The folks at Fast Company and Forbes this month released their annual “most innovative companies” lists. Like many of us, I look forward to these lists every year. By championing those companies bold enough to challenge the status quo, they inspire all of us to do something different. By sifting from masses of companies the few that we should admire and emulate, they bring clarity to our innovation efforts.
After a flight home long enough to empty my inbox and complete three important pieces of work, I found myself in a quiet house, family sleeping upstairs, with time on my hands. So, I stretched out on my couch and indulged in a movie.
Everything starts with fiction. As one of the world’s top brand designers, Brian Collins, reveals, “Design is hope made visible.” Any leader ever praised or derided as visionary understands this. Leaders like Oprah Winfrey or Elon Musk define futures and marshal resources to attain them. They inspire others to belief and action.
Four of the smartest people I know were blindsided this year. All had reached the upper echelons of their companies, had become trusted strategic advisors to their CEO, and were on a clear track to CEO-ship themselves.
I was recently at a conference with Curt Carlson, a brilliant leader of innovation who for many years ran SRI, the research organization responsible for the invention of Apple’s Siri and many other multi-billion dollar products. The SRI story is one of an astonishing turnaround—when he took over as CEO in 1998, the organization had been losing money for years and was on the brink of having to close its doors. Worse yet, the culture he inherited was described by many as toxic.
The future matters. Just ask anyone, or any organization, who thinks they don’t have one. All of your greatness today – your people, products, partnerships, brands, operations, capabilities, culture, customers – will not matter for long unless they are working together, as part of a strategy, to create your future.
For years I’ve sat on the opposing side of hierarchy. That rigid concept in which orders are barked down from above and complied to from below has robbed our corporations, governments, and social institutions of freedom. Many of the management thought-leaders we, at Outthinker, admire argue the same. Gary Hamel, for example, wrote “The real damper on employee engagement is the soggy, cold blanket of centralized authority.”
We cannot predict the future, but we can prepare in advance. So how do you develop early warning signs that things are about to change in an industry? One technique for identifying leading indicators is envisioning time zero events—concrete events that represent things that could have a big impact on a business.
Among the many myths that corporate types have about startups (whether standalone or of the corporate variety) is that there is some kind of alchemy involved. Sort of “Steve Jobs arrives on a clamshell and the world is changed forever!” They think growing new businesses requires some instinctive DNA that founders are born with and that other mere mortals will never possess.
Last week, I was accepted on the Thinkers50 Radar list, composed of 30 management thinkers to watch in 2019. How I made the list, I am not quite sure. The entrepreneurs, researchers, advisers, and organizational leaders included in this list constitute a humbling collection of minds.