Ryan Mathews

Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting

Ryan Mathews, founder and ceo of Black Monk Consulting is a globally recognized futurist, speaker and storyteller. Ryan is also a best selling author, a successful international consultant and a sought after commentator on topics as diverse as innovation, technology, global consumer trends and retailing. He and his work have been profiled in a number of periodicals including Wired, which labeled him a philosopher of e-commerce and Red Herring, which said of him, “It’s Mr. Mathews’ job to ask the hard questions”. In April, 2003 Ryan was named as “the futurist to watch” in an article on the 25 most influential people in demographics over the last 25 years by American Demographics magazine.

His opinions on issues ranging from the future of Internet pornography to ethnic marketing have appeared on the pages of literally hundreds of newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Business Week, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Advertising Age and American Demographics. A veteran journalist, Ryan has written cover stories for Fast Company and other leading magazines has been a frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s Marketplace on topics related to innovation. He is widely regarded as an expert on consumers and their relationship to brands, products, services and the companies that offer them. Ryan has also done significant work in related areas including supply chain analysis, advertising and new product development.

Ryan is the co-author (with Fred Crawford) of The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try To Be The Best at Everything (Crown Business), which debuted on the Wall Street Journal’s list of Best Selling Business Books. Myth was named to the bestseller lists of Business Week, 1-800 CEOREAD and other business book tracking services. It was also a bestseller on, whose Business Editors selected it for their list of the twelve best business books released in 2001. Writing about Myth Federal Express chairman, president and ceo Frederick W. Smith called Ryan an “exceptional strategic thinker.” A.G. Lafley, president and ceo of The Procter & Gamble Company said the Consumer Relevancy model advanced in Myth was, “…the best tool I’ve seen for incorporating consumer wants and needs into your business.” Ryan is also the co-author (with Watts Wacker) of The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets (Crown Business), which received uniformly high reviews from the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, the Miami Herald and Time magazine. He was also a contributor to the best selling, Business: The Ultimate Resource (Perseus). Ryan is currently at work on his third book (again with Fred Crawford), tentatively titled, “Engagement: Making Sense of Life and Business” which addresses issues as diverse as a new model of branding and the search for the elusive global consumer.

A frequently requested keynote speaker Ryan has addressed a wide variety of subjects in his speech practice from the future of beauty to the future of house paint. His audiences have included labor groups such as the United Food & Commercial Workers Union; not for profit organizations like Planned Parenthood; associations from the Photographic Retailers Organization to the Grocery Manufacturers of America; academic institutions like Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University; high technology forums such as Information Week’s CIO Boot Camp and Accenture’s E-Business Symposium; consulting audiences including Cap-Gemini, Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche; to consumer goods manufacturers from Sherwin Williams to Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and numerous others. He has worked and spoken extensively in Europe for clients including Grey Advertising, Musgrave, Ltd, the British Post and Unilever. In addition to speaking and his other areas of expertise Ryan has done significant client work in organizational development as a facilitator and scenario planner.

Ryan received his BA from Hope College in Inner Asian history and philosophy and did his graduate work at the University of Detroit where he studied phenomenological ontology. He is a Kentucky Colonel and his reputation and experience as a chili authority won him a seat on the International Chili Society’s board of directors. He has also served on the Advisory Board of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

  • Posted on: 04/19/2018

    Starbucks to close shops for racial bias training

    A wise man once told me that prejudice was the belief a woman or man was somehow inferior because of the color of their skin and racism was the desire to believe that a woman or man was different because of their skin color. Prejudice, he argued, could be overcome by experience and education and was therefore -- at least potentially -- fixable. Racism, on the other hand, is almost impossible to turn around since it comes from a place deep inside an individual's core beliefs and identity. So, to the degree the kind of behavior we saw at the Philadelphia Starbucks reflects prejudice, the afternoon session may be a start toward a solution. But, you aren't converting racists in an afternoon. "Eliminating the type of problem," we saw in Philadelphia would require tearing out the roots of institutional racism in America, and that is a HUGE job, way beyond training and recruitment. Implicit bias is just that -- it's baked into a person's personality. I'd say based on the evidence nobody in America is doing that great a job at fostering inclusion. As a society, we are growing more and more polarized and tribal every day.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2018

    Honoring women

    Camille, I think we are basically on the same side on this one. As I said, language is a huge part of the problem, hence my concern with descriptors. Politics aside, consider Hillary Clinton's recent run for President. If she strongly stated what she believed the descriptors were words like strident, shrill, shrewish, and testy. If a man showed equal conviction, none of those words would have been used and positive adjectives like passionate, resolute and strong would have been applied. And yes, job descriptions are often riddled with, "code words," for male. So, not to demean your colleague's motives but, "make sure we have a woman," does still strike me as tokenism. I have a client who recently wanted to pass a resolution mandating that two board seats would be occupied by women. The mandate was opposed, predominantly by younger women at the firm, who believed that if it passed there would always be two -- and never more than two -- women on the board. As they saw the future, they believed the board could, and should, one day be made up of all women, assuming they were the best candidates. In this example, was the two seat guarantee tokenism or progress? I guess progress, like lots of other things, is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2018

    Honoring women

    Camille, You raise a good point, but let's note the criticality of language here. The "progressive" man was, "... one of the high powered men." You were, "very impressed," that a man was, "making an effort," to include, "a," -- as in one -- woman. One of the ways consciousnesses changes is through language. That man wan't, "high powered," he was the beneficiary of a patriarchal system that promotes men above women. He shouldn't have just been making an effort to include one woman, he should have been insisting that the best people appear on the program -- more than one of whom was likely to be a woman. Tokenism isn't reform and it shouldn't be celebrated. As to your last question, men's consciousnesses are going to change the day after we eliminate the last cultural and institutional tropes propping up gender bias -- including language.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2018

    Honoring women

    It seems to me that sexism, like racism, is an institutional cultural vehicle designed and perpetuated to further the ability of a white, patriarchal class to protect its economic, social, and political interests. And, as in the case of racism, while the causes of the problem are simple enough to define, the roots of misogyny run so deep it is, as both Professor Manne and Warren point out each in their own way, extremely difficult at times to get at what the real problem is, let alone correct it. As the discussion question suggests, this is a Janus-like problem with both a conscious bias, "head," and an unconscious -- and I would argue institutional -- "head." So, what to do? Our traditional approach has been to address the visible, "head," in the case of racism -- segregation, voting rights, discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, etc. In the case of women, we've taken the same approach a la the failed attempts at an Equal Rights Amendment, calls for equal pay for equal work and laws that protect a woman's rights to choice, etc. But, in both cases, the surface efforts have fallen short in part because they have failed to root out the institutional mechanisms that reinforce and perpetuate racism and sexism. And, in the case of women, what ought to be simple fixes, i.e., promote all employees on merit and make sure all employees receive equal pay for equal work, etc., are compounded by spurious, moral, religious, cultural and even sometimes biological arguments. And so, we come to Warren's personal dilemma. He believes there is an issue, wants to highlight that issue, but also believes that in some way singling women out is, in and of itself, a form of discrimination, i.e., "If everyone is really equal, why single out any group for discussion?" It is the gender equivalent of the affirmative action problem -- if a class of workers are equal, they shouldn't need special consideration and, if they do need special consideration that must mean they are -- in some sense, even historical, really not equal, at least temporarily, to other people." In other words, if you are in favor of affirmative action you are saying that a group can't be equal on its own merits and efforts and, if you are against it for that reason, the discriminatory behavior doesn't change. And that is precisely the institutional nature of the problem. The original architects of patriarchy built in a paradox that subsequent generations -- especially liberals -- can't ever get their arms around. So, what can you do? Time to take a lesson from Alexander the Great. When confronted by the Gordian Knot, a tangle of rope so twisted it didn't seems to have a beginning or end, Alexander drew his sword and sliced through the knot. And, that is precisely what we need to do with sexism. Of course, we should begin with an absolute insistence on all forms of economic, social, political and personal gender equality. We should also terminate any employee that has trouble "adjusting" to the new world. But, we have to do much, much more starting with restructuring educational programming, taking a hard look at the kind of advertising we support, buying only from companies that fully support equality -- a human issue after all, not just a women's issue. And, we have to stop electing leaders who embody and perpetuate the worst sexist stereotypes and behaviors. And, that's a start. We'll know we've won when there are more Warren Thayers out there -- men who realize that they too are the victims of sexism because the world they live in is poorer for all the misogyny it tolerates and creates.
  • Posted on: 04/13/2018

    Will electric vehicles prove a bane or a boon for c-stores and energy drinks?

    Um ... so what exactly is it that will stop convenience stores from adding charging stations along with the gas pumps? The conversion from gasoline to electric isn't going to happen overnight, so presumably if electric cars grow in popularity c-stores can add charging stations and/or begin to pull gas pumps. Expensive? Yes, but not a show stopper. A better question probably is what happens to convenience stores and categories and/or brands that depend on them if people quit driving and there is a mass migration to an Uber, Lyft, autonomous vehicles, and/or mass transit system? Now that's a more realistic problem, especially because it will be fueled by both ends of the demographic spectrum -- Boomers and eventually Gen Xers who have fixed incomes, compromised vision, etc. on the one side and Millennials and Gen Zers who eschew ownership in favor of utility on the other. If I were running a c-store chain that's what would be keeping me up at night, not electric cars.
  • Posted on: 04/13/2018

    REI lifts the sustainability bar

    No, not only is this not a bridge too far, it's a perfect example of what I think all retail brands should be doing to endear themselves to, "the new consumer," -- late Millennials, Gen Zers and enlightened Boomers and Gen Xers -- who are looking for REAL authenticity, a genuine economic commitment to values, and the building of ethical communities that unite buyers and sellers. Will other retailers follow? Most will want to. Some will try. But getting really serious about "walking your talk" requires a huge commitment on the part of management and -- even then -- is easier said than done because of the vast amount of supply chain research and management involved. But I believe REI is doing exactly what all retailers are going to increasingly have to do going forward. Is the retail world going to change into some kind of values-driven Eden? Not today. Maybe not five years from now. But in 20 years it will be a lot closer to what REI is proposing.
  • Posted on: 04/13/2018

    Backstage shops star inside Macy’s

    Critic doesn't begin to describe it. Department stores are in free fall and, ironically, one of the best and one that's -- well, far from best -- are speeding the decline in exactly the same way. Nordstrom may be the best department store chain out there but they are killing their flagship brand through a radical expansion of Nordstrom Rack units which work as a kind of "anti-brand" format, not as the "starter store" the chain intended. By the same token Macy's, which is totally lost when it comes to brand identity, is building exactly the wrong branding, merchandising and customer development model through Backstage. Lee is right, the stores are a total mess. While Rack will slowly erode Nordstrom's brand over time, Backstage is rapidly attacking whatever is left of Macy's brand appeal. The difference? In the worst case Rack might be able to stand on its own as a chain, absent the parent brand, while Backstage wouldn't last long as an independent. Macy's may be enjoying an infusion of sales through Backstage, but it's the retail equivalent of taking poison when you have a disease -- the disease may or may not kill you, but the cure most certainly will.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2018

    Is product discovery now the biggest pain point for mobile buys?

    AI and ML could make product discovery easier, but it all depends on the data stream that feeds them and how well the algorithms perform. I way over-index in terms of buying books from Amazon, for example, but their recommendations are rarely on the mark. Best recent example, I bought a book of literary criticism of William Burroughs and my recommendation box was flooded with LGBTQ titles. So in this case the AI engine was making it harder for me to find what I wanted because it recognized Burroughs as a gay author rather than an experimental prose writer. So, getting that little kink ironed out is he first hurdle. As to the device question, the older the eyes the larger the screen needed to be effective for starters. Even young people with 20/20 vision may need a larger phone screen to get the perspective needed to easily navigate a page. But phones are already almost too large to be convenient. It really is an engineering problem as much as an issue of website architecture, so I guess the answer to the second question is yes.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2018

    No site comes close to Amazon for Gen Z

    I think they will stay fairly loyal to Amazon -- barring a huge data breach, etc. -- but like Ben I think that will fall into some form of subscription model for routine purchases. The fascination with Chick-fil-A will pass once they get old enough to have cardiologists, but again the idea of sourcing ready-to-eat food online will probably carry over. What this study shows is that teens like fast food, fashion and products they believe enhance their appearance -- think of it as a digitized version of the 1950s. So the question isn't really so much which products they will take into adulthood but whether they will turn away from online shopping in general and I think the answer to that is a resounding no. As to the appeal question -- hey, these are still teenagers and they like the things teenagers always like. Retailers need to remember that and figure out the most convenient way to get those items to them.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2018

    Will a mobile game and free pizza combo deliver sales for Domino’s?

    The answer to the first question is a rousing, "It depends" on the product, the target customer set and, of course, the product. Gamification can be effective but it is not a marketing panacea. In the case of Domino's, for example, this is more likely to reinforce purchase behavior among a specific class of customers than it is to open the floodgates to a tsunami of gamers willing to trade in their favorite pizza for the ability to play what appears to do a fairly simple game. And therein lies the rub. Make a game so sophisticated that it will REALLY engage hardcore gamers and you will frustrate the majority of potential buyers. Make it simple enough that anyone can do it and it really isn't worth a true gamer's time. As to the second question, again gamification can be a great tool assuming right game, right product, right audience. Pass the Mountain Dew and ready Player One.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2018

    What makes a successful retail CEO?

    Great retail CEOs possess both creative vision and a track record of efficient execution. And increasingly they need the ability to look past the blinders of conventional wisdom and institutional learning to see new, technologically-enabled solutions and alternatives. Increasingly they will need the ability to direct decision making without relying on traditional hierarchal mechanisms. It's a new day and it brings with it a new chance to have a radical rethinking about customers, employees and leadership. Successful CEOs will embrace diversity -- not just of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, age, etc. -- but of ideas, creating an environment that nurtures and positively channels dissident opinions and outside-the-box thinking. Diversity extends to organizational and offering models as well. Instead of just looking to match direct competitors, successful CEOs will look to other industries and other disciplines to gain insights into how to guide their own companies.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2018

    Walmart slows push to add third-party sellers to its online marketplace

    The problem with an infinite shelf is that ... well ... it's infinite, and that might just be too much of a good thing. If this is true, Walmart may be placing bets on quality of offering rather than quantity of SKUs -- at worst a logical bet. There have to be some guard rails when it comes to adding online third parties, and no doubt Walmart is testing exactly where they are. As to whether or not the strategy is sound, remember, Walmart enjoys a much larger margin of error when it comes to testing approaches than most companies do, so they can invest in getting it right. That said, the proof is in the performance, so we will see how well Walmart's experiment works out.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2018

    Death Wish Coffee goes from small roastery to Amazon’s ‘most wished for’ brand

    First, a great provocative name clearly helps. In today's market you you need to be differentiated from your competitors not just in actual product attributes but in a host of "softer" elements -- style, association, image, values, partners, etc. And of course you need to know the customer. As someone who has enjoyed many Dropkick Murphys St. Patrick's Day shows I can see how the association with Death Wish is a natural. Fans of both the coffee and the the band see themselves as bold, aggressive, maybe a little loud, independent and edgy. In short, a perfect pairing. When it comes to the decline of chains and the rise of independent brands it's hard to say which is the chicken and which is the egg, i.e., are chain and national brands proving less popular because people value hipster brands more or are hipster brands benefiting from a general lack of innovation in the mass-brander community? In the end it doesn't matter. It used to be having a Starbucks was making a statement. Today you make a greater statement by announcing you have a Death Wish.
  • Posted on: 04/10/2018

    Can Nordstrom’s full-line men’s store make it in Manhattan?

    I think that Nordstrom is making many of the right moves, but the company needs to look at its value proposition. In many of the communities it operates in Nordstrom is, if not the high end of the market, close to the high end. Not true in Manhattan. In some places personal shopping may be a unique value add. Not in Manhattan. In some markets Nordstrom may represent the apex of customer service for the well-heeled set. Again, not in Manhattan. So while I wish them well and believe they can be successful, I think they need to make sure that they cultivate a loyal customer community as soon as possible. There's a lot of competition out there.
  • Posted on: 04/10/2018

    Barnes & Noble’s crowdsourcing app engages readers and earns solid reviews

    Barnes & Noble needs to hone its value proposition. If the app helps that effort, I applaud it. If it just is a corporate version of Goodreads, I don't think it's going to move the needle. There is a danger in appealing to the common denominator of a shrinking customer base. Just think A&P. The question is, can the app broaden the potential base and reinvigorate it in ways existing apps and sites don't? Will it build sales? Probably. How many? It's hard to tell, especially if it starts being a shortcut to the Bestsellers List. Maybe it's me, but this doesn't feel like a Wikireads breakthrough idea. To really get to another level you have to tie digital participation to physical and online community building. This just looks like a sales tool, not that it couldn't be expanded.

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