innovation, by necessity, thrives on openness

As usually, my list goes to 11!

Innovation by committee – it’s a contradiction in terms if there ever was one!

 

Today, the Wall Street Journal ran an article,”Why Saudi Arabia’s Oil Giant Aims to Be Big in Chemicals, Too“, with the subhead: “Aramco’s plans to vastly expand its petrochemical operations are part of the kingdom’s effort to remake its economy as oil’s future clouds.” 

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“Aramco’s strategic goal is to create a global network of refining and petrochemical plants that let Saudi Arabia turn its biggest asset into hundreds of higher-value products crucial to modern life, from chewing gum to auto parts”

Why would one of the world’s largest oil companies shift to a new focus on the chemical industry as their key opportunity? One reason is that the math, and hence the scope of the opportunity, is so overwhelming. (The other being that in a world awash in oil, energy is no longer a growth industry. So after the world gets flat, you put a ripple in it!)

Here’s why: years ago, I dug out a fascinating observation having to do with the world of chemistry. I’ve used this in keynotes for BASF, the American Chemical Society, and many others. Consider the simple math at hand that spells opportunity with a capital ‘O’.

  • “…The number of known chemical substances has been growing exponentially since 1800, from some hundreds then to about 19 million today….”
  • “…. the number constantly doubles every 13 years….”
  • by 2025: 80 million chemical substances
  • by 2050: 300 million
  • and by 2100: 5 billion……

19 billion known chemical substances to 5 billion? That’s a pretty exponential change….

Why is this important? I always point out on stage, when using these stats, that the discovery of a single new chemical substance led to the opportunity for Apple to miniaturize the hard drive — that led to the first iPod.

Which was the birth of a multi-billion market.

For every new chemical substance, similar massive new opportunities exist.

That’s what it means to live in an exponential world! And that is what it means to focus on future opportunities through innovation. Which is precisely what Said Aramco is focused on….