Monday, April 19, 2010

Andrew Zolli - First Keynote from DigitalNow

Andrew Zolli is a futurist. His talk was entitled "The Road Ahead - Thriving in Complex Times." Here is a link to a recent interview on PBS http://bit.ly/cTzOZZ. Some of the core thoughts of his presentation were:

People generally focus on fast-moving trends rather than slow-moving trends. The example he gave was that 1 in 20,000 people will be directly affected by terrorism; 1 in 6 people will be directly affected by global warming and yet vastly more money is spend fighting terrorism. It is because it is much easier to fear and respond to something we can understand e.g. bad people & bombs rather than slowly rising oceans and melting glaciers. The problem is that the slow-moving trends are the ones that really mess things up when they reach a crisis point.

Innovation is the act of creating new value in anticipation of future demand. It isn't just responding to a leading edge of demand, rather it is actually creating value for demand that has not yet begun. Companies that have a culture of sustained innovation tend to have similar DNA:

  1. Holds the top accountable.

  2. Makes lots of small bets.

  3. Invests in the employees close to the customer.

  4. Leverages innovations outside the company.

  5. Copies best practices sparingly (best practices are outcomes not strategies)

  6. Uses a Cognitive Portfolio Approach.

  7. Systematically scans for weak/disruptive signals

  8. Creates differentiated learning partnerships

Zolli then moved on to some of the long-term trends he sees and discussed some possible was they might impact society.

Demographic transformation - remember who your members are determines how they will interact with your organization. Here is a picture of the current US demographics.

Zolli stated that the fastest growing demographic right now is in the population of people over 85. One of the resultant trends is elderly parents moving in with their adult children.

When your population looks like this wage-earners can support those no longer earning such as children and the elderly. The US trend is moving toward an hourglass shape where the population requiring support far exceeds the wage-earners.

Some of Zolli's suggestions for dealing with this trend were to massively increase legal immigration to enlarge the wage-earner group. Also everyone, retailers, manufacturers and membership organizations alike need to be aware of this change. Their customers are dealing with work/life balance issues as never before. Generation X is the first recent generation to commonly have both parents and children living at home at the same time.

Another change trend is women entering the fast lane. While I'm sceptical, Zolli stated that women will soon have great impact on corporate and political leadership. (We'll see. I've read too many articles like this one to believe it will happen during my career. http://blogs.hbr.org/research/2010/04/why-stock-price-drops-when-wom.html)

Distributed networks will have increasing impact on the way we organize and communicate. By empowering the edge leaders can attract a substantial following but they also do it without any real control. The two examples Zolli gave we Linus Torvalds vs Osama bin Laden. Both do a great job of attracting followers to their cause. Both have little, if any, control over their followers actions but rather give leadership through the ideas they espouse. As Zolli pointed out through this example, distributed networks can be good or bad but the risks are mostly deemed worth it.

Finally, Zolli talked about the impact mobile is having around the world. The US is actually behind in adopting mobile as more than just a phone/text/email device. Companies that recognize the impact mobile has - it is changing habits and actions - have a great chance of harnessing that change for their benefit.

I'm always a little concerned when I condense a speaker of Zolli's quality and complexity to a few notes and bullet points. Zolli was a fascinating and thought-provoking speaker. As the first keynote of DigitalNow he prepared me to learn from and question all that was to come.

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