The echoes of this great marble hall always bring me back to college. I’m sitting in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station, awaiting my Amtrak train to take me home, circled by ornate pillars and homeward-bound revelries on a Friday afternoon.
Organizations that have all the money, talent and technology in the world are struggling to innovate with deadly consequences. Why?
- They get real comfortable
- They take it nice and slow
- They stop caring about those pesky customers
What an energizing whirlwind two weeks: keynoted for the Federal Reserve (the future of banking), spoke to CFOs in San Diego (the future of finance), facilitated our Outthinker Chief Strategy Officer roundtable in New York (the future of strategy), met with ABC TV in LA (the future of television), ran a workshop for a Fortune 500 real estate firm (the future of real estate), ran an Outthinker workshop for an apparel retail leader (the future of retail), then addressed a room of board members of public tech companies in Silicon Valley (the future of everything!).
At a barbeque this weekend, a friend fretted, “How does a large company retain its entrepreneurial spirit?” Part of the leadership team of a fast-growing, $5 billion, public company – historically one of the most innovative in its sector – he painfully understands this dilemma. The agility and speed helped you grow. But your growth requires installing rigid policies and processes which kills your agility and speed. What keeps you big kills what got you there.
We all know that companies that thrive in the future share certain traits. They need to listen to core customers and excel at sensing new trends.
“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”
If you consider ‘disruptive’ businesses with true transformative effects — think of Uber, Tesla, or AirBNB, for example — you’ll find they do the first, majorly important aspect of any business: they solve problems for the customer.
Rightfully so, the global community reacts in outrage when terrorists take the lives of innocent citizens. Millions walk in solidarity to stomp out breast cancer, while entire communities take to the streets in protest over deadly violence. But we seem to just accept the 1.3 million deaths – and 50 million injuries – related to auto accidents. In fact, car crashes claim more lives each year than war, malaria, terrorism, murder, breast cancer, suicide, or illegal drugs.
It is so easy to miss! When the future was lobbing softballs at you, you could hit the trends every time. But the future has upped its game. It’s throwing fastballs and curveballs now.
What software company would’ve thought five years ago that Amazon would be its biggest competitor in the cloud? What automobile manufacturer thought five years ago that a simple mobile app would force them to rethink their business?
Last June, John Chambers, former Cisco CEO, proposed that “soon you’ll see huge companies with just two employees – the CEO and CIO.” The concept seems crazy now, but tangible evidence suggests we are moving toward such a future, faster than you might think. As with every major transition, this one will create losers and winners, thinkers (who hold on to outdated concepts) and outthinkers (who embrace the new).