Jim Harris

Each week Maria Franzoni, Speaker Bureau Director, invites one of her speakers to talk about their life, work, passions and leisure so that you can get to know the person who is the speaker behind the mic.

This week Maria’s guest is Jim Harris. Jim is one of North America’s foremost thinkers on disruptive innovation. Jim is the bestselling author of The Learning Paradox, The 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada, and Blindsided. Blindsided is published in 80 countries worldwide and is a number one international bestseller. The Miami Herald calls Blindsided “brilliant stuff”. Jim is a catalyst for conversation and change. He excels at leading people to new ways of thinking, making productive, profitable change possible.

Jim talks to us about climate change, being a global social influencer, disruptive innovation and how driverless cars will disrupted us more than we realise. Jim also tells us how his great aunt influenced his passion for the environment and how by reading just one sentence from a book led him to being elected leader of the Green Party of Canada.\

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Podcast Transcript

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Jim Harris. Jim is one of North America’s foremost thinkers on disruptive innovation. Jim is the bestselling author of The Learning Paradox, The 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada, and Blindsided. Blindsided is published in 80 countries worldwide and is a number one international bestseller. The Miami Herald calls Blindsided “brilliant stuff”. Jim is a catalyst for conversation and change. He excels at leading people to new ways of thinking, making productive, profitable change possible

Maria: 

Jim, thank you for joining me.

Jim Harris: 

It’s great to be on your podcast, Maria.

Maria:

Fantastic. It’s not easy to say: productive, profitable change possible. That’s quite hard.

Jim Harris:  

Well, it’s like embedded in there, just as a little test.

Maria:  

It’s a test. It’s a test. So, Jim, tell me, when you were a child, did you wake up one morning and say “I want to be a disruptive innovator?” I don’t think you did. What did you want to be?

Jim Harris:

No. Oh my God, I can’t … I haven’t been asked that in … ever. I can’t remember what I wanted to be as a child.

Maria:

Wow. What was your first role then, what was your first real job?

Jim Harris: 

As a child?

Maria:   

No, as an adult. Or did you have child labour back then?

Jim Harris: 

One of my first serious jobs that relates to what I do today was when I was in university. I ended up being on the editorial board of Canada’s oldest daily newspaper during my summer off between university years.

So, in that capacity, I wrote my first ever editorial for a newspaper. I wrote op-ed pieces. It was really great. That was one of my first experiences as a journalist.

Maria: 

Wonderful. So, the writing started really young, didn’t it?

Jim Harris: 

Well, while I was still in university, I was at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. While I was there, I was the editor-in-chief of one of the newspapers on campus, so that was another journalistic endeavour.

Maria: 

Fantastic. Now, you’ve been passionate as long as I’ve known you, and I don’t know if this started when you were young, but you’ve been absolutely passionate with regards to the environment and green. Did that start as a child?

Jim Harris:    

Yes, it did. I had a great-aunt, so this was my grandmother’s sister, who didn’t have any children, and she put a lot of time and effort into myself and my brother and my sister. Her name was Auby and she loved just the natural world, and so she’d take us walking through the forest and point out this type of mushroom and that type of fungus and this type of bug. She introduced me at a very early age to appreciating the natural world we live in.

Maria:

That’s lovely. Everyone needs an aunt like that, don’t they?

Jim Harris:  

Exactly.

Maria:  

Yes. You actually went on to work with the Green Party. I don’t know if many people know that, but can you tell us a bit about what you did there?

Jim Harris: 

I used to be a Conservative. In Canada, we had a party called Progressive Conservatives, and I was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. In my final year of university, I read a book on green politics, which said that a species is going extinct every 25 minutes. Now, this was 30 years ago now, and that is 1000 times faster than extinction that the world has historically experienced.

So, in that, reading that one sentence in a book, I switched from being a fiscal Conservative, first and foremost, to being an ecological Conservative. That was my political conversion. That one sentence. Then I travelled around the world after university and I was the national press officer for the UK Greens. The UK Greens have elected MEPs, and, of course, Caroline Lucas from Brighton, who’s in Parliament. I continued my travels around the world and came back here to Canada, and I was elected leader of the Green Party of Canada. We saw massive expansion in the four years that I led the party. We ended up growing from 700 members to 10,000 members. We ended up growing from a budget of 25,000 a year to 2.5 million. We ended up going from 1% in the polls to 35% of all Canadians saying they would consider voting Green. So, by whatever metric you look at it, we had an exponential growth phase, and then I helped recruit my successor, Elizabeth May, who’s in Parliament. We’ve subsequently elected Greens from coast to coast, in Prince Edward Island on the East Coast and then British Columbia on the West Coast.

In fact, in BC, the Greens decided who would be Premier. It was such a close election that they decided who would be the governing party. In the East Coast, in PEI, the Green Party is more popular than any other party at the moment. So, we may see our first Green Premier with Peter Bevan-Baker leading the Greens in PEI. But, all of this has taken a lot longer than I imagined when I … I thought this kind of change would happen in maybe four years, and it’s 14 years.

Maria:    

It’s still amazing, very impressive change. You’ve done brilliantly. So, how do you think, overall, in your opinion, we’re tackling looking after the planet? Are we getting it more right than we’re getting it wrong these days?

Jim Harris: 

Unfortunately not. We are not changing fast enough, and that’s evidenced by climate change, by melting glaciers, by the melting of Greenland. We are profoundly and dangerously changing our planet to make it uninhabitable.

Maria:

That’s really sad to hear, Jim. I thought you might say that. I was hoping there might be a glimour of hope. I mean, I know that you’re a regular participant at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and this is a slightly loaded question, but do they see that as a priority? Do they see climate change as a priority?

Jim Harris: 

Well, there’s a difference between what we say and what we do, and so certainly at WEF, we have seen climate change be high on the risk assessment, the annual risk assessment that WEF puts out. But, when I look at the actions of governments in general, although there are some governments that lead, definitely, but when you look to, for instance, the largest economy, the US, we see actually the opposite, working against our future. We see coal companies, we see the current President saying he’s going to bring back coal, which is ludicrous because it’s not only bad for the planet, it’s not economical. It’s like saying, “We’re going to bring back the horse and buggy,” because we have horse and buggy people and we want them to have good horse and buggy jobs. It’s so last decade.

Anyway, we see this. In part, we need to look at the underlying systems. For instance, the fossil fuel companies, coal companies, oil and gas companies, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to actually create confusion in the general public. They’re actually working to kill the planet. The funny thing is that executives of oil and gas companies and coal companies, they have children too, and they’re actually threatening their own children’s and grandchildren’s’ future through their actions.

Maria: 

Oh, Jim, Jim. I mean, we could talk about this for the entire podcast, but I’m actually just so … There’s so much to talk about with other areas, so let’s leave that for the moment. We might have to do another one, entire one, on that topic because it’s such a big topic.

So, when you and I first met many years ago, let’s not share how long ago, we were younger, you had just published The Learning Paradox. For those who haven’t read the book, can you give us a quick synopsis of what is the paradox with regards to learning.

Jim Harris:  

Sure. Well, the thesis of that book is that 80% of the technology we’ll use in our day-to-day lives in just 10 years hasn’t been invented yet. So, my job security is based on learning, changing and accepting uncertainty, and what I fear most as an adult is learning, changing and uncertainty. So, paradoxically, our job security is based on the very thing we fear the most as adults.

Now, thankfully, children aren’t afraid of learning, changing and uncertainty. They live with it all the time because they say they know nothing, right? Like, they realise they have so much to learn. But, once we become adults, we somehow think we’ve arrived, right?

Maria:  

Yes.

Jim Harris: 

This is the challenge. We have to continually be engaged in new learning, which means, by definition, we’re not going to be expert, which means, by definition, we’re going to be uncomfortable. So, we have to embrace this and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Maria:    

OK. Let’s embrace that. Actually, talking about embracing, you’ve embraced social media, which was a big change, of course, when it first started. In fact, you are now considered a global social media influencer. What does that title mean? What does that mean, and what does it mean for your clients and for you? How does that help you?

Jim Harris:  

So, global social influencer. So, on Twitter, I have 270,000 followers. What that allows me to do is I’m the most influential person in the world for the hashtag “disruptive innovation”, which is what I actually speak about at conferences and seminars all around the world and work with executive teams for strategic planning sessions.

I also am in the top 100 most influential people in the world for hashtags like “cloud”, “cloud computing”, “innovation”, “internet of things”, which is IOT, “Blockchain”, “Cryptocurrency”. There are about 45 topics that I’m in the top 100, and that skews … I’m number 1 for 4, in the top 10 for another 10, in the top 20 for another 20. So, that means that companies like IBM and Huawei and SAP and Accenture hire me to either be at their events, or when they’re doing a product launch, because they want the world to know about their new product or service and they want me to be there live Tweeting about it.

So, this is a whole new area that has emerged because we’re seeing the collapse of traditional media. For instance, print media, at least in North America, gets about 12% of all ad dollars, but we’re only spending 4% of our time reading newspapers and magazines. That means we’re going to see a continued collapse of print. But, on the other side, on social and mobile, it’s under indexed, meaning we spend a lot more time on social, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, but it is not attracting the same level of advertising focus that it does. So, that is where this whole area of social influencer comes in.

It’s funny. Like, if I see an ad in the Financial Times of London saying, the company’s saying, “Our product is great,” I will actually believe a social influencer more than I’ll believe the company saying it itself. So, this is a whole new field, and some clients, some meeting planners, if they’re having an event launch, want to make sure there are social influencers at their events. When they hire me as a speaker, they get the social for free, or they can hire me just as a social influencer to be at their event.

Maria: 

Amazing. It’s like a new job, isn’t it, a new career, to be a global social influencer. It’s brilliant. You touched on disruption. We talked about it at the beginning, that this is your area of expertise. What would you say is currently the biggest disruption we’re facing?

Jim Harris: 

Oh, that is such a difficult question because there are so many disruptions coming at us, right? First, I’ll give an example of what is disruption. In North America, Uber is worth more than every taxicab company added together. So, while the taxicab companies, thousands of them, collectively own billions of dollars of assets in the form of limos and cars, Uber doesn’t own a single car and yet it’s worth more than all of them combined. That is disruptive innovation.

So, I look at why is disruption happening. How can, if you’re in an industry, how can you identify as it’s beginning to happen to you? How can you put in place strategies to mitigate that risk? How do you become more innovative as an organisation and as a culture yourselves? If you look at the economic impact, here in Toronto, a taxi plate, a licence to operate a taxi, used to sell for $400,000 10 years ago. They’ve traded now as low as $50,000. In other words, an almost 90% reduction in the asset value of owning a taxi plate in Toronto. That is the economic consequence of not being innovative.

Every single organisation is facing disruption today, which is why the focus, my focus of disruption, is so hot today for meeting planners and conferences and seminars all around the world, and strategic planning sessions with executive teams.

Maria:  

So, listen, one of the things I want to talk to you about, actually I thought you might have brought it up, but there are, as you say, there are so many disruptions. We had a fascinating discussion a few weeks ago about how driverless cars are going to disrupt much more than people realise. I wonder if you could give a couple of examples because I was absolutely horrified when you said some of the things you said. I’d never thought of that. Could you share?

Jim Harris:    

Sure. The first thing to realise is that 94% of car accidents are due to driver error. So, in 7 to 10 years, when the only new car you can buy, Maria, is an autonomous vehicle, the great news is that in North America 40,000 people will not be killed every single year in car accidents, and another 2.5 million people will not be maimed or seriously injured. That is a fantastic news. It’s just great.

But, if you sell auto insurance, you’re going to witness a $500 billion a year market collapse in the next decade or two. So, if you sell insurance or you’re an insurance company, you’re an insurance broker, you’d better be looking for a new market that’s worth 500 billion, like cyber security, which they haven’t been selling and focused on.

But, think about this. What happens when we take 2.5 million people off the roads in terms of being killed or maimed? Do we have too many ambulances, and is that bad for an ambulance maker? What about this? Are emergency rooms too big right now? Because, if you take 33% out of the mix in terms of being killed or maimed every year with car accidents, what happens to an emergency room? If you’re building a new hospital, shouldn’t you design the emergency room to accordion down by 33% in 10 years’ time?

We will, in 10 years, drive to work. But, we won’t be driving. We’ll be in the back seat. You’ll be sleeping, or you’ll be writing a report, or you’ll be Skyping with your grandchildren, or you’ll be watching a movie. So, what happens to radio stations? Because the reason we listen to radio right now while we’re driving is we have to keep our eyes on the road. But, if you don’t have to keep your eyes on a road and are watching a movie or Skyping with your grandchildren, you’re not going to be listening to the radio. So, what happens to the value of radio stations?

Wow. What happens when you arrive at work, you’re going to get out of your car and then you’re going to say to your car, “Go forth and earn your keep.” You’re going to put it in Uber or Lyft’s autonomous pool to go earn money rather than pay $40 a day, like we pay in downtown financial core, for parking. So, what happens to the value of parking lots all of a sudden? If your company is a paving company that paves parking lots, what happens to your company when nobody wants to pave parking lots anymore? In fact, McKinsey estimates the US has 61 billion square feet too much of parking given the rise of autonomous vehicles and autonomous vehicle fleets. What about the company that sells the tar to paving companies? What’s going to happen to them? If I don’t park anymore, what happens to the value of parking lots?

What happens to municipal finance? The city of Toronto makes $153 million every year on parking. What happens to municipal finance? What happens to government finance if people aren’t buying cars, because every one car that is in an Uber or Lyft pool, every one car that’s in car2go, AutoShare or Zipcar, car sharing services, eliminates 12 to 30 people buying a car. So, wow. What happens there?

Maria: 

Absolutely.

Jim Harris:

What happens to car companies if people are using car sharing? Like, do you know for young people here, it is cheaper to use Uber and Lyft than it is to own a car? Why is that?

Well, if you’re a young male, 16 to 24, insurance right out of the gate is $5,000. You buy a clunker because you can’t afford a nice car like you, Maria. So, you buy a clunker, and that means you spend money on repair, and then you have to change tyres winter/summer tyres, and oil, and parking’s a nightmare.

Wouldn’t you rather be treated like the president of a small republic, where a car arrives, you get in the back seat, it drives you, you get out … Like, millennials aren’t even bothering to get a licence. Like, that is so 2016, really.

Maria:

That is just brilliant. It’s brilliant. I have got my electric car, driverless car, on order. I’m looking forward to that. I’m hoping that’s going to arrive next year.

Jim Harris: 

Woo hoo.

Maria: 

Yeah, fantastic. So, Jim, listen, I could talk to you all day, but let’s talk about your speaking. How did you start your career as a speaker? Where did that begin?

Jim Harris:

So, 30 years ago, I wrote a book for the Financial Post, which, at the time, was 25% owned by the Financial Times of London. It was our financial newspaper in Canada. I wrote a book called the 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada. I was one of three co-authors. The book was a national bestseller. People then began calling and saying, “Hey, we’re having a conference, we want to know what the 100 best companies have in common on strategy, or pay”. All sorts of topics. So, that began the speaking side of the business.

Then I hooked up with a guy called Stephen Covey, who wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Fantastic. Stephen died a few years ago in a bicycling accident. Sad. His material still is profound in its impact on me today. For six years, I taught … I was one of only 12 people in Canada who could publicly teach Stephen’s “7 Habits”. Recently … It’s fun. I was on a programme with Stephen’s son, Stephen M. R. So, Stephen and I, M. R., were on this programme together for a client, it was kind of fun, and I told him what an impact his father had had on me. We had a great little chat there.

So, I represented Stephen, then I brought out my second book, “The Learning Paradox”, which we’ve already talked about. I brought out “Blindsided”, which has been published in 80 countries around the world and is a number one international bestseller. “Blindsided” really was the start of the focus on disruptive innovation, but that awareness of disruption occurred all the way back on the first book. So, with “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada” 30 years ago, IBM was one of those companies. At the time, IBM had 400,000 employees. Then, when the recession of 1990 hit, IBM laid off 200,000 people, and I began to ask if not even the best companies can provide job security, what will create job security? That led to the rise of writing “The Learning Paradox”, because it’s learning, changing and accepting uncertainty that creates job security, not working for a large company.

Then, “Blindsided”, which is all about disruptive innovation, is looking at, in past, it used to be large companies that dominated small. Today, it’s the fast that are eating the slow. So, speed is important. How do large, incumbent organisations, which are historically bureaucratic and slow to change, adapt and begin to compete at the speed they need to in today’s fast moving, fast changing economy?

Maria: 

A very good question. Actually, not only do you speak, but you touched on the fact that you also lead strategic planning sessions with executive teams. When you do that, how is that structured? What does one of those look like?

Jim Harris: 

Well, it depends on each organisation, right? It’s almost like asking how long’s a piece of string. Very long. Very long. But, you know, to really get into the issues in a serious way, you need to be spending at least three days on this. What I find is, executive teams often think, oh, well, can we cram this into an hour? Let’s have an hour. Let’s think about some strategy, some strategic issues for an hour. We really need to engage in what’s called “scenario planning”, which is really exploring what the future possibly could look like.

It’s not to predict the future, it’s to engender flexibility as we move forward. Because, if we’ve already thought about what could happen, if we’ve really explored it deeply and understand the consequences of the changes, we understand how we have to change in the present moment in order to prepare for potential in the future. So, scenario planning isn’t about predicting the future, it’s about being prepared for whatever does occur, engendering flexibility, resilience and fast response.

Maria:  

Excellent. That’s brilliant. I think every organisation should be looking at that.

Jim Harris: 

Absolutely.

Maria:  

So, finally, Jim, you are one of the busiest people I know. You’re always taking onboard new things, embracing new ideas. What do you do to relax?

Jim Harris: 

Oh. One, sleep. Leanne, my wife, says I have a super power of sleep. Now, I don’t know what super hero is going to save the world one sleep at a time, but maybe it’s just because I end up being more happy and bubbly. In fact, I listened to a doctor, and this was profound, and he said the three biggest determinants of health are sleep, eating well and exercise. Absolutely. Is that how you exercise, Maria?

Maria:   

Yeah. People can’t see us because we’re on a podcast, but I’m just … I’m showing my exercise techniques. But, yes. Actually, sleep is the big one, isn’t it? Absolutely agree with you. You’re so lucky that you have that super power.

Jim Harris:

I am. I am. So, that is one thing I do. I love cycling. I have three different bikes, and my farthest season to date is 6,300 kilometres. I’m not on track to beat that this year because I’ve been travelling too much, but I love getting out cycling. My longest cycle is 124 kilometres. But, I’ll often, in a day, do 60. So, it’s a great form of exercise.

So, exercise, and, Maria, I happen … You already know this. I happen to love food. I love good food. Then, Leanne’s a big movie buff, so we end up seeing lots of movies. I love going out to dinner with friends, so those are some of the things I really enjoy doing. But, I believe we need to thoroughly enjoy our lives. After all, it’s fantastic to be here.

Maria: 

It is. Jim, it’s been fantastic to have you here. Thank you for being my guest.

Jim Harris:     

It’s been my absolute pleasure, Maria.

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