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#45: Craig Rispin, Business Futurist, talks trends, technology and business profit

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In this fascinating, but practical podcast, Craig Rispin, Business Futurist and Innovation Expert shares how business will be transformed by the fourth industrial revolution and what opportunities this presents for SMEs.

Where there’s emerging technology or innovation coming onto the global scene, Craig knows about it.

Hear how visionary CEOs are transforming their strategic planning by employing AI, to scan and analyse worldwide trends that are then peer reviewed by hundreds of futurists. Are you a future-focused CEO?


Stephanie: Welcome to TEC Live. Stephanie Christopher here, CEO of The Executive Connection. We connect leaders with a trusted network of people who help them succeed.

Leah: Stephanie, it’s lovely to have you in the studio again.

Stephanie: I love being in the studio, Leah. You know that.


What are you talking about today?

Stephanie: Well, today we’re talking about the future, so don’t get too comfortable in the present because this is going to be about seeing if we can mess with your head a bit with my very special guest, Craig Rispin. Craig, who is a business futurist, an innovation expert and a keynote speaker. His expertise is in emerging business, people and technology trends, and how our organisations can really profit from these today.

With over 20 years’ experience where Craig has really worked, with where the future has been created, with some of the most innovative companies in the world, in IT, consumer electronics, internet and broadcasting industries, Craig Rispin is a perfect person to join us today on TEC Live. Craig, welcome.

Craig: Thank you very much.

Stephanie: How many Zoom calls did you do last year?

Craig: Zoom has this reporting system you can go into to see how your users are doing. There were 759 Zoom events, and then it showed the attention. Do you know you can track when people are looking?

Stephanie: I don’t think I want to do-

Craig: Yes.

Stephanie: Well, I tell you, I can tell when my team aren’t looking because you watch them on a Zoom call and you can see very quickly when they’re distracted.

Craig: Yes. Yeah. You can get an attention report, and also using a new AI tool, so it can record everything that’s said and then it will transcribe it for you and put it straight into your CRM so you got a record of it. They’ve got these really good tools now that will, when you’re done, coach you. Coach you, ‘Craig, this was the engaging moment in your speech. Do that again.’ That’s my AI assistant from Zoom.

When I’ve been showing this to some of your members, they’ve said, ‘Oh, could I use that for compliance? We are in an industry where we have to document everything we’re doing.’ Healthcare, stockbrokers, all sorts of things. You have this compliance. I said, ‘Sure. You could do it for that.’ I have to tell you, when you introduce AI into a business, this is what I found. It actually changes the culture of an organisation.

Stephanie: In what way?

Craig: Well, think about this. If you have an AI assistant coaching you on every Zoom call that you’re doing. Then say they’re sales meetings or talking to investors, and afterwards it coaches you, what it’s actually doing is showing, ‘This is how Stephanie had a better call than you did. Would you like to look at … ‘ Sales meetings change in this way, if it’s sales-oriented campaign.

Instead of the sales meeting being, ‘You’re not delivering results, try harder.’ Which is 99% of every sales meeting. It’s, ‘Here are some winning behaviors that we’re seeing that are getting great results.’ You can imagine how … I’m getting goosebumps right now. It literally changes a sales culture, just in that setting.

You imagine in marketing or investor relations or managing people, wouldn’t it be great, as a leader, to have an AI assistant help you be much better than you are today?

Stephanie: It would. I love it. I love the whole idea of it. Let’s get back to AI because that’s clearly an important part of the future.

Craig: It is.

Stephanie: And disruptive innovation. As a futurist, my understanding is an important or a key ability you have is to identify trends and to pick up signals from what’s around.

Craig: Yes.

Stephanie: Tell me-

Craig: We call them weak signals.

Stephanie: Weak signals. Tell me how you do that.

Craig: That’s the first step in running any kind of future-led strategy. It falls under this category of an environmental scan, so what’s coming over the horizon. This used to be very difficult to do. In our community, our community of futurists, about 20,000 of us worldwide that are part of our peak industry group, about a third are academics, and they would do this environmental scan.

They would get their undergrad students that have to do work to literally do this, cut out newspaper clippings and measure the number of column inches dedicated to a particular thing. If the column inches grew in the newspaper, then it was on trend. Of course, there’s not many newspapers anymore.

Stephanie: No .

Craig: I have an AI assistant called Athena and she does what all these undergraduates used to do. She scans 688,000 different scholarly research papers, industry reports, commercial firm reports and categorizes it for me. Especially in your organisation, when I go along and there’s every type of industry in the room, what I do is before I go, I go into Athena and say, ‘Give me the trends in aged care, give me the trends in law.’

She does this environmental scan, what the students used to do, but she can do it in a 10th of a second.

Stephanie: It spits out a report?

Craig: It does. In fact, it spits out a PowerPoint presentation, usually 44 to 45 slides long. Then I send it for peer review. That’s the second step. This environmental scan, it’s so important. Also, companies don’t really do this. We were chatting a little bit about how companies are not so good with their future planning.

Stephanie: No.

Craig: When I ask them, how do they do their planning? It’s usually the same suspects in the room and they don’t really do a lot of good research of what’s over the horizon, what’s happening in the environment, what’s coming next. They’re not seeing those weak signals that we’re talking about that are going to be major trends and catching them before their competitors do.

Stephanie: A weak signal is demonstrated by ‘column inches’, but it’s just a topic that might be trending that there might be more conversation about … I’m trying to think what it could be. Well, Airbnb, I guess 10/15 years ago would have come up as a weak signal.

Craig: Yes. It was. In 2009, when Airbnb launched in the height of a financial crisis, there was this weak signal, a little conference that had about 125 people talking about this sharing economy. The co-founders of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, and his partner, I’ve forgotten his name, were there and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’ve got a spare room. We got an air mattress. We had trouble getting a room.’

In this particular area they’re going to. That was a weak signal and not a lot of people knew about it. Wouldn’t it be great as a leader, seeing things before everybody else in your industry? What I say to members of tech is, why don’t you steal some of the tools that futurists use and be a future-empowered, future-led organisation and a futurist CEO?

Stephanie: Yes.

Craig: Why not steal these tools?

Stephanie: I mean, you’ve got me.

Craig: Yes.

Stephanie: How can an average mid-sized business leader who survived last year and in fact it’s doing really well, and I’m not talking about me at all, but everything’s going quite well, how can you pull together this toolkit to become a futurist CEO?

Craig: Right. First of all, you’ve got to look at the times that we’re in and understand the world that we’re in. What’s the context? Where were we before COVID?

Before COVID we were already swapping from one industrial revolution, the third industrial revolution, that was made up by two Cs, computers and communication, and transitioning to the next industrial revolution, which is the fourth industrial revolution, which is those computers and communication, but it’s a bigger bubble now, and we call it digital because it’s got AR, VR and AI in there.

Then also the biological world and also the physical world. That was happening, this transition to a brand new economy, before COVID hit. Guess what happened when COVID hit?

Stephanie: Everyone went backwards.

Craig: Things got accelerated towards that. I’ll tell you by how much. People looked and they said, ‘We have to do a new way of working, a new way of meeting, a new way of talking to investors, a new way of managing our sales teams.’ Adobe did a survey of 3000 of their customers. In this survey they asked them, ‘How many years did you accelerate your digital communication strategy?’ The average number of years in the first six months of COVID was six years.

This is what I was talking to a group of local government leaders. I said, ‘So in the first six months of COVID companies are saying they had six dog years in six months. Discuss with the partner sitting next to you, how you accelerated your digital communication strategy six years.’ Here’s the surprising thing, 14% of the people that answered this said that their digital communication strategy was accelerated by 15 years.

In other words, the times that we’re living in was we were already changing an economic model and then we accelerated it tremendously. Not just Zoom meetings.

Stephanie: Okay. I said something that was in fact the wrong answer about things went backwards. Yet, things moved so quickly in March and the first quarter after that. That six months was crazy. What about this suggestion that maybe smaller mid-sized businesses then settled? Settled into what was a new, more comfortable normal then of Zoom that it’s a challenge to move … And we’ve said it before.

I never want to go back to what 2019 was. But the challenge to keep that velocity in a business that was like, ‘Well, we survived. We’re doing well.’ To keep that velocity of change is a huge challenge I think.

Craig: Yeah. I think to be able to compete in the future, or even now, you can’t take your foot off the accelerator because-

Stephanie: Just have to keep going on that wild ride.

Craig: You have to.

Stephanie: Yep.

Craig: You have to. Even the leaders from McKinsey, they’re out there right now. They say, ‘It’s the end of the financial year. You’re doing your plan for the next financial year and you’re going to be planning for the future after everything that we’ve been through using techniques from the past? That’s nuts. Why would you do that?’ Everything is on the table. In fact, the one thing that they pointed out, and I wholeheartedly endorse is destroy your org chart.

The structure that you have was designed in the 1500s with the first Corporations Act and you’re still sticking to that? That doesn’t make sense. That’s just one area, but there’s lots of other areas.

Stephanie: I’m really interested in this. Let’s go a bit deeper into destroy your org chart. I like where you’re going. Tell me about that.

Craig: Well, so people are thinking about that maybe I don’t have the right members to be able to compete in the future. I’ll tell you when I hear this. It’s not when I’ve been speaking to a tech group for three and a half hours. It’s when I’ve spoken to the tech group. They invite me for dinner, so maybe it’s a retreat or something. They’ve had three or four glasses of wine, and then they lean over and whisper in my ear, ‘I don’t think I’ve got the right team.’ I say, ‘Really?’

Stephanie: Haven’t leaders been saying that for years though, Craig?

Craig: Now we have entirely new job titles that didn’t exist 24 months ago, three years ago. I’ll give you one for instance. Every organisation now needs a marketing technology director. This is somebody who understands big data, analytics, digital marketing, but also understands marketing. It’s not just a techno geek. This is somebody who deeply understands marketing and understands big data.

Thinking about your members, think about all your members, how many of your leaders have a MarTech person as their right-hand person?

Stephanie: Yeah.

Craig: When I go out there and speak to your groups, it’s not many. There’ve been one or two, but not many. That’s just one example of one position that every chief executive must have by their side now, wouldn’t you agree?

Stephanie: Well, actually, I hired exactly that person. He’s come to the end of his second … or coming to the end of his second week.

Craig: Right. How about that?

Stephanie: And invaluable already.

Craig: Yes. It’s early days, yet there’s only about 3,500 people who turn up to these conferences that are MarTech conferences. Soon it’ll be hundreds of thousands of people who think and act in this way. It’s a new role that didn’t even exist 24 months ago, really, or three years ago.

Stephanie: Well, what James Lawrence from Rocko would say is, ‘Actually in future that will be called a marketer.’

Craig: Yes. Yes.

Stephanie: That’s just what marketing will be.

Craig: Yes.

Stephanie: It won’t be well, there’s digital. Well, there’s MarTech. It just will be a marketer.

Craig: Yes. Thinking about that, think about what will empower this MarTech leader to help you, as a chief executive, meet your goals. Certainly this MarTech person will also have an AI buddy, like I do, in various areas, informing them how to be almost superhuman and the things that they can do. What I try and reveal to your members is that they’re probably not investing enough in apps. Apps is a perfect way to show how they compare.

I hate benchmarking, but okay, let’s do a little bit of it. Let’s benchmark how many apps of a … Let’s say a firm with 50 to a hundred employees, how many apps do they have besides Zoom? They’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, we were an early adopter. We went onto Zoom.’ Great. What have you done lately?

Stephanie: Yeah. That’s what I mean about it slowing down because it was all very fast.

Craig: Yes.

Stephanie: But just keeping doing the same thing now is not really any different from-

Craig: No. It’s like going on the on-ramp on the freeway and you put your foot down, you get up to speed and you put on the cruise control.

Stephanie: You’re just staying there. Yeah. I think that’s the risk because the delivery model changed, but that’s not really changed.

Craig: No.

Stephanie: That’s just the channel.

Craig: Yes. For instance, for firms that have 50 to a hundred employees, the average number of apps, Zoom being one of them, let’s say Office 365 is another, Athena is one for me, how many apps are you running? I get your members to look around the table and compare. Usually they’ll say something like six or 12 or maybe 20. Then I show them the list from thousands of other firms who say the number is like 175. I say, ‘That’s not good enough. You have to keep on pushing.’

I also know that you’re also pushing people. I’ve studied how human brains work and you have to get into a habit, a rhythm, of doing something new. We got used to doing Zoom every day, and after 30 days, we’re just an organisation that Zooms now.

Stephanie: Yeah. That’s right.

Craig: Well, why aren’t we doing that every 30 days? Imagine how different your organisation would be if every 30 days you added another app that enabled your team to be like superhumans. Yeah.

Stephanie: I love that idea because what we all saw was people adjusting so quickly.

Craig: Yes. Accelerating in six months, six years, that’s incredible but then putting it on coast. You can’t.

Stephanie: It’s a great analogy. I really like that. Let’s talk specifically about AI. Again, a regular business leader, a founder of a business, doing whatever, in services or product in anything, where would they start with introducing culture-changing, record-breaking AI? Where do they start?

Craig: What I would suggest is you look at everything that everybody is doing in your organisation and find an app, an AI-powered app to help them do what they’re already doing. First you have to do this sort of manually. You have to ask everybody, ‘Can we do an audit of all the apps that you’re using and what you’re doing in a day? Let’s look at, if you’re doing cut and paste between an order that comes in and your online system, can we find an app that does the cut and paste better for you?’

Now you think about all the things that you have to do in an organisation. We have AI tools. For instance, my slide deck has 1,889 slides in it and I didn’t make three quarters of them. I have an AI tool called, and I just send it my text and it makes beautiful slides for me.

Stephanie: Wow.

Craig: If you have to make a slide pack now, why would you use PowerPoint if this makes a beautiful slide pack for you? Vimeo. Vimeo is a business video hosting website, and they have an AI digital video editing tool that you can just throw in your latest product offering, like the pictures off your webpage and some clips and some customer testimonials, and it will edit a product video for you that looks amazing, and it’s free.

If you have an online store like Shopify, you can say, ‘Now do this 10,000 times.’ It will make you 10,000 videos in 24 hours. If your people in your organisation are not being powered by an AI tool to design their slide packs, make their videos, read their legal contracts … Do you know we have tools now that can read any kind of contract and give you an executive summary that a chief executive might need?

That’s what a paralegal used to do. We don’t have paralegals anymore. We have AI. Law firms don’t need paralegals anymore because AI is better at doing summarizations of legal documents than any paralegal would be.

Stephanie: Craig, I think people can be a little initially confused by, and also intimidated by the term AI, because they think it’s something huge that you have to invest and create technology that feels too aspirational or too crazy. What I’m hearing from you is this already exists. Well, I’m just thinking, ‘Well, you’re talking about my iPhone.’

Every now and then it’ll pop up, ‘Here’s a beautiful presentation we’ve done of a trip you did to Lennox Head in February with a soundtrack and the best photos.’ It just appears.

Craig: Yes. A person didn’t do that.

Stephanie: No.

Craig: The AI tool looked at your photos and made a beautiful collection for you. A perfect example. Now, think that every task in an organisation can be empowered by some form of AI. It shouldn’t be scary for you because you’re using it every day. Every day. Every time you navigate, every time you shop on Amazon, every time that you look at YouTube videos or watch Netflix.

Stephanie: Every time you read your newsfeed.

Craig: Yeah. It’s all being powered by AI. You have to ask as a leadership team, ‘What are the top apps that are enabling my general counsel, my marketing team, my customer relations, my operations, my design?’ We now have tools that can co-create incredible organic-looking designs. It’s called generative design and using a tool that all industrial companies use for doing buildings and machine parts. You can just say, ‘Give me some more designs that meet these specifications.’

You just give it the physical specifications and it will make literally hundreds of extra versions that meet your criteria in new ways. What this allows designers to do, is it used to be that it would take weeks for designers to make a part. Then it would take many more weeks for it to be delivered. Now, overnight you can have hundreds of examples. You can then choose the ones that you want.

You can then print it on a 3D metal printer that you can actually install into a car. It’s a working version of a metal piece, and we’re already doing that. Just imagine if you’re an engineering firm, what that means to you. It means that in a day you can do what used to take weeks.

Stephanie: I think I know the answer. Who should drive this in the organisation?

Craig: Well, listen, I don’t think that the chief executive has to drive it.

Stephanie: Oh, good. Thank you. That’s a good answer.

Craig: I think they need to recruit somebody to drive this. When I get this question, this is what I ask them. Can you think of somebody in your organisation that is always trying to push? They’re always so annoying. They want you to be better, do better.

Stephanie: Yeah. Here’s another way we could do this.

Craig: Yes. That’s right. I said, ‘Are you thinking of that person?’ They go, ‘Oh, yes, Andy. Andy, she’s always the one that wants us to do more, be better. I just haven’t had a project for her.’ This is her project. Put her in charge of, let’s just call it whatever, digital transformation. Your digital transformation program and put Andy in charge of it. All you have to do as a leader is give them permission. You have to be aware of what you’re asking for.

What are you asking for? I want an AI tool for every one of our staff members to make them superhuman. Look at what they’re doing, what would make them superhuman? Find an app for every one of our team members. That’s a great first project. Imagine how different an organisation would be if every single employee was partnered, had a co-creation tool sitting alongside them.

Stephanie: What now … I’m a little speechless. What now-

Craig: Sorry. I have that effect on people.

Stephanie: Yeah. Well, you do, Craig. You always have. Now, what I like about this is you’ve just painted a huge picture and a huge picture of a future. Then you’ve talked about how you could actually begin doing this right now.

Craig: I’m giving you examples that I know have worked. If you decide to do this as a leader, when your leaders decide to do this, you won’t be the first.

Stephanie: There’s the rub because well you’re not the first, but if you’re not doing it at all, you’ll be the last. That’s the problem, isn’t it?

Craig: Yes. Yes. Seven years ago, a CEO came to me of a listed organisation and he said, ‘Rispin, we’ve got a problem. We run this great call center, but it’s really hard to keep people in these call center jobs because they’re really the worst jobs in our organisation.’ He said, ‘And we have this debt accounts file where people make an inquiry.’ What they do is salary packaging.

‘They make an inquiry that they want to buy a Mini Cooper and then being a busy nurse …’ Because they work with lots of hospitals, and government workers, ‘they’re so busy that they never get around to filing the paperwork in time for the end of the tax year.’ This leader said, ‘Craig, we need to find an AI tool that can drill down into our debt accounts and let’s see if we can convert some of them.’

We recruited Christine. Christine looked into their Salesforce account and looked for all the people that made an inquiry but didn’t follow up after 90 days. They’re dead client accounts. This is what they classify. Christine scheduled meetings like this, ‘Hey Craig, your rep, Fred, is coming to the hospital for the next two days. End of tax year is coming up, if you don’t do it before June 30, you’re going to have to wait until next year. Click here to book in a meeting with Fred when he’s at the hospital.’

You won’t believe what happened. They converted 89% of their dead accounts. 89%. People were so happy with Christine. People were sending chocolates, flowers, stuffed animals to Christine and Christine wasn’t a recruit. Christine was just Christine had this conversation over email and text and they thought it was a real person, so much so that they sent-

Stephanie: That they were sending flowers and chocolate.

Craig: Yes. Going, ‘Here’s a picture of me with my new Mini Cooper. I’m so happy.’

Stephanie: I love Christine. In that example, because of course straight away, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, how do I apply that?’ How do you find the app?

Craig: There’s a great website called Product Hunt. Product Hunt has categories of new apps that are being launched every single week. I’m always looking at this every single week, looking for my next AI tool. Imagine you had a team member that was looking every week for an app to solve a problem, and every week a new app comes out that people try and it’s kind of like reviewed or upvoted by other people.

When you see one breaking out that 3000 people have given it the thumbs up, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to look at …’ For instance, the latest app I deployed in my business is I’m a great speaker, but I’m a terrible writer. Give me a blank page and I can’t type anything, but invite me to talk on a podcast I could do it for three days, right?

Stephanie: I know. I’m mindful of that. Yeah.

Craig: I deployed a new tool called It asks you, ‘What are you trying to write? Are you trying to write a value proposition? Are you trying to write a social media post? Are you doing something on LinkedIn?’ Then you put in a few words around the topic that you want to talk about. Let’s say for instance, I put in, ‘Using AI to do strategic planning.’

It wrote incredible copy for me, gave me 10 different examples and I could upvote the ones that I liked and it would make more iterations, and it’s completely plagiarism-free. It doesn’t copy from anyone else. It’s being made by this AI. I just look at that and I said to my business partner, ‘We don’t need a copywriter anymore. This is writing better copy than our copywriter. What do we need a copywriter for anymore?’ This is mind-blowing and I’m a futurist.

Stephanie: Yeah. That’s right.

Craig: This is mind-blowing. Yeah.

Stephanie: And I didn’t see it coming. That website is Product Hunt, did you say?

Craig: Product Hunt is the daily, weekly upvoted products. They have categories and I subscribe to the AI category. Always looking for that next tool.

Stephanie: Okay. I don’t even know where to start to wrap this up. I’ll just lift my jaw off the table here because it’s been quite a journey. You started off by talking about it’s critical for business leaders to truly know what’s over the horizon.

Craig: Yes. Understand the times that we’re in and that you can’t take your foot off the accelerator because we are already transforming our economy and it’s not slowing down. It’s accelerating.

Stephanie: It’s accelerating.

Craig: Yes.

Stephanie: Don’t pat ourselves on the back. We did so well in March, April, May, June last year, you’ve got to keep going and harness some of that velocity that the team demonstrated they had then to keep moving now.

Craig: Yes. As a leader, we don’t have to do it ourselves. We just have to give permission and understand what we’re asking for. You need a strategy of what to ask for, and then you can just watch the magic happen.

Stephanie: Watch the magic happen. Then a huge message from you about tools and AI and where AI sits in apps that are so readily available and a couple of great tips for where to start looking. As for me, I’m going to see if I can poach Christine from that CEO because I know she wants to come and work for me.

Craig: Yes. Wouldn’t that be good? Now, I have to tell you, in conclusion, Christine, six/seven years ago cost a million dollars. In a quarter, they increase their revenue by $4 million. Here’s what you need to know. Christine now costs a hundred dollars a month, not a million dollars. It’s a hundred dollars a month.

Stephanie: It’s a hundred dollars a month.

Craig: Yeah.

Stephanie: What an inspiring conversation.

Craig: Thank you.

Stephanie: Absolutely thought-provoking and wonderful to have you here. Next time we’ll get you to come on and talk about Cuban Cookery.

Craig: Yes.

Stephanie: That’s a whole other topic.

Craig: Yes.

Stephanie: Craig Rispin, thank you so much for joining us on TEC Live.

Craig: You’re so welcome.

Stephanie: Discover more about TEC

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