Last autumn, I was the luncheon keynote speaker for the Electronics Representatives Association in Chicago. This is a group of folks who act as middlemen between a vast number of large and small electronic/equipment manufacturers and their eventual sales targets — other manufacturing companies.
My focus : how a world of fast change in manufacturing, product design, innovation, and other issues will come to challenge their role — and what they must do to “step up to the plate.”
My keynote ended with an interactive workshop based on live text message polling — I built the polls live in real time, on stage, with direct audience interation. You can read about it here. If you want something different with your keynote, I’m the guy to talk to! (We have video…..)
The ‘fast future’ is here!
How innovators are driving emerging markets
by Suzi Wirtz, CAE, on assignment for ERA.
Change is no longer an option. It’s not only happening at lightning speed, but it has become a necessary part of the world in which everyone lives today. The secret to success lies in how a company responds to this rapid change and plans to meet its inherent challenges. In a word, it’s about innovation. Will your company be ahead of change and create ways to survive and succeed? Or will it be left behind?
To help reps, manufacturers and distributors answer these questions, ERA called on Jim Carroll, an international futurist and authority on global trends, to deliver the keynote presentations at the association’s 46th Management and Marketing Conference this past October. Carroll spoke about what it takes to recognize emerging markets and to become part of what he calls the “fast future.”
Benchmarking Rep Firm Income and Expenses
He urged conference attendees to rethink the role of “electronics” in a world that is hyperconnected, always on and always interactive. He quoted Rupert Murdoch, saying, “It’s no longer the biggest organizations that will win and own and control the future. It’s the fastest.” And, Carroll explained to the ERA audience, this “truth” couldn’t be any more appropriate for them.
“You [in the electronics industry] are in the whirlwind of the change that is occurring today,” he said. “Change is occurring faster than ever before. It’s the same for NASA as it is for the Electronics Representatives Association.”
He provided three rather mind-boggling statistics to put into perspective the rate of change:
- Sixty-five percent of the children who are now in preschool will work in jobs that do not exist today.
- For any scientific degree today (e.g., agriculture, architecture, medical), it is estimated that half of what students learn in their freshman year is obsolete by the time they graduate.
- In the technology industry, companies have three to six months to sell their product before it becomes obsolete.
With these facts in mind, Carroll stated emphatically that companies need to talk about the trends that are happening now so they make it a habit to think about their next set of opportunities and to challenge themselves to do things differently. The big question, he stressed, is, “What do world-class innovators do that others don’t do?” Furthermore, how can ERA members learn from these innovators in order to be well-positioned for success and to ensure they are maximizing the opportunities for the future?
Six things world-class innovators do
1. They are relentless in the face of uncertainty.
As far back as 2002, according to Carroll, this phenomenon was happening with respect to the dot-com bust. People were driven by indecision, and they simply didn’t want to explore or invest in new ideas because the economy was uncertain. He referred to this as “aggressive indecision.”
Interestingly, Carroll has been asking audiences for the past seven years when they feel the economy will recover. Consistently, they have responded that it’s between six months and two years. However, one industry felt it was happening “right now,” and that was the American manufacturing industry.
The lesson is that optimism can go a long way, and it’s a necessary function for not only survival, but success. In fact, as Carroll related, the Head of Innovation at General Electric (yes, that is an actual title!) decided it would be interesting to examine trends in economic recovery over the years. He found that 60 percent of companies performed typical things in the same situation. That is, they cut back on costs and didn’t make any bold moves. The result? Thirty percent didn’t survive while 60 percent just barely made it. However, 10 percent actually became break-through performers because they decided that, despite lingering economic uncertainty, they would make big moves.
2. They realign with the longer term.
World-class innovators think big picture and devise big ideas, Carroll described. They challenge their industries to do things in new and different ways.
He referenced Star Trek and The Jetsons, saying, “Some of what they envisioned is now being challenged to become reality today. The period of time in which we talk about science fiction and when it actually happens is compressing. That is part of the accelerating change today.”
The truth, according to Carroll, is that businesses tend to underestimate the rate of change that will occur. Many companies sit around discussing what their competitors may be doing 10 years from now. Instead, they need to think in terms of what doesn’t even yet exist.
As an example, he cited the auto industry and the notion of Google Maps back in 2003. Google Maps was just beginning, but Carroll suggested that cars would soon provide a way, within the car itself, for the driver to locate directions, destinations and so on. In fact, he predicted Google could also be responsible for delivering cars via FedEx.
The downfall, he suggested, was the response, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Fast forward to 2013 and Tesla Motors. Tesla has transformed the auto industry with its distribution of cars.
Another emerging idea Carroll discussed was that cellphones will actually become credit cards in the near future. And he challenged the ERA audience with, “Will you be one of the representatives out there pounding the pavement discovering all the opportunity that lies in these emerging marketplaces?”
3. They watch the innovation at the edges.
Carroll urged the conference attendees to constantly monitor research and development and assess what is happening there. He recently talked with a home automation group about Ninja Blocks, which began as a crowdfunding initiative. Immediately, $100,000 was invested and, within a matter of weeks, a million dollars was raised via angel funding. Ninja Blocks are “cool,” Carroll noted, and “coolness” is very important with products going forward.
Consider the Ninja Blocks’ website address itself: ANinjaIsBorn.com. It’s not just cool, Carroll commented, but people then talk about how cool it is and spread the word to everyone they know. That kind of viral marketing serves to expand that market. Think about robotics and 3D printing, cloud computing and the ability to build something entirely unique. He believes, as do others, that these advances will bring in a new phase of luxuriant and wired home living that is highly personal and customized.
4. They align to Silicon Valley innovation velocity.
One of the most fascinating trends unfolding today, Carroll related, is pervasive connectivity. In other words, it’s the Internet and the fact that everything that is a part of everyone’s daily lives is about to become plugged into the Internet. Entire industries are being built around this soon-to-be reality.
He referenced a scale now being sold by Apple, whereby a person’s body mass is measured, charted and shared with other devices for an overall picture of the individual’s health and well-being. Chips and electronic sensors will plug into everything, and this is “massive” for the electronics industry’s future opportunity.
Think about healthcare and genetic-based medicine, Carroll encouraged. “It’s gone from a system that can fix you after you are sick into a system that can predict what you are going to become sick with, based on DNA and so forth, and then design solutions based upon that.”
Consider the notion of velocity in these terms: It took $3 billion to sequence the first genome. In 2009, the cost dropped to $100,000. It is now under $10,000, and Carroll feels it will likely go down to even $1,000.
He also cited the thermostat and how it now has programmable capabilities. In the not-too-distant future, there will likely be a facial recognition component built in so that the device can remember who you are when you enter a room and adjust to your preferences.
And as a final reference in this category of what world-class innovators do, Carroll discussed wearable technology, as in clothing with sensors in it. This should be another near-future opportunity for electronics industry companies.
5. They check their speed.
Carroll explained that Apple is in a position in which 60 percent of its revenue comes from sources that didn’t exist four years ago. It’s called “chameleon revenue,” and he urged every company to think about this fact because this is the type of future for which companies should be positioning themselves.
“Change your market, change your capability, change your products so that you are continually generating new sources of revenue,” he advocated.
Using the manufacturing industry as an example again, Carroll noted that it is focused on continually changing the manufacturing process. The business model has been one in which companies build to inventory. Here, Carroll referenced the auto industry and Henry Ford’s once-novel idea of the assembly line. Honda, on the other hand, is building to demand. The company watches the trends, sees what is selling one week and then changes to meet that demand. In today’s world, this type of almost-instant response is not only possible – thanks to rapid concept generation and rapid prototyping – but it is becoming necessary.
6. They know everything changes with the next generation.
To reinforce this fact, Carroll pointed out that about 90 percent of the ERA conference attendees (and those in their similar generations) are the only ones to have ever met the computer punch card, and no one else since even knows what Cobol and Fortan are. They are that obsolete.
Children who are now 18 to 20 years old have never known a world without the Internet. The older generation often feels battered and bruised by the rapid change and may likely just wish all the progress would just stop.
Carroll quoted Ogden Nash, “Progress is great, but it’s gone on far too long.” However, Carroll said, “It’s not going to go away, and one reason it will continue to accelerate is because of the next generation.”
Think about all the times older generations have had to look to their children to help with installing software or working on a computer. Then consider these statistics:
Half of the global population is under the age of 25.
Younger generations are globally wired, entrepreneurial, collaborative and change oriented.
Younger generations are also now driving rapid business model change and industry transformation as they move into managerial and executive positions.
To wrap up his presentation, Carroll delivered some succinct advice: Watch the emerging markets. Stop clinging to that which is familiar. Begin to thrive on innovation. Think big in terms of the scope of opportunities. Start small and get familiar with the technology today. Then, finally, scale fast.
The closing segment of the conference keynote program consisted of round table workshop discussions by attendees. For the first time at an ERA event, interactive polling was used so the entire audience could rank the various responses that were reported by table leaders from their discussions. (Carroll had employed the text message polling several times during his presentation, so attendees were famiiar with the method.). The attendees discussed and then ranked the responses to three questions. A summary of the feedback follows.
Workshop questions and discussions
Mark Motsinger, CPMR, of Wallace Electronic Sales, the conference workshop coordinator, and Carroll first asked the attendees, What is the most significant challenge facing your industry today?
There were many varied responses, and once those were all posted on the ballroom screens, Carroll asked the full audience to rank them. He felt there were four dominant answers (shown below with the percentage of the audience that gave a number one ranking to each answer). The top challenges cited were:
- Relationship development (26 percent);
- Attracting the next generation (17 percent);
- Ability to innovate (16 percent);
- Alignment of resources and picking a winner (15 percent).
The second question for attendees was, How will you respond to that challenge?
- After using the same process of reporting as many responses as possible and then polling all attendees to determine their number one choices, the top vote-getters were:
- Get young (17 percent);
- Social media (14 percent); (Carroll noted this goes hand-in-hand with “get young.”)
- Deeper CRM usage and analysis (13 percent); (Carroll commented that one of his leading agricultural clients knows which 87 customers, out of 12,000 farmers, generate 93 percent of the company’s profit.)
- More flexible relationships (13 percent); (Carroll added that this could be at the core for ERA members. “You’ve built your relationships,” he said, “but are you challenging and changing your relationships?”)
- Customer centricity/collaboration (9 percent). (“The opportunity here is great,” according to Carroll.)
The third and last question conference attendees answered was, When it comes to a “fast future,” how well positioned are you? The responses were perhaps more reassuring than some might expect. The majority of attendees felt that they are at least somewhat positioned or extremely well positioned for success. Here’s the percentage breakdown:
- Extremely well positioned for success (19 percent)
- Somewhat positioned for success (59 percent);
- Behind in our ability to keep up (20 percent);
- “We’re toast! It’s way too fast!” (2 percent).
On a final note, Carroll highlighted the fact that 297 out of 300 customers in the next generation are using smartphones, and “they are seeking your support on a mobile device!” He urged everyone to use interactive polling on smartphones with their own customers.
This article was written by Suzi Wirtz, CAE, on assignment for ERA.
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