The Innovation Blog

Everyone Isn't Tomorrow

Posted by Creative Realities on October 24, 2011

Future View resized 600If I hear once more about how Facebook and the iPhone define the speed of change in business I’m going to scream. And the tragic passing of Steve Jobs has only increased the noise on this topic. The fact is that like all aspects of innovation the same rules don’t apply everywhere.

Here’s an example. In one of my recent Harvard Business Review blogs I advocated for the need for companies to create a proprietary view of the world 10-15 years into the future. This response appeared the following day (edited to the main points):

I question the value of taking a "10-15-year perspective" to drive innovation…Future paradigm shifts are not taking 10-15 years; Like Facebook & the iPhone they are occurring within 3-5 years…Companies have no more than 1-2 years to effectively respond to changing market dynamics. RIM and its Blackberry are examples of this… Innovation must be driven by a "sense and respond" ethos that is constantly evaluating the market and looking for opportunities to address emerging market needs. The "tidal forces of change" are happening tomorrow.

No, “tidal forces of change” were actually happening yesterday!

Where’s the blind spot in his proposition? All of his examples are in the daily change industries of high-tech electronics. While every industry needs to innovate more quickly than they have in the past, most don't need to do it at a personal electronics pace. Some very successful companies know their potentially game-changing ideas may take 5-8 years to launch.

Until recently the publishing industry hadn't done much new since Guttenberg! Medicine and food take a lot longer to get new ideas to market because of: 1) government regulation, 2) huge capital investment. Most business-to-business industries require longer lead times, especially as they continue learning about innovation from the business-to-consumer models.

The question is how “tidal” are those “forces of change” in different industries? The answer is the pace of change in most of them requires gestation times that are longer than 3-5 years, and the only way to get them to stretch is to stimulate them to think about the world (not just their industries) in a variety of ways, one of which is to think about what the world will look like beyond what they can see today.

Carl Johnson, the recently retired Executive VP for Strategy and Innovation at Campbell's (and my first boss at Colgate-Palmolive) stated in a recent presentation that one of the major challenges to an organization becoming innovative is the need to "change human nature." We know this, which is why we ask our clients to envision the world (not just their industries) 10-15 years out. This is because human nature tells us that people will only stretch for the next 2-5 years because it’s created from an outmoded Deductive forecasting model, where the past drives perceptions about the future. They love this because it’s in their comfort zone.  Pushing them to look out 10-15 years is not a reality exercise…it’s a How-the-brain-works exercise. I may think I know what the world will look like in 3-5 years but I have no clues about 10 years out and are therefore open to more speculative thinking.

"Sense and respond" is all about what's happening today. One could argue that thinking of the long-term future might have been good for Bill Gates.

Would love to hear how long it takes to get from an idea to growth-impacting execution in other industries.

Topics: Mark Sebell, Future, Future Pull, Future Trends, changing the game