room44 innovates

We’ve just had a public holiday in the UK. An extra day off gives us the chance to visit friends and family too far away to get to in a normal weekend.

Take a child along on this trip and invariably they’ll hear, “ooh, haven’t you grown?”

Children do grow. If you see them every day it might not be noticeable. See them occasionally and it’s obvious.

As a repeating trend, this is a good example of being too close to the phenomenon (parent) or simply forgetting that it’s a cycle that hasn’t been broken yet (grandparent/uncle/godparent).

Things change, whether we see it happening or not. Disruption lives here.

And when stuff changes, if we don’t make the effort to take note, it’s easy to be lured by the siren song of what we know: expected, normal, traditional.

Things change

Sheffield’s Lord Mayor is coming to the end of his tenure and plans to become a Green Party MEP. Magid Magid is a Somali immigrant who became the youngest ever mayor when he was elected in 2018. A social media-savvy zoology graduate, his unconventional approach could not have been more different to the city’s first mayor, wealthy businessman William Jeffcock, in 1843.

Things change, we know that. But we don’t necessarily plan for it, or like it when it happens – even though the signals of that change may have been clear for some time. The siren song of what we know is really strong.

As the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, #magicmagid, says:

“People are suckers for tradition. What is tradition? It’s peer pressure from dead people.”

5G signals 

If you see a change coming but aren’t sure what the signals mean, you have a choice: ignore it or try to understand it. Allow it to become a threat, or get a grip on it and create an opportunity.

For example: as with AI, facial recognition and mobility autonomy, 5G is around the corner, but few people know what it might mean for them in real terms. By the time Alpha Gens are in university, 5G will have expanded so that every one of us will be permanently connected to a network. Not like now, by choice. Permanently.

Even today, you give off a digital dust every 18 seconds if you have a phone or a wearable on you.

Super-analysed data

Inside ten years, your car will predict your routes based on your diary; your house will know your routine and replenish your grocery shopping based on a meal plan for your personal dietary needs; your running shoes and bike will both be connected, so you won’t need the AppleWatch/Garmin Polar/Suunto on your wrist – and will anticipate caloric intake to order enough groceries. Every purchase you make will be super-analysed.

Some of this happens now. To see how closely your habits are tracked, experiment for yourself. Try buying (or searching for) products out of habit. Someone in an extra-marital relationship might start behaving unexpectedly (flowers, tattoos, motorbikes, midweek breaks). Make a few of these searches and see how quickly you start seeing adverts for divorce lawyers and single bedroom apartments. Other examples are available.

Feeding spinach to the kids

Helping your staff to see disruptive trends and act on them is a bit like getting your kids to eat their greens.

Your team knows things are changing out there – they are consumers, after all – but they typically aren’t paid to disrupt your efficiency, so it’s hard for them to see it as a good idea. Your company has taken a long time to get good at what it does, so ‘change’ and ‘disruption’ are unwelcome at the operational level.

The question is whether you ask your staff to keep doing what they want to do, or what you know they should do.

Given the choice, kids will eat chocolate, slumped in front of TV programmes they’ve seen before, but we know they need to eat their greens and expand their knowledge, so we send them to school and slip spinach into their smoothies.

room44 makes the idea of disruption less scary. Like kids who won’t eat the spinach, we have to get clever about introducing ‘innovation’ into company culture in a way that makes it palatable.


Start here by assessing your true condition, or wait until Grandma says ‘ooh, hasn’t that problem that was tiny last time we saw you grown.”

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

Sometimes innovation feels too hard and takes too long to begin when common sense says ‘good enough’ is fine.

Radical solutions may be the best way forward but a single step moves the game on far enough for the next step to feel more possible – and the next…

A personal story

Here’s an example of my own where ‘radical is the end point but an analysis of the situation revealed a more pragmatic plan.

In 2016 I raced age group triathlon with Team GB. Lots of work and then it was on to the next campaign. Next, I had a bike crash. Three months later, on my very first ride after recovering, I had another one. Just riding to work my front wheel fitted perfectly between two paving slabs. What followed was a sudden teeth/paving slab interface and a cracked sternum. Cause and effect.

Eighteen months later I started to think about riding a bike but had no interest in repeating the experience.

Design thinking

I started looking around at ways of getting back on a bike. Being inclined towards new ideas my first stop was eBikes. They’re great. However, it’d need some investment. Sure, it’ll extend my range and relieve the use of my car but right now I need to ride a bike to avoid city traffic charges and parking costs.

After lots of looking around at possible solutions I realised that I didn’t fall off my bike because I can’t ride a bike. I fell off because a 23mm tyre fits between paving slabs. My tool of choice was inappropriate for the environment.

Getting back on the bike

In response I applied the values we teach and upcycled, recycled and designed a bike for this environment.

The picture at the top of this story is that bike. Wide tyres, a saddle that avoids the need for suspension, mountain bike gears and a rack to carry a laptop or shopping.

On top, it’s a parts bin special. There are charities out there, re-purposing donated bikes and doing so for far less than high street retails.

This one cost me less than £200 and perfect for my need, today.

Here’s my product development trajectory. Short term actions that are good enough, a mid-term plan with more deliverables plotted against the size of investment and a longer-term commitment to know what’s emerging so we can leapfrog to that if necessary.

This is the pragmatic side of innovation that demands we keep an eye on trends as they develop but which gives me what I need, and want, now.

This trend identification programme could be what you need too. It doesn’t have to be hard or take long.

Learn more about outside insight here.

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

Does this sound familiar?

“Mum, where are you going?”

“There and back, to see how far it is.”


“Dad, where are you going?”

“To see a man about a dog.”

“We’re getting a dog?”


The management has a purpose they can’t (or won’t) reveal or describe, so what do the kids do? Is there time to get the Lego out, or do they just sit and wait for the dog to arrive?

I mean, who lies about getting a dog and then expects people just to get on with it?


“So, son, what did you do while I was out?” (not seeing a man about a dog)

“Well, I didn’t know where you’d gone, what you were doing, how long you’d be, or how I could contribute, so I just sat here and ate cookies.”


“And do you think that was a meaningful use of your time?”

“Frankly, with the data available to me, yes.”


Let’s run the scenario again, and see if it sounds a bit closer to home.

The CEO says, “Change is inevitable. We need to become a customer-centric business. Now go back to your desks and make that happen.”


WTF? We make washing machines/chocolate bars/medicines/pants…how much more customer-centric do you want us to get?

“We need to innovate: be more like Amazon/Uber/Google/Tesla – but I’m still the boss, and I’m doing what I’ve always done.”


Is it any wonder that (when they’re asked), staff responses to blind pronouncements like Our culture needs to change are mostly not very polite?


So, stop right there. Don’t run off to change your culture. Even HR has got bored with that one. You can tell there’s something wrong with an idea when the industry changes the language it uses to describe itself. Like changing ‘HR’ to ‘People Services’.


Try this: base your decision-making process on innovation, and decide what your consumer-focused, strategic direction will be. Announce it, declare it, sing it from the podium every chance you get, and see your company culture change. Watch it become interested, motivated,  purposeful and efficient. Being a part of something challenging but creative gives the whole company a single purpose. If you want to be more like Amazon or Google, this is how you do it.


“Hey kids, let’s all go to the shops and get ice cream on the way back if you’re good.”

“Yay! Let’s go.”


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

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