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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!”

threatoropportunity

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.” 

bn-qv896_1117ar_j_20161117132853

“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….

 

 

Creating a Great Keynote!
November 15th, 2016

During a call yesterday, a client was asking whether I could customize my talk for their group.

Are you kidding?

Here’s a good case study of the typical process that I goes through.

This particular organization was in the retail space; through conversations with several member of global management, we built a list of the key issues that I would focus in on my talk: these being the key issues that the leadership believed that the rest of the team need to be thinking hard about.

  • faster emergence of new store infrastructure : i.e. contact-less payment technology is a fact with iPhone’s, and other smart-phones. What happens when this occurs on customer interactions ; how quickly can a retail / restaurant organization scale to deal with it (i.e. rapid technological innovation is continuing unabated despite the economic downturn, and things like this will have a big impact on how business is done!)
  • faster challenges in terms of freshness of brand image: today, with the impact of the Net and social networks, a brand isn’t what you say it it — it’s what “they” say it is
  • new influencers: consumers are influenced in terms of choice in ways that go beyond traditional advertising. For example, consider the Celebrity Baby Blog (yes, there is such a thing), and how it has come to influence fashion trends for infant wear
  • new forms of brand interaction: the concept of the “location intelligence professional” — corporations are deploying strategies that integrate location into the virtual web, interacting with above mentioned cell phones that provide for in-store product uplift
  • rapid emergence of store architecture issues: intelligent infrastructures – McDonald’s has a $100 million energy saving plan that is based on IP based management of in store energy We’re also seeing the rapid emergence of green / eco design principles that provide more opportunities for savings
  • faster evolution of consumer taste preference : new food trends go from upscale restaurant to broad deployment in as little as 18 months now, compared to 5 years ago; consumer choice changes faster, requiring faster innovation!
  • faster idea cycles. New concepts, ideas, business strategies, advertising concepts happen faster because of greater global collaboration ; brands have to keep up with the idea cycle

Next, my keynote would touch on how the client could be more innovative in dealing with fast paced trends? Some potential methods include:

  • the concept of upside / down innovation – customer oriented innovation
  • generational collaboration – how to unleash the creativity of Gen-Connect
  • concept of business agility: how do we structure ourselves to act faster
  • theme of experiential capital : how can we take on more risk oriented projects simply to build our expertise in new areas such as social networking
  • fast, global, scalable project oriented teams : how do we learn to collaborate better internally
  • innovation “factories”: how can we scale successful internal projects faster to achieve greater benefits
  • partnership oriented innovation: how do collaborate on innovation with our suppliers and others in the supply chain?

Some of the conclusions that came from the global discussions in the lead up to the event? These were responses draw from the audience through the use of online text message polling:

  • we need to learn how to innovate more locally but globally scale
  • a better “innovation factory” to rollout is critical
  • can’t compromise speed to market with structure/bureaucracy
  • spread R&D out
  • collaborate to a greater degree on an international basis
  • innovation should be part of reward and structure
  • more brand clarity, particularly given muddiness of impact of social networking
  • need a more forceful commitment ($, structure, rewards, goals) to innovation

From this, I built my keynote so that it had a structure of “what are the issues,” “what do we need to about them in terms of potential responses”, and “what are some of the organizational changes we need to make to deal with them.”

It turned out to be a great talk!

This is a really hard post to write. As much of the world reels with  the early stages of the seven stages of election grief, I think its important to think about the realities of the future.

Here’s a slide I used on stage one time, talking about the challenges people have with shock elections:

sevenstages

Lots of people are struggling today, and are on various places on the curve.

As a futurist, here’s what I know. I expect I will be writing and speaking about these issues a lot more in the future. For now, lets leave it at this:

  1. Science still exponentiates
  2. Knowledge still accelerates
  3. The global idea machine still reverberates
  4. Big thinkers still think of how to solve big challenges
  5. Hyper-connectivity still provides for a reimagined future
  6. Inventors still invent
  7. Dreamers still dream
  8. Innovators still innovate
  9. Doers still do
  10. Teachers still teach
  11. Change agents can still effect positive change
  12. Optimism can always overcome pessimism
  13. No barrier to the future is insurmountable with the right determination
  14. At the end of the day, the majority of people are still decent

I started working on a list of 10 things.

I got to 14.

Let’s take that as a good sign.

For years, I’ve made the observation that 65% of children in pre-school today will work in a job or career that does not yet exist. Given the rapid emergence of new careers around us today, it’s a statistic that is bearing fruit.

Given that, someone alerted me to the fact that the Dean and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Duke University delivered a convocation speech to the class of 2018 quoting my thinking on the rapid emergence of new careers.

It was in August 2014 — and he challenging the new undergrads in the room to ask themselves about the future of their own careers in the context of their future education.

whyareyouhere

A key skill of the future? ” A flexible, creative, and open mind, a mind that will continue to absorb new ideas and adapt to new ways of thinking throughout your life”

Here’s an extract:

Why you are here?’

My first reason has to do with the oft-stated and certainly accurate view that many of the jobs your generation will hold haven’t even been conceived of yet.  The futurist Jim Carroll suggests the imminent emergence of novel professions with colorful names such as “knowledge farmer,” “location intelligence professional,” and “mash manager.” If we don’t even know what a ”mash manager” is yet, how can we prepare you to excel in that job?

Moreover, how can we not only prepare you for professions that don’t yet exist, but help you be the ones who invent those jobs in the first place?

The answer is to train you not just with specific knowledge and skills, but to give you practice in maintaining a flexible, creative, and open mind, a mind that will continue to absorb new ideas and adapt to new ways of thinking throughout your life.  And to accomplish this, we do everything we can to broaden your perspective, not narrow it, from the structure of our curriculum to the ways we have you live together and to all the experiences you’ll have in between.

There is just so much in these few paragraphs that I will leave it at that, but will leave you with a phrase I coined years ago that I think is so critical when it comes to knowledge and education: the most important skill of the future is what I have come to call “just-in-time knowledge.”

The NEST Learning Thermostat is a great example of the type of typical business model disruption that we are going to witness in every industry through the next decade!

Give it a few years.

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. Here’s why:

  1. Right now, there are probably a bunch of really smart people figuring out to disrupt your business model
  2. If you aren’t busy thinking about to disrupt your business model, they most certainly will.
  3. They’ll probably do this sooner than you think they will.
  4. The result is that 10 years out (or less), your business model will look nothing like it does today.
  5. Those that do mess up your business model are quite likely to be younger than you; for many folks, age provides for complacency.
  6. The fundamental change to your business model driven by this younger generation will be the result of digital, smart, intelligent, location-oriented technology.
  7. They’ll use this technology in such a way they’ll come out of left field with a business model idea that you’ve never even thought of before.
  8. Their business model will carry an undeniable ‘coolness factor’ that you can’t simply match.
  9. Most likely, you’ll discount the importance of their innovation, until it is much too late.
  10. The result will be dramatic change :its likely that your current business model will not even survive: and your company might not as well!

Examples of this type of disruption are occurring all around us right now.

It’s going to happen to you too. So — what are you going to do about it?