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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 Products that are almost out of date by the time they are brought to market.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.

I’m seeing that within my global client base, where I am being engaged more frequently by senior executives in companies to help them assess and identify strategic plans in the light of these high velocity trends.

The theme of faster innovation is an undercurrent for events. The guiding cry seems to be, ‘we know we need to change — and we know we need to change faster!”

Organizations are booking speakers faster

These rapid changes are leading to some absolutely fascinating booking cycles in my speaking career — with an increasing number of my events booking just a few weeks or a month out. That’s a big change. It used to be that speakers were booked a year or more in advance. That still happens, but it is an increasingly uncommon occurrence.

Consider the old, traditional booking cycles. In the past, the typical speaker was booked by someone with MPI or other event industry credentials – an association or corporate event planner. They would work on a long, elaborate timeline, often a year in advance, for an annual conference of meeting. In addition to the speaker selection the process would involve a detailed site selection, a comprehensive RFP process, site visits, and lots of committee discussions around the tone, direction and theme of the meeting.

This is no longer the case.

In the new high-velocity economy, in which organizations are suddenly confronted with new challenges and opportunities at an increasing pace, organizations must challenge themselves from a leadership and strategic perspective faster.

This involves finding a content or subject effort fast, and bringing that individual in quickly. That’s because rapid market, business, industry, and skills change leads to a need for faster “knowledge delivery”.

The result? Corporate and association events take on a more strategic role, with a resulting shorter planning cycles and smaller, more tightly focused events with a specific strategic purpose.

New strategic meetings need to serve a very specific purpose – not a broad ‘theme’

Organizations don’t just want inspiration any more — they need specific ideas with specific action plans. In a world of fast change, speakers can’t just provide inspiration: they need to provide real solutions.

Audiences are looking not only for detailed trends analysis that are specific to them, but real solutions that they can pursue right out of the gate. Insight on how to develop a relentless focus on growth, or opportunities in solving customer problems before the customer knows it’s a problem. They want to concentrate on ingesting fast ideas; checking their speed and focusing on corporate agility; or focusing on long term wins through constant incremental improvements. They know that skills partnerships are a key success factor. They know that right now is a great time to made bold decisions, and to take decisive advantage to forge aggressive new paths against their competitors.

Whatever the case may be, these new strategic meetings are all about real solutions to real challenges and opportunities.

The shifting role of the event professional

Traditionally, speakers have been booked by meeting professionals, event planners, or others who bear responsibility for their events. That’s no longer the case.

When meetings and events come together with an entirely new, fast and specific strategic purpose, the person charged with the responsibility of organizing the content is someone entirely different. Usually an executive assistant, senior vice president or someone else with many other responsibilities.

Some research indicates that today, only 17% of meeting planners have “meeting planner” in their job titles; and less than 20% of meeting planners spend over 50% of their work time planning meetings!

Connecting with the right speaker

My experience has shown that event professionals often feel overwhelmed by the vast number of speakers available to them and the massive range of potential optics. It’s confusing, overwhelming, and intimidating.

Here’s the most interesting thing: they might not necessarily be aware of the role that a speakers bureau can play in helping them to make their way through the vast number of options that are out there. That’s why I continue to invest a lot of time in ensuring that my friends at the Washington Speakers Bureau understand what I do and how I do it; how I customize; how I work with the client to help them achieve their very specific strategic objectives. In that way, WSB is better positioned to help potential clients understand the very unique role in can play in this highly specialized world.

In other words, if disruption is happening, it’s better to lead the disruption through innovative thinking and actions!

Jim Carroll is one of the world’s leading international futurists, trends and innovation experts, with a client list that ranges from Northrop Grumman to Johnson & Johnson, the Swiss Innovation Forum to the National Australia Bank; the Walt Disney Organization to NASA. His focus is on helping to transform growth oriented organizations into high-velocity innovation heroes.

Over the last 25 years as a speaker on future trends and innovation, I’ve seen many cases where companies have jumped onto a trend simply because everyone else. Or, they’ve suddenly decided that ‘innovation’ is important, without really defining a purpose or goal behind such a focus.

Rather than by just jumping on a bandwagon and doing what others are doing , try asking better questions as to why you should or should not be doing something!

Innovation that is based on “jumping on the bandwagon” is doomed to fail, for many, many reasons:

  • it’s lazy: true innovation takes hard work. It involves massive cultural, organizational, structural change. It involves an organization and leadership team that is willing to try all kinds of radical and new ideas to deal with rapid change. An innovative organization can’t innovate simply by jumping on a trend. Trying to do so is just trying to find an easy solution to deep, complex problems.
  • it involves little new creativity: by linking a new approach to doing things with a “hot topic” or trend means that people end up shutting their brains down. Creativity is immediately doomed through commonality.
  • it’s just a bandaid: bandwagon based innovation causes people to look for instant solutions and a quick fix, rather than trying to really figure out how to do something differently.
  • it’s misfocused: it involves putting in a solution is sought without identifying a problem. It’s backward in terms of approach.
  • it encourages mediocrity: it reduces innovation to an “idea of the week,” and does nothing to encourage people to really look at their world in a different way.
  • it reduces innovation to sloganeering: truly creative people within organizations are tried of slogan-based management. They’ve seen far too many ‘radical right turns’ and ‘new beginnings’ — and when they realize that their management team has jumped onto the latest hot trend, their faith and motivation goes out the window.
  • it destroys innovation: after the bandwagon effect ultimately fails (as they always do for the reasons above), people end up feeling burned out, cynical, demotivated — and they’ll be prepared to do little when the “next big thing” comes along.

 

It’s more important — and more difficult — than that.

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.

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

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

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

Here’s a good quote to live by:  it is said that doing the right thing when it’s easy to do is easy — it’s doing the right thing when it’s tough that is really tough!

It can be difficult to be tough about things, because it’s always easier to be nicer, to avoid stress, to keep away from things that are challenging systems. But if you study innovative people, the fact of the matter is that they are willing to deal with discomfort, and even seem to thrive on it! They thrive on this by being willing to:

  • ask the tough questions
  • act on the answers to those tough questions!
  • ask questions that make people uncomfortable
  • challenge others to ask tough questions
  • ask why it has become acceptable to not ask questions!
  • ask questions that challenge fundamental assumptions
  • ask questions that show their complete lack of knowledge about something — which is ok
  • ask questions that might make their boss unhappy
  • indicate that while they don’t know the answer to the tough questions, they’re prepared to find out
  • suggest that maybe there have now been too many questions, and now something simply must be done in order to move forward

What’s the key to this line of thinking?

Organizations can become too comfortable with routine, and unless this is challenged on a regular basis, complacency becomes a killer.

By constantly putting a whole bunch of tough questions on the table, innovators can ensure that innovation paralysis does not set in.

Words to live by!

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I do a tremendous amount of research as I customize for my keynotes, often reading several hundred articles on a particular issue or topic as I prepare.

A few months back I was going through a set of articles about the Jetsons, a new keynote topic for me that is getting a huge amount of attention! In doing so, I came across a fascinating story about a school in Seattle that just opened a time capsule that was put away in 1962. The article took a look at what was predicted in 1962, where we are today, and what the kids of 1962 now thought we would see in 2062! You can read it below.

This got me thinking — why not get involved in a project to do the same thing! And so I turned to my good buddy Ian Bates, a Grade 5 teacher. I’ve previously written about him in a post, Things I’ve Learned from Golfing with a Grade 5 Teacher, to see if this might be an idea worth pursuing. (I also went into his classroom last year for a fun little project – What’s the Future of Education? Let the Kids Have a Say — with his Grade 5 kids about careers in the future.)


It took him about 30 seconds before he responded, and so we’ve got a project underway. I went into the classroom and spoke to the kids about the project. They are now busy preparing their predictions and ideas; we’ll revisit in April and put away an actual time capsule to be opened in the year 2045.

This should be interesting! Stay tuned! But to really find out what they are thinking, you are going to have to wait a number of years…..


Pocket phones to flying cars: Third-graders predicted them in ’62
15 April 2012, The Seattle Times

How did Laurelhurst’s 1962 third-graders do at predicting the future?

For expert input, we turned to the Pacific Science Center, which tapped two of its “Science Communication Fellows” — Erika Harnett, a University of Washington professor in Earth and space sciences, and Alex Miller, a UW postdoctoral researcher in chemistry.

We also asked the former Laurelhurst students for predictions about life 50 years from now.

Bert Kolde, 57, Mercer Island, senior director of Vulcan
His 1962 prediction: In space “we will eat paste from tubes.”
The reality: Astronauts don’t eat paste from tubes, but they do eat ice cream from foil packets, and other things, too. The word I’ve heard from astronauts is that the food in space is much like what we eat on Earth, and quite good, too — much better than one would find in many a school cafeteria. — Harnett
Kolde’s prediction for 2062: Rosie the Robot, from “The Jetsons,” will be a mainstream household appliance.

Phoebe Russell, 59, West Seattle, soccer scheduler and registrar
Her 1962 prediction: “There will be a rocket for everyone.”
The reality: While we don’t each have a rocket yet, a commercial spaceport is being built in New Mexico and a firm, Virgin Galactic, is taking bookings for the public to fly into space, for a brief few minutes. — Harnett
Russell’s prediction for 2062: “Government-supplied, accident-proof, sustainable nano-tech-fueled vehicles for all.”

Chris Rich, 58, Seattle, forest-resource company executive
Her 1962 prediction: “You will be able to have a telephone in your pocket.”
The reality: Not only do we have pocket phones, but they have cameras, video cameras, music players and the Internet inside them. — Miller
Rich’s prediction for 2062: “We will have a cashless society and use digital money stored on an all-purpose device that fits in your pocket.”

Tom Greene, 58, Bainbridge Island, co-founded frozen-food company
His 1962 prediction: “The best change will be to go way past Pluto in a rocket so we can find more planets and find out if there is any more life way out in space.”
The reality: Four spacecraft have traveled past Pluto’s orbit, Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2. We still receive signals from the Voyager spacecraft with useful science and hope to do so until 2025, when the power systems will fail. — Harnett

Tom Norwalk, 58, Bothell, heads Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau
His 1962 prediction: “If I went to Pluto. Then I could see the Earth as a star.”
The reality: ∫ A spacecraft, called New Horizons, will be flying past Pluto in 2015 … Scientists will likely try to take an image of the Earth but I don’t know how sensitive the optics are and what the Earth will look like. — Harnett
Norwalk’s prediction for 2062: Seattle will finally have an NBA team and our city will be in the top five destinations to visit in America.

David Shulman, 59, Seattle, film-institute founder
His 1962 prediction: “I want to go to Jupiter because it is the largest planet.”
The reality: Although people have not traveled to Jupiter, the U.S. has sent several spacecraft past Jupiter and one, Galileo, not only spent several years orbiting Jupiter, it launched a probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere and then took a final, fatal plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere. — Harnett
Shulman’s prediction for 2062: Communication occurs through touch, voice, and even thought. Global warming and rising sea levels; U.S. power concentrated by wealthy under a near-totalitarian government.

Bruce Williams, 58, Leavenworth, retired bank head
His 1962 prediction: Cars that will “float through the air … without stopping for gasoline.”
The reality: A startup company, Terrafugia, has a working prototype of a flying car, and it is taking pre-sales orders … So, flying cars do exist, but not for everyone yet, but soon. We don’t yet have cars that can travel without stopping for fuel, apart from prototypes. Some spacecraft don’t have to stop for fuel because they use solar panels to generate electricity to power the instruments. — Miller
Williams’ prediction for 2062: Zero communicable-disease deaths; 15 percent probability of a catastrophe, such as a nuclear attack, pandemic, mega-earthquake, volcanic eruption or environmental disaster.

Webb Nelson, 59, Seattle, co-founded toy company
Third-grade prediction: “We would have a new invention to get us somewhere under the Earth … something different. And faster.”
The reality: Subways and tunnels conduct below-ground traffic, but largely in transportation forms that have existed for decades. Nelson’s prediction for 2062: Concrete gets harder and stronger with age; the Space Needle will have a centennial anniversary. — Miller
Nelson’s prediction for 2062: Concrete gets harder and stronger with age; the Space Needle will have a centennial anniversary.

 

 

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.”