The 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM is about doing Business in the Age of Experience and how companies can Navigate the Future – what are some of the things you see going on with companies who are trying to better engage and excite their customers?
Here’s the key challenge facing just about any company in just about any industry: We are living in a world where average Is not an option. You can’t do big things anymore if you are content with doing things a little better than everybody else or a little differently from how you did them in the past. In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop disruption, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special. Originality has become the acid test of strategy. In any field, winning organizations don’t just offer competitive products and services. They stand for important ideas—ideas that shape the competitive landscape of their industry, ideas that reshape the sense of what’s possible for customers, employees, and investors. Here’s the question, and the gut check, for leaders who really want to engage and excite their customers. Are you a share taker or a market maker? Are you content to make small improvements at the margin to win a little business from your competitors? Or do you aspire to combine a set of ideas and a collection of capabilities unlike what everyone else offers? The goal is not to best the best at what lots of other people do. It’s to be the only one who does what you do.
There are a lot of customers coming to speak at the FORUM – any in particular you are looking forward to?
Well, I wouldn’t want to single out any companies by name! But I will say this. I learn the most from companies that are winning big in tough, demanding, competitive, parts of the economy. It’s fun and exciting to get to know young companies that are competing in fields that are growing by 50% or 100% per year–the booming sectors of the economy. But that’s not where most of us live. So I love speaking to and learning from companies that are rethinking and reimagining what’s possible in more established, slower-growing fields. The diamonds in the rough. The growth companies in slow-growth fields. The companies that are doing things that other companies don’t think possible.
Your most recent book, “Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself,” focuses on business innovation and transformation. What are a few of the toughest lessons companies need to learn about Business Transformation?
The most important lesson is that the scarcest resource in business today is not money or people or information. It’s imagination. I think of it as the “paradox of expertise.” The more you know about something, the longer you’ve been in a field, the more successful your company has been, the harder it is to keep your mind open to fresh ways to deliver services and develop products–new ways to solve old problems. That’s why I believe one of the key challenges facing established companies and their leaders is that you can’t let what you know limit what you can imagine. The second lesson is that meaningful, deep-seated transformation is the hardest work in the world. It doesn’t come easy to leaders, to rank-and-file colleagues, to organizations as a whole. It’s funny.
The publication you co-founded, Fast Company, has become one of the most widely read resources for business professionals today. What about the content of Fast Company (both digitally and in the monthly hard copy publication) keeps readers inspired and coming back?
The core vision behind Fast Company really hasn’t changed in twenty years. We don’t just publish article or sell magazines. We try to lead and shape the conversation about what business can and should become. So we celebrate profound ideas that we believe have a chance to move organizations and leadership in more competitive and humane direction. We discover and celebrate case studies that we believe represent the face of business at its best–companies and leaders from which other companies and leaders can learn. And everything we do we do with our readers, our audience, in mind. How will this article, or this Web post, or this speaker at an event contribute to the success of the Fast Company audience? We measure our success based on the impact we’re having on the success of people who come to us for ideas and inspiration.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve seen develop for companies since you co-founded Fast Company?
Here’s the single biggest, everything else is a subset of this one. It used to be that lots of big, established companies were broken. They were slow, bureaucratic, offering products that were irrelevant to many of their customers. That’s no longer the case. After the economic wringer we’ve all been through since the implosion of the financial system, those companies that survived are no longer broken. The problem is, too many of them are boring. They are perfectly competent, and totally unexciting. They are nicely competitive, yet not compelling at all. They are all operating in the middle of the road, which I believe has become the road to nowhere. The question today is, What are you the most of in your field, and how do you become even more of that?
What do you think people who meet you at the 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM would be surprised to learn about you?
My public persona is that of a change advocate, a business rabble rouser, the guy who teaches “slow companies” how to become “fast companies.” But I’m actually a fairly conservative person. Not politically (we won’t talk about that!), but in terms of my approach to new technology, to new ways of working, to new ways of sharing my messages, even using social media. In the ways I think, write, communicate, I’m kinda slow, meticulous, even cautious–there’s so much hype and bluster in the world, I try not to throw myself too quickly into the Next Big Thing. I’m also an insane Bruce Springsteen fan. I just saw the last show on his my most recent tour, which was my 106th Bruce concert lifetime. The good news is that my wife is just as crazy a fan, and my two teenage daughters have grown to love him too. So I get to indulge my obsession and bring my family along!
What’s your favorite app and why?
FlightTrack. Traveling as much as I do, to have on my phone the capacity to know which flights are running late, what my alternatives are, which gates I’ll be landing at, I can’t imagine doing what I do without it. I feel like it lets me know stuff before the gate agents know it.