Forget five years. You’ve got eighteen months.

Grafitti on wall


Back in the 3rd age of industrial revolution (2015), when disruption hadn’t yet been invented, product and service vendors had it easy. They could buy market research, see the past and know the future.

Their reliance on the way it had always been done was confident because marketing was a known commodity. It was a plug-and-play game, and you could learn it the same way your manager did.

Then it dawned on people that things were changing. Digital communication is now so advanced that we don’t know it’s happening (thanks for making us aware, President Trump), where trends can be started and killed in a heartbeat, and where the lexicon of education forgot etiquette. We now see what we ‘should’ and ‘need to’ do according to experts. If there’s ever a sign that experts aren’t sure what to suggest, look at the language they use. The more egotistical and self-assured it sounds, the more you can be sure they don’t really know either.

And here we are in the 4th Industrial Age (4IR or Industry 4.0). So uncertain is the actual scope of change, that even Wiki keeps it vague: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on the Digital Revolution, representing new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even the human body.[10] The Fourth Industrial Revolution is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including roboticsartificial intelligencenanotechnologyquantum computingbiotechnologyThe Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.”

Pretty much everything, then.

Accepting that “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution” was the theme of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of 2016, and that the term 4IR is reputed to have been coined the same year by Charles Schwab, it looks like we’ve been living in the new age for about 18 months.

Kevin Kelly also published a book in 2016. The Inevitable predicted the advent of communal clothes and robot laundering. Possibly not the most significant prediction ever, and yet, despite his thought that this would be possible in a long-range future we can now buy cupboards that use robots to scan, fold and organise clothes by wearer. Another example of an 18-month cycle from prediction to availability.

room44’s work supports the 18-month idea. Too frequently, we observe management teams worry about what they’ll be doing in five years’ time. In some cases, they needn’t worry: they won’t be around that long.

Here’s why. Let’s hypothesise. Your management consultancy comes in today and identifies the need you know you have, which is to get with the programme and plan for disruption. You agree to send a scout to a trade show to see what’s cooking in your market. Reasonably, they’ll be on a plane in July at the earliest. By the time they get back and you convene the management team (after they’ve all returned from their summer breaks) it’s September.

Best case is that, from that single piece of insight, you decide categorically what to do next and commit a plan to the business to execute. Your product goes into the stage gate process for technical development, procurement, communications strategy and sales planning. Six months down the line, you’re ready to test, and you find that the market conditions you thought you saw have shifted. The project dies right there.

In the time you took to get to a trade show, Facebook and Google dreamt up a squillion ideas and tested them. Inside two weeks, they’d hugged the ones that will fly or killed those that won’t, and by the time your scout got on the plane, they’d moved the game on in a way that you didn’t see.

This is why consumer-centric design is so important, and why learning what Design Thinking is all about could be the best decision you ever made. If you only ever look at what your trade is doing (tradeshows, seminars, conferences, awards), you’ll have a great idea what your competition is up to now, and no clue about what to do yourself.

How to do it differently? Stand back and look at it from the point of view of your customer. By taking a long-range view of the factors and trends that are affecting what your consumers do, by taking emerging technology into account, and by applying a dose of creativity, you can begin to build a different view of your future. From here, you can look back and decide how to navigate to your new market position.

Design Thinking is a powerful tool. It can release your team’s thinking, multiply your available options and boost efficiency (yes, really). Exposure to consumer thinking will genuinely change your view of your business forever.

But don’t sit and think about it for too long. ‘Our five-year plan has been the same for the last five years’ is a lament we hear all too often. If this is you, please get in touch – I think we can help.

Write to me or book some time to talk and we can discuss how best to help you.

Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.