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.
If anything grabs your attention, please get in touch. It’ll be a pleasure to talk; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Music streams in the US broke one trillion streams this year, up 11.9 billion on 2021.
Tortoises living to 150 years old do so in the same youthful state as when they were 50.
Future of work
“…employees working from home could be “socially disconnected from their organization.” Their work could be less inspired, …, and companies could experience higher turnover.”
- Malcolmn Gladwell, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/08/12/malcolm-gladwell-on-the-evolution-of-his-working-from-home-stance.html
Wework reimagined – watch the growing trend for redundant retail space. Failed (and failing) department stores are being regenerated as retail units combined with food courts and shared work space.
UK inflation examples, in the last year:
Cheddar cheese +26%
Dog food +31%
Brussel Sprouts -2%
- The Grocer
In 2019, three years after the ‘BREXIT’ referendum, Jacob Rees-Mogg is quoted as having said “I can see the opportunities of cheaper food, clothing and footwear, helping most of all the incomes of the least well-off in our society.”
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.
“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.
Expo 2020 posed 50 questions that were relevant when the organisers were planning the event.
Since then, Expo 2020 has been postponed by a year and many of the known knowns have become irrelevant or accelerated.
Take a look at the attached list of 50 questions (faithfully reproduced from the original) and consider how your perception of the world, viewed at the macro level, has altered in one short year.
This is the kind of stimulus that room44 uses in our scenario planning activities. After all, if you don’t know how your environment will change, how can you know how to fit into it?
Let’s discuss. Make a date here.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.
2021 is going to be the best year we’ve ever had and a total shitshow.
The signs are there for radical disruption to every aspect of life and business and, if everyone really believed it, they’d be taking action now.
The idea that change is a diminishment of everything we know is where the problem lies. Innovators have a different view of change. What ‘change’ really means, if approached in the right way, is more opportunity, better prospects and greater enjoyment.
To see the wood for the trees, to step back from the work we do so we can breathe and reflect, we apply a method described in three numbers – 3, 15 and 25.
3 – cups of coffee
Now we meet virtually more than physically, we must make sure we hear both sides of the conversation. Try this. Imagine a cup of coffee takes about ten minutes to drink. For your first cup of coffee, listen to the other person. I mean really listen, take notes and don’t interrupt. Now imagine another cup of coffee and ask the other person to give you the same consideration. For cup number three, discuss what you’ve both heard.
You’ll be amazed how the last cup of coffee benefits from the first two.
15 – minute radius
The idea of a 15-minute village has come alive during lockdown. Using businesses that exist within your immediate locale helps everyone – except Amazon maybe. Shops, doctors, garages, in fact everything you need, including not travelling to work miles away, is available to most of us within a few miles of where we live. The idea that we need to travel for hours to and from work is so last year.
Environmental impact is a personal responsibility and, if we make a conscious decision to reduce our own, the cumulative effect will be vast.
25 – minutes of work
Your Apple watch ( other brands are available) will probably send you a nudge to get up off your butt for five minutes every hour. It’s not enough.
In the noughties, Francesco Cirrilo wrote down how he worked most productively. The Pomodoro Technique was named after a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato. What Francesco found was that, when he planned his day in 25-minute chunks, he worked intensely at a task knowing that he wouldn’t have to keep it up for hours, so making the task more palatable. He also had to take a break every half-hour, preferably to move. Try it. This site makes it easy, but you probably have a timer on your computer/phone/wrist.
These three simple changes in work practices could help make 2021 a bit more enjoyable and reduce the impact you have on the world. Since the latter becomes more urgent with every passing day, it’s got to be worth a try.
Note: Neither I nor room44 have any relationship with Francesco Cirrilo or Pomofocus. These sites are made available to promote the idea that change really is manageable.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.
The way a business evolves from start-up to demise is trackable through a cycle that has strong parallels in nature. Stepping back and seeing the similarities is a useful exercise and shows a set of practices that can help you avoid some repeated pit falls.
This is one example. The planet is seeing a noticeable increase in wildfires. Not so long ago, such fires were a problem but not always devastating for humans. That’s changed. But wildfires are a necessary part of the ecosystem: they clear away detritus and let new plants see the sky with room to grow.
Caught in the fire zone…
OR – how planning restrictions, self-interest and a poor understanding of environment have conspired to push nature into a corner, and how she is fighting back.
Towns go through a cycle of early growth to reach a high density of population. People need places to live, so an increase in building creates homes for lots of people. As prosperity rises, people prefer not to live on top of each other, so they begin to push out of the town boundaries and into open space. We know these areas as the suburbs.
Parts of the world have drier areas around towns than others. In the UK, our forests are pretty damp, so fire doesn’t often occur, but in other parts of the world, such as California, it’s much drier.
At the time of writing, the USA has 63 wildfires burning, affecting over 38 million acres of land https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm. That’s a lot of fires, affecting a lot of people, and science tells us that the conditions are linked to climate change led by man-made pollution.
Creating the right conditions
As housing development pushes out from town centres, rules are created to protect the environment for its residents; often these restrict property height. This limits the number of families living on a single plot and so urban sprawl continues.
Human development means nature must also be managed. Firebreaks are built into city design, and trees and other flora are cultivated: this is the point of Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI) – where nature meets housing. Historically this area was undeveloped but, as homes are needed, it has been adopted and built on.
Nature, however, doesn’t stop doing what nature does and so, seasonally trees shed leaves and old wood, which forms layers of detritus circling towns and cities. This keeps building until temperature conditions create the perfect opportunity for fires to thrive – and the store of combustible materials is ripe for burning. And it does.
People who are newly switched on to the risks of fire destroying their homes and businesses are entering into a period of managed retreat: a process of moving away from danger zones. Funding for such retreats falls to the home owner and, clearly, not everyone has the means to facilitate this. So houses are being abandoned, or simply left deserted after they’ve burned to the ground, and their owners must start again, the value of their investment in bricks and mortar lost.
The above process describes a set of uncontrollable changes that have a direct effect on homeowners: climate change and long-standing development practices building up a body of accumulated waste that eventually brings the house down.
Your fire line
After a successful period of selling a product or service, inevitably customer preferences move on, a business is left trying to sell its old offering and the conditions in which it operates all move beyond its control. This is when it gets burned.
The average lifecycle of a business today is around 15 years, so you may have survived more than one cycle already, either through good luck or great foresight. But even your previously accurate foresight may need to change to adapt to the new world order.
Our tool of choice is design thinking. It’s a pretty straightforward process, but can be harder to execute. As we’ve said in the past, design thinking is like climbing a 50-foot rope and ringing a bell: simple to understand, much harder to do.
So, call in some expert rope climbers
This is what room44 does. We see your problem from a different perspective – and we walk you through the design thinking process so that you can develop customer-facing strategies that will provide the things they are looking to buy today.
If you feel that the chasmic changes we’re all experiencing will affect your relationship with your customers, now is the time to work on that issue. The future will take care of itself and you need to take care of you.
What surprises our clients is how room44 pays attention to the detail they often take for granted. We do our best to unpick the connection between the business and what its customers will want. It may be that there isn’t a massive gap between the two, but it takes a new attitude to see a new opportunity.
The work you’re doing now is what was on your to-do list yesterday.
This is your future, twenty-four hours on.
Always certain. Often wrong.
Looking at the next twenty-four hours, the probability is that there’s nothing major in your plan. Look back two or three weeks and everything has slipped; whatever we thought April looked like, it hasn’t worked out that way.
My forecaster friend comes to mind again. His favourite response to the question ‘how often do you get it right?’ is ‘I’m always certain and often wrong.’ And that’s the problem with prediction. It’s just not a science.
How do we formulate a plan?
So, accepting that we aren’t in full control of everything, how do we formulate a plan?
Read any room44 blog and you’ll see we focus on the end-user of your product or service, and the trends that are readable in their behaviours. It’s called Design Thinking, or Human- Centred Design. What it means is that we look at the need your customer has, and we work out how to meet it. We don’t try to shoehorn your product into their lives.
It’s always easier to see another person’s problem from an external perspective, and you need to apply the same objectivity to recognise your customers’ future needs before they can.
What surprises our clients?
What surprises our clients is how we pay attention to the detail they often take for granted. We do our best to unpick the connection between the business and what the customer will want. It may be that there isn’t a massive gap between the two, but it takes a new attitude to see a new opportunity.
If you feel that the chasmic changes we’re all experiencing will affect your relationship with your customers, now is the time to work on that issue. Design Thinking is our way of doing it and can be yours too. The future will take care of itself and you need to take care of you.
Talk to us.
Click through to our ‘contact‘ form.here No obligation. No fee.
For many businesses, Q4 may be the next best time to launch an innovation, internally or externally. But now is the best time to focus on what comes next.
For millions of people sent home from the workplace, the COVID-19 crisis might be providing their first experience of working in a physically isolated space. For others, it’s business as usual. While media threads suggest that working from home lifts some of the pressure and makes life easier, many of us are working flat out – not only coping with the uncertainty around business contracts and trying to ensure we deliver on promise, but also managing around those business enablers we took for granted – like the post office and stationery suppliers.
Despite all this, it’s more critical than ever, in this unusual time, that we don’t miss the opportunity to plan ahead. If now is all about keeping things going, Q4 may be the next best time to make a significant leap and to plan what comes next.
On current signals, it looks like mass gatherings may be part of the landscape again around October. It may have been speculative, but the London Marathon and several festivals have plumped for this revised timing.
We’re probably all looking at a long summer of working, and playing, from home. At room44, we’re continuing to watch how trends are developing, and where the land lies on the things that were important before everything changed. Here are a few random readings:
Bush fires et al
Remember the Australian bush fires? They’re still burning, despite COVID-19. Recent swings in weather patterns have slackened their spread, but they’re still blazing across the country. Environmentally, the reduction in travel has begun to benefit our environment but mega trends are still hurting. The Amazon is still being deforested and plastic waste hasn’t gone away. Popular media may have taken its eye off the environmental ball – you shouldn’t, as you plan ahead. The part your business plays in that context will come back to the top of the agenda.
Remember that? It’s still a job to get done and, according to the UK Prime Minister in one of his early COVID-19 press conferences, it will still be done by the end of the year. Will it be a ‘hard’ exit? Is anyone watching?
Amid the crush of the national craving for toilet rolls, Britons did not cover themselves in glory by adopting an ‘everyone for themselves’ attitude, stripping shelves before key workers could even finish their shifts. Department stores are reported to have had a run on sales of fridge-freezers so, logically, many people should be able to feed themselves for weeks if restriction on movement freezes. But what does this lead to? Huge spikes in demand during periods of shortage result in the supply chain becoming bloated. Later, as demand levels out and over-capacity leads to a glut, will prices fall? If petrol and diesel are a measure of this the answer is, yes. If you haven’t filled your car for a week or so, the price of a litre may surprise you.
Predicting demand patterns and behavioural trends has been an important skill as health experts model the spread of COVID-19. Traffic monitors and street cameras tell the authorities where and when people are moving. From China, there have been reports of facial recognition being used to identify persistent curfew breakers.
Combine this data with algorithm development and it becomes possible to predict where outbreaks will occur, supporting the call, from some quarters, to increase surveillance across countries.
Watch this trend. Some countries are using mobile phone tracking of its citizens to anticipate outbreaks of COVID-19 and enforce ‘stay at home’ Hefty fines (@$7,000) have been reported for non-compliance of social distancing rules and with second spikes and re-infection being discussed, these measures look set to stick around.
The use of digital technology to help communities stay in touch has become a part of normal life across all age groups. While gaming and eSports may take a step forward if we are isolated for long periods, the signs are that most people still see everyday personal contact as more important than virtual environments. That’s not to say that VR doesn’t have its place, but here’s an extract from Ray Bradbury’s 1957 novel Dandelion Wine that paints a picture.
And then, inside the Happiness Machine, Lena Hoffman began to weep.
The inventor’s smile faded…
There his wife sat, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Oh, it’s the saddest thing in the world”, she wailed. “I feel awful, terrible.”
She climbed out through the door.
“First it was Paris.”
“What’s wrong with Paris?”
“I never thought about being in Paris in my life. But now you got me thinking, Paris! So, suddenly I wanted to be in Paris and I know I’m not.”
“It’s almost as good, this machine.”
“…Leo, the mistake you made is you forgot that some hour, some day we all got to climb out of that thing and go back to dirty dishes and the beds not made.
While you’re in that thing, sure, a sunset lasts for ever, the air smells good, the temperature is fine. All the things you want to last, last.
But outside the children wait on lunch, the clothes need buttons and let’s be frank Leo, how long can you look at a sunset?”
After COVID-19, the new ‘normal’ we adjust to will likely be quite different from how things were before. All the more reason to start planning for what comes next, don’t you think? Now is the best time to focus on what comes next.
Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.