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: 02/25/2020

    Was Burger King smart to showcase moldy Whoppers?

    Without question showing a moldy, month-old burger will catch your attention, in the same way that showing graphic images of a fatal car crash replete with severed limbs and lots of blood and gore could be used to promote safe driving. But there is a world of difference between "could" and "should." It's clearly a stunt, but is it effective in the long haul? For one thing, am I the only one that asked themselves why it took over a month to get that moldy? And for another, is this image of my product I want to leave in potential customers minds? So does it draw attention? Yes. Are there better ways to get that attention? Without a doubt. We all understand that food rots in the same way we understand root canals hurt, but nobody would suggest watching a 30-second spot of a patient screaming in pain before going to the dentist.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2020

    How will Jetblack lessons inform Walmart’s conversational commerce efforts?

    Look, the digital space is all about failing fast and often. What Jetblack teaches all of us -- including Walmart -- is that sometimes you shouldn't stay at the party so long, especially when you are driving profits into the ground. That said, Walmart has deep pockets and the fact that the market for what Jetblack offered doesn't exist today doesn't mean it wasn't worth the investment. We forget that the only way most of us learn is the hard way, through our mistakes. So the real lessons here are: don't let failure be the enemy of success, don't stop being bold, learn when it's time to cut and run, and remember, what didn't work today may work just fine tomorrow, so nothing is necessarily a bad idea forever.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2020

    Startup turns to the gig economy to bring expert sales advice online

    It all depends on two factors: cost and consumer satisfaction. In short, the devil is in the execution. And there is a systematic problem. If Curated becomes wildly successful they will have trouble scaling since there really can't be that many serious "experts" in all the fields. Put another way, at scale, demand for information could rapidly outpace the supply of experts. The result will presumably be that the experts really won't be experts. Nice idea as a boutique offering, though.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2020

    Is it time for retailers to move beyond fulfillment and on to experience?

    I hate the word omnichannel for multiple reasons. First, it is self-limiting, since it technically refers to only three "channels" -- mobile, physical store, and internet, while overlooking existing "channels" such as IoT, voice-activated, chip-activated, etc., not to mention new "channels" to come. Next, if we really want to think like the consumer -- which, despite their protestations, most marketers really don't -- then we would never utter the word "channel" in the first place, let alone modify it to the point of absurdity. Consumers acquire goods and services. How they acquire them is increasingly immaterial to them and subject to personal convenience. Nobody woke up in America today and said to themselves, "Oh, I need a new sweater and a half gallon of yak milk. I better activate my mobile channel," and nobody ever will. If retailers can't see they are just part of a consumer-centric acquisition continuum, they are already lost. And if they are lost, I suspect it's because they have been chasing sales down the "omnichannel" hole so long that they've lost touch with how real people live their real lives.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2020

    Grocers are given failing marks on food recall transparency

    Gene, lots of folks do just that out here.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2020

    Will technology even the last-mile playing field with Amazon?

    As I have said over and over again here, technology is an enabler, never a strategy. The problem with all technological advantages is that they can be cloned over time. And that often means the "innovator's" system ends up being the least effective solution. Those with long enough memories or students of technological history may recall when Kmart's retail technology led the industry, until it really didn't. So yes, machine learning tools will help Amazon's competitors on one level, but on another they will still lack the scale and capital to match Amazon's insatiable R&D budget. And so it goes.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2020

    Grocers are given failing marks on food recall transparency

    Clearly this is a problem, and just as clearly the solution isn't as obvious as it seems at first blush. Yes, supermarkets should do a better job around recalls, but in our area many (though obviously not all) recalls are communicated on all the local television news broadcasts. Could grocers use their loyalty card information to directly email shoppers? They could, but that still wouldn't touch everyone. Still, that would be one step in the right direction.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2020

    Holy badgers! Target did what with a University of Minnesota onesie?

    When purchasing hands you a lemon, it's time to make marketing lemonade. As they used to say in Silicon Valley, "If you can't fix it, feature it." So admitting the mistake is good, but there was a chance (in Minnesota at least) to do something more, like establish a scholarship at the University of Minnesota for students working on state history -- or even geography. Once owned, acknowledged, and atoned for the "sin" should be forgotten.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2020

    Will the FTC redefine anticompetitive behavior after its big tech acquisition inquiry?

    Cathy, while I agree it's premature to start the deep analysis, and (as my post shows) I totally agree the FTC has been asleep, I think I disagree a bit with your thoughts on the current administration. The President hates Bezos and we know what happens to people/companies he hates.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2020

    New Vans store designed as an homage to LA’s skate history

    In general I'm a huge supporter of retail storytelling, community-building, and all the other things the new Vans' concept embodies -- provided there is enough of a market to support it. Cookie cutter stores - or variations on a theme - will continue to dominate for lots of reasons from build-out cost to brand compliance, but it's nice to see somebody doing something fresh. The interesting question is whether Vans ought to be paying homage to the generation of skaters who are now 30 - 50+ or design a store for whatever the next generation will look like.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2020

    Will Pop Up Grocer bring discovery to grocery retailing?

    It depends on the market. Venice, for example, has a bohemian history going back generations so I expect it will work well there. Ditto for other parts of LA, San Francisco (if you could afford the rent), Portland, Seattle, Austin, and similar markets. The question is, is this really a scalable solution, and I think the answer to that is that it depends on how grandiose your idea of scale is. If your ambitions are modest, this works fine. If you overdo it, you lose the novelty and start frustrating customers. That said, I do believe traditional supermarket operators could use the pop-up concept more effectively, which in most cases means they should try it once or twice and see what happens.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2020

    Will the FTC redefine anticompetitive behavior after its big tech acquisition inquiry?

    Sadly, antitrust enforcement has been more or less a regulatory joke for about the last 30 years. I suspect this has less to do with alleged "anticompetitive" behavior in the tech sector and more to do with the fact that Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. One person's anticompetitive behavior, after all, is another's shortcut to controlling R&D costs. As to the first question, IF there is actual anticompetitive behavior it takes the form of buying innovation before it gets too competitive. In some cases that's bad because there is the potential to keep the best ideas out of the market, and in others it's good because it allows those same innovations to scale and get to market earlier than they otherwise would. So the right answer is that it depends and every case has to be examined on an individual basis in terms of impact. As to the second question, no, the current oversight mechanisms aren't sufficient to the challenge because bureaucrats aren't technologists and so they aren't in a position to fully evaluate all the nuanced impacts of a technology being acquired by Firm A versus Firm B, let alone allowed to follow its own fate. We have 19th century law trying to police 21st century industries. What could go wrong? And if the pressure on the tech sector increases, I have a solution. Just issue everyone in Silicon Valley a MAGA hat and the problems will all resolve themselves.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2020

    New York Stock Exchange owner eyed acquiring eBay

    In a simpler world far, far, away and long, long, ago (in digital time) when eBay owned PayPal, this deal would almost have made sense. Today, however, you have to ask yourself what the good folks at ICE were smoking. My bet? If the deal had gone through, it would not have been good for either company's ongoing business.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2020

    Brandless halts operations. What went wrong?

    Brandless always felt a bit like life imitating art, in this case, the movie Repo Man. And in both life and the film, the issues were quality, excitement, the ability to identify with a product, and the fact that in a purely generic world -- once you move past a few geriatric "No Branders" -- there isn't much of a consumer market for a product whose value proposition is essentially a price gimmick. Brands may be in trouble, but they aren't dead yet by a long shot. Put this one in the, "Sounded Like A Good Idea At The Time," box, seal it, and put in on the first shelf you find in the warehouse of failed concepts.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2020

    Will Staples’ new concept Connect with small business owners?

    Sounds like too little too late to me. As with any new format, the first question ought to be, "who is the target customer?" And the second question. of course is, "are there likely to be more of them tomorrow than there are today?" It's tough to answer either one of these questions in a way that justifies the capital outlay here. As Ben Ball correctly points out FedEx Office and Starbucks already exist and, as Cathy Hotka noted, the collapse of WeWork causes one to pause a bit. Also, suppose for a moment that part of the business is viable -- and that's a HUGE suppose. It may cover its expenses, but can it turn Staples itself around? I think the answer is, sadly, no, because the market has outgrown the core offering.

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