room44 innovates

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? 

Challenge yourself

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:

  1. Avoid it
  2. Use it
  3. 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.

Scenario #1

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.

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?

Consumer goods

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.

Digital tech

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.

…and VR?

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.

Retail space is display space. Not selling space.

It’s three years since British Home Stores went into administration. Three years, and so many signals that UK retail is not in a happy place, yet successive retail failures quickly followed. The demise of Toys ‘R’ Us and Maplins added to the signs that all was not well, but the reassuring voices of other major high-street names told us not to worry – they were on the case.

Long-standing brands are continuing to fall away, more quietly perhaps, but the rate of attrition is now established. This week, we learnt that Mothercare’s stores will follow Thomas Cook’s by soon vacating all their premises.

At the current rate, the UK is losing 110 retail stores per week from the ‘most popular town centres’, according to PwC. Sixteen a day. If you haven’t noticed yet, you’re either in a big city, or maybe you never had them in the first place.

Retail space is display space. Not selling space.

Shoppers are spoilt for choice when it comes to getting what they want at the cheapest-on-display price. Mothercare may have done a great job at displaying brands for parents -to-be to try, but why would they buy there?

The press accused Mothercare of being ‘expensive and grotty’ this week: neither of these things happens overnight. ‘Grotty’ happens when there isn’t enough money to refurbish, and ‘expensive’ happens when the competition has undercut you for so long that you need to sweat the maximum cash out of every sale.

Thomas Cook, apparently, hadn’t noticed that people don’t buy holidays from a brochure anymore. Maybe they’d never heard of Ceefax, let alone the internet. Mothercare didn’t understand its customers’ digital tendencies – or it chose to ignore them.

So, in the company of Jack Wills, Staples and Bonmarché, we’re likely to see another gap in the UK retail landscape this year.

Who loses?

You and me. I needed to buy a printer last week and I tried to do it by going to a store. It didn’t happen.

John Lewis was, frankly, atrocious. If customer service and a two-year guarantee are now their only USPs, I don’t see them surviving. Curry’s/PCWorld couldn’t sell me what I wanted and there just weren’t any alternatives. My town (@miltonkeynes) sits at the heart of the UK’s technology ‘Growth Arc’ and it seems more than a little ironic that basic products and services for the growing ‘technology’ population aren’t on sale.

As much as I hated to do it, necessity and convenience drove me to Amazon and my new printer arrived inside 48 hours.

Will this continue?

Should we expect more of the same? Should we get used to hearing ‘not another one’ when a high-street brand vanishes? Hell, yeah.

In the last month, we’ve met around eight SME businesses that won’t be in business in three years’ time. The signals of change are loud and clear, but the need to stay loyal to a founder’s vision has over-taken the acknowledgement of the blindingly obvious.

There’s even a networking business that has suspended one of its groups through a lack of interest. If ever there was a sign that grass-roots start-ups are pulling in their horns, this is it.

What are we doing about it?

It’s all very well sitting here and bleating about how bad things are, and how Amazon is taking over the world, but what is room44 doing about it?

Two things

Firstly, we’re diversifying and investing in a new activity stream. We’ve been writing about environmental matters for a long time and we’ve decided that we should do a bit more than talk the talk. We’re about to walk the walk as well (more about this later).

Secondly, we’ve built a product that will help companies, like yours, plan to outlast your competition and thrive in a tough market. It’s called 10, 20-30. Together we will build product launches to take you through the next decade and provide you with the tools to launch at least one per year, so you stay relevant in a changing market.

Because we take seriously our capacity to deliver quality, it’s only available to a limited number of clients. Take a look at the 10, 20-30 proposition here and get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Thanks for reading and, if we don’t speak, good luck.

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


There’s a farm in the UK that grows raspberries. It has always had pickers to come in and harvest the crops at the right time, but now it’s working with an automated picker and the results are looking good.

The robot does the work of a person, and does it for 24 hours a day and for as many days as the need exists. Then it stops and waits.

The robot doesn’t eat anything or need space to move around in between jobs or heat or food. It just waits and, when there’s a crop, it’s ready to go again.

Other farms like this idea too and are watching closely.


We know of an autonomous tractor designed to do the job of conventional tractors in orchards – crowded, obstacle-strewn places – and it’s working out well. The tractor runs out to collect, tow, carry and mow, and then returns itself to a charging point to be refuelled and re-instructed.

When it’s not working, it waits.

Farmers are facing a problem with the UK workforce. People prefer, given the choice, not to work on their knees in fields. So, people with fewer choices do those jobs and, at the moment, many of those people have come to the UK because work is easier to find than in their home country. And even the migrant population prefers to work in towns where other facilities are easier to find and enjoy.


But Brexit has slowed immigration of the people who are prepared to do the jobs, for less money, that the native population doesn’t want, so farmers are looking at other solutions.

Automation has taken an autonomous step forward.

The result may be a reduction in openings for migrant workers and an increase in jobs skilled in the art of managing robots. The landscape is clearly shifting and autonomy is growing more acceptable, more competent and more efficient.

Picking up a trend

I’ve written many times that the concepts we imagine will enter our markets in about five years, most often gain market share inside eighteen months.

On 4th January 2017, I wrote a blog called Augment yourself that opened with the line, “We’re going to let you in on a secret: Artificial Intelligence’s dirty little secret.
AI hasn’t got legs and it won’t march over the hill and steal your job.“

Eighteen months on, the picture shifted to make automated, commercial fruit picking possible today. AI may still be a way off, but autonomous machines, that can do the same things people can, are here. If you doubt it, take a look at the reporting of robots in distribution warehouses like Amazon and Ocado, where most of the work is already automated.

So, whether you like it or not, food picked from a tree, a bush, or in a warehouse is likely to have had some non-human intervention before it reaches you.

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

If your metric of ‘ideation’ success is to fill a wall with coloured squares, you will probably never miss your target at an innovation workshop. Sticky notes are the friend of the unskilled moderator.

Of course, sticky notes are a great thing, functionally. The problem is, after the meeting, most of them get thrown away, and the few that are kept as The Next Big Ideas are also thrown away, eventually. Here’s why:

1 What goes on tour stays on tour

In ideation terms, this translates to ‘what’s said in the room doesn’t work in the real world.’

Take your top three ideas from your last innovation session to the CSuite and they will probably bomb. Without context to support them, most often the argument is ‘so, where does this sit in the budget?’

Easy not to hug. Easy to discount. Easy to kill.

2 Show me the data, then show me the money

There is no data. This is future opportunity. The only data available is for what happened in the past and the problem with that is, it’s in the past.

The internal innovation process MUST be led by new information, new insight, new attitudes and a willingness to explore your company’s survival. There are many businesses here today who won’t be around for ever (or for long, in some cases) and the reason is that their markets are changing, and they aren’t.

Innovation is about survival as much as growth, but current budgets are measured in profitability. The mis-match is clear to see.

3 Not all ideas are equal

You only need to look under the right stone to find the winning idea. On that wall of sticky notes, there probably is one idea that will underpin your business into the next era. The trick is to recognise it.

Designing a process that specifies how concepts should be assessed must happen before you ideate. The process has to be informed by somebody determining what good looks like.

If you haven’t got these ducks lined up, leave the stickies in the drawer.

4 Perfection isn’t the objective. Good enough is

I’m not saying, launch crap. I’m saying, launch fast. Iterate fast. Develop fast. And importantly, start fast.

Pick the idea that meets your need and get on with it. Consumers will tell you if your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) works or not. The only thing they need is access to it.

What you launch is inevitably not what you will end up selling in time. Look at every design icon out there for examples. The VW Golf is a good one. The Wright Brothers’ plane is another. Great things do evolve, but they start quickly and develop as uses and attitudes are reflected in design.

5 Close the process off

Innovation is talked about as being one of those nebulous, unspecific functions that might deliver great things but most often doesn’t.

The money pumped into ‘innovation’ is probably matched by the frustration everybody else in the company feels towards its lack of impact. Why? Because the timeline is vague. Give a target a date to hit and the pressure is on.

Allow innovation to wander off and you’ve lost already. An innovation process needs to be more than S.M.A.R.T.

An innovation process should have:

  1. A start date – on this date, that thing will happen.
  2. A finish date – by this date, we will have done that thing.
  3. Metrics – this is how we will decide what to do, this is how we will decide which candidate wins, and this is how we will measure success.
  4. A team – collaboration is the most powerful tool you have and it won’t cost you any more than you’re paying already.

Think of it like this: put ten of your people in a room for half a day and you’ve just amassed five days’ work in four hours. See if your CFO can argue with that.

Finally, to avoid any doubt about your intention to ‘innovate’, announce when this work starts, describe how it will be done and what it will achieve – in advance. Give people notice. Get them clamouring to be involved. Give them time to train for the event – they will.

When you start them off, watch them fly. Your innovation process can be the most pivotal moment in your company’s history, if you get it right.

Guess what?

Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do. Call now. 020 7193 8838

You can download an infographic of this checklist here.

When it’s done effectively, innovation defines a roadmap, sets explicit objectives, and provides a guide for everyone in your organisation to follow.

There are two issues that innovation must resolve to succeed:

  1. The need for change must be owned right across an organisation.
  2. There must be someone to do the work after the training team has departed.

Let’s deal with #1 today…

Because the ‘need’ for change is the hardest.

Companies evolve to be super-efficient at delivering their product or service. Their systems and processes develop to avoid waste, and every aspect of production and client service is streamlined for profitability.

Kaisen, Lean, J.I.T. and all the other Toyota Business System-inspired processes help to do this. While everything within the company’s control stays the same, it’s all good – operationally.

So, why worry?

Well, the need for change has a habit of sneaking up on you – not necessarily because you don’t see it coming, but because there isn’t a process to decide what should change, or a system to manage that change.

Knowing that a trend will, unavoidably, hit your top and bottom line isn’t enough. Once you’ve acknowledged that probability, the hardest part is convincing your peers and your management that they should take note of it too.

One of the ways that room44 tackles this challenge is to deliver innovation training in the most democratic and agnostic manner: across the workforce and from top to bottom.

If we can’t gain the support of your directors before we kick off, we won’t start. Resistance to the need for innovation must be resolved before a project gets underway.

It’s been suggested that company directors only ever see 4% of the problems that affect their business. If we start from there, alert the right people to what is coming down the line, and change some perspectives, we can have a significant impact on a company’s chances of survival as its market changes.

We’ve become very good at opening the eyes of management to the reality of their situation. To talk about your management team/ leadership team/ board of directors, please get in touch. 

Here’s how Click here.

I started room44 as an innovation consultancy with a vision that we could train teams to plan for their future success by seeing changes in their markets through the eyes of consumers. That we could teach them to look proactively at world trends for signals that would be useful in product development planning.

We called this ‘innovation consulting’ and we’ve just had our fifth anniversary. Happy birthday us.

What happened five years ago?

Have a look at Google and remind yourself of the news in 2014. David Cameron was starting to talk about Brexit. Barack Obama was criticised left and right for Obamacare. Drug companies were facing tougher price-based patient benefit scrutiny. Zoella was 14, and had just published her first book. Plastics pollution was in the press – but less so.

If your teenager was doing A-levels, they’re out of university now. If your baby was going into primary school, they’re going to big school in September. It was three years after the App Store opened and RBS collapsed, so you can begin to see where this is going.

Since then, digital technology has gained speed and complexity of development. ‘Algorithm’ has become the new buzz word across news channels, 5G is about to unleash another acceleration in digital development. The baby boomers are about to head for the golf course to make way for Gen Ys at a board table near you.

Banking has seen disruption with apps taking chunks of business away from Personal and Business Bankers, and there’s more upheaval to come. Monzo launched in 2015 and Starling has since taken off; other new disrupters are established. Some will succeed, some won’t. New brand offerings will build on these innovators.

Pharma faces exponential disruption as consumers find new ways of accessing treatment and even undertaking self-diagnosis. Take this idea into a drug brand’s head office and see how 99% of the people react. It won’t be a long meeting. 

We know of teenagers performing their own dentistry and orthodontics after watching YouTube videos. Dangerous? The standard professional view is, ‘of course’. But trying alignment correction and getting it wrong only puts someone into a dentist’s chair later.

Macro is dead.

These are small examples of consumers being offered, and seeking out, new ways of consuming products and services. Trends that used to fall into buckets labelled Mega, Macro and Micro now fall into just two.

Mega trends are those things happening at a global scale and that you won’t change. These are developments that used to be thought of as happening over longer time periods, whereas macro trends were seen as the multiple children of Mega parents and more easily dealt with.

Right now, I am convinced that the rate of change is so rapid that the things we traditionally imagine will be market and consumer factors in five years, are happening in eighteen months (except Brexit, of course).

There simply isn’t time for macro to be a thing anymore. What we are left with are mega trends and your micro response.

Future proofing

room44 specialises in seeing trends and company need in this way. We train teams to be aware and to respond to their changing environment. We train you to fish because giving you a fish is not the answer.

If you want to be in business in five years’ time, you must work on it now. Why not get in touch? Click here to book some time to explore your options.

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

It’s been suggested that children are too young to sit in classrooms and that they should come back when they’re old enough to know they need to learn something.

In the Innovation Ecosystem podcast, “Technonomics and why my profits might disappear”, McKinsey advisor John Straw says he won’t invest in anyone under 50 and only in B2B.

One of his reasons is that a 24-year-old may have “lots of energy and creative ideas but a lack of experience.” Under 50s, in his opinion, don’t have the experience to make a start-up work.

Incubators and accelerators

If you visit any of the new breed of business incubators and accelerators, you’ll notice a healthy percentage of older-preneurs in among the mix. Empty-nesters, perhaps, taking advantage of access to their pension pots to invest in themselves. James Altucher is among those writing about this phenomenon – ‘Choose yourself’. #jamesaltucher

So here we are: start-ups are both young and old, and investors recognise a segmentation depending on their particular view of risk, plus a market selling advice to age-related entrepreneurs. But who advises the start-up that’s not looking for VC investment and just wants to sell product quickly? To be precise: who be the advisor or mentor who hasn’t retired already?

Another Business Model Canvas?

Many mentors who generously offer services to accelerators have already retired from a successful business. Is this the skill set you need to succeed in markets that are changing as quickly as they are now? Is another Business Model Canvas session what you need to push past the huge number of start-ups you’re competing with?

In a topsy-turvey realignment of appropriate skills meeting consumer need, if investees are attractive at 50+, maybe mentors should be under 30. Personally, I think that strategy can be set by experience, but execution needs a new attitude that is based in omni-channel success. This means that ‘digital’ must feature in the mentor CV. By definition, this excludes many Gen X. In a flip of the old norms, teachers need to do and doers need to teach. 

Maybe the business advice market is looking down the barrel of its own gun. Disruption disrupting innovation. That’s got a ring about it.

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

To ensure you aren’t disrupted, click here and we’ll help you get started.

Not so many years ago when I was growing up, cars on the bypass that went around our town weren’t actually that common. There were tranches of days when there just weren’t any/many. I remember sitting on the verge doing a census of car models for a primary school project and waiting for something to happen. What gave away the imminent approach of a car was the noise of its engine and its tyres on the road. Maybe more engine than tyre noise, then. We could only dream of EVs and the the sounds of silence.

Interestingly, every child recorded the same data. Do the same thing today and the flow of traffic is so heavy that the data is different in every case; some kids don’t recognise car models as readily as others and there isn’t time to confer.

Later on when Lexus launched its hybrid model, I jumped out of my skin the first time I felt the presence of one behind me, running on electricity in a carpark. I didn’t hear it coming while I walked across the road looking at my phone.

Just last weekend, my wife was nearly knocked down by a road cyclist while walking the dog through our village. Stealth cyclists are deadly – you have to watch out for them. And stealth cars are coming.

Had she been hit, whose fault is that? Well, clearly, hers. If she steps out in front of a bike on a road and gets hit, the claim is on her.

Now we have electric vehicles more widely, and can look forward to a time when we are rid of engine noise, we should rejoice and enjoy the forthcoming relative peace. For years, noise abatement lobbies and policies have been driving traffic noise levels down, but the background drone of traffic in rural areas as well as urban ones remains inescapable.

So the advent of quieter vehicles is a welcome development. But wait! Now there are calls to replace car engine noise with an audible warning of its arrival. Why? Because pedestrians can’t hear them coming.

Let’s have a look at this. We hate traffic noise and want rid of it. We go to less-populated places to get a break from it. We know that long-term exposure to low-level noise is unhealthy, and yet it’s being suggested that a noise we just engineered out of the environment be replaced with another kind.

How about we don’t do that? How about we all take responsibility and listen up? Teach our kids to look away from their phones (use the voice control) and see what’s coming? Take the headphones out. It may sound old-fashioned, but wouldn’t it encourage us to take back responsibility before legislators decide that we need protecting from ourselves?

Here’s a funny thing. Every day, in many countries, motor collisions are avoided because drivers observe a convention. That simple line that runs down the middle of the road keeps people alive. And, because the rule is an old one, there isn’t a person alive who isn’t native to the condition. It works and is completely voluntary.

Auto suppliers like tyre manufacturers have the opportunity to develop the aural environment at motor racing events by engineering sound into the interface between tyres and the track. It could be immense. It would be innovative.

Calling for self-announcing-EV cars on the road isn’t. Lots of cars and lots of people not looking left and right could resolve the problem anyway.

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