Today’s episode features Jim Harris, one of North America’s leading keynote speakers and foremost thinkers on disruptive innovation. In this episode, he joins host Adam Markel in conversation to break down the cycle of disruption and innovation in the speaking industry and why businesses must equip themselves for change. Jim shares his prediction on the future of industries and how inflation can become a catalyst for innovation. He also tackles mindset and what it takes to readily adapt to change regarding how you do business. It’s all about learning how to de-risk and stay resilient. Don’t miss valuable industry insights to equip you for what’s ahead by tuning in to this episode. Plus, find out what a shadow board of millennials and Gen Z look like and the benefits they can offer your business.
- 00:00 Introduction
- 00:00 Fun Fact About Jim
- 04:15 Disruptive Innovation
- 11:51 Jim’s pivot when the pandemic hit
- 15:56 Jim’s predictions on the future of industries
- 18:32 Inflation as a catalyst for innovation
- 25:56 The right mindset to handle change and disruption
- 31:06 How the pandemic changed how we do business
- 36:42 A shadow board of millennials and Gen Z’s
- 38:46 How to de-risk amidst disruption
- 42:40 Resilience in organizations
- 47:57 Jim’s personal resilience and the paradox of life
- 00:00 Closing
How do we leverage continuous uncertainty to thrive in this unprecedented new world?
The answer is to build the resilience we need to power us through the challenges we face so that we become “Change Proof.” Prepare to tackle the future with confidence by reading Adam’s latest book Change Proof: Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience.
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Jim Harris On Disruptive Innovation: Staying Resilient Amidst Change
In this episode, we’ve got Jim Harris, one of North America’s leading keynote speakers and foremost thinkers on disruptive innovation, presenting internationally at more than 70 virtual and in-person conferences a year. The Association Magazine ranked him as one of North America’s top ten speakers. Jim’s recent book, Blindsided, has been published in 80 countries worldwide and is a number one international bestseller. You are going to love this conversation with Jim Harris.
Jim, you are, among other things, a keynote speaker, which means that you are used to having people introduce you and listen to your short or long bio. What’s something that’s not a part of that bio that I shared with our audience that you would for people to know about you?
After university, I traveled around the world for four years, and part of that was sailing from England to Australia on a tall ship. I saw the incredible beauty of our planet. It is something that all of us are going to be called upon to protect. We are being called to change the way we live. I saw the changes already back in 1987 and 1988 when I sailed from England to Australia. We saw plastic pollution in the oceans. We saw fishing nets that were discarded and the beauty of the world. We need to perhaps step back for a minute and see that we are living on the garden planet of the universe. We don’t need to save the planet. We need to stop destroying it.
I didn’t expect to hear that answer. I’m glad that I did. Thank you for that. I have been writing it down, the garden planet of the universe. That’s a magnificent way to size it up. I have been fascinated by the fact that we are on this water and dirt ball, this sphere that is spinning on an axis, orbiting the sun, and also, at the same time, a tiny spec in an infinite universe.
If you believe in miracles, and I certainly do, it’s a miracle. It’s remarkable, even if the word miracle doesn’t strike you, and amazing. I appreciate that we are starting things out in that way. I want to talk to you about something I don’t get to talk to a lot of people about, frankly, because I don’t often have many people that are in the keynote speaking industry on the show and not because I don’t want them. They are my colleagues, after all. I’ve had a few but not many, and certainly not any in recent vintage. I’m excited to do that with you and have that conversation.
Dr. Nick Morgan is a good buddy of mine, and I get to be on his show to talk about those things but I haven’t had anybody recently on the show talk about it with me. We had a lot in common when I was looking through your website. I noticed that you speak on a number of different topics that are related. I’m going to ask you a question about that.
For me, I am most notably a resilience but also a mental health, a work-life balance, and a stress management keynote speaker but they have this thread that runs through them. It seems the thread that runs through a lot of the topics that you speak on has to do with innovation and disruption in business. Part 1 is that, in fact, the case, and part 2 is about where you have seen innovation and disruption, both in the speaking industry over the last couple of years. Where do you see it even headed in the future? Why don’t we unpack it a little bit, first of all, is there a through line that runs through the topics that you speak on?
My main focus is disruption and disruptive innovation. For instance, Tesla is worth more than the top ten traditional legacy automakers. That is a head-spinning fact. Uber is worth more than every taxi cab company in North America added together. While Uber doesn’t own a single vehicle, the taxi industry owns billions of dollars of assets in the form of cabs and limousines. How does Uber, with zero assets, by comparison, end up being worth more than every taxi cab company in North America added together?If you're not focused on innovation in your company or your industry, you can be blindsided. Click To Tweet
If you are not focused on innovation in your company or your industry, you can be blindsided. That’s the title of my last book. In other words, disrupted. These are two examples of disruption. I predict that we are going to see a number of the top ten legacy automakers cease to exist. They all either, A) Go bankrupt, B) Merge like Fiat Chrysler or, C) Cease to exist.
We are in a profound transition. When you are in the transition, things are confusing because they are mixed signals. The old isn’t dead yet, and the new isn’t fully emerged yet. How do companies and executives move through that transition? There are some profound questions about this. I look at questions like, “Why is disruption happening? How do you identify early warning signs of your company or your industry? What can you do to put in place triggers to instigate action in your organization? How can you prevent it from happening? How can you get ahead of it?”
You have two choices, disrupts or be disrupted. Would you rather be the disruptor of your industry or would you all rather have it done to you? This very much ties into your focus on resilience. We are hugely resilient but resilience is a muscle. It’s like working out as a muscle. If we don’t use our resistance, it atrophies, and the companies that are best at both growing and disrupting continually are resilient, always coming back and questioning, “We can’t do something because we’ve always done it this way.”
Even though always done, it might only be a few years old because we’ve had a pandemic in the middle here, and the pandemic changed everything. I have witnessed 10 years of change in the 2 and a half years of the pandemic. For instance, we saw 10 years of growth in eCommerce in the first 90 days of the pandemic. That’s head spinning. Another one is Zoom. We are on Zoom here. In December 2019, Zoom had ten million daily users. In the first 90 days of the pandemic, Zoom was downloaded 300 million times. I feel like Dr. Evil. It’s 300 million times the greatest number of downloads ever in the history of Android and Apple for a non-gaming app.
The rules have changed, and that’s affected our industry. We went to 100% virtual right away. I used to travel about 200,000 miles a year on planes, pre-pandemic. From an environmental perspective, that’s a horrible carbon footprint even if you offset it. To move to Zoom and everything be virtual, wow. We might think, “Our industry is so glamorous,” but a hotel room is a hotel room, and a plane ride is a plane ride. To spend five work weeks a year on a plane, there’s not a lot of glamor to that.
If I was doing a gig in Dubai, it’s a full day of travel over there. You don’t want to arrive and then go on. You go two days early. You speak for an hour and think, “I’m all the way over here. I’m going to go to the markets.” They call them souks. I’m going to go to the souk and get something for Leanne. I’m going to see this place, and then you come home. You have been away for a week for a one-hour keynote. When you divide your speaking fee by all those hours, it’s not quite such an impressive fee anymore.
You left out the wonderful hotel food, which we can never say enough about.
One can only eat so much chicken,
Although I’m going to say that the hotels that I have been out of have gotten hip to a few things. I’m seeing green drinks and cold press things that I never would’ve imagined would be on the menu. There are better options. There’s still the usual fair. That’s a good sign but I want to go back to when the pandemic did start. What I heard you say in part was that the throughline for your keynote speaking is primarily around innovation. Is that accurate?
The innovation is essential because of the disruption. It drives innovation.
It’s the catalyst. In change language, it’s the Cosmic Law. You use the word universe at the beginning. I will use that word now. It’s the Cosmic Law for manifestation in the universe, change. The status quo is the enemy. People don’t often see what the downside to disruption is or what the downside to non-disruption is to the status quo but that’s the bigger fear that we ought to have because when things stagnate in any area, whether it’s water stagnates, it becomes toxic. It becomes unusable and undrinkable.
It’s the same in every area, including business. Things get a little too comfortable with the way we do things around here. The universe has this wonderful way with this great sense of humor of shaking things up. Go back to March of 2020, when this all happened. What was that like for you? I’m not necessarily going to have to be vulnerable but I would love for you to be transparent about it. What was it like for you over the first 30 days, 60 days or 90 days? I wrote a book some years ago. I’m self-serving here and saying that word but I only wish I had a nickel for every time people said pivot since the pandemic began. How quickly were you able to pivot?Necessity is the mother of invention. If you’re running a business and costs are increasing, it is gonna force you to question business as usual and look to innovate. Click To Tweet
We pivoted immediately because you see the response from the market. People aren’t traveling flights. It started with flights from China being banned but all you have to do is extrapolate. I began tracking. We then called it coronavirus. When I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020, this was before it was on anybody’s radar. There were only 1,300 cases in Wuhan at the time. I began posting about it on Twitter and on social.
Some of my followers were like, “Why are you talking about this thing? You are fear-mongering. What are you doing?” We then saw flights from China banned. Where is the supply chain for most of North America? Where are many things manufactured? It’s Indonesia. It’s in China. You have to think implicatively. You have to connect the dots when the picture isn’t there. You know how, when you were a kid, you had to connect the dot picture and connect all the dots, and it looked like a cat or something? You have to connect these dots in advance. The picture is emerging.
By your accent, people might not know this but you are from Kansas, right?
No, I’m from Canada.
I’m only interrupting you not to poke fun that way but rather to point out that the analogy I feel is more like your national hero. You’ve had a number of them, and Neil Young is one of them for me but in sports, who is the one national hero above all else?
I would say it’s probably Wayne Gretzky.
It’s Wayne Gretzky. Even though he moved to the States and played for the Kings, we forget that. This guy had this great statement where he said, “You don’t skate to where the puck has been.” This is the analogy. I feel like that’s what you are talking about. You are skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.
You are so right, Adam. The real question is, “Where the puck is business going?”
Where the puck is it going, Jim?
I can’t tell you exactly what the future will look like. I can give you a general picture of certain industries but it won’t look like the present or the past. Let me give you one example. The price of transportation by car has remained constant for 100 years when adjusted for inflation at about $0.70 per mile. Once we have autonomous vehicles and think about autonomous pools of vehicles like Uber and Lyft, but with no driver, the cost of travel moves from $0.70 cents to $0.25 a mile. That 2/3 drop, who’s going to buy a car? If we have this fleet of EV, Electric Vehicles that are autonomous as well, and you can get around, who’s going to be buying cars if it’s three times more expensive?
People see things as black or white. It’s either all on or all off. No. There are going to be some people buying cars and even going to be some people still buying gas cars. It’s like Jay Leno. He loves gas cars. Jerry Seinfeld loves gas cars. Those two comedians and cars. They are going to be keeping the gas car industry in business in a small minor way. Jay has 200 cars. He’s going to still be buying them. For the mass market, for the majority of us, we are going to shift.
You might be saying, “I don’t believe it.” Think about this one. Seventy million US households have a 2nd or 3rd car. What happens if they say, “I’m going to keep my primary car but for the secondary one, I’m going to use these autonomous Uber and Lyfts?” If you think it’s impossible to have autonomous Uber and Lyfts, Waymo has been operating in Phoenix as a test market for years. Look it up. There’s this new thing. I love it. It’s called Google, and your readers use Google. It’s a cool thing.Change is quite difficult because you don't get it right the first time. Click To Tweet
We are living in inflationary times, and that’s no great surprise to anybody reading this. What is interesting is that that’s seen as bad, and there are reasons why that’s the case. I’m certainly not in favor of paying more for milk, eggs, gasoline, or any number of things but I’m curious. What do you think? This has been percolating in my head. One of the positive ends, the pluses, if you will, of inflation, is that it will lead to greater innovation. You are the innovation in this conversation. Between us, you are certainly the expert. I’m curious if you found that to be true. Is there anecdotal proof of that? Is there actual research that says, “Yes, during times of higher inflation?”
Here’s how my demented mind works. I’m going to let everybody inside this bald head of mine. I’m going, “Will prices go back? When a hotel can charge $2,000 a night or when any number of first-class flights costs this much or whatever the things are that have gone up? Will those organizations, once they’ve seen that there’s price elasticity, what would ever force them to go back to pre-pandemic pricing or what might be a more reasonable price structure?”
I thought that the only thing that will do that is when somebody comes along and says, “I will disrupt this marketplace the way Airbnb did or some other group did,” uber, as you mentioned or others. You go, “I’ve figured out how to do this. I will save people a bunch of money. Those people that want to gouge or charge higher, regardless of whether it’s gouging or not, will simply have to either adjust their pricing, go out of business or deal with that disruption some other way.” Back to you, is inflation an actual catalyst for innovation?
Absolutely. You know the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If I’m running a business and my costs are increasing, it is going to force me to question business as usual. I’m going to look to innovate. I want to point out how technology can play a role in being hugely deflationary. For instance, the example, I used the cost per mile of car ownership at $0.70 a mile, moving to $0.25 a mile to get around with transportation as a service, meaning Uber and Lyft but with no drivers. That is hugely deflationary because the cost of transportation has dropped by 2/3.
Think about this. I was in Nepal in 1998 with my wife. It’s a beautiful country. At the time, to make a phone call back to North America was Rs300 a minute. I went into an internet cafe and put on a headset with a little microphone. I made a VoIP call, Voice over Internet Protocol, for Rs10 a minute. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to say a 30X difference in price is going to eventually drive change. I predicted that it would be free long distance for everyone in the world by 2005. At the time, I had some telco clients and big-name clients. Seventy percent of their profitability was in long distance. Imagine you hire this speaker who comes in.
This talking head says, “Meet my people. Inspire them. I don’t care if they learn anything but make sure they are happy when they leave.”
I tell them about this. All long distance is going to be free within a few years. They were not happy but the point of this is that we had a Skype launch in 2003. This was a mass market, fully duplex service that allowed for free Skype-to-Skype calling. What happened is that people who are in the developing world who don’t have a lot of money like in Nepal, use this new technology. When I used it, it wasn’t fully duplexed. It was like a walkie-talkie. Only one person could speak, and then I would say, “Over,” and the other person could speak then.
This is highly disruptive to the industry. Now, we are using Zoom. You can get a free Zoom account for up to 40 minutes free, and it includes video. Where are the long-distance charges for that? We are living in an era where technology can be hugely deflationary and offset the inflation we are experiencing with supply chain interruptions. You can begin to question the way you work. When the pandemic hit, there was this kid in Alberta, Canada, who had been given a 3D printer for Christmas, and the company that made the printer open-sourced certain designs. This kid was able to download a design and 3D print PPE for his local hospital. We had a PPE shortage. He printed these face masks.
What is the implication of this for manufacturing? Why do I have to have a supply chain dependent on China if, for small batches, I can print locally? These are the technologies that are profoundly changing business models. Executives and leaders of companies need to be continually thinking about the future. I want to ask you a question here, Adam. Who’s closest to the future, the 65-year-old CEO who has his assistant print off all his emails or the 18-year-old who’s on Tinder? Who does all the strategic planning? Who is most disenfranchised from strategic planning? Is it any wonder we only get incremental change?
A lot of the reason I get invited to speak is you do and also consult in regard to change management is the fact that there’s a mindset that we are dealing with. In those circles that you are talking about, whether it’s the CEO, mid-level managers or senior leaders. There’s a mindset that is resistant to change. This show is based on the book, Change Proof, which came out in February 2022 and the beginning of the book, there’s a story about being at the beach and getting caught in a rip current, riptide, and undertow, and how it is that people react to that threat as it’s occurring when they are being pulled out into deeper and deeper water and what they do.
I was a lifeguard so that story came from personal experience when I was working at Jones Beach when I was between 19 and age 26. The fact is that people struggle with it. They resist it. Ultimately, they become exhausted in the fight. In the rip current scenario, when they are exhausted, they become dangerous to themselves and to anybody around them because they are in full panic mode.
I use that as a bit of a metaphor for how organizations and leaders deal with change and the fact that they do similar things. The problem is what you stated. When that CEO, that 60-year-old, that manager or whomever it might be, sees change as something that is inherently a threat that, they see and feel it that way. They are different from that 18-year-old, that person that is seeing the world through a beginner’s, apprentice’s, or young person’s eyes because, for them, change is interesting. It’s exciting. It’s less boring. Maybe the run of the mill stuff that they are dealing with. That’s a big difference.Because we can't predict the future, if you have a process that allows for asset list expansion, de-risks expansion, no capex expansion, you can scale faster and do better. Click To Tweet
I was reading something that Jim Collins wrote. He was being interviewed. Jim Collins is a pretty bright guy, and I thought it was pretty cool that he was saying, “Chaos and uncertainty are what is normal.” I don’t know if you’ve ever considered this, Jim, but you and Jim Collins, having shared a name, perhaps you have. That’s the actual norm. You look back in history, and I’m sure, as I know my own name is Adam, I know you are a history guy. The periods when we weren’t in chaos are so infrequent as compared to the times when we have been in a state where things were upside down.
That’s our natural state of being. Resilience is the fact that it’s our DNA. Genetically, we are predisposed to be able to handle change, chaos or uncertainty of almost any kind. When the mindset is such that you are not seeing the disruption that you talk of, the chaos or the uncertainty that I speak of. If you don’t see those things as the norm and that your organization doesn’t plan and strategically speak of it as the norm, that’s an immediate sign that something is wrong. You might want to have that eighteen-year-old take the wheel for a little bit while things get retooled.
Back to this notion of either/or, either all on or all off, we need an amp. In our company, we believe we have to change all the time but we are not changing everything all the time. We change certain things. We change phone lines over to VoIP lines. This next thing, we change from a different web hosting to one web hosting as a service. We change our email over to Gmail workspaces from individual ones.
We make these little changes. We change our distribution model. We change our business focus in terms of revenue but we are not changing everything all the time. We are changing something all the time. It’s, what do we need, so we get used to changing and working through it? Change is quite difficult because you don’t get it right the first time usually. There are problems, and it takes longer than you think.
Somebody once said, “You could tell the pioneers because they are the ones with the arrows in their back.” We know that early adoption has its risks. Most people tend to want to see the herd point the way, and when they are safe in the herd, then they will go along. My wife found Zoom in 2016. She had our entire company, which was spread across. At that point, our company was on four continents, and we were doing meetings on Zoom in 2016.
It wasn’t when the pandemic hit, and every single gig we had planned, every flight, and everything was canceled. In a minute, our entire business and a lot of businesses that was the case like restaurants. Many things we shut down. For a lot of public speakers or people that do this work, consulting and traveling to their clients, it was shut down instantly. It took a bunch of folks a while, months, to find their footing again.
We did what you did. We immediately got on Zoom. We both know that organizations that hire folks like us weren’t hip to that as quickly as we were. It took them about three months before they started to say, “Jim, Adam, how about joining us on Zoom? Let’s have that discussion. Do you guys know how to do that? Can you work that out?” We were like, “Yes. We can handle that. It will be great. You might even like it better.”
We had to help our clients through this. Here’s a staggering statistic. Do you know that 70% of traditional training in education is the cost of flights, hotel rooms, and meals? We are going to have a conference and fly everyone together to New York City or LA. We are going to put them all up in a hotel. We will do some wine tours in the afternoons or the valley, maybe. This is great. Adam, you and I are the business write-off. You and I are what justify all this stuff, being written off as a business expense. We are the cheapest thing going here.
Seventy percent of the cost is getting everyone there and getting them all together. When you are forced to do something different, and you learn, “We can have a Zoom conference. Instead of having 300 people, we can have 3,000 people hearing our message. We can allow students to come in with this special, either at a hugely discounted price or whatever. We can broaden our audience as we have never been able to before.” You begin to see new opportunities in this change.
The Chinese icons for a crisis are both danger and opportunity. It’s two icons. Apparently, they also look very much like a mother-in-law. Whenever there’s this huge crisis, there is both a downside. Many people are focused on the downside, the threat to the existing business model. They are not looking for the upside. How could we do things differently? I talked about doing a one-hour keynote in Dubai, and it took a week out of my life. Now I can do a one-hour keynote in Dubai, and it takes one hour. It changes the market.
We are not going to go back to the way it was. It’s going to be a new equilibrium. There’s going to be a new balance where we do a lot more virtual because we can do it at 70% less in cost. We are social animals. We are still going to want to get together in person. I want to come back to a principle. I work with a lot of CEOs, and one CEO once came up to me and said, “What you are saying is we should pretend that we are our own competitors, and knowing our internal weaknesses, how would we slaughter ourselves?”
In other words, if I’m always relentlessly thinking, “What are the weaknesses in my business model, and how do I innovate to strengthen those up?” I will give you one example. I was doing a conference with 300 CEOs. It happened to be in the Rocky Mountains, and I found strategic planning and CEO retreats. A couple of things are essential. One is a five-star resort. Another is that fine wines must be served, and it’s a beautiful setting.The paradox of life is that we live it forward, but we only understand it in hindsight. So, is something really, really good or is it really, really bad or is the story just not over? Click To Tweet
There we are. These 300 CEOs who are having so much fun that they invite me back the next year. At the sponsor’s dinner the night before, one of the CEOs is Jeff. His company does helical pilings. Think about screws that go into the ground for construction projects, massive screws that are 100 feet long screws that go into the ground to stabilize the building.
Anyways, Jeff comes up to me and he says, “Jim, I got to tell you what happened in the last year.” “I’m all ears.” He says, “You told us about asset list expansion like Airbnb. You told us to create a shadow board of Millennials and Gen Zs to run our big decisions by. That’s the 65, 18-year-old structural solution to getting future insight. I wanted to expand. The way I would’ve done it is a $15 million custom design build manufacturing facility. I ran that by my shadow board, and the Millennials and Gen Zs said, ‘That’s brain debt. Why don’t we find a facility that we can rent and expand, and it de-risks the expansion?’”
He said, “I did. I found a brand-new manufacturing facility that had just been built, and the owners had overbuilt it by 100% to allow for future expansion. I got to rent what they weren’t using for three years, pennies to the dollar.” Look at that cashflow, zero cashflow implications, de-risk expansion completely. When the pandemic hit, he wasn’t shut down and was left servicing $15 million a debt. He had an inconsequential rent compared to the design built.
It seems where the pack is or predicting because a bunch of this, as you said earlier, when you predict, you are going to be wrong at times. That’s a success story. As easily, I’m sure people can conceive of someone else that makes a prediction or listens to their shadow board, which is a brilliant suggestion, by the way. Everybody is going to take that one back to their leadership teams to talk about, and they will predict something, and it won’t turn out great.
We don’t often talk about that but I want to ask you about that, Jim. When it doesn’t go well and when the prediction doesn’t turn out well, what do you say to teams that keep them interested? Not just interested in innovation but in the process of innovation, which means failing probably more often than you succeed. Is that not true?
First off, the shadow board wasn’t predicting a pandemic. The shadow board was predicting a lower CapEx way of expanding. I will go back to the largest hotel chain in the world. Marriott tweets out, “We are going to add 30,000 rooms this year.” Think about the capital implications going out to capital markets, issuing bonds, construction, and all these huge, capital-intensive projects.
Brian Chesky is the CEO of Airbnb. This was many years ago. He tweets out, “Marriott is going to add 30,000 rooms this year. Good for them. We are going to do that in the next 2 weeks with 0 CapEx.” It’s a totally different business model. This shadow board of Millennials and Gen Zs weren’t predicting the future. They were looking at a business model that de-risks expansion, increases cashflow, and achieves a faster profitability stance. It’s because we can’t predict the future, if you have a process that allows for asset list, de-risked, and no caps expansion, you can scale faster. You are going to do better.
Over time, against incumbents who must take four years to build something, billions of dollars are raised in capital markets. If you keep on betting between these two organizations, I can tell you, over time, which is going to win because of the fundamental structures. It’s like going to a casino. The house always wins because the game is structured. Over time, if you bet enough, the house will always win. If you have significantly greater advantages in your business model, if you are innovative, creative, always coming back, innovating incrementally, not just disruptively, over time, you will win. It’s not so much about predicting the future. It’s about looking at business models which will guarantee the best long-term success.
I agree with you. This is where partly our content dovetails because the way I would speak to an audience of those same folks is that you must innovate. In that process, you are going to come up against making good calls and bad calls. You are going to predict correctly. Sometimes you are going to predict not so correctly. Ultimately, the unsung hero that I’ve seen looking in our research groups came out of the 2008 downturn, which was a massive disruption. I would imagine that since the United States got a bad cold, Canada got one, too.
For us, it was called the Great Recession, and it was brutal but companies and organizations of all kinds, large and small, came out of that disruption stronger, believe it or not. As of 2012, 2013, 2014, and up to now, we are the ones that were identified as resilient. They were resilients. The less resilient organizations either failed entirely, have never fully recovered back or have never been able to close the gap that was created between those two. In some respects, from my standpoint, it becomes cultural. Is the organization itself designed to be resilient or not? I see you pointing. Any thoughts?
That is exactly it. Two things come to mind. The first is that if you look at tiny little ants, you will sign that 97% of the workers are harvesting food and water from existing known sources but 3% of the workers are exploring new areas to find new sources of water and food. Back to this notion about polar opposites or seeing things in binary, it’s not the way to see it. It’s dependent on the organization and the industry but let’s say the ants use only 3% of their resources to find new sources. It’s not like, “Let’s put the Millennials in charge of the entire organization, the total P&L, and the capital expenditure decision.” No. Let’s take a VC approach to innovation in our company.
We have teams working on things. I work with an organization called Exponential Organizations, which works with companies around growing 10X, either their bottom line, their profitability or their customer satisfaction but it’s not about getting incremental change. It’s about 10X change. If you are going to get 10X change, you are going to have to do things fundamentally differently.Reframing is essential to enable resilience in the face of crisis. Click To Tweet
One of the ways to do that is to create a Shark Tank type of innovation, where young excited, motivated people in an organization work together in teams with coaching and support, and they create pitches. The executive team has gone through a shock and off session where they see how fast things are changing, and these ideas are brought forward. What you are taking is the deep wisdom of the executives in business models, married to the excitement and tech focus of the Millennial and Gen Z groups that are working on stuff with coaching.
It’s not just about the tech and the business model. It’s, “How do we marry business models and tech to create something that’s exciting, new, and stickier with the customer, increase customer satisfaction, lower costs, and increase profitability?” Many people think, “If we raise quality, we have to raise the cost.” How about we raise quality and customer satisfaction and lower the cost?
Many people will think that’s impossible but there’s a small municipality, not too far away from me that if they had a public transit service, it would have to spend $8 million a year. They are using Uber as their public transit system. They subsidize each Uber ride, and rather than wait for a bus that comes by infrequently in cold Canadian winter, I get a car coming right up to my door. I’m treated like the president of any small republic, and I’m taken directly to where I want to go. Isn’t that so much better?
I couldn’t be happier with how this unplanned conversation unfolded, Jim. I’m thrilled that we got to explore what we did. As a final question here, I want to ask you about your own personal resilience. Being somebody that does travel a lot or is serving a number of different organizations, individuals, etc. I’m curious. Do you have a particular ritual that has worked for you better than others or some other habits that you would share with us regarding your own personal resilience?
You mentioned the word habits, and behind me under your show is Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I used to represent Stephen teaching the seven habits. It’s powerful material. I would recommend that. That is a great book. It still influences my business consulting practice and my personal life to this day. I want to tell a story. Change is, in fact, the norm but we don’t see that. We work to create stability in our personal lives and our organizations. It’s a bit of a paradox. How do we embrace change yet have the comfort of stability?
I talked earlier about not changing everything all the time but always changing something, your business model, tweaking it, your suppliers. How are we always going to get better? We have an emotional and personal reaction to change. I want to tell this story. It’s from China. It’s about a religion called Daoism. It’s an ancient Chinese religion. I only understand everything through a story.
There was a poor village, and in the village was a farmer who owned his own horse. He was considered rich because he owned a horse, which he used for farming and transportation. One day, his horse ran away, and all the villagers said, “What terrible luck. You’ve lost all your wealth.” He said, “Maybe.” Two days later, his horse came back, bringing with it two wild horses. The villagers said, “What incredible luck. You’ve tripled your wealth. You are the wealthiest man, not just in the town but in the region.” He said, “Maybe.” That day, his only son was out riding one of the wild horses, trying to tame it. It bucked him off and broke his leg.
Many years ago, a broken femur was life-threatening in China. The villagers said, “What terrible luck, your only son with a broken leg.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the emperor’s men came through the village, conscripting every young man to fight in a war, taking every young man to their certain death, except for the farmer’s son. The villager said, “What incredible luck.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” This is what life is like, ups and downs but how do I live with the joy, calm, and serenity of the farmer despite the vicissitudes of life? The paradox of life is that we live it forward but only understand it in hindsight. Is something good? Is it bad or is the story not over?
When something happens that I perceive as bad, I have to reframe it. Say, “Maybe this isn’t a bad thing after all. Maybe this is going to be the best thing ever. I don’t understand it now, but at least I don’t have the negative emotional baggage.” If you are angry, fearful or resentful, it shuts down the creative part of our brains. We can’t be resilient if we are in fear.
Reframing is essential to enable resilience in the face of a crisis. I use this Daoist farmer story, which can be something as trivial as you are at the grocery market. You are in the 1 to 12 checkout line. You are in a rush, and the little old lady in front of you clearly hasn’t read the 1 to 12 sign. She’s got nineteen items and paying with pennies. I’m going crazy. How do I reframe that?
First off, it’s only going to be an extra minute and a half, two minutes. Secondly, if I rushed out and got in my car, maybe I would get T-boned by some drunk driver in an intersection who runs the red. This little old lady is, thankfully, preventing me from being there then. What would happen or not is irrelevant. What is important is that I calm down and accept the situation as it is. I can choose to abandon my eleven items in the shopping basket, or I can be patient and enjoy the world. How do I continually reframe to be happy, joyous, and free, regardless of what is happening because I don’t want my emotional life to follow the price of Bitcoin?
I appreciate what you shared. Everybody that’s reading read that. You can feel good about the fact that you’ve made it to this part of the episode. To hear Jim Harris share what is truly wisdom. It’s fundamentally important to being resilient that you can accomplish what Jim has shared with us, whether it’s reframing or other things.
49:48] Ultimately, the goal is to be able to live in that state of equanimity, that serenity, and peace because you will think more rightly, clearly, and effectively in that state. Therefore, you will make much better decisions in that state as well. Jim, thank you so much for everything that you shared and especially how you sum things up in such a beautiful way. I appreciate you.
It has been so much fun being on the show.
Thank you so much for being on the show. Everybody out there, if you know someone that would love to read parts of this or this entire episode, please feel free to share it. We love those five-star reviews. Please leave those wherever you are tuning. Subscribe if you haven’t done. You can leave a comment. We will answer those comments. I will do so personally. I will tap Jim if the question is for him. You can go to AdamMarkel.com/odcasts to do so. Wishing you all a fabulous rest of your day. Thank you again.
I love that conversation so much with Jim. Talking about disruption, he is clearly got so much insight and tangible examples to offer in terms of how it is that we deal with constant and never-ending change and the fact that disruption is such a catalyst for innovation. We’ve all heard the expression, “Necessity is the mother of all invention,” before but he brought that topic to life. I was so happy to be able to probe and even push back on a number of the things that he said.
We had a great conversation even about inflation. I didn’t know that that would come up, but I have been percolating ideas about how it is that inflation is going to be one of the great drivers of innovation and cost-reduction going forward. Nobody is happy or none of us about spending more for the same products or services, or in some cases spending more for inferior products or services, or at least products and services that aren’t meeting the moment the way they possibly can.
In every instance, whether it’s in our personal lives, in our leadership roles or in business, we are always either evolving or going in the other direction, which we don’t want to talk about. The fact is we have got a profound moment of opportunity here, and Jim was able to help me to see some things differently. I hope that you will find that he has also enlightened you and given you new insights. Certainly, our conversation was lively, a ton of fun, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Have at it, enjoy it, and share it with a friend. Let us know your thoughts, as always.
- Show – Just One Question: Public Speaking Podcast Past Episode
- Change Proof
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
About Jim Harris
Jim Harris is one of North America’s leading keynote speakers and foremost thinkers on disruptive innovation, presenting internationally at more than 70 virtual and in-person conferences a year. Association magazine ranked him as one of North America’s top ten speakers. Jim’s book, Blindsided!, is published in 80 countries worldwide and is a #1 international bestseller.