Leading in turbulent times: how to innovate during the recession!


Global-EconomicTrends.jpgEven as news and financial pundits endlessly debate the question, let’s face reality: the US economy is in a recession.

Given this reality, the key question going forward is: what do you do now to ensure that you remain innovative, competitive, and forward-oriented?

Innovate for the upturn! That’s the key message I focused on with my clients in 2002-3, and the same message holds true today. And that was the focus of a keynote last week when I spoke to one of the largest US commercial / industrial real estate brokerage groups. There were several bits of insight I shared with them:

Put sub-prime into perspective
One of my first comments for this audience of senior executives? We need to think about the sub-prime mess in the context of a longer term view. In the last ten years, we’ve been through many economic challenges:

  • the 1998 Asian currency collapse
  • the 2000 dot.com meltdown
  • the 2001 global telecom restructuring
  • from 2001 to 2003, the impact of 9-11 and economic uncertainty
  • 2007 to 2008, the march to $100 oil
  • and now sub-prime….

Sub-prime is a big issue, but it’s just another blip in the grand scheme of the churning engine that is the global economy. Through the next ten years, we’ll see a few other economic challenges along the way; various regional economies and sectors will be impacted; yet innovation will abound. That’s why I’ve also indicated that a key leadership mantra for the high velocity economy is this: “volatility is the new normal.” That’s a topic I covered in a recent economic interview.

Keep focused on the longer term view
I tend to be an optimist: that’s because I think in a longer term perspective. Think about it: over the next 10 years, there are several certainties:

  • scientific discovery will continue to advance at an ever increasing pace, opening new markets, evolving existing markets, and establishing countless new opportunities
  • global collaborative knowledge communities will continue to lead to faster innovation in every industry and market
  • new products, methodologies, skills, ideas, organizational structures will continue to evolve at a fast pace; agile organizations will continue to come out on top
  • the transition of economies in the Mid-East and Asia will continue despite regional economic challenges
  • rapidly aging economies in North America and Europe will drive rapid spending, innovation and knowledge discovery in the world of health care
  • global energy conciousness will continue to lead to ever more rapid evolution of “green” solutions
  • 1/2 of the global population is under the age of 25. They’re change aggressive, and will continue to lead to the rapid adoption of new ideas.
  • growth in markets is a simple reality: in agriculture, global food production still has to double in the next 25 years to keep up with population trends. Sub-prime has no impact on this reality.

Don’t let aggressive indecision take over your thinking

To innovate in the upturn, don’t let a short-term vs long-term trend disconnect take over your strategic thinking. Already, I can see the signs of some companies heading into an innovation rut, their staff and executives encumbered by a dangerous state of complacency, while other companies innovate, change, and adapt to the “new normal” that is now our reality.

In the last recession, “aggressive indecision” became a driving cultural and leadership trait. Organizations that fell into this funk fell behind. Innovative companies didn’t permit that to happen then, and you shouldn’t let this happen now.


  • Read Global Economic Trends: An Interview with Jim Carroll
  • The reality of future trends: grab the What Comes Next trends overview
  • Read my 2003 article about “aggressive indecision”
  • Read my Credit Suisse interview for my thoughts on “growth”


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO ARE FAST features the best of the insight from Jim Carroll’s blog, in which he
covers issues related to creativity, innovation and future trends.