Today’s episode is with Joseph Kopser and Bret Boyd, co-authors of Catalyst. Change is happening faster and bigger than ever before. How can your organization adapt to these forces when the environment is evolving so rapidly?
Joseph and Bret have a framework to guide leaders into the future. They are co-founders of the Grayline Group, a ﬁrm dedicated to disruptive change management. Bret is a strategy and corporate development executive with a ton of experience in defense, energy, technology and the finance sectors. Joseph graduated from West Point and served in the US army and is also the former CEO and co-founder of RideScout, which was acquired by Car2Go.
In this episode, they explain how change works, why disruption is happening so quickly, how to adapt, and what is required of our leaders to succeed in the future.
The Beginnings of Catalyst
Charlie Hoehn: How did it begin for you?
Joseph Kopser: It really began when I was a captain in the United States Army. As the company commander, I thought everything that we were doing and working on in the Army had to do with tanks and guns and blowing stuff up.
I got a visit one day in the motor pool from three different black tinted window, fifteen-passenger vans, and then out pops a group of people. This young woman, probably in her thirties, about my age, was in the lead of this V-shaped formation, and on the wings of this V were all of these generals and colonels.
That’s when I realized that she was from the Senate Armed Service Committee.
She was the staff that was coming to visit Fort Hood to see what was going on. It really made me understand that the world is so big in terms of the intersection between the big decisions and the big budgets in Congress and the big decisions made in the military.
“Despite all of them, it came down to people and how she was being treated on her trip.”
If she walked away with a favorable impression of Fort Hood, that would probably be good for Fort Hood’s future. But if for some reason she had a bad trip, it would be bad.
No matter how well-intended everybody is in terms of the making sure that they have the right strategy, it’s the human side of the execution that’s hard to replace.
Charlie Hoehn: When did it start for you Bret?
Bret Boyd: One of the things that I find is very interesting here is you know, I don’t care who you are, a student, business professional, soldier, sailor, airman, et cetera. It’s impossible to watch the news right now and not really seize the idea that things are happening.
“There is just so much change that’s going on in the world right now, it’s really a remarkable time to be alive.”
I guess the epiphany for me here was to take that realization or that constant awareness that we see in the media. If you extrapolate this forward here, there is a lot of fundamental conditions that we’ve built businesses and social structures and government institutions on top of, and it seems like they’re changing.
That realization led to a little bit deeper discovery to say, “Well, you can’t just generally look at these things and get enough comfort with what to do about it. You really have to dive in and identify what’s important.”
I think that’s the genesis of this book really is to say, “Okay, we all understand the world is changing, but how do we look at change in a structured way to really be able to parse out the interesting versus the transformational, when we look at this whole ecosystem of announcements and media?”
How Leaders Need to Adapt
Charlie Hoehn: What do we need to be doing according to what you lay out in Catalyst versus what maybe we tend to do?
Joseph Kopser: The whole point of the book is not to really focus on things that are ten to fifteen years out.
While blockchain is deﬁnitely emerging, there’s another catalyst that’s out there in the world of technology where it intersects with cities. Speciﬁcally, the implementation of drones for commercial use, for logistical use, for transportation use.
It’s going to provide all kinds of new opportunities and also all kinds of friction.
Bret Boyd: Yeah, to take the drone as an example here, we built the framework in a methodology to try to look at all of the different things that are happening and parse out the interesting and the locally important versus the transformational and the globally important.
We talk a little bit about this in the book but we have a process that we go through to try to evaluate the magnitude, the scope.
“We look at how broad these changes could be from an industry perspective and a public institution perspective.”
Charlie Hoehn: How can major organizations, the leaders, the managers, people on the frontline be adaptable to change rather than having to react to it happening?
Bret Boyd: These transformations are always easy to see in the rearview mirror and in the business school case studies and so on, but they’re actually kind of difficult to tell in the windshield.
“When you’re looking at all of these different things that are happening, try to identify the nuggets that really are going to be transformational.”
On the front end, there is an intelligent function to understand what is happening. In the middle of this, there is a strategy function that is really deciding if and what to do about it.
After that decision has been made, there is a change management function where then you have to implement change, which is extremely difficult and often underappreciated in terms of the organizational and interpersonal dynamics that come with the change management element of transformation.
Joseph Kopser: A good example just to visualize is Pokémon Go. For a while, Pokémon Go captured everybody’s attention. If you’re the CEO of a retail company and your kid’s fourteen years old and obsessed with Pokémon Go, that is a noise coming in.
“But the question is, how do you separate the signal from the noise?”
In the case of Pokémon Go, hopefully that frontline leader understood, “Wait a minute. Augmented reality is creating completely new experiences. What is that going to mean for my furniture store?”
Will I still be able to draw people into the store, or do I need to ﬁgure out how to use augmented reality to make my furniture looks like it’s in someone’s living room? How will that change the very nature of my sales?
Can I get this industry full of people who have always done it the same way to then suddenly realize we’ve got to go to augmented reality?
Listening for Signals
Charlie Hoehn: How do we become better listeners? How do we pick up on these signals?
Bret Boyd: Well, the first point that I’d offer is to think more broadly. We’re in an area here where change is happening more and more quickly, and this is a result of the computing revolution and a number of other forces. But these industry cycles that we’ve talked about here previously, these are happening more and more often.
We’ve gone from once every several centuries, to once a generation, to once every few decades, to in some industries, we’re looking at every five to ten years.
“These industries are being totally transformed here.”
Look broadly and understand that A, these transformations are happening quickly, and B, understand the implications of the essentially the globalization movement of the last 25 years and to the extent that has connected markets with each other.
We used to be in an environment or you could focus on your industry, your region, your customers, your suppliers. Globalization has essentially inter-connected all industries, all regions, so that one disruption or one transformation and one industry has far more of a ripple effect into other industries than it has ever before.
This is actually a really big challenge for organizations, because you really can’t be expert in everything.
Joseph Kopser: One of the examples we give in the book is that when you have been in an industry for so long, you don’t realize that those underlying assumptions are changing.
It happened with my experience in transportation when we were building RideScout and we were aggregating together all the different modes of transportation in a city.
We met with one of the largest taxi provider aggregators in the nation, and after I explained to him what we were trying to do by bringing all of these moves together, he said:
“Young man. Let me just explain to you how the world of transportation works. You got people who take the bus, people who drive their car, and people who take taxis. There’s not going to be a time when people will change modes, and there will certainly not be a time when people get into the car with perfect strangers that they don’t know, in their own personal automobile.”
Sadly, you roll the clock forward, six, seven eight years later, we see where parts of the taxicab industry are because they just refuse to believe, despite the data coming in, that something was changing.
“They did not allow themselves to step out more broadly to all the other trends.”
The book has lots of different examples of that. Change is hard, and we try to step through the book with the methodology to allow people to understand how they can implement that change.
Imagining the Future
Charlie Hoehn: The ﬁve main areas of Catalyst that you talk about in the book are manufacturing, power, demographics, cities, technology. Can we talk a bit about one of those?
Bret Boyd: The idea is to say, “We want to look for these broad transformations that are going to affect the world across. I don’t care what type of an institution, don’t care what industry you’re in, running this through the Catalyst framework here, this is how we landed on manufacturing. It is important to understand.
Manufacturing is important far beyond just companies that are associated with component manufacturing and logistics. It’s actually a more fundamental part of the global economy. I mean really when you look at globalization, in large part globalization is outsource manufacturing.
In the traditional way here, if you buy a laptop you’ll have materials pulled out of the ground, ship it to another place, turn it into a part, shipped to another place and so on.
We think that there is a whole fundamental shift in the way things are built. Right now, the model is built on, “Let’s have subcomponent parts constructed in the places where they can be built most cheaply.”
“But if we get to an environment where you are going to fabricate, or you are going to print a part, and the printing machine is going to cost what it costs.”
Joseph Kopser: We are going to get to a point soon where 3D printers are going to be so affordable that you can put them on your kid’s desk, in their bedroom at home.
You can only imagine what happened to an entire generation of people across the planet when personal computers became cheap enough that they could take them home. And what that did to unleash the creative class of the last forty years in technology, in connectivity and in the internet and consumer goods?
Just imagine what’s going to happen when we have inventors—creative people who use both parts of their brain—able to build and design right there in their own home.
“It’s unleashing a whole new creative class of inventors and engineers among young girls and boys all across the planet.”
That for me is the most exciting part about 3D printing. I can’t even wait to see what my kids and their kids come up with.
Charlie Hoehn: What changes are you most excited about?
Joseph Kopser: What I am most excited about is on the energy side. I spent two trips in Iraq, and during that time, I realized that our National Security strategy was mired in the mud by our lack of an energy security strategy.
We have so much legacy equipment that was fuel based, diesel-based, gas based, such that we were delivering fuel to parts of Iraq and my buddies in Afghanistan. They themselves became the soft targets that the bad guys were shooting at.
They didn’t shoot at us and all of our big heavy military equipment—they shot at our tankers and our soft targets.
So if we can get to a part where we decentralize power generation…There’s this magical box that’s not too far away from being built, where it is able to be deployed along with the war ﬁghter. It has a capability of unleashing panels for solar, capturing wind, digging down for geothermal, purifying water on site.
The best part is, I recognize that will be expensive to build, but the military’s got the incentive to do it. Once we get that commercially available product cheap enough, imagine what you’re going to do in places like Puerto Rico after the hurricane went through and destroyed their electrical grid.
You can drop these boxes everywhere you need to go in order to supply power.
You can allow it for people who live in remote locations to not have to worry about sustainability. Parts of the world that are underdeveloped that can’t store medicine with refrigerated capability, to keep it cold. To be able to keep food fresh for days.
“That is for me the most exciting part about these catalysts—when they all come together in terms of power and demographics and technology.”
Bret Boyd: It’s hard to pick one element. Again the future is integrated, right? So none of these happen in isolation, they actually are woven together in this intricate dance. It will be very, very interesting to see how all these play out.
I guess I go back and forth between concerned and excited about the way the nature of work is changing. I think that there are some fascinating new capabilities.
They are coming online around the real adoption of machine learning algorithms. We’ll probably essentially redo every software application that we currently interact with right now and add new capabilities to it.
There are going to be companies and nations and educational systems that lean into that and say, “Look what an amazing new tool here. We need to now rethink about what we want our people doing.”
“Candidly, I suspect there are going to be others who say, ‘Look we’re good doing what we are doing and the world can change but we like our old systems.'”
I fear that that mindset, that reactive posture here is going to lead to some groups that are going to fair less well as these system change.
Charlie Hoehn: Why did you decide to write this book? What change and impact where you were hoping to make?
Joseph Kopser: I was never really ever working for an organization in the ﬁrst twenty years of my professional career where I could affect big change. But what I was doing was constantly reading, constantly talking with mentors. Always engaging with people to ﬁgure out what’s a better way of ﬁxing the problem.
“There are plenty of smart people that have come up with ideas, but very few people with the grit and the drive to see it all the way through to execution.”
When I ﬁnally did get my ﬁrst chance in the private sector with the company RideScout, we went from just the PowerPoint all the way up through acquisition. What I noticed is that the very same challenges that I faced in the private sector, I was facing in the military.
We may have used different words, but the leadership and the people side of it were the same. Then when I worked in the corporate years for a couple of years with Mercedes after we have acquired my company, I saw the same kind of resistance to change. The desire to change but at the same time, the resistance to change in the corporate world. I saw it in the private sector as we saw in the military.
As someone who is a student of history who loved to read and expand by opportunities of lifelong learning, I thought, “Why not write a book that I’d be interested in reading, to hopefully change some folks and improve the way they see these problems and to give them a methodology.”
Bret Boyd: I don’t want to come off as a pessimist. I am generally optimistic about the way that the system is going to evolve here.
But I think if you really look at some of these transformations, there will be a bifurcation between organizations and public institutions that thrive in the phase of transformation here and that do less well.
“I think that the dividing line is actually going to become more sharp.”
It’s going to become more difficult to catch up if you failed to remain agile and adjust to these changes here.
There are several different paths that all of these different groups can take and if we can be one element of the forces of good, pushing organizations to be more proactive, more forward leaning I think that actually results in better outcomes for our communities and our country and the world, candidly. So, I guess I think about this very broadly here, but I am excited about this book from that aspect.
Joseph Kopser: Obviously, I would love for there to be one day in a board meeting where people are arguing back and forth about the right way to do it and someone pounds their ﬁst in the table and says, “Haven’t you read Catalyst? Don’t you think of what’s coming if we don’t try to change and then implement the change?”
Timing Is Everything
Charlie Hoehn: Have you found any interesting insights regarding the timing?
BB: We’ve actually done a lot of good work around this. It’s somewhat obvious in hindsight but I don’t think it’s something that is broadly understood and talked about here. There is a lot more personal risk for an executive who decides to do something first than there is for waiting and doing something with the herd. Even if the herd is behind and ultimately have failed to do what they need to do.
“When you are looking at these big transformations and you are trying to decide what to do, that timing element is important.”
We don’t want to come at this and say, “Hey we know exactly the date, time, moment that you can predict when the flip will happen and the economic viability of renewables will hit broad adoption.”
I don’t actually know that, and I don’t want to try to pretend like that’s something that to date that you can pull out of the air but I do think that you can disaggregate that.
You can look at the cost and efficiency curves around affordable tech. I think you can look at the efficiency around turbines, some of the cost and storage metrics around grid storage batteries. And I think you could look at some of the regulatory shifts that are going to need to happen in order to incorporate a multi buyer multi seller energy market.
I think you can actually build some industries to help people think about how these forces are converging and when they’re coming together.
Joseph Kopser: This timing piece is critical to understand. The book is laced with stories. One of them is in my own life in the development of RideScout.
Seven, eight years ago, long before peer to peer ride sharing happened, I saw these trends coming in terms of buses that were empty with very few people riding them. We saw cars on the road with only one passenger and yet three or four empty seats. We saw trafﬁc and congestion building.
Yet I also saw at the same time that GPS technologies in the palm of your hand on these new things called smartphones should be able to allow us to connect in real time much better to the available inventory of seats that were out there.
“Had the idea of RideScout come a year or two before or a year or two after, it would be totally different than what it was.”
It goes back to the methodology of the thesis of the company that we lay out in the book. Which is that you have to be able to see the changes that are coming, ﬁgure out what’s most important, decide how you are going to take a strategy forward and what the strategy will be, and then implement that.
The idea of RideScout, the idea of Apple, the idea of IBM, or whatever company or gadget you want to explain had been invented previously probably 10,000 times by other people thinking the same ideas.
They saw the noise, they ﬁgured out what the signal was. They decided what to do, and they didn’t implement.
Our book is full of story after story of trying to help the reader understand how difﬁcult this is but to provide the framework to do it.
Connect with Joseph Kopser and Bret Boyd
Charlie Hoehn: Would you give our listeners/readers a challenge, something they can do from your book this week maybe within their organization or in their own personal lives to start thinking about catalyst framework?
Bret Boyd: It’s important that we understand here that the change agents within our organizations are often those line leaders that are close to the intersection of tech and markets and customer behavior.
I don’t care what your job title is or what type of formal leadership responsibility you have here.
“I would challenge all of us to really step back and understand how what you do fits into the overall organizational strategy.”
If you don’t have an answer for that, that’s actually a problem. You need to look up and tell someone and if they can’t explain that to you, think about what you are doing here, because the unifying characteristic of successful organizations is alignment.
It is alignment and proactive behavior at all levels. Again, we are all past the time where you can sit on high and direct the behavior of 50,000 employees towards a coherent end. It’s far more of a complex dynamic here and so we just really want to encourage and empower those leaders at the front.
“It’s a far more of a complex dynamic, and we want to encourage and empower those leaders at the front.”
Joseph Kopser: I would ask anyone—whether they’re in academia, business, government—or they are just fascinated by these subjects to write down on the back page of the book the three or four things that they’ve already thought about in society.
Things that are fascinating to them that’s changing or the things that they already know they want to ﬁx—just write them on the back page of the book.
As they are reading the book, see how many ideas are spurred by what they’re reading about other industries, other sectors, and how that adds to what they’ve already identiﬁed they want to work on.
Charlie Hoehn: How can our listeners connect with you, follow you, work with you?
Joseph Kopser: Our business is called Grayline. Our website is graylinegroup.com. On our site, you’ll ﬁnd a ton of videos and analysis and data sets and description of our business. We appreciate you all saying hello there. We’ve got a newsletter as well where we push out the most interesting things that we are looking at every few weeks.