room44 innovates

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.

Whether it was a great new idea that you signed up to when you first saw it, or the app just appeared when you updated your software, you are at the mercy of your own devices. How far down the road to augmentation are you? And what could the implications be?

The trouble with recommended services is they suggest things you already like. Service providers and product sellers need you to want their thing so, if they know you like a style, fashion, colour, material or programme, by pushing more of the same to you, there’s a good chance you’ll increase your consumption.

  1. Writing

Predictive text, grammar suggestions, Grammarly, Yoast – the list goes on. If you respond to that red line under a word, or adjust the word you thought you wanted to use for another option, you’re responding to suggestion. Now you’d think that accurate spelling and correct grammar are good things to encourage, but when the syntax and sentiment are altered without a full consideration of the context, is that really the case?

  1. Clothes

Concierged clothing is a thing. Sign up for a monthly supply of wardrobe refreshments and you will never look back. Being able to filter your colour, style and fit sounds great, until the detail you’re specifying starts getting down to the thread count of the fabric.

Recommendations are based on what the system knows about you. In time, this is likely to include a 3D/360° scan and virtual fitting process, but not yet. Even if you hate shopping for clothes, how much of what came in the mail would you have bought in a store?

  1. Viewing

We all do it. Sit down with Netflix, Apple TV, Sky, Virgin or whatever, and flick. ‘Based on your viewing history, we think you’d like…’.

So we watch a re-run. It’s safe, familiar, unchallenging, perfectly acceptable – but it’s not enough. Although the machine learning that gets to know us will make recommendations, the overwhelming amount of choice makes us less likely to take a chance on something new, and go back to our favourite episodes of Friends.

  1. Reading and shopping

No, I know these aren’t the same things but…

Amazon is the master at bundling and upselling. ‘Popular items you may like, news for you, inspired by your wish list, recommendations for you in books, additional items to explore…’

Everything I’ve ever looked at on Amazon is spun back to me in an endless list: things I didn’t buy yesterday but might buy today. Do I? Of course I do, and so do you.

  1. Driving

‘Your route to work today will take 33 minutes’ and will drift you past the Starbucks you visit most often. Really? Yep. Don’t be surprised. This is a baby step towards removing you from the decision-making process that autonomous vehicles will be able to fully satisfy.

By trusting your mapping software of choice, you absolve yourself of the responsibility to think about where the bottlenecks might be. We used to know where the rat-runs and back-doubles and short-cuts were. Now too often we sit in traffic because we trusted Maps to tell us what to do next. The red line on the map tells us how long we’ll be delayed, and we can work out the impact on our day – but often we just sit there. After all, it’s easier than reading a paper map or thinking about it too much.

  1. News

Your view of the world shifts according to where you are when you read, watch or listen to the news, as well as what you choose to consume. There’s nothing new in this. Regional news has always told a different story to a national or international perspective. But lock yourself into a limited news feed, and bias occurs.

By giving ourselves up to digital media, and acknowledging that we may be fed content based on our search history, we’re unconsciously submitting to a limited perspective that becomes self-fulfilling. If you want an example of this, consider the row over Cambridge Analytica and its alleged influence on the last US Presidential election.

  1. Track time

Your diary changes constantly and people drop things into your day all the time. Are you popular, important or just available? OK, so an app on your laptop can track how long you were ‘focused’ this week, but is measuring productivity in this way helpful?

Being in demand in corporate life justifies our salary, and removes the responsibility for us to work on our own priorities and objectives. Happily, the company time logger is also tracking you, so at appraisal time you can agree with HR that you were way too busy to get more done.

  1. Diet

Drop every food item you eat into your app. Tell the cloud when you drink. Ask your supermarket to drop off weekly staples and top up your list with special offers to give the family a bit of breakfast variety.

If this is you, your whole nutritional intake is being monitored and you gave the information away for free. In another context, this is primary research that companies have spent billions over the years in trying to record.

Why do we do this? Because we’re told it’s good to drink more and we need a prompt to do it. But the choice we then make between a stimulant, an energy source or simple hydration is complex. We consume messages by the minute about drinking options. We forget that drinking water is not about gratification, it’s about maintaining a normal healthy state.

Food distribution is going through a paradigm shift right now, and your data is helping to design it. Who is this going to benefit? You decide.

  1. Voice control

‘Alexa, turn volume up to level 3. Siri, order my toothpaste.’

Making use of new tech is brilliant for cutting down on the effort we need to put into anything: loading music, making a phone call, buying stuff, sending a text. And if that was as far as it went, everybody wins. But of course, that’s not the end of it. Back to data.

Gathering data, analysing it, creating products based on your behaviours, and pushing new product ideas at you is what’s going on. You’re complicit in the design of the product being offered, and probably unconscious of the terms you agreed to when you plugged in the device that listens to your family’s most private moments.

  1. Social

To say that mobile technology has revolutionised human relationships is no over-statement.

We communicate with each other much more than was possible before the advent of mobile phones. Whether you’re in the camp that feels people are too wedded to their phones, or whether you can’t imagine a world without them, there’s no denying we all behave differently because of them.

Face-to-face meetings may happen as often as they ever did, but communications have multiplied. We text, share, message, and send signals about our state of health, wealth, social ambition and availability. Our networks are global and our ability to access community around the world unprecedented.

Being nudged, prompted and pushed is just part of what we do now. But how conscious of the implications are you, when you’re part of the conversation?

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


Is customer service the same as customer satisfaction? As leaders of successful businesses, 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 and to make sure that their concerns are addressed, hopefully before too much collateral damage is done. It’s not impossible, but neither is it easy.

There’s a market sector called Customer Experience Management (CEM) and we just attended a conference on the subject. With the market for mobile and data services saturated in most countries, telecommunications companies (Telcos) are keen to make their customer feel loved. While you may not get this feeling when you try to change your mobile plan, it’s a fact that Telcos are coming to rely on upselling and customer retention to sustain revenue.

The figures are interesting. Apparently we, as a global consumer base, send 80 billion text and social media messages a day. That’s how dependent we are on our devices. Generally, we are happy enough with our service providers, but sometimes things fall over. Of the people who have a complaint with their service, only 1 in 26 complains directly by phone.

One provider receives 70,000 customer contacts a day, dealt with by 3,200 agents. Customer service satisfaction scores depend on the outcome of these calls – the best outcome being that the call gets answered quickly and the issue is resolved by a human. Has that ever happened for you?

Telcos are trying to reduce their reliance on taking calls by person by introducing automation to route and handle calls. To a consumer this often feels like a cunning ruse to avoid actually talking to us one-to-one. Another development is to use chatbots to answer the call instead of running callers through a series of number selection options. Chatbots draw from a menu of pre-prepared statements and may eventually pass our call on to a real human.

So here’s the dichotomy. Company ‘A’ is working to develop great new ways of fielding calls using machine learning and chatbots. Company ‘B’ says, “Support, don’t replace, humans” with bots. And customers really don’t want to have to make a call in the first place.

The contrast between what seems obvious looking in, and what companies actually do to overcome such issues, demonstrates why design thinking is such a powerful tool: adopt the company approach and try to overcome a problem or apply consumer centricity to resolve the issue at its root.

In practice, nothing is quite as easy as this. Large companies with large numbers of people paid to recruit new technology need to be seen to be doing exactly that. Machine learning is a new tool. It’s often confused with artificial intelligence, but that’s a conversation for another day. The point is that, on occasion, an obvious question sometimes pulls the sheet off the elephant in the room.

What will make a difference to you? Masking the symptoms or treating the cause? Let’s talk about people, product and function of the things you make and can make. Let’s think about designing products and services to meet a real and tangible consumer need, now and in the future. Let’s be as definite as we can about how our markets are shifting and let’s see if we can deliver excellent consumer service and remove the need for a safety net.

Let’s work through the process of design thinking, together. If any of the comments in this blog raise any questions you’d like to talk about please drop us a line here.

Future thinking. 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?

Indiana Jones can teach us a thing or two about executing an innovation strategy. Every time he makes a wrong choice and another stepping stone falls into the fiery abyss he rebalances and tries again. If he hits a firm footing he moves on. If he gets it wrong, he repeats the process, but the one constant is that he knows where he’s going. Specifically in the short term and more broadly after that.

When he gets to safety it’s easy for his companions to follow his path. This is the story of innovators and fast followers, but that’s for another day.

Why a vacation? When you finally agree on a vacation destination (hard in our house), almost everything else falls into place: when you’ll go (in school holidays or outside to miss the crowds); how you’ll travel (fly); where you’ll park (take a cab to the airport); when you’ll leave to avoid traffic delays (stay overnight at the airport); how you’ll transfer from the airport to the hotel; what documentation, insurance and jabs you’ll need. You can even decide who goes with you and they can decide to say yes or no to your invitation based on their knowledge of the destination.

If anything happens between booking and departing, like travel advice not to visit that country, there’s time to course-correct and change the destination. Everything else probably stays the same: airport, passport, taxis…

I’ve used vacations as a simile before, but the comparison does a good job of breaking innovation strategy into bite-sized chunks. The important part is to know where we’re going. This is why we focus so much attention on reading the market and analysing the opportunities that will open up in the future. It’s a ‘What if?’ exercise with a twist. The twist is that the information that informs the scenarios we build is not easily read. Not because it’s impenetrable data but because it just isn’t in the brochure: it takes a lot of digging to find this information and you have to know where to dig.

And the ways we see the future opening up aren’t best viewed through the lens of experience. Our current terms of reference can’t be guaranteed to reveal the full impact of a trend on consumer behaviour. Not only do we need to see a different future, but we also need to shift the perspective we see it from. The trick is to get the right tour guide.

Future thinking: it’s what we do at

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