Attacking the Future

  • April 03, 2013
  • Feature

Thoughts from John Carey of BP Castrol

By Bill Lydon, Editor

John Carey, Vice President for the AIME (Aviation, Industrial, Marine, and Energy) Business of BP Castrol gave a thought provoking presentation about innovation at the Seventeenth Annual ARC World Industry Forum February, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. Carey challenged the audience and particularly capital intensive industries that generally think they are impervious to change. He suggests that there is a great of chance for change in the future that can be quite dramatic if adopted by others. Over the last two years he has been looking at trends relative to his company and how they might change the future. He emphasized that it is important to consider how we need to adapt, change our behaviors, and organizations to compete. Carey, said “The thing that keeps me awake at night is everything that made me successful today - everything that has made my organization successful today are the blockers’ to making me successful in the future.”

Carey noted that simply bringing customers in to tell you what they need in the future is only one dimensional.  Carey said, “It just doesn’t work because it means you are placing bets on your customers for the future rather than on yourself.” “Too often we manage the business from the inside out.” It is common to think the company has been around for a number of years and knows what the future will look like based on experience. He advocates going into the market to engage with customers, suppliers, and bringing in external people to get outside ideas. “If I put 100% of my profit and investment in R&D it will not be enough if I am doing it on my own,” said Carey. He suggests cooperative relationships with suppliers and customers working together and sharing future visions and ideas, and brainstorming new ideas with them. Carey emphasized that this requires a high level of trust and a real deep change in behaviors and relationships.


Carey then discussed disruption and change. “When I was in college there was a periodic table and once you knew it you were fine,” said Carey. Today, in the last three months, two new elements were added to the periodic table on top of the other 30 added in the last 10 years. He suggests a shift in thinking where manufacturing in the past had been driven by what is available. Now he suggests deciding what you need then finding or creating it. Carey cited the Airbus concept airplane as an example that has a roadmap from 2015 to 2050 which is 100% manufactured with 3D printing. Using this disruptive method, the plane would be 65% lighter and the new manufacturing method enables new designs not possible with present manufacturing technology. He acknowledged that this will probably not come to fruition as envisioned but they are learning about a wide range of methods and possibilities using the new technology.

Carey advises focusing on the discontinuities where competitors will come at you from directions where you won’t notice them until it is too late. Just talking within your own industry will not get you there. Once these competitors emerge it is too late and customers will change to new innovative products. Carey pointed out examples of disrupters today. In China they are no longer building big efficient factories, they are building flexible factories that make a washing machine today and a refrigerator tomorrow. Five years ago, we talked about U.S. manufacturing going overseas and high energy cost. Now, by 2020, the U.S. is forecasted to be 98% energy independent.


You can’t expect the people who are working 110% to capacity today and driving plant efficiency to step out and explore possible discontinuities in the future.  Carey observed that the possibilities are expanding dramatically throughout the world with many pockets of excellence that have new innovations. Even within a company, facilitating discussion, sharing, brainstorming, and trust across all departments can yield new breakthroughs. With all the possibilities, Carey advocates that companies needs to take some risks and make some bets by trying new ideas that may not payoff.

Thoughts & Observations

Carey really described the creative dilemma that businesses have always faced of being trapped in their own success. This is becoming more compelling with the accelerating pace of technology creating many new ways to satisfy current and future customer needs. It is very difficult and risky for companies to move past their success to the next levels when there are dramatic changes in technology.

I am impressed by Carey’s company’s investment in exploring the future.

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