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Insight on deep, transformation change – and the "next economy"

2009MHIA.pngNext week, I’ll be in Jacksonville, as the lunch time keynote speaker for the annual meeting of the Materials Handling Association of America. We’ll have about 300 executives in the room, from a broad cross section of North American industry.

My topic? “Moving Beyond the Meltdown: Aligning Yourself for Growth Through Innovation“.

In the last twelve months, I’ve had a unique first hand opportunity to witness what’s happening on the ground throughout corporate North America as companies have grappled with the recession. Throughout this time, I’ve been fortunate enough to speak at a wide variety of leadership meetings, management get-togethers and other corporate events for a fascinating list of Fortune 500 organizations, as well as many prestigious national associations.

And in my own small way, I’ve been busy helping people to understand what they need to do to innovate their way into the “next economy.” That’s because there are an increasing number of CEO’s or other members of senior management who are bringing me in, in order to help place emphasis on their message of the urgency of change.

What’s clear is that we are in the midst of a pretty significant economic transformation. As Mick Fleming at the American Chamber of Commerce put it recently: “It’s going to be this move from a bad economy, to the next economy.”

What is the shape of that next economy? The scope of the change can be seen in the types of deep, transformational change that is underway in many an industry. Consider manufacturing – clearly, we’re moving from a world of mass production, to mass customization and agility-based manufacturing. I often use the example of Honda, as noted in a Bloomberg news article back in 2008:

Honda’s assembly lines can switch models in as little as 10 days ….. by contrast, it could take months for most rivals to make the same change.”

Clearly, the Detroit based old manufacturing business model was seriously and deeply flawed. The newer model, based on agility and flexibility is the model that will take may manufacturers into the future.

There’s a similar fundamental transformation underway in many other industries — and to understand the link between future trends and innovation, you must get into that mindset. Take health care — 20 years from now, it will look nothing like it does today, as we move to a world of preventative medicine.

And what’s really happening with the global economy are a number of trends that point to growth:

  • There are a tremendous number of new companies and new industries being built around the high velocity of ideas that surround us – which is increasing the pace of business startups;
  • New ideas continue to be explored, markets grow, and industries emerge as rapid innovation occurs in health care, agriculture and countless other fields. It’s all about rapid science today — and exponential knowledge growth leading to faster discovery of the “next thing”
  • Business model innovation continues unabated : I’m seeing revolutionary trends with mobile text message based banking systems, for example
  • Small organizations continue to have the advantage of capitalizing on opportunity quicker; today, it’s all about speed, and these are the innovators who often win in big markets. Just look at what’s going on in pharmaceutical research, where the majority of new discoveries are happening in small labs

It’s easy during a time of economic volatility to lose sight of where the global economy is really headed. Yet while stock markets might rock, innovation thrives.

What’s my role? In each and every case, the individuals who have engaged me know that their industry and the world they live in is set for deep, systemic, transformational change. They have a compelling sense of urgency. They know that maybe the rest of their team does not share the sentiment; they’re suffering from organizational sclerosis; their ability to understand the future is clogged up by todays’ short term focus.

Leaders today know that they need to wake their people up, shake them out of their complacency, and give them a clear understanding that they had better start thinking about the future — and fast — in order to keep up with high velocity change.

And perhaps, if they are lucky, stay one step ahead of everyone else.


  • Material Handling Association of America – 2009 annual conference
  • Blog post: Are you watching the major transformations, or just the piddly stuff?

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