In the last 6 weeks, management upheavals have rained down on corporate America. Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO in mid-August. Yahoo’s board of so-called “doofuses” ousted CEO Carol Bartz via a telephone call. In yet another board crisis at HP,CEO short-timer Leo Apotheker was swept out and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman was swept in.
Financial services companies were not immune. UBS chief executive Oswald Grubel abruptly announced his resignation following a nightmare of rogue trades exceeding $2 billion. Bank of America is swooning.
If you were a fly on the wall in the board room of any of these firms, which one do you think has the best grasp on the future? Which one can “see” a path for itself years down the road?
Apple wins that one hands down.
So, focusing for a moment on two companies once synonymous with what it meant to be “leading edge” – Yahoo and HP – how does the future look? Could the C-suite (or what’s left of it) describe it? Could they draw it? Could they tell you a compelling story about it? One reason Apotheker was forced out at HP was his inability to clearly articulate a future vision for this legendary Silicon Valley giant.
Volatility tends to make us shy about looking ahead. Soft markets can make us forget about anything more than 90 days away. But Google is continually imagining the future. And Intel – one of the top 20 most profitable companies in the Fortune 500 – is too.
Are you? If your organization hasn’t had a good chat about the future lately, now isn’t the time for future phobia. With product life cycles shrinking from an average of 3 years to as little as 8 months in some sectors, the future becomes “today” in a heartbeat.
Intel’s “Tomorrow Project”
MENG (Marketing Executives Marketing Group) marketing colleague Richard Guha mentioned in a recent MENG Blend post that corporations are failing in their responsibility to excite the imaginations of their employees. As leaders in the Innovation Age, the C-suite is just as beholden to shareholders for developing a future vision as they are for current, real time business progress.
Marketers need to be a part of shaping these future visions.
Intel stands as a shining example here. Last month, Intel began a fascinating initiative called “The Tomorrow Project.” The company is bringing in four best-selling science fiction writers and futurists to help Intel conceive of future applications for their prized microchips – and to aid in designing lifestyle environments around these applications.
After sharing current Intel research on photonics, robotics, telematics, and sensors with Douglas Rushkoff, Ray Hammond, Scarlett Thomas and Markus Heitz, Intel asked each one “to take a look at their research and come up with a vision for what technology will look like in the future.”
The results? “The authors responded by creating four short stories that paint humorous, thought provoking and hopeful pictures of our future, when ‘futuristic technologies’ have long since become familiar features of our daily lives.”
You may think all this future vision stuff is bunk. But Intel’s profitability is tough to ignore.
Desiring to more deeply integrate a future facing posture with its corporate culture, last year Intel bought in “consumer experience architect,” futurist, and author Brian David Johnson to spearhead several initiatives. Under Johnson’s direction, and with the support of CMO Deborah Conrad, Intel contracted with seven time Grammy award winner Black-Eyed Peas superstar will.i.am to work with Intel’s product development groups on designing new laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones.
One surprising result has been growth in the Intel Developer Forum, which began in 1997. New momentum has been created by connecting superstar will.i.am with teens who want to learn computer science, build computers, or even write music using computers. Interactions have created crucial insights for Intel’s developers, revealing new directions for next-generation technologies. Check out these two videos to hear how will.i.am and CMO Conrad describe the impact the program is having.
Integrate Future Vision as Part of an Organization’s Culture
While HP has not reached the level of internal integration Intel has regarding its future facing initiatives, HP also hasn’t put the brakes on all its futuristic venturing. A Wall Street Journal article last month describes how HP Looks to Kitchens and Cars as new markets for the software it purchased from Palm last year. Similarly, Whirlpool is envisioning appliances that connect to the Internet so customers can program them via their smartphones. Marketers at Ford – which has come alive under Edison Awards winner CEO Alan Mulally – as well as Toyota, Panasonic, and Virgin America are also making huge plays to engage a bigger, bolder future vision within the organizational culture of each company.
So it’s not a total desert out there.
This is good news for marketers who face progressively steeper product development curves. The key to success in these endeavors lies in how corporate leaders integrate a future vision with the culture and lifeblood of the organization, speeding a company’s ability to stay nimble in a hyper-fast environment.
If it’s been awhile since you took a walk into the future, check out this mini-slide show from Mashable. The 8 slides below offer a view of how technologies in existence today could transform our lives by 2020.
Have a look! Exercise your imagination! World famous marketer and innovator Thomas Edison believed nothing could be created until it was first imagined. Take a page from Intel’s future embracing playbook, and imagine away. Volatile times are not the time to be future phobic!
Click on this link to visit the website and play the slide show.