I spend my time providing guidance on future trends & innovation to some of the most fascinating companies and organizations in the world, such as Disney, NASA, BASF, and IBM.
Often these are in the form of offsite senior executive leadership meetings …. where a team gets together to examine the deep, substantive changes that must be made in order to move forward. I lend my insight in terms of highly customized talks that focus on future trends affecting the industry in the room, and deep insight into innovative ideas and methodologies that move us forward.
It’s a proven model that has a track record of 20+ years — and I can see many organizations where I’ve made a meaningful impact…
Over those 20 years, I’ve noticed that at times, companies tend to go into an innovation funk. They defer decisions; they lose their focus on the future; they drop their innovation spark. It usually happens during economic downturns and recessions. Fair enough – they’ve got other things to worry about!
But today, we aren’t in a recession. The global economy, although uncertain, is doing ok. And yet this seems to be one of those times. I’m seeing the resurrection of aggressive indecision (That’s a phrase that I coined years ago; see below for articles and video on the topic…) — yet this it seems to be driven by a culture of inaction at the top! The CEO has, it appears, go into a state of inaction!
Example: I’ve had a number of situations where I’ve had extensive exploratory calls with clients about coming in for such a session. They’ve expressed to me that they need to deal with business model disruption; the impact of technology on their industry; the rapid emergence of new competitors; or other countless challenging issues.
And then it has gone to the CEO for approval, and word comes down — “it’s not the right time to do this.”
Why is this happening? I think that it relates to the current uncertainty with the upcoming US election – and the uncertainty that has brought to many an organization.
Which makes me wonder — if now is not the right time to focus on the future, and what you need to do as an organization to align yourself to fast-paced trends, when is the right time?
History bears out the lesson that those who focus on big ideas and big opportunities during times of uncertainty are those who win in the long run. The head of innovation at GE did a study year that looked at the history of innovation in times of concern — particularly, during previous economic downturns. He found that real innovation breakthroughs came from those who stayed relentlessly focused on ideas and the future, despite that uncertainty. I often tell this story on stage to spur people into action.
The fact is, there are countless examples where history has shown us that it is those organizations who focused on ensuring that they were still actively pursuing innovation — whether through product development, the exploration of new business models, external partnerships, the pursuit of new markets and customer groups — were those who managed to achieve the greatest success in the long run.
The fact is, in today’s fast-moving world, the greatest mistake any organization can make right now is to do nothing.” If you don’t do something today, you can be sure that others in your industry are!
So what do companies need to do to make the most of this period of election-driven uncertainty? First, accept reality and uncertainty, but make a determined effort to move along. Those unable to move past shock, denial, and anger through to acceptance will be innovation laggards a. Unfortunately, that may be too late.
Be prepared to keep your idea factories running (perhaps not at full tilt, but running nevertheless) in the face of uncertainty. Know that there is still a place for innovative thinking despite what is really a bizarre state of affairs.
Inertia — real or implied — establishes a culture of inaction, and that can lead to another slippery slope.
Today, innovation isn’t simply an option — it’s critical because it is the best way to gain traction.