room44 innovates

Apple was innovative. Now it launches no new ideas and has fallen behind in the AI stakes.

Mid-term, what will Apple do to pull it back?

While it was the first $trillion company, and makes more profit than any of its key rivals, it hasn’t invested in gathering data in the way that Google, Amazon and Facebook have done. As AI’s place in our lives is cemented, Apple may have to find a new way to compete.

Or maybe they don’t plan to compete. After all, when Apple took the market with the iPhone, the world was a different place.

Napster had just died.

Blockbuster was still on the streets.

Woolworths was a thing.

Blackberrys were the favourite phone of the corporate IT manager. IT managers were a thing too.

Nokia and Siemens had good market share.

EVs were a lifetime away from being viable.

Now, everything has changed

You can buy barefoot shoes.

It’s OK for people to eat a vegan diet and wear leather.

Lazy workaholics are a demographic and…internal influencers are becoming more trusted than external and celebrity ones.

It’s the same for you

Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

If this kind of thinking can be helpful to you, let’s talk.

Here’s my diary. Book some time.

Not a single day passes at the moment without a flurry of reposted technology predictions of the future. It has probably always been like this with a timely skew to topical themes.

Today it’s technology. Apparently, it’s going to change us, our relationships and the fabric of our community.

And maybe it will. Maybe we will all be augmented and living in a mixed media environment with the machines listening and responding to our every thought and sentiment.

Perhaps the products we want will turn up at the door by drone or robot and perhaps all those menial tasks that we think are beneath us will just get done.

The vision this kind of thinking points us at is a hybrid of WALL-E and Altered Carbon. Personally, I think we can learn a lot from the imagination of futurists. History tells us that they have a knack of getting lots of their predictions right. History tends not to record everything they got wrong. They are fallible.

So, how useful are predictions? In the context of your business how useful is this kind of pronouncement: ‘Blockchain – each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of the data.’

Cool. And that means?

For use as a distributed ledger, a blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for inter-node communication and validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires a consensus of the network majority.’

Oh man, I need some of that. Call Lyreco and get me a box.

How about this: Artificial Intelligence, also known as AI, is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans and other animals.’

Which does what?

AI has become an essential part of the technology industry, helps to solve problems in science and medicine, and is better able to analyse business data to make more accurate predictions and forecasts.’

Now go and shop for your AI driven accurate prediction service and see how far you get. My prediction is that you’ll find a consultant who can build you a machine learning algorithm because what’s described here doesn’t actually describe AI very well. Just my opinion.

I love the way that we can work our business plan into the future and that we can fairly accurately forecast the way that technology can help us. I am completely committed to the act of anticipating what your (and our) clients will want to see provided as a service in the future. BUT – bland pronouncements of what’s to come serve no purpose unless they can be tied back to what we do today. If we don’t work on the direction of travel that takes us from a business that doesn’t use a new technology to one that does, we aren’t designing our business; we’re waiting for something to happen and that’s not a strategy.

That’s just business as usual and as we predict, ‘usual’ won’t last forever.

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

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” Anatole France

Hard data gives us access to facts that are indisputable. Not easy to find, maybe, but a set of insight revealed by digging into the data stack.

The soft skill that humans can contribute to innovation allows us to distil information and then to apply a tool that AI has yet to develop: intuition. Gut instinct is rarely relied upon these days, but think about your biggest decisions.

Where do I live? What will I drive? Who will I marry? Will we have children? These aren’t decisions usually committed to a spreadsheet, although it’s true that some people (I suspect mostly accountants) do. If so, the answer to #2 might vary but it’ll be a blue one.

So the statisticians and, more commonly now, marketers get busy with the algorithms to produce a set of slides that will categorically pronounce that option A is likely to succeed better than option B.

Now comes the tricky bit. There’s a baby boomer sitting in the big chair listening to the detail. She’s been around. She’s seen trends and she’s won and lost decisions, based on hunches, in the past. She’s happy to be persuaded by the P&L projection and yet… her intuition kicks in and she goes with B – or nothing.

That may frustrate the other end of the board table. It may even retard the company’s progress into new and growing markets, but unless you can hit a chord that resonates right along the wire from what she learnt in the past to what she might believe about the future, you are coming up short.

Show her a strategic end point. Finish the argument and actually predict a future scenario for her. Stand by your own hypothesis. If you don’t, your story is just a story. Whether it’s based on data and history or just made up for effect, your best forecast is still essentially a guess.

Data may show us a door, but human intelligence and our special reasoning still hold the key.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

‘Change’ is racing towards us so quickly, that to choose the one thing that will make a difference to our business fortunes seems impossible. What if we get it wrong? What if we don’t get it right enough? Not so much the rabbit in the headlight but the kid in the sweet shop.

As a result, the rate of change can retard the speed at which decisions get made.

Much of what we read at the moment is no more than speculation. Open any news site or magazine and the most popular subjects are AI stealing our jobs, autonomous cars and electric vehicles. Throw in a sprinkling of badly explained CRISPR and the picture is pretty much complete.

However, when even the non-techy weekend sections talk about change anxiety, it shows an underlying concern about what we don’t know yet. One of this weekend’s supplements featured a piece* by a mother and daughter team about change anxiety and GAD-7, among other articles that centred on CRISPR and the future of transport. If these are themes that appeal to Features Editors, then the subject is surely hitting mainstream consciousness.

The answer is not simple to unpick and it won’t come in a flash of divine intervention. Continuous review and company-wide contribution are steps in the right direction. A framework such as Design Thinking is also useful.

Here’s what Kevin Ashton, the consumer sensor expert who coined the phrase ‘the Internet of Things’, said about innovation:

“I’d been lied to all my life: great innovation didn’t come from geniuses having moments of inspiration. It was about putting in the work; finding a way through and messing up and figuring out why you messed up, and then trying something different. And this incremental, step-by-step approach to innovation was just how everybody else was doing it around me, too.”

room44, innovation justified.


*This website’s subscription prevents us from linking to this article. See The Midult’s Guide To The Future. The Daily Telegraph Magazine 3rd June 2017.


The predictions are that smartphones will be old technology within a few years. Commentators are sceptical. Try telling anyone you talk to and see what they say.

And yet there are developments that may just be tolling the death knell for our favourite device:

Bone conduction implants have been around for a while and used in medical settings but the technology is now creeping into the consumer space after a few false starts. One of the more recent “Zungle’s Panther Bone Conduction speaker transmits sound waves to the skull via vibrations.”

Spectacles by Snap send video straight to your online account. They see what you see. GoogleGlass anyone?

Project Jacquard may be the glue that sticks the emerging tech together. Already available as a Levi jacket: “Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms. Everyday objects such as clothes and furniture can be transformed into interactive surfaces.”

With haptic and audio prompts part of the consumer landscape, gesture control and voice control appearing more and more and connected screens increasingly integrated into everyday lives, our need to carry screens is decreasing.

As directors of a business that has been successful your job is to see into the future. To know where your competitors and customers are headed and to get there first. To be ready with the solution to a need they haven’t seen for themselves yet. It’s not impossible but the vision of the future is confused. The many conversations that are going on around us are fractured and unclear. No-one knows what the future holds except that we can’t predict it accurately.

To be relevant in this market and to stay relevant in the medium and short term will take a steady hand and some foresight. It’ll also take some plain talking in a language that everyone understands. Let’s leave the lexicon of the CTO out of it. Let’s discuss the signs that we see that will make a difference to you.

Let’s talk about people, product and function of the things you make and can make.

Let’s think about the design of products to meet a real and tangible consumer need that is developing. Let’s be as definite as we can about how our markets are shifting.

Let’s design our futures and set the VR, UX, IT/SQL/Python guys off and running to deliver them. Let’s work through the process of design thinking and write our innovation strategy down. Then they’ll know which direction to run in.

Innovation justified: it’s what we do.

We all see stats and we draw comparisons between them. This thing happened after that thing so it happened because of it.

  • Elon Musk is going to Mars. We’ll all want to go to Mars.
  • Italy’s birth rate is dropping. China’s is rising.
  • Ice cream sales rise at the same time as drownings in the sea rise.

Context is everything. Endogeneity is the term given to drawing a conclusion that probably isn’t connected. Right cause and wrong effect.

Do you want to know why ice cream sales and drownings rise at the same time? Not because Granny was right and you shouldn’t swim straight after eating (although that may be true), or because ice cream and salt water don’t mix. No, it’s because it’s summer.

Interpreting data has always been an art and finding the patterns that mean anything at all is getting harder. Again, not because we aren’t all as good at it as we used to be. It’s because the data is everywhere and there is so much of it.

Maybe an answer is to go techno and buy in some machine learning capacity. Otherwise, maybe we can look through the right lens or take the right guide along the journey.

Cause and effect. room44 and innovation strategy.

Not a day passes without artificial intelligence making the news. The data collected from the constant and endless monitoring of our behaviours is mostly seen as a threat, not terribly well-defined, that the machines will use against us.

It’s obviously true that information is being gathered. Your smart watch, smart phone, laptop and iPad are all emitting data dust that is being sucked into a cloud somewhere and aggregated into a cognitive system that is learning your behaviours.

Every app, GPS device, traffic surveillance camera, parking space sensor, medical device, red-light camera and website you use is recording your habits, predispositions, predilections and preferences.

Every retailer you use a card with can draw conclusions about you from its look-a-like groupings. Every social media channel you use knows your fears and thoughts and everyone else you know. Your banks can describe you as accurately as your DNA profile, if asked.

But information is ephemeral. Only when it is stored and valued does it become data that can be analysed, and you gave up caring about who gathers information as soon as you signed up for any digital service.

Business and innovation today craves to be new, newer, newest. Be the first and corner the white space (if that’s even still possible). While the media are fixated on the far future as a problem, brand managers and open-innovators get on with making things we can buy today and tomorrow. The two ends of the timeline are connected in some companies and not in others. Lots of others.

As consultants, of course, we offer new opportunities, new sources of information, unique insight, the most creative and previously unseen product strategy. It’s our stock in trade. BUT, almost without exception, the magic in every project comes when we talk to you. There can’t be an ‘Ah Ha’ moment unless we are in the same room.

Selecting the best data source for you is a real conundrum, unless, as my mum used to say, you “look home before you look away.” Releasing value from what you know is a bit like climbing the proverbial rope and ringing the bell: really simple and really hard. So, this is our top tip for seeing what your product could look like next: look back.

In your hard drives, there is market and client information that would be of such high value and specificity that to commission it anew would cost far too much. Your earlier market reports, consumer profiles, product ideation notes, team meeting minutes, even the pitch documents you’ve got on file from prospective vendors are tailored to you.

So, while we certainly remain focused on the 20-year horizon (and trying to work out whether robots will run the world or cut the grass), we also see the value in looking over our shoulders and seeing what the past can tell us. Old-fashioned, old values or old school?

Old-fashioned, old values or old school? What do you think?

“Heisenberg looks around a bar and says, ‘Because there are three of us and because this is a bar, it must be a joke. But, is it funny?’

And Gödel thinks for a moment and says, ‘Well, because we’re inside the joke, we can’t tell whether it is funny. We’d have to be outside looking at it.’

And Chomsky looks at them and says, ‘Of course it’s funny. You’re just telling it wrong.’”

Perspective, it affects everything we do, including how we allow insight to influence our view of consumer need.

We saw something today that brought this home. A LinkedIn contact posted a blog about the tendency of millennials not to buy material (houses, cars) goods in the same way older generations have been trained to do. The data that support this is strong and the trend shows that Gen Y is even less inclined to follow the path of their elders, preferring to invest in experience over roots.

The thread included empirical evidence from people who have sold property in order to live an experience based lifestyle. Despite this the thread included a comment from a Management Consultant claiming the trend is down to the affordability of houses in the UK.

On closer inspection the demographic of the contributors justifies some review of the first assumption. Are they millennials or at a time of life when the choice is easier to make? In this case it was an equal split so the data needs some more division.

But, so what? If the trend is clear, is the cause important? If you’re a mortgage lender this insight has a different impact than if you’re a travel broker. Either way interpretation is going to influence your view of the macro trend and your response.

Innovation? No. An opportunity for innovation? Absolutely, in both cases.

The market research industry has made capital from this kind of situation for aeons. Because the same data can be differently regarded their market is wide. This is why bespoke insight gathered from new sources and the re-purposing of old data with new tools has become of high value.

Only recently, machine learning allows us to access and handle data in such quantity that views of the future can be your alone. Say what you will about technology, for a time this new facility has the potential to drive Innovation strategy into business with real and unique product and service differentiation. Design thinking differently informed; that’s a powerful combination.

But who to take advice from is another conundrum. This isn’t for us to say so let’s leave it to Seth Godin whose Heisenberg passage it is that we borrowed above: “…if we pre-process our reactions to things already labelled we don’t have to reconsider our plan.”

Future thinking: it’s what we do at room44.

Drop us a line at and let’s see how we can help each other. Innovation justified.

Every time a driverless vehicle sets out it needs to be certain of one thing: that everything it expects to encounter is in the right place. White lines, bollards, pedestrian crossings. The things we normally navigate around using our eyes.

But take Australia, for example. It just can’t be relied upon to be in the same place year on year. Australia moves closer to Asia every year by about 7cms. Since the last GPS calibration in 1994 the continent has moved by 1.6m. GPS is accurate but it doesn’t track changes like continental drift.

Because the landscape moves, the macro factor has real impact at the micro level. The risk to people in and around driverless cars presents a bit of a problem. Imagine driving down the road and the corner of the street is now where the white line used to be but you can’t see it. Safety systems and human intervention will save the day but it’s still a problem.

The latest GPS correction in 2017 anticipates the system being accurate in 2020. For the next three years it’s known still to be wrong.

In Australia, there’s a harbour called Port Hedland. The ships that collect hundreds of thousands of tonnes of iron ore are vast. At certain times, the draft clearance between the ship and the sea bed is no more than 25cm. GPS accuracy here is critical. In this context 7cm is a lot. 1.6 metres is huge.

Here’s the analogy.

Even the most accurate GPS system can only use machines to get close to a target destination. When we get to the fine detail, humans need to intervene.

Planning business strategy is the same.

Lots of us simply don’t plan the journey. Proactive companies use data that can get close to the broadest strategic destination. Individually we adjust the plans to ensure the accuracy of our product positioning is precise.

If you haven’t started your journey yet, drop us a line or pick up the phone. A call costs nothing and may even signpost a new way.

Future thinking: it’s what we do at room44.

Drop us a line at and let’s see how we can help each other. Innovation justified.

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