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Innovation Is More than Just a Buzzword: Interview with ThinkTransit Keynote Speaker, Jim Carroll

Mar 13, 2018
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Speaker on stage

Disruption. Innovation. Internet of things. Big data.  

Just a few buzzwords that I’m sure most of us encounter enough times to roll our eyes whenever we hear them. Jim Carroll would beg to differ.

But before we get there, you might be wondering who is Jim? Well, in his own words, “I’m a global futurist, trends, and innovation expert – who speaks to leading organizations, such as J&J, Mercedes Benz, and Disney to name a few, in the world on the disruptive trends that are changing our future and the trends range from autonomous vehicles (AVs) to intelligent farms. All of them fit into the bigger picture of business model disruption, industry transformation, leadership, innovation, and the ‘Amazon effect.’”

You’ll hear Jim at the ThinkTransit conference this year which is also the other reason why we’re interviewing him. Let’s get started!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Jetsons Reality Is Coming?

It’s always nice to get a different perspective on the concept of innovation when it’s often thought of as a buzzword. And this is all just the beginning. Jim told me that you, our attendees, can expect to learn about how speed, disruption, science, Moore’s law, and more are connected with the transit industry.

As a bonus, he also disclosed he’ll be discussing the link between Fiji, potatoes, the science of manure, and the future of transit. And why George Jetson had our reality of today totally correct. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for June to come already (although I could be biased since we could use some warm weather in Toronto). Let’s get flying!

 

ThinkTransit early bird pricing ends March 28, 2018, so don’t delay. Reserve your spot today and you could be the one “thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast” at your transit agency! 

So Jim, tell us why you’re excited to be the opening keynote for ThinkTransit. I love to challenge people to think about the future because like every other industry there’s just a lot going on! I always like to say, “we’ll see more change in the next ten years than we have seen in the last century.” Is that hype? I don’t think so. We live in a transformative period of time. Just think about everything that’s happening – from AVs to intelligent highway infrastructure. Then there’s the Hyperloop and the maybe-crazy idea of flying cars from the Jetsons – who knows where we’ll be in the next decade? What about the unique things you’ll bring to the table that our attendees can’t get themselves? I spend a lot of time in various industries – from healthcare to entertainment – telling people about the trends that are going to shape their future and what they should do about it. I also get to hear firsthand what CEOs of the Fortune 500 are thinking about when I’m brought in to their offsite leadership meetings. There’s a common thread to the trends and change imposed upon these organizations. So I can share unique insights into what’s really going on in today’s world of acceleration. Our audience would appreciate that! So what are your core beliefs about innovation and creativity? Too many people restrict themselves with the concept. They think “innovation” is for someone like the late Steve Jobs – cool people who develop cool technologies that change the world. They run a transit agency and there’s not a lot of cool world-shaping stuff in their job like Steve Jobs! That’s where I kick in with my concept – innovation is all about asking yourself three questions on a continuous basis: one, how can I run the business better? Two, how can I grow the business? And, three, how do I transform the business? Once you get into that mantra, the concept gets easier. I dig deeper into how people can answer these questions and get a sense of clarity at the ThinkTransit conference. People often find words such as innovation and disruption as buzzwords. So how do we get people to see past that and embrace the potential that they are capable of driving change? That’s the second part of my mantra – think big, start small, and scale fast. We need to have a really good appreciation of just how much transformation we might see in the transit industry. Start with some good long-term goals that can drive your initiatives then go small. There are a lot of new technologies and methodologies that might provide opportunities in the future that we don’t have experience with yet. So build out that experience when you go small. Then, be ready to scale fast – when any particular idea or concept is ready to go, have the agility as an organization to implement it on a just-in-time basis. Some of the largest companies in the world have adopted this manta as a core part of their innovation soul. Let’s dive deeper – specifically, how can we apply that to the public transit industry – would innovation be getting the foundation right instead of chasing after the next shiny object? My framework suggests you do both. Focus on the necessary short-term opportunities through running, growing, and transforming but building up your experience and insight with some of the longer term trends. Think about the transit trends – they aren’t crazy science fiction! Clearly, there’ll be changes to the materials and methods to build the transit infrastructure in the near future. It’s implicit on you to understand and maybe start working with them then figure out where they fit in your long-range plans. When transit agencies are faced with situations beyond their controls (such as natural disasters, economic recessions, and the likes), how can they stay afloat and continue to innovate? When crisis management sets, it’s easy just to drop the future-ball which can later have pretty profound implications. Focus on the idea of “experiential capital” and align that to the Gartner Hype Cycle. It puts into perspective the timeline of most new technologies – a period of hype, followed by a collapse of expectations, and then the eventual implementation. You really can apply it to any trend. So think about the trends impacting transit and determine where the significance for each one is on the Hype Cycle. The Hyperloop concept for example, is clearly at the “peak of inflated expectations” while diagnostic technology is at the stage of the “slope of enlightenment” and probably soon hitting the “plateau of productivity” (if it’s not already there). Adjust your efforts accordingly once you determine where the trend is on the curve. For any of them, you should have some depth of insight and experience which I call the “experiential capital.” You’d build up the skills and insight of your people in a whole variety of areas — by working on projects that might have an uncertain return and payback. The importance of experiential capital is that it helps to ensure innovation stays at the forefront of volatility. With the Hyperloop, AVs, transportation network companies, and others on the rise, what does this mean for transit agencies that need to balance their daily operational challenges and these external competitions? One of my favorite phrases is from Bill Gates who said that “people tend to over-estimate the rate of change that will occur on a two-year basis. They underestimate how much change will occur on a ten-year basis.” Look, the Hyperloop concept might be the craziest idea we have ever heard in the world of transit, and there certainly is a lot of short-term hype. However, folks like Elon Musk have a profound impact on our future – he has already reinvented the space, automotive, and battery industry. Earlier this year, SpaceX deployed a boat with a big “catcher’s mitt” to try to catch a falling piece of a rocket while out in the ocean so that it can be reused. On that note, what do you think innovation in the public transit industry will look like in the next five to ten years? Faster! I believe the future belongs to those who are fast. Transit agencies have been innovating at the speed like that of many other organizations – a slow and deliberate pace. That’s no longer possible. We need to challenge the lead times, methodologies, assumptions, and more. So what do I see? A world of intelligent highways and roads with embedded IoT sensors that link to onboard devices that help to build rich and deep data sets of traffic flows. Intelligent capacity routing methodologies based on such concepts while utilizing deep analytical capabilities. Certainly some AVs throughout our fleets and a steady march towards the elimination of carbon-vehicles with the ongoing shift to electric. And maybe, just maybe, some flying cars and taxis which are already in talks of being tested in Dubai when I was there earlier. So how can we be proactive instead of reactive to these potential transit innovations? Well, attending my keynote at the ThinkTransit conference would be a great start! However, more importantly, it’d be incorporating the concept of speed and agility into the future-planning process. Look, clearly most transit agencies have a pretty good vision of where they are going in the future. The long finance, construction, and build timelines mean that we need to have good, solid plans for the next five, ten, and twenty years. But one of my key issues is that a lot of the future is now compressing – it’s happening faster than we think. We need to ensure we accelerate those plans when necessary in our visioning process. So if there’s one thing you’d like the attendees to walk away with, what would that be? Don’t fear the future – embrace it. Don’t be a skeptic – be an opportunist. There’s a lot of potential to do things in new and different ways that’ll have a net benefit for the riders and communities we serve. Too many organizations hold themselves back, and if I can move people beyond that, I’ll have accomplished my goal. Also, I’d be thrilled if people adopted my concept of “thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast” when they go back to their agency and incorporate the structure into their overall planning process.

The Jetsons Reality Is Coming?

It’s always nice to get a different perspective on the concept of innovation when it’s often thought of as a buzzword. And this is all just the beginning. Jim told me that you, our attendees, can expect to learn about how speed, disruption, science, Moore’s law, and more are connected with the transit industry.

As a bonus, he also disclosed he’ll be discussing the link between Fiji, potatoes, the science of manure, and the future of transit. And why George Jetson had our reality of today totally correct. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for June to come already (although I could be biased since we could use some warm weather in Toronto). Let’s get flying!

 

ThinkTransit early bird pricing ends March 28, 2018, so don’t delay. Reserve your spot today and you could be the one “thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast” at your transit agency! 


 
Michelle Hsu is the Marketing Engagement Coordinator at Trapeze Group where she focuses on content, social media, and marketing operations. She's worked for B2B and B2C startups in various sectors - FinTech, EdTech, and CSR. She recently graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from the Rotman Commerce program at the University of Toronto.
 
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