“Excel at seizing opportunities, not fads!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
While the crypto world continues its meltdown all around us, are there many CEOs who are being kept up at night? Not really. Not in my client base of global Fortune 5000 organizations – what with economic volatility, supply chain issues, staffing challenges, and other things, they’ve got bigger concerns to worry about than the price of Bitcoin, virtual avatars or weird monkey art.
What BIG issues do they REALLY think about? Tapping into future opportunities while managing the challenges that surround them!
While I do a lot of major keynotes for associations and conferences I also do many small, executive-oriented sessions. In fact, that’s become the core of my business over the last 15 years as organizations scramble to keep up with fast change. These range from groups of 10 people around a boardroom table, to senior leadership meetings with 100-200 executives. In other cases, these are customer/client-oriented events – rather than spending money on a trade show, organizations are finding that taking key customers to an offsite event for several days to talk mutual strategy provides far more bang for the buck. In both of these cases, I’m brought in by a senior executive to provide a talk on the future trends affecting their particular industry; to help them re-frame the concept of innovation; or a combination of these two key themes.
Regardless of the industry and size of the group, the planning for such a talk often involves a long conversation with the CEO or other senior member of the management team in advance. There are issues that are on the table; often, they’re planning to be out of the office for a day to think, strategize and shape their focus, and I play a key role in this big investment of time. We spend time talking about how I can customize my insight, and hone the message that I can deliver.
I always scribble down little notes of our conversations; I use these when I start my research and when I’m pulling together a slide deck. And through the years, I’ve kept many of these notes; they provide tremendous, wonderful insight into the mindset of a typical major CEO or another senior executive. And spending time with so many of these folks has helped to shape the direction of one keynote that I do that is particularly popular: “What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t Do?”
I was searching through a pile of these notes the other day and came across one from a few years ago that I think does a really good job of reflecting what’s on the mind of an executive that runs a major, global organization. This particular individual described to me what he hoped his organization and team would be able to develop in terms of core innovation competencies:
- excel at seeing opportunity: the organization needs to get better at spotting new emerging opportunities, whether with markets, customers, or products. It’s been very, very inwardly focused, and is starting to lose out on many great opportunities because the team seems to be too busy looking inwards, solving problems and firefighting, rather than looking outward to see ‘what comes next, and what should we do about it?’
- adapt to fast-paced markets: there needs to be a clear recognition that customers are more demanding; that the value proposition of the product line is being subjected to greater pressure than ever before; and that some competitors are moving faster in reinventing the product line. The company is competing more on price than on the value of the product, which is leading to commoditization. They’ve got to get better and speed up the process of adapting to all of this change.
- watch for disruption: clearly, there are new organizations, particularly in the technology space, looking at the industry and thinking about ways to change the business model. That’s a significant challenge, and the leadership team needs to understand the potential for disruption and think through opportunities for a strong offense and a good defense to deal with this reality.
- realign innovation pipeline: for years, all R&D has been done internally, yet there’s a realization that the entire process of R&D has changed in almost every industry; the organization needs to be more outward in terms of sourcing external ideas, developing unique innovation partnerships, and seeking to align itself to the ideas of some of the small start-ups that are changing the process of development within the industry.
- ride generational change: there’s a recognition that the next generation of digital natives is now making their presence well known throughout the organization. They’re impatient for change, full of ideas, and ‘chomping at the bit’ to pursue innovative ideas. The senior management team needs to be thinking about how best to utilize their uniqueness as an opportunity, rather than trying to shut down their thinking because they don’t fit the historical norms of the organization
- align to technological velocity: there is a clear understanding that the next wave of technology will not be about streamlining a process or providing efficiencies; instead, it is all about redefining the industry, changing products through pervasive connectivity, and accelerating change in many different ways. The organization needs to learn to ‘innovate at the speed of Apple’ as this fundamental change unfolds
- re-assess skills: there is a big mismatch between what the organization has in terms of skills, and the skills that it really needs to accomplish all of the above. It needs to get better at ‘getting the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.
If you take a close look at this list, prepared from my hastily scribbled-down notes, you’ll get a sense of what keeps a modern-day CEO up at night.
And it will also put into perspective the starting point at which I begin to pull together my talk.
Need more insight? Check out a series of shows I did from my virtual broadcast studio during the early days of Covid at https://leadership.jimcarroll.com