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: 10/17/2019

    Will debt-free college make Chipotle the place to work in the restaurant biz?

    Providing meaningful benefits -- and nothing is as meaningful as an education -- is critical not just in attracting workers, but attracting the kinds of employees that sustain and grow businesses. Individuals coming to Chipotle because of the free college offer are looking for more out of life than a paycheck and that translates into a desire to make sure they keep their jobs and stay personally motivated. By linking the employees' futures to their own Chipotle has taken a giant step forward that ought to pay dividends for years to come.
  • Posted on: 10/16/2019

    UK’s largest sporting goods chain calls for probe of Nike-Adidas dominance

    At the risk of upsetting my friends in the retail community, retailers don't have any rights when it comes to branded goods, unless they own the brands. It's probably useful to skip the circular argument that runs something like, "Well, those brands would never have gotten as big as they are without retailers," versus, "Well, brands were the cornerstone of modern retailing so without us there wouldn't be national or international retail chains." Let's remember Nike's first sales were out of Phil Knight's trunk, not a store. And while brands obviously need distribution channels of some kind to reach the consumer, they have multiple ways to accomplish that without going through low volume stores from direct-to-consumer sales to selecting certain sales partners and channels. And no, there is no inherent obligation associated with past support -- we are talking capitalism here, not socialism. Finally, of course Nike and Adidas will lose sales by bypassing "undifferentiated retailers." That's not the question. The actual question is, "Will those lost sales be offset by more profitable distribution models?" And the answer to that is, "We'll see shortly, won't we."
  • Posted on: 10/15/2019

    Will customers give Walmart the keys to their homes?

    The difference may be that the plumber or electrician is bonded, probably has references, and/or is known to you or your friends. Plus, we are talking about one plumber and one electrician -- not a small delivery army. I have to salute your trust in human nature by the way. Here in the Motor City, nobody comes in when someone isn't home. It's just not "a thing." There are enough problems with folks coming in when the home owners are there.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2019

    Amazon makes its social positions public

    Totally agree Liz. And, in their case, the downside of the scrutiny seems to outweigh the potential benefit -- at least for now. Drafting positions on social issues is easy. Living up to them is quite a different thing.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2019

    Amazon makes its social positions public

    In short, I'm saying this is a perilous path. On the one hand companies are being increasingly required to take social, political, and moral stands. On the other, they aren't very good at it and generally open themselves up to new areas of criticism and attack. Remember what those paving stones on the road to Hell are made of.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2019

    Will customers give Walmart the keys to their homes?

    History often repeats itself, and rarely rhymes. I hope Walmart spent some time consulting with Tim DeMello, the founder of and the first person I know of to try to make in-home delivery work. For those too young to remember, Streamline put temperature controlled boxes in people's garages. Drivers would use a secure code to enter the garage and put refrigerated goods in a fridge, dry cleaning on clothes rods, etc. I remember touring the Streamline warehouse and seeing all of the trashed refrigerators. Of course, moving directly into the home (hopefully) avoids customers driving their cars into delivery areas, since the delivery area is the kitchen, but it opens a Pandora's Box of potential issues from consumers filing false robbery claims to ... well ... actual robberies, or worse. These in-home delivery plans are only as good as their weakest link. One publicized proven robbery, rape, assault or even oil tracked through a kitchen floor and the program is over. So, for now at least, I think the liability potential still exceeds the consumer service benefits.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2019

    Amazon makes its social positions public

    Maybe it's just my admitted bias as a recovering academic philosopher, but I think this is really dangerous ground. In my experience corporations generally do a pretty uniformly poor job of developing anything close to logical and coherent ethical standards. Publishing a list of "principles" may make for great PR, but that falls far short of an integrated ethical position. And demonstrating those same principles in practice is a much, much different story. So let's take a mini sample of the list starting with two points: addressing human-induced climate change and supporting the energy industry. Do these two talking points tell us anything about where Amazon stands on issues such as fracking (championed by the oil industry); nuclear energy; opening up heretofore protected lands to drilling; or Amazon's view of natural gas? Of course they don't. And how do, "Facilitating access to technology for governments at all levels," and, "Protecting consumer data under federal law," line up? There are also several items on the list that are transparently self-serving including: "Having a corporate tax code that incentivizes economic investment and job creation," and, "Promoting government regulatory standards for facial recognition technology." We also need to remember the old adage about people in glass houses. Once a company openly promotes a social policy its critics will drill through every level of its corporate being hoping to detect the cancer of organizational hypocrisy. And things change, so there's a danger that today's virtuous position can quickly become tomorrow's sin. As to Amazon specifically, their hypocrisy lays pretty close to the surface. Sure they are starting to offer better benefits to full-time workers, but they are also seeking to shift lots of work to part-timers, contract workers, and technology, so the net impact of their policies is a little hard to determine.
  • Posted on: 10/14/2019

    Will Best Buy wrap up Black Friday sales with a price match guarantee in October?

    This is clearly a win for the customer, assuming of course the customer is interested in the items covered by the offer. And it will no doubt boost Best Buy's seasonal (whatever that means anymore) market share in the short run, but I'm a little concerned that: a.) long term, retailers will end up engaging in some kind of mutual profit suicide pact in a race to the bottom of profitability; and b.) that now that the "holiday" period has been (officially) expanded to run from October to January that September sales won't be far behind; and c.) that all this extension may, one day, result in consumer backlash. Put a simpler way, retailers have to ask themselves what the long-term benefit is of being the lowest cost provider of consumer goods in a market where shoppers are conditioned to expect ever declining costs for the full third of the year -- or more -- known as the holiday period. The traditional answer would be that by capturing those dollars early you eventually force your competition out of business and then let your prices float back up to profitability. But that hasn't really worked so well in practice since the advent of e-commerce. So short term, we can pat Best Buy on the back all we want as long as we remember that in the long term it is the seller, not the buyer, that best beware. Besides ... the idea of Christmas music in July makes me shudder.
  • Posted on: 10/11/2019

    Can retail ease automation’s impact on African American workers?

    There is a larger problem here. Matthew notes that, "African Americans, especially men, tend to be represented in job roles that are threatened by automation at a rate greater than other demographic groups." That's a socially acceptable way of describing the real problem. Put another way, African Americans, especially men, are often excluded from, and under-represented in, jobs offering more security against certain kinds of technological disruption, i.e., "white" collar professional jobs; jobs in the fields of technology, research, and science; unionized jobs; etc. This is a much broader social issue and one that threatens all workers of color, women, and other under-represented demographic cohorts. And yes, AI has the potential to idle millions of workers. But the answer to that challenge is not for retailers to resist the competitive advantages and efficiencies offered through technology, rather it is to make sure that ALL people are represented in the kinds of jobs these new technologies will create and that workers who fall into areas we have traditionally described as "blue collar" work receive wages and benefits they can not just survive on, but prosper. The "fix" -- if there is one -- is to make sure we are fulfilling our obligation to all children, including children of color, to make sure their early education fully prepares them to be in position to get the kinds of educational opportunities and/or training needed to prepare for the workforce of the future. Based on what I see everyday in Detroit, it is a task we -- as a society, not just an industry -- are failing horribly at.
  • Posted on: 10/07/2019

    Best Buy makes a big bet on health tech

    First of all, it's weird that some brands and retailers seem to be just getting around to the fact that people get older, sicker, still have some disposable income, and don't necessarily die. Prescient marketing at work again! Secondly, I think it's a great idea to address this part of the market -- an idea I've been pressing since I was in my early 30s hoping things would be in place by the time I reached my dotage. As it stands the score is: Dotage 1; Retail 0. But more seriously, this is a good idea but there is a caveat. Best Buy runs the risk of adopting a "barbell" marketing strategy here; trying to serve the needs of technologically sophisticated digital natives as they become a majority of customers, while having an aggressive outreach to seniors. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that it can't be done with your eyes closed.
  • Posted on: 10/07/2019

    What if stores innovated like restaurants?

    I'm also not sure the examples in this article are all that innovative. "Domino’s is more about logistics and technology than pizza?" Great if people like to munch on software systems, but I think it doesn't matter how efficiently you get a pizza to a house if the end product isn't better than alternatives. "Burger King was the first brand to offer a legitimately tasty plant-based burger on a national basis to gain first dibs with vegetarians and flexitarians?" Really? Most of the reviews I've read say it does in fact taste just like a Whopper -- which is the problem. And as for the Taco Bell hotel, I never did get that one. All I can picture is a hotel room where your clothes pick up a distinctively unpleasant smell after you take them out of the closet. Admittedly, the author makes good points about J.C. Penney and Victoria's Secret ... but a Taco Bell-style Toys "R" Us is a bridge too far -- at least for a Monday.
  • Posted on: 09/27/2019

    How can retailers scare up more Halloween sales using social media?

    No real reason for concern. Fewer parents take their kids out, for a variety of reasons. Halloween is transitioning to be a much more "adult" holiday. And it may have, "jumped the shark," a bit. The emphasis on healthier eating, safety concerns, and the fact that some people have perhaps overspent a bit in recent years are all contributing factors to a slight decline. I wouldn't get too worried yet. As to the role of social media, isn't it impacting every aspect of our collective lives?
  • Posted on: 09/27/2019

    How can retailers scare up more Halloween sales using social media?

    Can I come? I'm sure I have a "costume" somewhere in the back of my closet. Seriously, in a polarized society ... and one in which people have lost the ability to celebrate the absurd and just have fun ... the whole political thing may be a bridge too far. Unless of course you had a contest to see whose supporters bought the most masks, kind of a costume primary. Now where DID I put those love beads ...
  • Posted on: 09/27/2019

    Why do IT service outages keep happening at retail?

    First of all, these are huge, complex systems, so crashes shouldn't come as a surprise. Second, they are very visible targets for hackers, and so their integrity is constantly being challenged. And third, from a systems and technology position, retailing is still in a transition period. New applications and reporting functions are being constantly added. New algorithms are being developed every day. The number of AI and IoT possibilities has barely been tapped. And customers, expect these systems to work instantly, perfectly, and certainly without interruption. That's a lot to ask, and failure is inevitable. And this isn't even considering the vagaries associated with the legacy power grids these systems depend on. So these "incidents" can't be avoided, only mitigated. And given the level of demand and innovation, even that is going to remain a stretch goal for years to come.
  • Posted on: 09/27/2019

    Amazon wants to take the lead on regulating facial recognition tech

    It is a self-serving move and -- in this case -- that is definitely NOT smart. Let's look at this as objectively as possible. First of all, there is already a lot of facial recognition technology out there, from CLEAR stations at the airport to municipal solutions such as the one they are trying to launch, (to widespread opposition,) in Detroit. So this isn't really "Blue Sky" territory. Second, the idea that Amazon -- or any other single company -- should be in charge of drafting regulations that potentially impact every man, woman and child in, or visiting, the United States, while benefiting themselves financially, is absurd. Typically these types of regulations are established with input from a wide range of vendors, users, and consumer protection groups. In this case -- given some of the alleged issues with the technology -- I would expect civil and human rights groups to be added to the mix. Finally, why would Amazon want to appear any more "Big Brotherish" than it already does? With people upset about their Echoes broadcasting private conversations and other sounds wouldn't you think it would be better for Bezos to suggest a more inclusive solution? I would. As to whether or not opposition will decline, that's a tough one. I use CLEAR -- which barely works about a third of the time -- but other, more paranoid, individuals will see this as a sign of the Apocalypse at worst or an abusive ploy of the "Deep State" at best.

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