What do world-class innovators do differently?

By Tony Deligio
Published: September 11th, 2013

Chicago—The competitor who could threaten your company's livelihood or industry's relevance 10 years from now might not even exist today. That hard truth about the pace and scale of change in technology came from Jim Carroll, author and futurist. Carroll delivered the opening address at the Tech Theater presentation forum presented as part of UBM Canon's collocated advanced technologies shows at Chicago's McCormick Place, including PLASTEC Midwest, Design & Manufacturing Midwest, ATX Midwest, Pack Zone, Quality Expo, and MD&M Chicago.

Carroll polled attendees, who filled the allotted seating and spilled over into a standing crowd, in real time, having them text answers to questions. He noted that at conferences with CEOs, the older generation might be unaware of how to text or Tweet an answer. When he conducted the same experiment at a high school, however, 297 of of the 300 teenagers in attendance replied within 30 seconds, laying bare the generational technology gap.

Jim Carroll
Jim Carroll, futurist and author, described the best practices of world-class innovators.

That demographic difference in how technology is embraced was one of the key points Carroll described between world class innovators and everyone else.  "That's the next generation," Carroll said of the high schooler's who always have a mobile device at the ready. "That's the generation that's going to change the manufacturing industry," Carroll said, adding that fully one half of the global population is under 25. "The next generation thrives on change," Carroll said. "They're wired, collaborative."

Will it be survive, thrive, or die?
The fact that industry is dealing with upheaval is not new, Carroll said, pointing at past economic crises ranging from the oil embargo to the dot-com bust. Those times of challenge have a way of winnowing the competitive field. Carroll said studies of those periods show that 60% of companies survive, albeit barely; 30% die off; and 10% become breakthrough performers. The 90% that just endure but don't accelerate growth have a syndrome that has become prevalent in recent years, as the economy haltingly climbs out of the great recession. It's a condition Carroll has dubbed "aggressive indecision."

The companies that can overcome indecision will still be faced with a much faster decision making process. "World class innovators have adapted to the speed of Silicon Valley," Carrol said, using the medical market, and advent of gene-based preventative medicine as an example. "10 years out, 20 years out, the world of healthcare will be turned upside down," Carroll said. "Today, we fix you after you're sick; 20 years from now, we'll treat you for what you will have based on your genes."

As Silicon Valley has taken over the formerly laborious and prohibitively expensive process of DNA sequencing, the speed of development has gone up while costs have gone down. Carroll noted how it cost $3 billion to sequence the first human genome, but by the end of this year, the cost is forecast to be less than $1000.

Find opportunity
Carroll called on attendees to alter their competitive viewpoint. "When world class innovators look out and see a new trend," Carroll said, "they don't see a threat; they see an opportunity."

Before finishing his presentation, Carroll called on those in attendance to take advantage of their time at the show.  "Walk the show floor," Carroll exhorted of his audience. "Find three ideas that you can implement to help get your company out of a rut."

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