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Innovation Interview: Q&A with Denise Fletcher, eZassi

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In our Innovation Interview series, each week we talk to thought leaders, inspirers, and innovators to pick their brains about the state of innovation, strategy, culture, and trends. This week we caught up with Foresight & Trends speaker Denise Fletcher, who is also the Chief Innovation Officer of eZassi.

Here’s what Fletcher had to say:

What are the top 3 biggest global trends right now shaping the future? 

Fletcher: Collaborative Economy - Right now, we are in the collaborative economy. This includes peer to peer. With a connected world, the “crowd” is creating products. There is an economic movement where people need something from others and it’s happening local.  In response to this you see startups making an impact in every single industry. Basically, there is an Airbnb being created in your vertical. So, in response established companies are collaborating with these start-ups to deliver a high level of on-demand products to the consumers OVERNIGHT! If you are not doing something in the Collaborative Economy you are behind.


Market Place Model – Companies are going through a seismic shift in their product strategy to turn their services into a marketplace. Technology convergence and digital have become the enablers for this quick and easy shift. Some examples are Brand as a service, Product as a service on demand.

A good story is that of Whole Foods which was recently acquired by Amazon.   Whole Foods partnered with InstaCart and gave them a dedicated space in their stores and access to their supply chain to deliver groceries to you. In doing so Whole Foods saw a 2.5X increase in shopping and made them an attractive target for Amazon to deliver a high level of on demand grocery delivery service to consumers. Consumers want good products delivered to them, they want efficiency and they will spend more for on demand services. Another example in healthcare is Cohealo, this is an Australian company that shares excess inventory in their supply chain with other hospitals in their geographic area leveraging IOT. We are going to see more and more shifts to this model as companies selling in traditional ways adopt a marketplace model.

Autonomous Age - this is emerging but happing before the decade is over and it will touch every industry!  AI and what some call Co-bots (robots working with human intervention) will be augmenting work and are already in production. Its predicted that Siri, Crotona, Facebook and Google will achieve the same level of consciousness as we humans by 2045. Airbus has a division called A^3 that is working on a flying car by 2026! The hyperloop is on the development table. This is exciting, scary and dangerous!

Some interesting activity here is GM aligning with Lyft to be the deployment vehicle where you would pay a subscription. In the future, you may not own your car. This sets up a lot of joint ventures scenarios and possibilities as you think about autonomous. Could these cars have office space, hotel space etc.…Could drones be used to deliver groceries in the future?  Komatsu is now using intelligent construction machinery with no humans! Kuka is a German robotics firm that creates human assisted robots. Some of their products assists in medical surgeries and monitor patients in recovery. We’ve moved fast in this space.

Three years ago, there were only three car companies approved in California to test autonomous cars. Now there are 29 and many are not car companies. Other technologies that will be important enablers to autonomous is Natural language interaction which will allow humans to interact with machines using their voice eliminating the need for keyboards. Massive data sets plus new speech recognition algorithms allowed us to hit an inflection point in 2011. Voice search will surpass text search this year. Why is this important because you get to decide? Alexa everywhere?  Strategy wins. IBM Watson is getting good at this conversation. Echo dot add Alexa to any room. Devices will talk to devices about you. Next is vision. Vision will change digital privacy rights and society. We have toys right now that recognize you. Self-driving cars. Vision will be very important. Next is quantum computing. Boy, I’m looking forward to that.

Other trends playing out are the use of the underlying architecture piloted by Bitcoin called Blockchain. This is a distributed ledger that everyone can trust. Think about inventory management in your supply chain, or management of your health record? Things just got a lot better because its irrefutable. As this emerges jobs that exist today will diminish and new jobs will emerge. Many new companies are popping up in this space and I’ll be including this in our topic on our panel discussion at the conference. If you’re not familiar with block chain start to familiarize yourself. Block geek offers great courses around this and its free to join. Another emerging trend that futuristic, but in the buzz is 3D printing in the context of printing organs on demand and food on demand. We are truly living in a fascinating time! 

How do we predict the future of consumer behaviors? 

Fletcher: Know what your consumers want before they do. I know that’s hard and sounds a bit trite but as leaders in a creative space called innovation its important you stay on top of the trends and have a strategy to connect the dots as industries converge to anticipate and create new products. I’d also recommend so old tricks, leverage ethnography. Spend time observing how people interact with products or live their day to day lives. You can learn allot through observation. Last look for unmet needs. There are so many unmet needs on this planet which equates to opportunity to create new products.  Clayton Christensen spoke about this at FEI 2017 discussing the “job to be done”. This is the job I need to know given the situation I’m in.  How will the customer choose us instead of others? What purchasing experience must we provide to the consumer to do the job perfectly? Can we compete against the non-competition?  This is going after new entrants to a market? Is there an opportunity to create new products in an area where there is non-consumption? Think about the movie The Founder and if you haven’t seen it do so.  As Clayton said “we are in a B to Me world the customer is the wrong unit of analysis it’s the job to be done that we need to understand.

How can we future proof brands? 

Fletcher: I spoke about this in my early point on the collaborative economy and the marketplace model.  Brands need to understand that their world is changing daily within the digital economy and that overnight their business can be disrupted.  A good example is Amazon entering the Pharmacy business and the response that Express Scripts, Walgreens, CVS and others had to it.  Brands need to ask the hard question! Focus on the jobs to be done for the customer given the situation you are in. Eat your own dogfood. Think about what competitors could scare the heck out of you if they came into your market overnight?  

What does the future of work look like? 

Fletcher: If you have young people in your household and factor in the global trends emerging into our world, you could argue that kids may not go to college in the future, its highly likely they will never drive a car which means we’ll see a lot less teenagers killed in car accidents and we won’t have to take the keys away from aging parents. We may move to a freelance economy where we don’t work for any one company but work for five or more companies on demand. In fact, we may have a boss we never meet and it could be a robot! If you think about Uber drivers today, they never met their manager!

Telecommuting will increase and cars may have office space and a hotel room as you meet with clients. You’ll live in a smart home, won’t shop at a grocery store or CVS, won’t drive a car, may use a “hyper loop” to get from DC to NYC in 30 minutes to meet with a client. The Obama administration had the US Labor Department complete a study on the impact of the future of work on the economy and released a report late last year.  In January 2017 Elsiver released a report on “The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization?” It’s a technical read but worth going through and I’ve attached it. In summary by 2045 automation of jobs will impact 2/3rd of workers making $20/hours in present value dollars and 1/3rd of jobs making $20-$40 per hour. Chances are if you make $40 or more per hour your job will not be automated.  Lots of changes on the horizon as autonomous emerges. 

Why is disruption the key to innovation? 

Fletcher: Professor Leonard Schlesinger of Harvard Business School recently talked about how CEOs think about innovation. Part of the conundrum is that CEO’s spend 90% of their time reacting to current problems and not enough time focused on the future and disruption in innovation. Crowd companies recently issued a report and learned that most innovation leaders feel they their companies don’t move fast enough or don’t put the funding behind disruptive innovation.  Some ideas to work this are to allocate a percent of R&D on Horizon 3, blue ocean or box 3 (disruptive work). Organizations that excel at this ear mark these budgets as sacred where funding is not touched regardless of P&L performance. Another model is to co-locate your R&D labs with start-ups that compete directly with you allowing access to your researchers and the ability to co-create, acquire etc.… J&J labs does this as does Xerox.   Some follow the DuPont model which recommends you keep 15% for disruptive innovation. With CEO’s 90% focused on today Dr. Schlesinger recommends innovation leaders join forces to on Horizon 1 work to help their CEO’s vs. battling it out for disruptive funding.

Where is the future of food headed 10 years from now? 

Fletcher: With our population boom we it is forecasted that we need to double our food production by 2045, yet we waste more than 40% of all food produced today. This is an unmet need that I would think opens lots of entrepreneurial opportunity to address this problem. Today automation is assisting farmers to be smart about food production. Companies in this space rely on satellite data on land use, biomass production and provide as a service model at a low cost to growers.

Smart appliances are emerging to track food consumption in your home and nutrigenomics is emerging as a health and wellness vehicle to help fight obesity.  A good example here is Campbell soup purchasing Habit. Habit marries our passion for food with the science of you to bring you the world’s most complete personalized nutrition solution. Analysts believe this solution gets it right in the personalized health and wellness world.

From the consumer standpoint, I touched up on this in on demand and 3D printing above. I believe grocery stores may be reduced to showcasing poultry, meat, fish and fresh veggies and fruit. The rest we’ll get on demand. Leaving us more time to spend with our families and less time in the grocery store.

Want more on these topics? Attend Foresight & Trends 2017 in New York City. To learn more or to register, click here.

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