IDEA 2016 Highlights

A visionary new thought leadership summit for senior business leaders, IDEA 2016 brought together leaders from many different industries for a broad, deep, and thought-provoking look at the intersection of disruption and innovation where blurring boundaries and changing consumer behavior are creating new opportunities and new challenges. See below for video highlights, our key takeaways, and client feedback from the 2016 event:


The world is changing. Consumer tastes and behaviors are in a state of flux. The retail landscape is undergoing seismic shifts. It's no longer enough to understand what's happening today; you must be prepared for tomorrow. Change may be friend or foe, depending on how agile and innovative you are. It's all about being ready.

This was the thinking behind IDEA: Disruptovate to Win. On the occasion of our 50th anniversary, we set out to celebrate not just how far we've come, but where we — and you — are headed.

Our objective was to create a valuable and memorable experience by bringing together a dynamic mix of thought leaders and brand and industry disruptors. We wanted to give attendees a unique opportunity to connect, share, and learn in order to leave inspired and energized, ready to confront threats and seize opportunities.


Our heritage is industry expertise. It's in our DNA, and it's central to our value proposition. With more than 20 vertically focused practice areas, we don't just track markets — we understand and anticipate them to help our clients grow their businesses.

As our industries have evolved, so have we. Convergence continues to create new combinations and interdependences. What were once thought of as separate and distinct businesses, like technology, toys and entertainment or apparel and sports, are coming together in new ways. Increasingly clients are asking us what is happening in industries outside of their own. Trends in fashion may influence food and foodservice and vice versa. Tech is driving innovation in fashion, while tech itself has become more fashion-conscious. And so on.

With that in mind, we also saw IDEA as an opportunity to assemble our own industry experts as well as clients and guests from a wide array of industries. We wanted to keep the focus big-picture, with presenters and expert panels providing compelling content and addressing the real business challenges we all face today.


Below are a few of the ideas that continue to resonate in these weeks after IDEA 2016. We'll keep them top-of-mind as we partner with clients and industries in the months ahead.

The Status Quo Is Under Siege

Eighty-five percent of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1955 have disappeared. Nearly 250 major retailers have closed shop since 2008. And 40 percent of today's businesses will be out of business 10 years from now, according to former Cisco CEO John Chambers.

The IDEA Summit kicked off with a pair of keynotes that set the stage for two days of networking and discussion on readiness to succeed in an uncertain future. Billy Beane, EVP of Baseball Operations for the Oakland A's and author of Moneyball, inspired us by sharing the unconventional approach he used to assemble a winning team. Vivek Wadhwa, Distinguished Fellow and Professor at Carnegie Mellon, transfixed us with a vision of the future that was amazing, if also a little terrifying — not to mention that it's coming at us at full speed.

Throughout the event, we heard and saw that the power of technology is increasing exponentially, creating a digital world that will change our lives, our health, our education, and our business models. Things that may have seemed unimaginable a few years ago, like driverless cars, are now reality. Innovative thinking plus big data, the Internet of Things, and social media are transforming how we do business, enabling new types of companies and turning entire industries upside-down.

As Our World Changes, So Are We

Of course, every business story is also a customer story, driven by our changing tastes, expectations, and demands. As our world changes, so do we.

Paul Laudicina, Chairman Emeritus of A. T. Kearney, presented highlights from America@250, ATK's multiyear research initiative exploring alternative prospects for the United States in 2026, our 250th anniversary. The research, conducted with NPD and co-sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, envisions Americans as alternatively optimistic, pessimistic, or shades in between, influenced by factors such as generation and lifestage. How these attitudes will evolve and where our collective mindset will take us remains to be seen.

What also remains to be seen is how we'll coexist and interact with the increasingly lifelike manifestations of artificial intelligence and machine learning. We know IBM's Watson has now bested the reigning "Jeopardy" champs. More significantly, Watson and cognitive computing represent a new partnership between people and technology that will revolutionize how we analyze information and make decisions — with unprecedented scale and speed. Stephen Gold, CMO of IBM's Watson Group, introduced us to Watson's sister bot, Now, who stunned us with her disarmingly human traits.

You Have To Be A Little Paranoid

Given the rate of change, it doesn't make sense to sit still. Even if your business model is working today, competition (including competition you never saw coming) can render you obsolete tomorrow. The panel discussion, Brand Disruptovators: Sometimes You Do Need to Reinvent the Wheel, featured several brands that have successfully invented or reinvented themselves, their products, and their marketing, so they can be part of the future, rather than a footnote from the past.

Zeroing in on a nemesis and figuring out what is needed to beat it provided inspiration and impetus for IDEA participants. One panelist cited a "maniacal" focus on the core customer with positioning radically different from competitors' as the turning point on her company's path to success.

But beware of success — it can breed complacency. The panelists agreed you must stay relevant. You've got to continue to innovate, and it pays to be a little paranoid. As one participant put it, "We operate from the perspective of when we wake up, we're toast." It's imperative to keep changing, disrupting yourself before anyone on the outside makes you do it.

Customer Knowledge Beats Conventional Wisdom

From drones to wearable devices to handheld video cameras, successful industry disruptors have imagined and created entirely new categories. What was behind their vision and how they made it reality was the focus of the panel discussion, Industry Disruptovators: Imagining a World and Then Building It (For a Profit).

Panelists reflected that while technology is spawning new categories in some industries, it's influencing nearly every industry in some way — even industries that might seem immune. Fashion and beauty, for example, are creating products using new technology, such as smart clothing with built-in sensors. Fashion and beauty have been and continue to be heavily influenced by social media like Facebook and Instagram.

And while technology is widely recognized as the great disruptor, it's not the sole factor in successful "disruptovation." You must have a deep understanding of your customer and the ability to play in the sweet spot where technology and consumer appeal come together.  
Fitbit is riding the wave of burgeoning interest in health and well-being, based on the understanding that fitness trackers appeal to a broad audience. Ulta knows and caters to a specific customer, the beauty enthusiast. The retailer broke the rules by creating a store combining traditional and mass brands — once taboo in the beauty business. Turns out its customer is inclined to migrate from a $3.00 mascara to a $30.00 one.

There's A New Eight Second Rule

The old eight-second rule was that your Website had to load in eight seconds or visitors would not stick around to see it. Soon, consumers may make buying decisions in mere seconds as well, according to industry thought leader Dan O'Connor, Founder and CEO of RetailNet Group, who led our discussion on macro trends at retail. The retail landscape has evolved from independent retailers to hypermarkets to marketplaces, and the retail revolution isn't letting up.

Today's consumers have more options than ever when it comes to where to buy and where to pick up their purchases: online or in-store, from a retailer, or directly from the manufacturer. New platform companies — marketplaces such as Amazon and Jet and intermediaries like Facebook and Twitter — offer still more choices, redefining the supply chain as they take share from traditional retailers. Technology, via artificial intelligence, machine learning, and real-time data and analytics, is removing "friction" from the buying process with voice-activated agents, like Amazon's Alexa, and hands-free retail.

As choices proliferate, consumers are reassessing. Priorities are shifting. Lines between work and life are blurring, and experiences are being valued more than things. Shoppers want more customization, personalization, and life on demand. Concurrently, attention spans are shrinking. It all adds up to consumers making buying selections in a fraction of the time it used to take.

Look Beyond the Burning Platform

When competition is at your doorstep, your customers are deserting you, and revenues are doing a deep dive, there's no choice but to change. And there's nothing like a burning platform to get everyone on board when you're trying to reinvent yourself. But beyond "do or die," how do successful leaders get the essential employee buy-in for driving transformation?

Several of the speakers and panels addressed the topic of leading through change, with "it starts with leading by example" a common refrain. Corporate culture is key, and most participants emphasized that keeping it "fun and lively" is an advantage and worthwhilegoal, though easier said than done. And the importance of the physical environment cannot be overestimated. How your workplace is set up and how it looks can send a message as surely as any memo or speech.

Last but not least, staying connected is critical. This means not just codifying and communicating your values, but being plugged in to what your people are saying. One speaker summed it up: "You don't have to be a leader to have a good idea."


Before we left Boston, we asked our clients what they found most valuable about the event. Here's a little of what they said:

"The key highlight was all of the industries represented. It's great to get different perspectives."

"Watson! Artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, taking insights to a whole new level. It's the future."

"It's good to think outside the box. We all have the same challenges."

"Inspiring! There's so much innovation happening across all the industries. This brings it together."

"I'm getting a lot of ideas to take back to the office."

"It was very inspiring hearing other companies talk about consumer insights and digital analytics. I'm leaving with a lot of food for thought."

"The speed at which things are changing is incredible."