The rise of new technologies is changing traditional industries. As new trends gain momentum – VR, IoT, automation, robotics – traditional businesses are applying new technology to traditionally un-sexy products. From medium-sized manufacturing firms in Germany to family-owned private manufacturers in the Midwest, small to medium sized companies are out-innovating larger incumbents. Industry 4.0 is gaining steam and being adopted by the least-likely industries, far away from Silicon Valley. Industries from tractors, hand-tools, and front-end loaders are adopting new technologies to meet the needs of changing customers.
The business world is a chaotic and turbulent place. The pace of innovation is expanding. New technologies are changing the face of traditional industries and introducing new, disruptive competitors. The media continually focuses on the benefits of automation, virtual reality (VR), and other new and exciting ways business will change in the near future. What are missing are the consequences of new technologies and innovation. Leaders need to understand short and long-term disruptions to current business practices.
I wrote this article in 2016 but it still rings true. You must take advantage of opportunities, especially when your competitor is losing public confidence. You must take advantage of opportunities quickly, and focus on attacking your competitor’s strengths. It will be interesting to see how Lyft fares in the future of ride sharing.
A past article in the Wall Street Journal by John Gapper, “Norway’s oil wealth swamps innovation” provides an excellent example of how complacency can kill innovation. Gapper outlined how oil wealth has created a country that has lacked true national crisis. Due to affluence from oil, Norway has a gross domestic product per individual of $75,000, just behind Switzerland (the top GDP country in the world). The oil-funded wealth has resulted in limited shocks to the Norwegian economy and a strong social buffer for citizens. These “soft” times are shaky as oil prices have declined from record highs.
Some leaders and academics feel that R&D is currently much more difficult than in the past – most good ideas are already developed and the increase in additional scientists have diminished returns (more scientists, less innovations). Accurate or not, Knott (and myself) feel that another argument that explains the decline of innovation (if it exists) is that companies are just not very good at innovation. Knott studied publicly traded company financials and found that industry innovation had declined; however, corporate innovation was strong, as new industries were created.
Blue-collar jobs have typically been defined as those requiring physical labor; non-office jobs. The argument throughout the 2016 US presidential campaign was blue-collar jobs have moved overseas, decimating the middle class. What were not discussed were the new blue-collar workers that are changing the middle-class landscape.
Adopting a proactive mindset to transform an organization into an innovative market leader is critical in today’s business environment. The global business environment is becoming increasingly turbulent. Socio-political changes, technological trends, and aggressive competitors are impacting every facet of modern business. Business leaders need to adopt a creative and proactive mindset, and incorporate new practices based on accepting ambiguity, maintaining flexibility, and keeping competitors off-balance.
An excellent tool for decision-making, problem solving, new idea generation, or effective meetings is The Six Thinking Hats (Hats). Developed by Dr. Edward de Bono, the Hats are the cornerstone of de Bono’s parallel thinking theory: separate thinking to ensure participants work in parallel (together) to achieve the optimal solution.
New ideas are often the combination of ideas from the past. It is extremely rare to uncover a truly new idea. We hear this over and over again, but how often do we believe it? Electric cars were developed over 100 years ago. Smartphones are the amalgamation of previous technology. With tidal waves of information surrounding us every day, it is tough to realize most products are not really new.
As a long-time market researcher, both quantitative and qualitative, I am always on the hunt for good research books. Hoping to find new ways to perform my job, I love learning from other professionals. Global brand consultant Martin Lindstrom wrote an interesting book to help market researchers and brand managers better understand customers through qualitative research. Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends is a collection of Lindstrom’s travels and his techniques for what he refers to as a “sped-up version of ethnography” (he calls it Subtext Research).