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My blog back engine pointed out to me this morning that a few articles that I posted to the blog some years back had disappeared. So with that in mind, I’ll repost a few of them in the next few days.

Read Jim's other post - "What do you do after the world get's flat? Put a ripple in it!' Click on the image!

This one is from my June / July 2008 CAMagazine column. It’s still and even more relevant today. Have a good read!

Advice for a flat world

by Jim Carroll, CAMagazine, July 2008

A few years back, I posted an entry to my weblog titled, “What do you do after the world gets flat? Put a ripple in it!”My post came in response to the buzz surrounding the bestselling book The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.

Executives everywhere were scrambling to understand the impact of a massive global economy; the impact of offshoring and outsourcing; and how business models would be forever changed with increased global competition.

To me, the answer was obvious — innovative organizations should avoid the product commoditization that comes with the flat world. CEOs have two choices: move forward into a world where you are competing on price, or innovate, change and adapt so you are playing in a different, higher-value market.

Of course, not only products have to innovate in a flat world, so do professional skills. There’s no doubt we will continue to see a number of organizations outsource their financial, legal and other backroom functions. Just witness the growth in business process outsourcing or recruitment process outsourcing. Accountants, human resource professionals, legal experts — almost anyone with a professional skill is impacted, unless they move into a higher-tier marketplace.

Given this reality, it might be a good time to assess your career, skills and future options and determine if you want to continue going forward in a commodity market or if you want to up the value of your brand. The obvious answer is to take the latter route. We’re seeing this trend within the profession to a massive degree today: those who develop unique knowledge niches and concentrate on the delivery of very specialized services find themselves in great demand, while those with commodity skills are likely worried about the potential impact of a recession upon their career prospects.

If you focus on career specialization, the flat world is not a threat but an opportunity. It’s become a cliché, but in the much-hyped knowledge economy, those who have special capabilities often truly do have a global marketplace. Today, it is easier than ever to market your skills to that worldwide audience.

With that perspective in mind, I have three pieces of advice. First, it pays to have a blog. I’ve been posting to mine for more than 6 years and discovered that by regularly placing relevant, useful observations online, my position in Google for various topics and phrases has consistently increased. I seem to be in a sellers’ market: I just turned down a request to go to Shanghai to speak on the topic of global trends after a global CFO found my flat-world article online.

Second, invest in online search engine advertising. I’m a big fan of Google AdWords, despite the fact that the media seems to have soured on Google lately. Third, relentlessly track how people are finding your unique skills. I regularly use Google Analytics to examine how other people manage to find me online. By drilling down and seeing what people are searching for, I can adapt and change my areas of focus and expertise.

The same experience could hold true for anyone with unique professional skills. If your focus has been the de- sign and implementation of sophisticated ERP systems, why not reach out to a global audience? If you have mastered certain forensic investigation skills, realize that your market isn’t restricted to a small, local geographic world. In the flat world, the opportunities are wide open.

innovativecompanies.jpgInnovative organizations focus upon the concept of agility: they can manage fast change, new risk, business market turmoil, staffing challenges, and market commoditization. They can do this because they are relentless focused on the future and the trends that will impact them.

They ensure that they innovate and adapt based on rapidly changing circumstances, on a continuous basis. Innovation isn’t just about new product; it’s an inclusive mindset, in which everyone knows that they must stay relentlessly focused on the religion of innovation: how do we do things differently to run the business better, grow the business and transform the business.

How do they do this? By adopting several key guiding principles that form the basis for all corporate strategy and activities going forward:

  • plan for short term longevity: No one can presume that markets, products, customers and assumptions will remain static: everything is changing instantly. Business strategies and activities must increasingly become short term oriented while fulfilling a long term mission.
  • presume lack of rigidity: Many organizations undertake plans based on key assumptions. Agile organizations do so by presuming that those key assumptions are going to change regularly over time, and so build into their plans a degree of ongoing flexibility.
  • design for flexibility : In a world of constant change, products or services must be designed in such a way that they can be quickly redesigned without massive cost and effort. Think like Google: every product and service should be a beta, with the inherent foundation being one of flexibility for future change.
  • build with extensibility: Apple understood the potential for rapid change by building into the iPod architecture the fundamental capability for other companies to develop add-on products. Think the same way : tap into the world. Let the customer, supplier, partners and others innovate on your behalf!
  • harness external creativity: In a world in which knowledge is evolving at a furious pace, no one organization can do everything. Recogize your limits, and tap into the skills, insight and capabilities of those who can do things better.
  • plan for supportability: Customers today measure you by a bar that is raised extremely high — they expect you to deliver the same degree of high-quality that they get from the best companies on the planet. They expect instant support, rapid service, and constant innovation. If you don’t provide this, they’ll simply move on to an alternative.
  • revisit with regularity: Banish complacency. Focus on change. Continually revisit your plans, assumptions, models and strategies, because the world next week is going to be different than that of today.

The title of this post plays out to the key theme that I’ve been covering off since, what, early February? This is my first week back in the home office full time since then. Keynotes for the US Army Corps of Engineers, Nestle, SAP, Tier Technologies, Wirtz Beverages, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, Motorola, and countless other presentations.

All have played into a key theme — how do we build a culture within our organization that is able to respond to a world of rapid product obsolesence, shortened product lifecycles, faster time to market, product and service commoditization, the China price, rapid business model change, and all kinds of other challenges?

It’s done by establishing forward-oriented innovation — ensuring that we are on the cutting edge in terms of what might be impacting us tomorrow, so that we don’t sit back, Homer-Simpson-like, saying “d’oh, what happened?” Through forward-oriented leadership — establishing a corporate agility that can take us forward rather than concentrating on past nostalgia and old glories. There’s a good message here, and I think people are cluing in.

It’s a nice time. I’ve got the pool open, a long weekend is coming up, and its time for a breather — for at least two weeks!

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