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Each morning since August, I’ve enjoyed my morning coffee while putting together a little future/motivational quote from some of my stage pictures. You can track this over on Instagram; I also tweet them. I’m hoping to put up a few slide shows on my blog as well in the future; some folks find them inspiring and useful.

Today’s thought? “To win in the race to the future, make sure you show up to the starting line!

Here’s the story behind the thought — and ask yourself, what’s your mindset? Are you in an organization that simply does not show up?

Every day, I get email messages and calls from folks seeking to bring me in for a leadership keynote on future trends and innovation. I do about 50 events a year; this week, I was in London, UK, speaking to a global group of Godiva Chocolates and two other global brands, newly combined in one company. (Yes, they gave me a gift basket!)

That’s what I do — I help global organizations discover and think about the disruptive trends which will provide opportunity and challenge in the future. Check my client list — Disney, NASA, Johnson and Johnson, Whirlpool …. I do many events where organizations are actively aligning themselves to fast paced trends.

And yet, in a world in which the future belongs to those who are fast, it’s clear that others would prefer to hide their heads in the sand. They would prefer not to have to think about what comes next. They don’t want to shake their world. They don’t show up to the starting line.

A few weeks ago, I had an exploratory call with a company in the food/consumer products business. They were holding a combined CEO/Board of Directors meeting. A senior VP reached out to me; we had a long conversation (which I actively encourage – call me!) around the issues I would cover; the trends I would delve into; the message I would bring to the table. She knew that the organization needed to some big, bold moves; take some dramatic initiatives; and actively challenge everyone to align their strategy to future trends.

As in many cases, she ran the idea up the flagpole, and got this response, which still floors me to this day:

“It was decided not to include a futurist in our leadership development program. They don’t think it is a good time to do this – it’s not a good time to rock the boat. “

Wow!

As in, “we don’t think its important right now for our board and senior executives to understand the trends that will challenge us …”

At the end of the day, losing one potential client doesn’t really matter. I’ll do my 50 events this year, and will sit back knowing that I’ve done wonderful working in shaping the direction of some of the most fascinating organizations in the world.

But I’ll also wonder, in the back of my mind, how some people can decide that they don’t want to understand what comes next — and decide to not show up at the starting line!

 

While I find myself doing keynotes in Las Vegas, Orlando and Phoenix for audiences of up to 7,000, I also regularly do a whole series of small, CEO or Board meetings that are focused on future trends, strategies and opportunities.

I’m thouroughly enjoying myself while preparing for an upcoming 2017 event in this space; I’ve been retained by an organization that is having an offsite with its leadership team and Board that will be impacted by trends in the automative industry. I’ve had several preparatory calls with the Chairman — he obviously gets the opportunities and challenges of disruption. These include what I call introductory ‘should-we-dance’ calls (‘should we book this guy?’), as well as planing calls now that the event is confirmed.

For a recent conference call, I’ve prepared an outline of my approach. You might find it a good overview if you are looking for a session that would involve similar insight for your senior leadership/Board team!

You can access the Pdf 

I’ve always liked the children’s book series which involved Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat. It was fabulous to read to my kids, as it featured this adorable little monkey who was always thinking about things, and always ended up getting into trouble as a result. It made me think about the link between curiosity and future trends and innovation.

(I loved book reading time with the kids! There was always such wonderful innovation insight that came from kids books! ****)

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That’s why I was quite intrigued when I recently came across a study released by Merck — what they called their “First International Curiosity Study” — which featured some not-so-unsurprising results.

  • more than 8 out of 10 people from Germany, the US and China agreed that “a curious person is more likely to bring an idea to life at work”
  • even so, the majority did not describe themselves as innately curious – only 20% did!
  • instead, the majority described themselves as ‘organized, collaborative and detail-oriented’
  • curiosity came in 12th place on a list of attributes! (funny and talkative beat out curiosity, if you can believe it!)

How did the study define curiosity?  Inquisitiveness, creativity, openness, and what they called ‘distress tolerance’ — which I would define as the ability to cope and deal with significant change, and turn it into advantage and opportunity through great ideas.

The result of the lack of curiosity is kind of staggering: buried away in the report is all kinds of other insight:

  • 73% of those surveyed did not feel comfortable in asking more questions at work
  • 50% in Germany indicated that they feel discouraged by their employee from changing the status quo!
  • only 9% felt that the organizations they worked for were “extremely encouraging’ of curiosity
  • 61% indicated that the organization was not at all encouraging at all, or only somewhat encouraging

Gosh, these results are pretty sad! Pathetic, really!

Here’s what it means: many organizations, in the face of rapid business model, technological, competitive, social and political change, would prefer that their staff simply remain in a drone-like state, focused on getting things done, rather than figuring out now to do things better!

What should we do with the observations from such a study? Clearly, since we know that curiosity is at the root of much of innovation, the ideas should be obvious for anyone with a curious mind:

  • curiosity should be encouraged as part of your corporate or organizational DNA
  • people should be provided with some sort of “curiosity time”
  • while unfocused curiosity is great, channelling curiosity into activity is even better
  • the next step beyond having curiosity involves learning how to ask the right questions

And maybe it needs to be taken a step further: Curiosity should be imbued and baked into the organizational structure, and given a suitable level of importance. Why not have a senior VP of Curiosity?

Don’t give up — over at LinkedIn, a simple search shows a list of people who have Curiosity in their job title. There might be hope yet!

**** Kids books and innovation? One day I wrote a promo brochure for fun about the Leadership Secrets of Bob the Builder!

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Creating a Great Keynote!
November 15th, 2016

During a call yesterday, a client was asking whether I could customize my talk for their group.

Are you kidding?

Here’s a good case study of the typical process that I goes through.

This particular organization was in the retail space; through conversations with several member of global management, we built a list of the key issues that I would focus in on my talk: these being the key issues that the leadership believed that the rest of the team need to be thinking hard about.

  • faster emergence of new store infrastructure : i.e. contact-less payment technology is a fact with iPhone’s, and other smart-phones. What happens when this occurs on customer interactions ; how quickly can a retail / restaurant organization scale to deal with it (i.e. rapid technological innovation is continuing unabated despite the economic downturn, and things like this will have a big impact on how business is done!)
  • faster challenges in terms of freshness of brand image: today, with the impact of the Net and social networks, a brand isn’t what you say it it — it’s what “they” say it is
  • new influencers: consumers are influenced in terms of choice in ways that go beyond traditional advertising. For example, consider the Celebrity Baby Blog (yes, there is such a thing), and how it has come to influence fashion trends for infant wear
  • new forms of brand interaction: the concept of the “location intelligence professional” — corporations are deploying strategies that integrate location into the virtual web, interacting with above mentioned cell phones that provide for in-store product uplift
  • rapid emergence of store architecture issues: intelligent infrastructures – McDonald’s has a $100 million energy saving plan that is based on IP based management of in store energy We’re also seeing the rapid emergence of green / eco design principles that provide more opportunities for savings
  • faster evolution of consumer taste preference : new food trends go from upscale restaurant to broad deployment in as little as 18 months now, compared to 5 years ago; consumer choice changes faster, requiring faster innovation!
  • faster idea cycles. New concepts, ideas, business strategies, advertising concepts happen faster because of greater global collaboration ; brands have to keep up with the idea cycle

Next, my keynote would touch on how the client could be more innovative in dealing with fast paced trends? Some potential methods include:

  • the concept of upside / down innovation – customer oriented innovation
  • generational collaboration – how to unleash the creativity of Gen-Connect
  • concept of business agility: how do we structure ourselves to act faster
  • theme of experiential capital : how can we take on more risk oriented projects simply to build our expertise in new areas such as social networking
  • fast, global, scalable project oriented teams : how do we learn to collaborate better internally
  • innovation “factories”: how can we scale successful internal projects faster to achieve greater benefits
  • partnership oriented innovation: how do collaborate on innovation with our suppliers and others in the supply chain?

Some of the conclusions that came from the global discussions in the lead up to the event? These were responses draw from the audience through the use of online text message polling:

  • we need to learn how to innovate more locally but globally scale
  • a better “innovation factory” to rollout is critical
  • can’t compromise speed to market with structure/bureaucracy
  • spread R&D out
  • collaborate to a greater degree on an international basis
  • innovation should be part of reward and structure
  • more brand clarity, particularly given muddiness of impact of social networking
  • need a more forceful commitment ($, structure, rewards, goals) to innovation

From this, I built my keynote so that it had a structure of “what are the issues,” “what do we need to about them in terms of potential responses”, and “what are some of the organizational changes we need to make to deal with them.”

It turned out to be a great talk!

I’ve had seven weeks on the road, with some great events.

At one event, a recent client told me one of the key reasons they selected me over other experts that focus on future trends and innovation was simple. And they put it at the top of their list of “pros” in their evaluation of various speaker alternatives.

Because you answered the phone.

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It’s true. I answer the phone! Give it a try – call me at 214.473.4850, 905.855.2950 or 347.3.Future. If I’m not there, I’ll call you back, and we can talk about how I can help you with your upcoming event, conference or leadership event.

They explained further: “We didn’t have to go through layers and layers of agents and bureaus in order to get to you, to see if you might be the right guy for our leadership meeting.”

And it’s true. I answer the phone, if I’m here! I don’t have handlers in the way, unless you reach my wife and business partner Christa, if she is in the office. (We’ve been working in the home office for 25 years together. Still!) I don’t hide from my clients, potential or existing!

I have a small operation — it’s Christa and I. It’s been that way for 25 years. From this small home office, I’ve provided my insight and services to a global audience of clients that includes Disney, NASA, Johnson & Johnson, Chrysler, BASF and hundreds more. Audiences of more than 2,000,000 people at keynotes, corporate leadership meetings and customer events. Most of them driven through personal contact, in which people have come to take the time to understand how I work, and the fact that I deliver insight that is unique, customized and relevant.

And to do that, I answer the phone.

Yes, I do have agents and bureaus too. Some of the most prestigious in the business, some 40 of them in all around the world in Washington, Singapore, Sydney, Stockholm, London, Toronto. All these organizations book me at the same time that they are booking Presidents, Prime Ministers, Olympians and Hollywood royalty. But even when they book me, I encourage them to get the end client in touch with me. On the phone.

Look, I actually encourage potential clients to call me. I’m known for the customized work and research that I do. With this particular client that made the comment above, I had about 6 conference calls over the last six months, leading up to the event, which helped me understand their issues and concerns, and which helped me to build a keynote the really fit their needs.

Try it! Call me. If I’m in the office, I’ll pick up the phone. And if not, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

 

We certainly live in interesting times!

Here’s what I’ve noticed in this new era of hyper-turmoil and uncertainty — many organizations are turning off their innovation engines, waiting to see what happens next in a world in which volatility is the new normal.

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The New Yorker had a great article in 2009 after the financial meltdown, “Hanging tough,” that outlined  how some companies choose to ensure that they stay innovative in recessionary times – while others did not. In the context of the uncertainty of today, it’s worth a read. For example, they contrast two cereal companies: one that chose to focus on innovation despite uncertainty, while another did not.

“You’d think that everyone would want to emulate Kellogg’s success, but, when hard times hit, most companies end up behaving more like Post. They hunker down, cut spending, and wait for good times to return. They make fewer acquisitions, even though prices are cheaper. They cut advertising budgets. And often they invest less in research and development. They do all this to preserve what they have.”

My recent discussions with Fortune 1000 CEOs and senior executives in both UK and the US certainly indicate that this is happening again. Post-Brexit, uncertainty and aggressive indecision is roiling the C-suite in the UK — deferring decisions has become the norm. In the US, the never-ending election has placed a pause on most big decisions — inaction has settled in like a wet-sponge!

Big question – in this context, is the UK done? Can America innovate again, or is this a cultural and leadership ‘new normal?’ Here’s what I know – the winners and losers of the future are being determined right now!

Yet history has taught us, over and over again, that those who are aggressive with innovation, and who align themselves to future trends in times of uncertainty, are those who win in the long run. For years, I’ve talked on stage and in my leadership meetings of the key observation by GE’s Chief Innovation Consultant. Simple, powerful guidance: breakthrough performers manage to accomplish great things because of a decision to focus on innovation right in the middle of an economic challenge or an era of uncertainty– rather than waiting till they came into a recovery phase.

The research found that during the oil shock of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s recession, and the 2000 dot com bust, of those companies surveyed, 70% of companies barely survived, 30% died, but 10% became breakthrough performers. Noted the GE head of innovation: it was explicitly “…because of choices they made in the recession.”

So it really comes down to this: when do you innovate? Are you going to wait until you are comfortable that an era of uncertainty is over? Bad decision — because economic and political volatility is the new normal!

Everything we have learned has taught us that the winners were those who decided that it was an important thing to keep moving ahead despite massive amounts of uncertainty. Get out of your future-funk! Try this clip from a keynote I undertook on stage after the meltdown of 2008-2009. “Innovators get out in front of the recession“.

Consider this: the New Yorker article is pretty blunt with it’s findings on innovation-losers:

  • “numerous studies have shown that companies that keep spending on acquisition, advertising, and R. & D. during recessions do significantly better than those which make big cuts”
  • “a McKinsey study of the 1990-91 recession found that companies that remained market leaders or became serious challengers during the downturn had increased their acquisition, R. & D., and ad budgets, while companies at the bottom of the pile had reduced them”
  • “Uncertainty is always a part of business, but in a recession it dominates everything else: no one’s sure how long the downturn will last, how shoppers will react, whether we’ll go back to the way things were before or see permanent changes in consumer behavior. So it’s natural to focus on what you can control: minimizing losses and improving short-term results.”

Innovation winners?

  • “Kraft introduced Miracle Whip in 1933 and saw it become America’s best-selling dressing in six months; Texas Instruments brought out the transistor radio in the 1954 recession; Apple launched the iPod in 2001.”

Read the article. It’s powerful stuff!

Given that, what do you do? Change your culture and set out to achieve breakthrough results despite uncertainty!


Here is some more innovation-soup for your innovation-soul!

Does your organization have a culture that has it perfectly aligned for failure?

Probably! I see it all the time, and I can tell you exactly the mindset that your organization has, with a simple little list of questions…. read them below.

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The fact is,I spend a LOT of time doing talks at corporate meetings; often, a CEO or CxO leadership event for Fortune 1000 companies as well as associations and smaller organizations.

These involve highly customized talks that focus on future trends that might impact the organization, and outline some opportunities for innovation.

What fascinates me is the number of organizations that, given fast paced change, seem like a like a deer in the headlights, stuck and unable to move, staring at the future with fear. For them, innovation remains a concept that is somehow totally foreign.

Is this you? Ask yourself these questions: is this YOUR organization today?

  • everybody knows something needs to be done
  • there are an awful lot of ideas as to what to do
  • no one knows where to start
  • no one has the courage to make the first step
  • and in fact, no one has been charged with the responsibility to take over and take that first step
  • there is a rampant fear that if something is done, it won’t end up going well!
  • everyone remembers the other time that somebody tried to do something new, they ended up being blamed when it didn’t go well
  • and so no one is prepared to try anything
  • the result is that likely some other company – most likely a competitor — will end up doing exactly what should have been done

World class innovators don’t fall into this trap.

They just do what needs to be done!

Get out of your innovation rut.

Embrace the future, innovate and change!

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.

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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 innovation 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, gone 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.”

Really?

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 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 years 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 todays 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.

#brexit #uselection #economic meltdownWhat should you do? Here’s some video guidance for your innovation soul!

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When should you focus on innovation?

The high-velocity economy demands that you do things in different ways — how will you ingest future trends to your advantage? A video clip for an audience of 7,000 in Las Vegas!

Over at InsightReplay, a company which makes the systems for tracking sports in real time, a blog post from 2015 with my observations on the future of interactive sports!

I post this today, because my predictions have certainly been right — the NFL is planning on embedding chips into footballs for the 2016 season!


There’s no doubt that technology—particularly interactive technology—will have an impact on the future of sports. With regard to both the player and the game, things will change, and as futurist Jim Carroll explains in his presentation, “The Future of Interactive Sports Technology,” those changes are just that—change.

You can watch Carroll’s short (6-minute) presentation here:

Some of the takeaways from Carroll’s talk include:

  • Kids today are growing up in a “widely interactive world.” They expect results instantly and receive great satisfaction from interaction and online connection.
  • Carroll predicts more and more sports equipment and products will have built-in interaction and data measurement. For example, today’s baseball bat is just that – a simple baseball bat. According to Carroll, the baseball bat of the future will be wirelessly connected to a web cam that automatically records a player’s swing style and speed. So not only will coaches have immediate access for coaching purposes, the kids, who are already so totally immersed in interactive technology, will upload video to social media to share with their friends and family.
  • Carroll also sees big changes in the game of golf, and describes his future version of the golf ball with a built-in web cam. Imagine those interactive views as the ball flies across the golf course!

Carroll’s point is the world of sports will continue to change and evolve as more devices and more players are integrally connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

He urges us to recognize that this progression is what our next generation wants—and is, in fact, helping to create.

While there will always be debate about whether or not these technological advancements are ‘good’ for sports, Carroll frames the changes as “not bad, different.”

Technology is reshaping sports and what it means to be an athlete. From head injury detection and prevention, to clothing that warns of dehydration, tech is helping athletes become better, faster, and stronger. Video is also a powerful tool for both training and in-game scenarios, allowing coaches and players to capture real-time evidence of what they’re doing right and where their technique or performance can be improved.

Carroll makes some bold predictions and reminds us that the sports world is changing and we are about to enter some pretty exciting new territory. The player of tomorrow is going to be more interactive, safer and better trained than ever before.

As technology advances, there is no limit to the advances professional and recreational sports will see.

 

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