Ep. 177 – CGS Advisors’ Gregg Garrett, Author of Competing in the Connecting World

Ep. 177 – CGS Advisors’ Gregg Garrett, Author of Competing in the Connecting World

In this episode, Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Founder, talks with Gregg Garrett, Managing Director of CGS Advisors and co-author of Competing in the Connecting World: The Future of Your Disruptive Industry is Already Here. They discuss innovation both inside and outside, disruptive forces, ecosystem commanders, maturing models, and leadership skills.

CGS's Gregg GarrettInterview Transcript

Brian Ardinger: Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, founder of InsideOutside.IO, a provider of research, events, and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking tools, tactics, and trends, in collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.

Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. I want to welcome again, Greg Garrett. He is the MD at CGS advisors. He’s a coauthor of a new book called Competing in the Connecting World: The Future of Your Disruptive Industry is Already Here. Welcome back, Greg, to the show.

Gregg Garrett: Hey Brian. Thanks for having me.

Brian Ardinger: It’s been a couple of years since we talked last. Obviously that’s a long time in this world of innovation, so I want to get you back on to talk about some of the things that you’ve been doing. The new book that you’ve got out called Competing in the Connecting world. Let’s start there. Give the audience a little background, what you were doing and then how you got to this book.

Competing in a Connecting World

CGS's Gregg GarrettGregg Garrett: Yeah, so  the book is a culmination of experience over probably decades really, but about six years ago. I started teaching a course at a university here in Michigan called Oakland University, and they asked me to develop this course and we called it competing in the connecting world because I was noisy in an advisory session one time and said, are we really preparing students and future leaders to compete in this connecting world, in this future world? Are we just doing more of the same?

They said, well, we probably aren’t, or we could do it differently. Could you help us to develop the course? Taught it for a few years. This is an MBA and graduate engineering course and realize there’s really very little written. A lot in the media world and article world, but very little written formally around it. So my coauthor, Dr. Warren Ritchie and I grabbed a lot of what we were teaching in the classroom, a little bit while we were speaking a publicly, and also what we’ve been consulting on, living ourselves around digital and transformation in general, and put it in a book.

Brian Ardinger: So let’s unpack that a little bit and give our audience a background about yourself. You’ve done a lot of time in Fortune 100 world as an executive. You’ve done a lot of consulting and investing in that. So you’ve seen a lot from both sides of the puzzle, both inside organizations and outside of organizations. What made you decide that this was a topic that you wanted to dig into and and what have you learned?

Working both Inside and Outside

Gregg Garrett: Yeah, so you’ve got the history right. Bunch of years with large firms, and then the last nine years being a very small firm, 20 person boutique transformation organization, working back with some of those large firms, but then also working with the medium size and scaling. And do a lot of mentoring inside of different accelerators and whatnot. So I’ve got one foot in each of those camps, the startup, the scale-up world, and then the large entity trying to transform world.

The reason we thought the timing was right, aside from just sitting in the front of a classroom of 50 students and needing to have some structure, a couple of different indicators came out. One, when we look at this big pattern that we see this as a people talk industry, a disruption, we see this as a technological discontinuity. Meaning it’s a point in time where a certain set of technologies have permeated the industry are really, in this case, many industries to the point where what was stable at one point and what was standard is becoming discontinuous.

And so you can look in the background and think things like when electrical power generation came forth or when maybe the internal combustion engine, this is the type of technological driven change that is occurring inside of industries. What we found is many leaders haven’t really lived through these things. They haven’t really studied them. And when you look at the patterns, it really is a disruption to industry, meaning new entrance will arise, some will fall, companies will be broken up. And that’s the patterns that we’re seeing. And this is a little bit of a field guide that says leaders need to have a bit of a process to deal with it.

Disruptive Forces

Brian Ardinger: Well, I like that point because I think a lot of leaders out there get into their own myopic bubbles of this in my industry, and these are the technologies that are impacting it. But when you think about it, self driving cars, AI, robotics, and you name it, there’s 20, 30, 40 of those new technologies out there and any one of them could be majorly disruptive to an industry, but yet they’re all hitting and colliding at once as collisions don’t always map correctly or it’s like marbles hitting a…. You don’t know exactly where they’re going to go because they are bouncing off different things. What are some of the core trends that you’re seeing that some of the executives are working with or the teams that you’re working with are either fully embracing or not seeing that are going to be impacting their industries

Gregg Garrett: You threw out some of them that are absolutely there. Autonomy is both in the mobility function as well as its effect on many, many industries of moving goods, people, maybe even ideas around is absolutely a disruptive one that will drive tons of forced transformation inside of firms, and many firms won’t survive because of it. AI in general is probably the biggest one, and anything that just makes data, so we really break it down to IOT, internet of things, censoring is basically the entire environment.

The data that’s pulled from that being able to drive out now with AI and being able to do more with it, no matter if that’s machine learning versions or much simpler analytics. And then just generally process automation, no matter if it’s RPA, robotic process automation, in the digital sense or more of a physical, the mobility and autonomous vehicle type of piece. Those three are probably the ones we’re paying most attention to.

Getting Up to Speed

Brian Ardinger: So how are you seeing companies get up to speed on those particular topics or fully understand where they can be going based on what’s coming out.

Gregg Garrett: Well, it varies. You mentioned it to some leaders are the boiled frog a little bit and aren’t really sensing that the water is getting hot around them. Others are recognizing it and trying to get in. Those that are recognizing it. We see a couple of different patterns pulling out some want to do things internally because they have some of the capabilities necessary. These are typically firms that have looked at the environment and see that. They might have a competitive advantage and so that they’re wanting to take hold of that.

Others are seeing it as a major gap and they might manage a little bit more from fear and they’re looking for ways to fill that gap that can be done through acquisition strategy. A lot of them are moving towards, as you well know in your world, is more support of startups and trying to incubate ideas outside the traditional four walls. And then there’s all kinds of different, varying in between special projects. And potentially different divisions and whatnot.

But the one thing that we’re seeing is once the identification, the gap identification of those capabilities is drawn, the action needs to take place. A storied or the term now is innovation theater, that’s just not really working. Those that are really serious about it or doing something, it’s risky and sometimes it doesn’t work. Buy companies, sell companies, spin off divisions, et cetera, but that’s the type of activity that we’re seeing that is starting to add up.

Ecosystem Commanders

Brian Ardinger: Are there particular characteristics of leaders or companies that you’re seeing that are getting it or ones that are doing it well.

Gregg Garrett: You know, I think it’s likely a little too early to lay it out. The easy ones are always what we call ecosystem commanders. The Amazon’s of the world that are having an effect in the market, where people can witness not only the innovation itself, but the power of this ecosystem playing out. Those are the easy ones.

So yeah, I think the ecosystem commanders, no matter if it’s the Amazons, the Apples, maybe even the Microsofts that cut across many industries, they’re doing it well, but they probably started what they were doing a decade ago. Now they’re starting to benefit from that.I think it’s a little early in the cycles to say, big industrial company or new startup, which ones have that right, but a lot of the ones that are in those activities, as I’m saying, recognizing and maybe acquiring, not because they’re trying to build market share, but focusing on the capability.

We’re really big in this. We’ve got basically. Three layers of our model that we look at. One is understanding what’s happening at the industry level. That’s what I spoke about before. The second one is the firm level of transforming the firm. And the last one is really the leadership level of what are the steps the leader needs to go through. And at that firm level where we see the balance, there’s leaders that are recognizing that the firm needs to transform, and leaders that are focusing on the transformation around that capability gap. Those are the ones that we think are getting it right.

Moving Towards Innovation Transformation

Brian Ardinger: I’ve seen this when I’ve talked to a variety of different companies, some of them like that middle management layer, I suppose is seeing it firsthand because they’re more in the trenches and trying to push up to their leaders saying, Hey, we need to take advantage of this. We need to understand this. We need to do something about it. And you’re not gonna start getting buy in from the C suite. And then the on the reverse, sometimes you’re seeing it directly pushed down from the C suite saying, Hey, we need to change that. Are there ways that this can happen when it doesn’t come from top down saying, Hey, we’ve got to actually change the way we’re doing business.

Gregg Garrett: Yes. Unfortunately it doesn’t actually need to come from the top down and say this is the mandate, but it needs to be, the top does need to be part of this conversation. Middle management or the middle layer leaders, if they truly are leading and not just managing that are recognizing things and hit a wall or hit a ceiling, that’s going to be a recipe for lots of frustration and likely not a lot of success. Top management that may not know what to tell the middle management to do, but are open to driving things out and allowing the middle leaders to rise. That might work.

So that’s where a lot of, you know, maybe new divisions being built out and giving a middle leader an opportunity to carve something out or make a safe environment, like a sandbox environment to go try new things. Those examples would be indicators that top leadership may not know exactly what to do, but they do know how to create space to allow middle leaders to do something.

Maturing Models

Brian Ardinger: Yeah. Provide the air cover, if nothing else for what’s going on. Some of the things that we’re seeing, obviously two years ago when we talked, there was a big push on this startup front and a lot of new startups being created and this whole idea of disruption and. You saw a lot more corporations dipping their toe, whether it was creating an accelerator or investing in startups in that. I see some of that changing the landscape’s a little bit where companies seem to be trying to do a little bit more in house than always looking outside to startups. What are some of the things that you’re seeing out there when it comes to this startup corporate collaboration in that.

Gregg Garrett: Yeah. I think the models are maturing. Some of them, as I mentioned before, so I live up here in Detroit, pay a lot attention to the mobility industry. There’s just some pure outright acquisitions taking place or major investments, instead of just doing small startups and seeing if we can do this more for ideation purposes, which a lot of this was just get access to ideas. Now it’s a little bit more to how can we build into some of these trends, no matter if it’s electrification or autonomy or some of the even AI and whatnot.

Some of it’s just flavors of what was happening a few years ago is one thing that I’m seeing, but maybe a little bit more depth and purpose-built instead of scatterplot. The second one is actually bringing some of that accelerator type of mindset internally and doing things. No matter if it’s with employees or with startups that are being funded internally, we’re making a will of funding and the rest of it is, I don’t know if I can see a pattern in it. It’s people just trying hard and paying attention to it and having conversation beyond just the term innovation. Maybe they’re trying to put some purpose around the innovation, strategic innovation.

Leadership Skills

Brian Ardinger: So the last thing I want to talk about, you’ve been a busy guy with your new book and you’ve been doing a lot more speaking gigs and such like that in addition to all the consulting that you do, but you also spun up a podcast called You, Me and Your Top Three. So I want to talk a little bit about what you’re seeing with that particular project and some of the things that you’re learning there.

Gregg Garrett: Brian, thanks for mentioning it. Yeah, the podcast is a little bit of an opportunity for me to continue this conversation from the book in the first place. The book is broken down, as I said, these three layers of what’s going on in the industry and looking at new business models and understanding that the firm transformation. Which you can get pretty mechanical around them. And the leadership level of what do leaders really need to do.

And it’s that part that I was enjoying the most, speaking about it was that part  I think I enjoyed really writing the most part is around the leader. So I didn’t want to let that go. And I’ve had the great fortune of really surrounding myself with many, many leaders. And about nine months ago now, I was having a conversation with one of those folks that I surround myself with and telling them I wanted to continue this conversation in a podcast form.

And he was telling me how he interviews people at the very senior level. Just ask them one question, tell me the five people that you spend most of your time with. He hires the people that are surrounding themselves with people that are diverse and successful. He used the metaphor for me. Professional athletes hang out with other professional athletes because they understand each other and they push one another.  It rounded all the way around. It reminded me of something my grandfather, who was pretty successful in his own rights, said to me, he said, you’re known by the company you keep.

So that’s what we’re doing on this podcast is we’re bringing leaders in that are facing industry disruption and transforming firms. And we ask them specifically about who do they surround themselves with, who are their top three people they surround themselves with to be brave and get pushed. And our goal in it is not only have interesting conversations, but maybe the allow the listener to think a little bit about themselves. Who are they surrounding themselves with? Who is their kind of virtual advisory board to help them be a better leader.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: That sounds great. That’s a really awesome way to expand the conversation in a little bit different way.  Greg its a pleasure to have you back on the Inside Outside Innovation podcast. Look forward to talking again in the future. If people want to find out more about the book or about your services and that, what’s the best way to do that?

Gregg Garrett: Well they can come to me at the corporate site CGSadvisors.com the book is on Amazon,  it’s Competiting in the Connecting World. Or they can follow me, it’s Gregory, G, R, E, G. G. O. R. Y Garrett with double R, double T at both Twitter and LinkedIn.

Brian Ardinger: Thank you again for being on the show and look forward to talking in the future.

Gregg Garrett: Thanks Brian. Appreciate it.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services,  check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or at @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

For similar podcasts, check out: 

Ep. 147 – Innovation Leader’s Scott Kirsner on Corporate Innovation Tools & Trends

Ep. 141 – Gary Shapiro, Ninja Future: Secrets to Success Author and Consumer Technology Assoc. CEO

Ep. 85 – Gregg Garrett with Connected Detroit Innovates

Find this episode of Inside Outside Innovation at insideoutside.io. You can also listen on AcastiTunesSticher, Spotify, and Google Play.

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