room44 innovates

Dear ‘January Tristan’,

‘July Tristan’ here. I thought it may be useful to send you a few lines from your future to let you know what to expect and, perhaps, to help you plan for the next few months.

Everything changes

Above all, there is one thing you need to know about 2020: it will change everything you thought you knew about the world you live in. 

Over Christmas, you read about reports of a new mystery virus in China. You’re not affected by this now, but you will be. You will find this impossible to imagine, but world travel will be shut down to try and contain this virus. You will be confined to your house; schools will close (most kids won’t go back until September); shops, restaurants and pubs will be shuttered; and normal life will pause for weeks on end (I told you you’d find it hard to comprehend).

Simple stuff like shopping will become really complicated because of the shortage of many products after initial panic buying. The press will whip up hysteria and add fuel to the flames.

It’s July now and this virus has killed more than 40,000 people in the UK alone. You should consider how you will keep your family safe. I’d suggest you make a modest stock of essentials – oh, and supplement with Vitamin C, D and Xanthohumol. It might be an idea to get a decent probiotic. They say the condition of your gut biome makes a difference to your recovery if you ever pick up the disease.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Your business must be in good shape and has to be accessible in a different way too. Forget face-to-face meetings (yes, really). Get used to the idea that your clients will need to get value from your work without the opportunity to meet and discuss, unless it’s via a computer link.

This is working out great for some people and not so well for others. Many desk workers have relocated to their spare bedrooms or kitchen tables. For those who happen to be working on projects involving Europe, the US and Asia, there have now been four months of extremely long days. Some businesses have prospered, but many, many others have ceased to exist. Look up the word ‘furlough’ – you’ll hear that used more than you ever have before.

You’ll have to get used to no-one being allowed to work in or visit cinemas, restaurants and bars. They’re only just opening up again now. Your contact with other human beings is limited beyond belief. Universities are silent, offices deserted, factories on reduced shifts, car parks empty…

Cycling upswing

There’s been a huge upswing in cycling, and train and bus passengers are sparse. In fact, all the efforts to reduce traffic pollution in cities have accelerated, because bikes, eBikes and e-scooters are being taken seriously as alternatives.

One more thing – you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time considering what design of face mask doesn’t make your glasses steam up, and how many you need to buy. You’ll be wearing these for a long time. Disposable gloves too. And if you thought you kept your hands clean before…


Here in July, we’ve arrived at what the media is calling ‘post-lockdown’, but which still feels like lockdown to many. We still can’t travel as you do now and, although we’re allowed out for the evening, many people remain nervous of going into pubs and eateries.

Invest and get a haircut

If you’ve been saving up for something, buy it now. Spending’s going to be more difficult and the novelty of online shopping (except for groceries) may at last wear off. No-one will want your cash – inert surfaces carry the virus and we’re all keen to avoid it – so cards only, please. Buy a lot of hand sanitiser – or invest in a company that makes it.

By the way, make sure you get a haircut before the 23rd March – or buy some clippers. 

This is just the start of the way our world changes in twenty-six weeks.


Through all this, some people have welcomed the time to pause and rethink their values. Some countries are still seeing a rise in virus cases and deaths, others have plateaued but are planning for a second wave of infection and ramping up plans for a grim winter. Whether you call it considerate behaviour or a bid for self-preservation, keeping away from other people has become the new normal.

Though you may see this as a positive, Brexit has all but vanished from the news. More worryingly, climate change has also slipped down the news agenda, but is of course still moving apace. Latest estimates predict we’ll have seen the last polar bear by the end of the century.

Change before you have to

What I have seen in the last six months would have seemed impossible in January. Your plans for the next couple of years may still play out, but what I can say with certainty is that you must have more than one plan. Flexibility, agility and the ability to diversify are more vital than ever…as those without plans, or any openness to change, are already discovering to their cost. As the saying goes ‘change before you have to’.

Cheers mate. And as we all now say, stay safe.

‘July Tristan’

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

When nothing in the data indicates what your future holds, you must work out what will keep your product relevant to its market. This is what innovation consulting takes care of.

Clients can be contrary. What they say they want and what they actually want aren’t always the same. Here’s an example: 

Expressed goal: Can you research markets to show us what works in other segments, that we could do in ours?

Answer: Yes.

Actual goal: Can you tell us what we should do next?

Answer: Probably – but if we do, why does your company need you?

Innovation Managers have one thing in common. You all got where you are by being the most creative of people. As soon as you got this job, though, you were asked to operate in a manner that your company could recognise as new product development, but not always as innovation.

In the past, you would have filled your diary with trips to trade shows and exhibitions – essentially shopping trips with like-minded people. You may have defined this as innovation. None of us now knows when, or even if, the next trade show will happen, and this uncertainty gives you a huge opportunity to change your approach. 

Research is only useful if you use it.

Here’s a scenario: a client asks us to research across markets and countries. We plan to work with the client to develop a ‘relevance’ rating for new ideas, so we can create a decisioning method for them – and, in the process, instil a system that makes innovation possible.

Then the client realises they have to read what we send them. What they actually want is for us to tell them what is relevant and break the insight down to a level that doesn’t require much input from them.

What’s wrong with this scenario isn’t that we are making judgements about the client’s future direction – it’s that, when they have to discuss a concept with their senior management, they won’t know enough about it to present the case effectively. Sure, they’ll understand that this idea could work, but they won’t be aware of who else is working in the space (it’s not just the usual suspects who are the most vigorous disruptors), or if the nominated concept is a good strategic fit. 

Aren’t the answers in the data?

Sometimes but, in innovation, not always.

Data is historical. It tells you what has happened. It won’t tell you what will happen, or what might happen, or what could happen with some help. Data can be extrapolated to provide a forecast that assumes circumstances don’t change.

This is the part of the equation that we insist clients take responsibility for – because things do change, and today they change more quickly and in more unexpected ways.

Avoid the allure of easy.

It’s not always easy. Showing your business some nicely visualised data about market movements will be attractive for a while. Sooner or later though, you’ll need to work out what will keep your product relevant to its market when nothing in the data matters anymore. That’s what an innovation process takes care of.


Can we research markets to show you what works in other segments that you could do in yours?

Answer: Yes.

Actual goal: Can we tell you what you should do next?

Answer: Probably – but we’d rather work together. Together, we make a fantastic team- but you must commit to a process that has a start, a middle and an end.

If your management has a history of losing patience with new initiatives, please don’t start an innovation process. It’ll end in disappointment. 

The purpose of a process is to get to the end. The end of a process is where the magic happens. It’s where we pull together all the insight gathered and create innovative opportunities. It’s where we design a rationale that your management can see potential in. It’s where all the work culminates, leading to a final strategic output with practical actions described..

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

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