In 2023 we’ve seen seismic shifts in attitude responding to the many mega and macro events around the world.
It’s possible we’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about when our worlds have tilted a bit more in 2024.
The adage, if not now, when, used to be a great way of persuading innovation workshops to be bold and creative. The truth is that, whatever walk of life you look at, if not now, when is actually, if not now, soon.
In fact, it’s might be more accurate to say that change will hit you, if not now, it’s already in the wind.
The next decade is so primed to change everything we know about real and virtual relationships, political norms, financial stability, democracy across medical science and so many other fundamental structures that underpin societies, that factors are, actually, too many to count – or even point at.
Just one thing
Looking at these issues from the UK informs a perspective that we, as future-gazers, try to avoid.
Yet, one of the factors that we’ll take into 2024 is that two thirds (+66%) of countries currently recognised as democratic will go to the polls in the same year (UK, EU, US and more).
This is the first time it has happened since anyone started counting in the 1960s. It could be quite a moment.
Left or right?
Forecasts suggest that the UK will swing to a left leaning government.
Other places (US and big chunks of the EU) are heading further to the right than they already are.
Populist leaders have had a good run and some may survive the opportunity to change. Some won’t.
Protectionism is on the rise in the US and UK, amongst others, and history tells us that this rarely ends well but may prevail for a while. It’s hard to unravel a shit show when you first come into power.
Looking out slightly further we see more change-inducing trends to impact us.
Nigeria has a population today around 219 million of which 50% is under 19 years old. 70% is under 30.
The Nigerian population growth curve is set for it to reach 377 million by 2025 and 733 million by 2100.
Think about that; a new +400 million workers under 30 from one country.
If China and India are your sources for products now, start looking for this to affect you.
Nigeria’s population will equal the US as joint third most populous country sometime soon. Those people need food and work. It is possible to think that China and India may find their GDP hard to maintain with this kind of disruption in the world manufacturing order.
What does it matter?
All manner of manufactured goods could be differently sourced with new supply opportunities.
All kinds of manufacturing could be differently located with a different attitude to access to labour.
Some enlightened nations are actively developing inward migration opportunities.
If ‘growth’ is still the driving target behind our, broadly, capitalistic objectives, more people equals more output and it’s possible to see this translating into more success for Nigeria than the UK, for example.
How do you read it?
You remember that old saying that consultants trot out when they’re there to help develop a long-range strategy: the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the next best time is now?
It’s a great saying. It tells us where we’ve all gone wrong, and it instils a sense of utter hopelessness – all that time gone and no way back.
The best time to plant a tree to sit under
One of the people we watch, for good reason, is legend amongst wealth generators and head of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet. I was reminded recently in an article in The New European by Patience Wheatcroft that he put it better; “Someone’s sitting in the shade of a tree today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”.
I’ve previously referred to Prof. Hal Hershfield’s book called Your Future Self where the relationship between our present self is so far removed from our future self that we tend to spend our income now rather than invest it for our future when the latter is more prudent. Something Warren Buffet probably agrees with.
Short termism is possibly the most catastrophic human failing that we are seeing affect the future of everything that we know, today.
- Let’s get through this month and hit the target
- Let’s try to pay the mortgage
- Let’s not accept a reduction in tail pipe emissions if it means paying a ULEZ fee
- Let’s not pick a policy and stick to it when we know that it’s absolutely the right thing to do if it threatens our grip on power and influence today
Like the microcosms that influence your decisions in your businesses, the need to stay ahead supersedes the rationale long-term.
Tail pipe emissions
There are lots of examples of short-termism to point at that will negatively affect a wider cohort over time. The UK Labour party turned on its own member’s (Sadiq Khan) decision to impose the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) policy across wider London to save a bit of influence. The undeniable truth is that tail-pipe emissions are killing some of the same people who voted against the policy. Why? Because the immediate affect is a £12.50 per day charge. No-one needs that right now.
The rationale response could otherwise be, why are we voting down a Labour policy created by Conservatives (namely by Boris Johnson) when we could invest £250 a month in a newer, less damaging car or bikes for the family that will reduce air pollution, reduce asthma and other respiratory related illness, and cost less in fuel consumption.
Influencers know this
Picking out single things we can all do to make a difference is obviously right.
Influencers with a macro view of our conditions know this. Greta Thungberg’s little book of wisdom, No one is too small too make a difference or Alistair Campbell’s But what can I do? are responding to a trend and a craving for individuals to be able to make a difference.
Collectively we can. But it would be easier to reconsider our points of view if we weren’t always chasing down increasing mortgage costs and higher food and fuel prices or that monthly target. These priorities have the effect of keeping our minds in the present.
But, what can I do?
Our first job individually is to decide what is our priority and then who best represents us?
The people who want to represent us need to treat our priorities as the point of having influence and not as a means to getting it.
Most Mondays we try to publish a short list of thought-provoking facts that bear some relevance to the time of year and current events.
It’s not a science project, rather a list of things that catch our eye during the week from reading, viewing and absorbing by osmosis.
Usually we publish on LinkedIn. From now on, we’ll publish here and will share widely.
If anything grabs your attention, please get in touch. It’ll be a pleasure to talk; email@example.com.
47% of Gen Z prefer to shop in stores versus online
Traffic can increase by more than 50%, from a new store’s surrounding area, to a retailer’s web site within six weeks of opening a new store
- British Land
37% of shoppers research online and buy in-store
- Uberall 2021
The majority of Apple’s customers are reported to research in-store and buy online
How can you shift your paradigm without designing the paradigm to shift to?
- Thomas Kuhn
When I’m successful in persuading a previously closed mind of the value in looking to the future for inspiration and idea stimulus, it’s always a moment to celebrate.
Having the energy and tenacity is our part of the deal: to keep looking forward, to keep seeing value in things that don’t immediately appear promising – to see the future that other people can’t yet see. Clients just have to turn up and be willing to drop their barriers to entry – the practical matters that mire a company in the here and now.
It takes time. Clients need time to trust me and I need to keep them interested long enough to make a breakthrough.
Now and then we get lucky quickly and an idea meets a moment when eyes sparkle and everyone says “hell, yeah.”
Are you the project?
The part in this that we don’t sell, but which occurs as a by-product of being open to new ideas, is that our client always develops a new perspective.
‘What are you working on?’ is a line I stole (like an artist) from a book called ’Show your work’ https://austinkleon.com/show-your-work/ ?
It’s one of a few books I return to when I’m looking for another way to explain what we’re here for.
Innovation is a process, not a workshop.
Regularly turning up to hear, explore and consider external suggestions is not something that enough business leaders do. In fact, it’s not something enough of us do generally.
Whenever I get a fancy to start a new thing I’m accused of having another mid-life crisis. In reality my decisions to open an eBike shop and start a sustainable clothing brand were both the outcomes of years watching things develop around me until I felt the time was right to step up.
Again, from a book – “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” (John Cleese)
So, ‘what are you working on?’ is my adopted mantra for myself.
This screen grab from Austin Kleon’s book explains why it is so much fun to take time to consider the unnavigable journey into the future. It can be exciting, thought-provoking and sometimes terrifying but it’s a journey I believe we all need to take.
My role is to make it possible over a different path than you may choose for yourself.
Let me know if you fancy trying it out.
Check us out here.
Everything that happens has a wider effect. We all know this.
But, to confront it puts us in an uncomfortable place.
There is a better way than to only dwell on the inevitable – Actionable, sustainable strategy.
“FFS Tristan, how can that work? If I make 1% changes every day I’ll have a different business in three months.”
Trump – Brexit – Covid-19 – War in Ukraine…
It’s trite to suggest that these mega-events are on the same scale as decisions you and I make in our everyday lives. What they have in common, though, is the fact that they were readable. Yes, there was a degree of uncertainty before they actually happened and the timing was a bit vague, but the likelihood of these things happening became slowly more certain.
The lie of £350 million a week going to the NHS and 100,000 troops standing on a border probably signalled the thing happening even if you didn’t want it to.
I don’t know of anyone who had a contingency plan in place for any of them.
One or two companies had a scenario map, but not a plan.
So, with the benefit of hindsight, what happens next?
The signals of change are visible for those who choose to look. room44 looks all the time and what we do is connect less obvious trends that are signalled ahead of time.
Let’s have a look at a few UK-specific signals:
- Some EU countries are dependent on Russia for their supply of gas. Russia is at war: it will take a long time to recover and while it does it will increase its export prices for energy supply.
- The economic sanctions against Russia will have wider ramifications that to prevent Russians from buying western goods.
- Ukraine’s output of wheat is devastated for 2022 and for an indeterminate period into the future.
- The cost of diesel fuel in the UK has jumped from something close to £1.20 a litre to £1.90 over the last few months and fuel prices are on the rise anyway. £3/litre won’t be a surprise.
- All UK local authorities have targets to hit that will see an improvement in air quality.
- Charging per mile is on the legislative agenda for motor vehicle journeys.
- UK new building planning permissions now come with environmental improvement requirements. For commercial properties, it is often necessary for occupiers to commit to an ongoing programme of carbon reductions.
- Urban domestic planning permissions do not automatically stipulate residences need car parking spaces as part of the deal.
- Food prices have risen since COVID. Some foods aren’t always available. 15% thgis year is forecasted.
- Bank interest rates are rising.
I could go on.
Everyone reading this can probably see ways in which these factors will affect the cost base in their business and the options to mitigate the effect aren’t so many now. It’s going to be very difficult to hold your overheads steady through cost management, which gives you two choices: sell more or sell for more.
The benefits of incremental marginal gains
One of the roles I play when working with clients is to bring insight to the conversation on a regular basis. The benefit from seeing trends laid bare is to see them in the context of your business.
Viewing shifts regularly gives you the opportunity to aggregate the information and to adjust your working assumptions in small ways, rather than waiting for the big market change to hit and force you to react.
We apply the benefit of marginal incremental change. The idea that you can step forward by making little adjustments to the way you do business is proven to work time after time.
It’s an odd conflict of opinion that we’ll buy into Toyota Business System, Eric Ries or ‘Lean’ principles but the idea of making 1% improvements we can see for ourselves doesn’t get the same traction.
Hence the client who said, “FFS Tristan, how can that work? If I make 1% changes every day I’ll have a different business in three months.”
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.
If you want to talk about this, here’s my diary. Pick a time that suits you.
At this time of year we write a content calendar that usually includes a blog timed for March saying something like, your year is 25% time gone: what has changed?
Obviously, it’s provocative. Understandably, it can get a reaction along the lines of ‘shut up, smart arse, we know’.
This year we decided it was worth writing the blog a bit earlier. As usual, predictions abound – like this decade will see more technological change that we’ve experienced in the last hundred.
No real surprises there. It was the same in the 2010s and is difficult to plan for.
But it was only a few weeks ago that the UK government announced we could have a Christmas and that they’d review things in four days’ time. Policies that last four days? That’s a new kind of normal.
In February, of course, all bets are off and the only place you ‘need’ to wear a face mask is on a bus.
In other news the UK and France aren’t really getting on (again). Inflation is soaring. Domestic energy costs are set to rise by 50% this year. Lithium is in short supply, so batteries are too, affecting almost everything. Internationally, the Ukraine is in a state of flux; Kazakhstan is worth watching; US Republicans are planning a Trump return to power while Democrats aren’t able to stop regional restructuring that might permit it.
But none of this can affect your business because it’s all a long way away and in the future.
Stuff happens every day doesn’t it?
The obvious reaction is to, well, react because that’s pragmatic. But how differently would it be if you had already anticipated the macro events that could sideswipe you?
You can forecast your future
The idea of stepping into the future and looking back is attributed to Steve Jobs (but probably not his original thought). He was right though; step into the future, look back and join the dots – when they join up, you have a route map/ plan/ strategy – whatever.
There’s always one
This concept of future thinking makes perfect sense until the sceptic in your team says, ’but you can’t predict the future’. There’s always one. It’s usually the same person who insists on forecasting everything. Forecasts and trends watching aren’t quite the same. Forecasts are guesses based on historical data and maybe you can’t predict the future; but you can keep an eye on it so it doesn’t catch you out. You can also build a plan for your possible futures.
Planning for change
The diagram below illustrates the point. Try it for yourself: print it out and do the exercise as instructed.
Now turn it through 1800 and do it backwards.
See what I mean?
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.
If you want to talk about this, here’s my diary. Pick a time that suits you.
Right through COVID-19 lockdowns, established, proactive business has been morphing into new versions of itself. At the same time, start-ups have been making huge noise. Individuals and groups of entrepreneurs are re-starting, re-surging, re-energising and finding new ways to grab attention and grab business.
And now we have the holidays when everything stops again.
Companies who have struggled to trade, or haven’t found a new way to trade, will have to come out of their imposed exiles with the same job to do again – to restart, re-surge and re-energise.
Culture needs a strategy to feed on
The stop/start nature of many market sectors over the last couple of years has taken a toll. Clearly the logical response is to pick up where we left off as soon as possible.
Maybe, however, there’s another option.
The oft-quoted Peter Drucker is reported to have said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – and it’s true.
What’s also true is that, for this to be the case, culture needs a strategy to feed on. No-one wants an empty breakfast plate – so the two things go together.
Unfortunately, with vastly reduced incomes, businesses that have been forced to stall some of their creative operations are now being asked to resurge and the inclination (for the money people at least) is to retrench, conserve, trim, cut, slim down…
When you need to push forward, the guys in suits are the people to tell you to survive. Culturally, a battle is being played out in boardrooms where a fourth or fifth COVID wave is being experienced and where, now, we’re getting used to plan for the next re-opening.
Don’t trim too much
In business, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to trim away parts of an organisation when tough times loom. Typically, training gets canned, marketing budgets are an easy target, and even sales resource comes under pressure while the suits play God.
Resist the impulse. Good sense and pragmatism are just as useful in times of trouble as they are during periods of growth.
If you’re trying to get back to a version of your normal, please take another look at your options. You may need to change more than you realise and we’re here to help.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do – and have done since 2014.
room44 takes a sideways look at non-obvious trends currently developing and asks; who does this affect?
Chapter 1: Challenging questions:
- Politics in the UK.
- Cladding and negative equity.
- Interested party pacts.
Listening and watching news in June 2021 it feels as if life is good.
The UK is emerging from a year of COVID-19 lockdown, the summer is coming, pubs and restaurants are re-opening, the Conservatives have just had a landslide victory in local elections, with the implication that consistency at the top is what the UK wants. In the UK, at least, if we believe the news media COVID-19 might be a manageable problem.
Hooray, let’s go to the pub… and most of us did.
Then the hangover happened and with the cold light of day questions emerged.
To be honest, what you’re about to read is snapshot of what I’ve read, heard and seen since the euphoria of meeting people socially – and maybe you can help me join some dots together.
Politics in the UK.
The UK is one party state.
The UK is gradually regressing into its constituent parts. When Scotland votes to leave the union it’ll only take Cornwall and Yorkshire to declare independence for the everyone here to need a passport to drive from one end to the other.
Objectively, while the majority of the UK, apparently, all vote for the same political party, the place is pulling itself apart which seems a bit contrary to reason.
As a competent alternative to conservative rule, the Labour party has spent more than enough time kicking itself to death and has given us with great example of a brand failing to change with its audience. Becoming less relevant, they entered the last general and local elections without realising that ‘Labour’ is a moniker rooted in a forgotten era of industry and collective bargaining. Those days have gone and the red flag flies now over people who don’t remember what it meant.
Will Labour do the work needed to reinstate itself as a serious government candidate before the next election (and probably the one after that too)? No. Of course it won’t and so the electorate can look forward to an uncontested parliament for another decade.
With best will in the world, for Greens, Liberals or anyone else to make a serious dent in the UK Tory power base, something fundamental has to change. The signs are that they won’t despite the massive vote-winning assistance potentially offered by the biggest and most obvious crisis ever to emerge across the world – global climate change.
Cladding and negative equity.
We live in an odd period of history for all kinds of reasons. There’s always one reason or another but this particular moment in time has us sliding towards more central control, less freedom of movement, more censorship, less liberty…
Part of the conditioning that we in the UK are subject to is that home ownership is the pinnacle of achievement.
If you’ve never done this, try applying for credit and tick the ‘not a home-owner’ box and see what happens. If you want to know what it feels like to be treated like a second-class citizen this is a good way to start.
So keen are we to own property that some of us opt to buy a lease. Today, what happens when that property is found to be a serious threat to your life, because the structure of the place is significantly flammable, is a travesty.
You may need to research this but here are the bones of the issue. In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster it has been found that many properties of the same kind are at the same risk of fire.
Understandably, until the guilty cladding is replaced these properties have little or no value on the property market.
It’s a complicated area of law but the bottom line (in my mind) is that freeholders appear to be able to pass the cost of refurbishment on to leaseholders which, in most cases, far exceeds the leaseholders’ ability to pay.
So, despite buying a lease in good faith that the home is safe and fit for purpose, it transpires that when it is found not to be, the purchaser is liable. Caveat emptor to say the least and stalemate.
It isn’t the first time the ‘little guy’ gets the rough end of the stick or that politicking is used to wiggle out of paying for mistakes made in the past. Unfortunately, in a period when the country has to stay at home through an imposed lockdown, those people who already felt unsafe, also have this extra concern for their personal safety.
Threats to van life.
In a property market that already excludes a huge tranche of people, young and older, in the UK because of the consistent rise in house values well beyond inflation rates; and in the face of doubts over the safety of some more affordable options, people are turning to alternative living arrangements.
There’s a real buzz around tiny living and van life, at the moment. It sounds romantic – and can be, but there’s a threat to this non-conformist trend that needs understanding.
To want to live in a van takes some level of dissatisfaction with traditional arrangements – or an inability to be able to afford rents or mortgages – or a rejection of the price of doing so. I’ve got a mortgage and sometimes I wonder if it’s a good decision to keep it going.
Some say that when everything is counted, the capital gain from owning a house over the life of a mortgage do much more than match the outlay. Anyhow, If you live in a van and enjoy that way of life, good luck to you.
However, our conditioning is so strong that when a van parks up on your street there’s a temptation to be wary. The Lady in the Van movie made suburbanites wonder what they’d do in that situation and regular press coverage of alleged traveller misdemeanours could be behind another governmental move to restrict the liberty of an ‘alternative’ lifestyle.
A bill has been in development and on Tuesday 16th March, 2021 the UK government held the second vote in parliament for the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill*.
MP’s voted in favour by a majority, and the bill now goes to the committee stage, followed by the House of Lords before it becomes enshrined in law.
What is it?
This law enhances the Police’s power to confiscate the property of, particularly, van dwellers if they suspect that the occupiers may commit a crime in the future. The confiscated property can be kept for an indeterminate period.
So, we have a government supporting the removal of homes from people who have no other shelter, on the basis of nothing more than a potential complaint from another citizen and/or the suspicion that they may commit a crime someday.
Add this new law to existing wide-ranging surveillance, number plate recognition, banking and insurance monitoring networks and, even before facial recognition really finds its feet in the UK and we have a serious and insidious control of our civil liberty building in the background.
As a user base we’ve already given up our personal data to our mobile phone networks and we know our online footprints are regularly monitored so, it’s no real wonder that some of us are trying to find a bit of off-line space to live in.
News media and party pacts.
If you read and consume the same media as I do, we’ll probably have a similar view of the world. If you don’t, we won’t.
This is the reason I founded room44; to offer company teams different views of markets and market influences to reveal opportunities, not otherwise apparent.
It has always been the responsibility of the individual to search out your truth. You can doi this by consuming content from different media outlets that have different biases: political, commercial, cause or whatever.
So, a supposedly unbiased and independent media outlet is a good thing to know about.
Here, in the UK, it is widely believed that the BBC is that body but…
Where some stories get coverage, less headline-worthy items such as Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would, seem to get less. Personally, I can’t remember ever seeing it mentioned and I, for one, wonder why?
Media has always been available to support any specific idea/notion/belief and today is no different – except the number of outlets is huge, making it easier than ever to find validation of any and every idea with a few clicks on a keypad.
Consequently, people in business can avoid reading the other side of the argument with zero effort and so, a balanced opinion becomes less easy to arrive at.
The unofficial contract that is said to exist between the establishment and media outlets controls what is published on a daily basis. Media briefings have the effect of pushing content creators in specific directions. Effectively, this controls what news we are fed every morning.
While social platforms have made it easier to avoid only seeing propaganda published by ‘interested parties’, the establishment has got better at managing the news agenda which can be seen in action every day with the focus swinging from more contentious issues to more palatable ones without much logic.
Taking a consumer view of the factors, such as those described above, and making connections between them can be useful in informing your product strategy.
For example, consumers buying vans for conversion, camping equipment, hardware and conversion services, solar panels etc all buy their products from someone.
Camping space that closes for the winter are seeing year-round demand.
The companies that sell these products may want to look at the potential for the impact of new laws to affect what they sell and who they sell to.
It bears some monitoring. To be continued.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.
- The Bill contains enhanced police powers to deal with public order and wider offences and increased sentences for breaching conditions imposed on assemblies and processions by the police. These proposals have significant implications for the right to protest, an aspect of the rights to free speech and free assembly.
- The Bill contains a new offence targeted at persons residing on land without permission, coupled with powers to seize property. These have implications for the right to respect for the home and the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, of both the landowner and the resident, and may have a disproportionate impact on particular ethnic groups.
- The right to respect for private life is engaged by the Bill’s proposed power to extract information from electronic devices.
- The Bill also proposes a number of changes to sentencing, including extending the use of ‘whole life orders’ and altering sentencing for children and young people, with ramifications for the right to liberty and the rights of victims. Changes to community sentences also give rise to concerns about respect for private life and the home.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]room44’s data-driven approach reveals hidden trends and new opportunities to help you create high-performing, sustainable product strategies. The result? A strategic vision that is actionable in the short, medium and longer term – increasing revenue, promoting growth and encouraging brand tenacity.[/author_info] [/author]
The last few months may have been tough for some of you because of the limitations on work and communication, but for others it has been a period of blessed relief.
Coming out of lockdown and back into a regular work pattern will fill some people with dread.
Uncertainty around what kinds of business will succeed, fed by commentary across all media, isn’t helping. If we aren’t reading stories about the amazing growth rate of lockdown start-ups, we’re being told that everything established will fail.
Don’t worry. Things are no more difficult than they always were – but they are different.
How to work it through
Getting serious about the questions is a start. Can you honestly, hand-on-heart, say you’ve interrogated the probability that you can continue as before?
Try listing ideas that you could pivot into right now. You’ve probably got a sense of a latent idea that could be developed to generate sales sometime. Write it down, and work out whether it’s something to consider immediately.
Try this every day for a week. Sit and jot down ten ideas. Do it again tomorrow and the day after, and it may surprise you how often the ideas you like the most will come to the surface.
What’s a scenario?
A scenario is an anticipation of what could happen to your business at any time.
Being brutally honest with yourself and your team is another hard exercise but hugely valuable.
We’d recommend you have a minimum of three scenarios in play all the time: everything stays the same, everything goes wrong, everything goes better than imagined. By thinking this through, you gain a sense of the external factors that are heading your way and start to look further out to see emerging threats and opportunities.
For example: what would the worst day look like?
When you’ve had that thought, what would you do to:
- Avoid it
- Use it
- Create a product/system/process/service to resolve the issue presented
Acting on #3 might prevent it happening at all.
Similarly, what would the best day look like: for example, what would you do if Google came knocking to make you an offer to buy?
None of this is brain surgery, but business leaders don’t record these thoughts often enough. You may have the thoughts in the shower, but your team can’t contribute unless you share them.
The customers you supply are changing their behaviours in response to consumer demands more quickly than anyone can keep track of, which means that your value proposition will also need to change.
If you’d like someone to work with your team on this kind of exercise, you know where we are.
Download our free guide to trend identification here.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.