room44 innovates

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.

We all know that plastic is filling up our oceans. Environmentally-aware clothing brand, Finisterre, puts it like this, “A smog of microscopic plastic particles is suffocating our oceans, permeating every corner of our marine life, ecosystems and coastlines. Very little is known of the true extent of the problem, all that is certain is that we need to do all we can to stem the plastic tide.” So, plastic packaging: love it or hate it, where’s it going?

The plastic packaging trade press would have us believe that the problem with plastic isn’t plastic itself, or its manufacturers behaving myopically. The problem is that plastic packaging becomes litter and that, without it, we’d see a huge rise in food wastage – an even bigger issue. But to say that food waste is a bigger challenge than plastic pollution is a red herring of the first order.

Let’s take it back. When cotton mills were thriving, the production of cloth created a variety of by-products. Some of these were blown up very tall chimneys and the wind carried them off. The method was known as ‘elevate and disperse’. For the mill owner, the problem went away. For the surrounding population, it became an issue.

So popular was this method of pollution management that every factory in the land blew its nasty stuff into the air, and somebody else paid the price. Restrictions were eventually put in place and air pollution started to come under control: not everywhere in the world, but holes in the ozone layer did at least raise awareness of a new set of issues. As a result,consumers notice if Brand X’s factory is turning the air yellow. It doesn’t stop them driving their cars past the factory and contributing themselves, but they do notice.

Bigger single events helped to reinforce industry’sresponsibility for air pollution, not least the Chernobyl explosion in 1986. Not the same problem, of course, but suddenly people in the north of Britain were being told not to eat lamb grazed on hillsides because of the risk of airborne radiation. Was it really possible that particles from Russia could affect Shaun the Sheep in the UK?

Today, ‘elevate and disperse’ has evolved. We now have ‘submerge and disperse’. Sewerage, city waste and chemical-riddled fluids have been piped into waterways and the sea for many, many years. When this practice killed fish and other wildlife, the sea had its own way of dealing with it. Much ofthe problem vanished through natural action. But that doesn’t happen with plastics. When plastics break down, they just become smaller bits of plastic that are easier for currents to distribute, so, like a deadly virus, the crisis spreads across the globe.

Here is a problem that won’t go away. But while we are all complicit in the issue facing the environment, nobody wants to pick up the tab. Consumers have noticed the effect on marine environments and the potential to harm in the food chain, and are asking, ‘whose fault is this?’ As a body, the plastics industry is saying, ‘it’s yours’.

Not true. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enters the sea each year: that’s not all made up of irresponsibly thrown away crisp packets and water bottles.

Oddly, what the plastics forum doesn’t say is what the World Economic Forum does: that 90% of plastic waste in the world’s oceans originated from just 10 (that’s ten) rivers. Eight in Asia and two in Africations to be sorted and recycled. Draw your own conclusions, but, to me, this feels like ‘elevate and disperse’ wearing a new mask.

There aren’t many examples of companies found guilty of environmental damage who were made to pay the price. Obvious examples like Exxon Valdez come to mind, but in that case, there was a broken ship in the middle of an oil slick: cause and effect. In the case of plastics pollution, where should the blame lie?

As time reveals the true cost, a charge may well be applied to the manufacture of plastics to cover the clean-up. Consumers will pay this eventually; we always pay in the end. And this,in turn, will push up the price of food, which is one of the justifications for changing nothing on which the packaging market relies.

But we, as consumers, can take some control here. By changing our collective behaviour to address both food waste and plastic packaging, we can alter the structure of global supply and demand.

At the consumer level, if I’m forced to buy loose fruit only, I’ll buy as much as I need. Present me with a bag of 10 bananas, and I’ll buy it and probably throw some of them away, because the conditions I store bananas in aren’t controlled, they over-ripen very quickly and food is wasted right there. Take away the distribution channel for plastic banana bags, and a reduction in supply is forced back up the line. Do this enough, and the shape of industry changes.

It’s really easy for us as consumers to behave as we’re asked – to pay for convenience that comes in the many shapes of plastic. Industry has an incentive to provide us with ever-easier ways to consume its new ideas. But we must take responsibility for our own decisions. We are where we are,and we can blame others, or be the change we want to see. Unless we start to be proactive, it’s really possible that the sea will fill with plastic, and eating fish will become a thing of the past. So, let’s start to question why bananas come in plastic bags (as an example), and then perhaps choose to avoid them.

Across the supply chain for consumer products – furniture, cars, food, houses, clothes – plastic is a synonym for ‘convenience’. Hardwood takes a long time to grow and is difficult to work with, so we allow brands to make chairs and tables out of plastic. Cars used to be hammered out of metal and leather. Now they are plastic inside and out. We can see why it has happened. We can’t go back, and we probably wouldn’t want to. Our way of life has evolved with plastics making most of it possible. But we can be selective about how we allow brands to supply us. These are the questions that will force change and literally reshape our world, and you and I have to be the ones to ask them.

As an old Marxist once said, ‘Question everything’.

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

Six months ago we had absolutely no idea where we’d be on vacation today. None at all. We couldn’t have imagined it.

When we started to look at a holiday, I wanted to go to Canada and take the kids canoeing and bear-watching. There’s just enough time to get it done in two weeks. Of course, she fancied Costa Rica, and the kids put in a bid for Florida. But really, Orlando in hurricane season?

We knew we’d have to suck up the cost of going in school holidays, so the dates were set. And then we heard that our friends were going to Florida, so we settled on that. I guess the kids won that one.

Oh, and the Disney hotels are so close, but you know what you’re going to get because they’re pretty similar to Disneyland Paris, so we figured it would be cheaper for us all to stay in a house and get a pool too.

We thought about the time we’d lose on the parks, in the traffic, but decided it was worth it and we probably wouldn’t move for the second week. We’d have a pool for the kids right there.

We knew it was a gamble with the weather. I looked at the reports of the damage from Hurricane Irma last year. But prior to that, only two hurricanes have made landfall in Florida in the last 25 years. I took that as a reasonable gamble.

I couldn’t have guessed just how much fun the kids would have, but the cost of food took me by surprise. There’s nothing healthy to eat at the parks, so we had to buy a bag and carry lunch every day. But the second week has been perfect. To get away from theme parks and just sit, while the kids play in the water, has been total bliss.

Clues to the future and the shape of the market are everywhere. It just depends how (and if) you look for them. Read the holiday websites, and everything about Florida is great. Look at TripAdvisor, and maybe your plan needs to be thought through a bit more. Look at local planning notices, and you can see if the route between your house and the parks is disrupted with roadworks and what that does to travel time. Even the weather is relatively predictable from historical data.

Do you know what you’ll be doing six months from now? Probably not exactly. The signs are that it’ll be pretty much the same as you’re doing today, for most people. Unless you look at it differently.

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

Drop us a line at and let’s see how we can help each other.

Perspective affects everything we do, including how we allow insight to influence our view of consumer need.

A LinkedIn contact recently posted a blog about the tendency of millennials not to buy material goods (houses, cars) in the same way older generations have been trained to do. The data that support this are strong and the trend shows that Gen Y is even less inclined to follow the path of their elders, preferring to invest in experience over roots.

The thread included empirical evidence from people who have sold property in order to live an experience based lifestyle. Despite this the thread included a comment from a Management Consultant suggesting the trend is down to the affordability of houses in the UK.

On closer inspection the demographic of the contributors justifies some review of the first assumption. Are they millennials or at a time of life when the choice is easier to make? In this case it was an equal split so the data need some more division.

But, so what? If the trend is clear, is the cause important?

If you’re a mortgage lender this insight has a different impact than if you’re a travel broker. Either way interpretation is going to influence your view of the macro trend and your response.

In itself is this innovation? No. But an opportunity for innovation? Absolutely, in both cases. Trend analysis that adopts an objective stance rather than one looking for validation of an idea is something that may not be possible without taking in some external help. 

The market research industry has made capital from this kind of situation for aeons. Because the same data can be differently regarded their market is wide but it’s time to challenge what MR delivers and what can be differently interpreted from data. This is why bespoke insight gathered from new sources and the re-purposing of old data with new tools has become highly demanded. We’re all looking for the money shot.

Today, machine learning allows us to access and handle data in such quantity that views of the future can be yours alone. Say what you will about technology, for a time this new facility has the potential to drive Innovation strategy into business with real and unique product and service differentiation; Design Thinking differently informed; that’s a powerful combination.

But who to take advice from is another conundrum. This isn’t for us to say so let’s leave it to Seth Godin; “…if we pre-process our reactions to things already labelled we don’t have to reconsider our plan.” Future thinking. Future Proofing. It’s what we do.

Design thinking #6: Launch. The final part in our mini-series on design thinking looks at the whole reason for the process – to launch something innovative and possibly transformative.

As I wrote last week, innovation is more than the MVP, even though the temptation to ship your idea is sometimes irresistible. That aside, of course, we innovate so that customers get a new, better and or different experience of your brand. Momentum towards a launch is one of the innovator’s key challenges.

During the course of a project, a company often shows itself to be made up of lovers and fighters. Lovers can’t get enough of innovation, change, disruption and the uncertainty that comes with ‘new’. Fighters don’t get it. Fighters resist change for any number of reasons; mostly because they have a different agenda or objective.

Ask a salesperson to focus on anything longer than the time it takes to hit a target and you’re asking a lot. After all, that’s how they get paid. But the imperative to get the new thing into the supply chain remains a critical metric for innovators. Unless we can demonstrate real, actionable and tangible benefit, we aren’t achieving against brief.

The long-term prognosis for your new product depends on the quality of your innovation project and how determined you are to keep assessing, testing and developing until you achieve the truly new. Steve Jobs is known to have been obsessive about the consumer experience that he designed into everything he signed off. We can look back at some of the decisions he made and get sniffy in hindsight, but it’s hard really to criticise the delight delivered by most Apple products, even the ones that are iterations of earlier ideas.

And here you have it: the part of the whole design thinking process that we’ve been aiming at.

Whether you launch an MVP or the most beautiful and well-conceived finished product you can, the act of considering all possibilities will help you to achieve a far higher quality of output than is otherwise possible.

Throughout this mini-series, we’ve talked about using unique insight to inform your vision of your marketplace, now and into the future. This also affects your decision about what to launch now and what it might become – for example: eight versions (depending how you count them) of the iPhone in nine years. You may decide that your short-term need is a simpler product development, but running the innovation project will always deliver a better outcome.

For more ideas about new ways of innovating and desiging you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here. This is the kind of article you’ll receive straight into your inbox. Sign up here.

We want to help you to make the most from our experience by giving you an hour of our time. There will be no follow-up unless you give permission, and we won’t bug you with mailings you don’t want. We do promise to throw a light on some insight during our conversation that could entice you into an innovation project of your own.
Just send an e-mail with your phone number and ‘Free hour’ in the title line and we’ll call you back. 

I look forward to talking.

Keeping up is almost as hard as keeping ahead, and knowing what to concentrate on, out of the huge amount of information available, is the hardest thing of all.

One of the tricks of the generalist is to scrape data from as many sources as possible and skim read it. Doing this will give you a flavour of what is going on around you and it’ll help you to develop ideas as you do it more often. By reading innovation feeds regularly you’ll develop your eye for what’s interesting and filter what’s not.

Where to start? On your phone. Plug a few links into your browser and refer to your own search history to find them easily. Or set up your own feed somewhere like a Flipbook magazine. This will give you one place to go and see what’s new and what your competitors might be looking at too.

Here are six innovation feeds that you will find useful:

IDEO is one of the big dogs of the ‘ideation/innovation’ world and has made the mission of Design Thinking their own. They have been around for long enough to have a huge body of useful blog content and they’ll send updates to your inbox if you opt in. For a perspective on creativity that you might not otherwise come across, this is a good place to start #ideo

ideaconnection says “Build on the Genius of Others”. This is a platform where you can post or contribute towards others peoples’ challenges. What they also do is send out newsletters and, like Ideo, have a deep well of content that might be useful as additional reading. #ideaconnection. The site features a quote from Andrew Razeghi that ‘Innovation is the only true source of sustainable advantage’”  and we have to agree.

A subscription to Fast Company will keep your perspective topped up every month. But non-subscribers can still visit and take a look at their frequent news updates. Possibly a bit America-centric if you happen to be in the EU, but the trends reported are useful. #fastcompany

TechCrunch is one of those sites that you could leave open in a browser and probably spend too much time in. Articles appear almost hourly, with a bias towards technology developments, but they also carry adjacent interest content (what Tim Cook says about X, Y or Z). As a way of staying up to date, this may be a good place to pick up on some macro trends. #techcrunch

New Atlas was once known as Gizmag and we found that even our lowest parental control setting screened it out, so maybe it’s not surprising the new name came about. As soon as you open the site it’s clear what it’s all about: technology and product. It’s not always obvious what’s advertising and what’s content, but as a quick point of reference and for an overview of what tech is in the wind, it can be useful. #newatlas

room44 – what, you thought we wouldn’t include ourselves in this? As we work with clients and research innovation across market segments from AI to Packaging and Pharma to Wellbeing, we see attitudes and concepts that we find interesting. Our blog tends towards #coaching and concepts more than what’s new and visible. At room44 our mission is to help clients work to a longer time horizon than 12 months. To achieve this, we stay true to our own principles of future thinking and future proofing through innovation. You can read new content on our blog every week here and find us on social media @room44innovates and @innovationjustified.

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” Anatole France

Hard data gives us access to facts that are indisputable. Not easy to find, maybe, but a set of insight revealed by digging into the data stack.

The soft skill that humans can contribute to innovation allows us to distil information and then to apply a tool that AI has yet to develop: intuition. Gut instinct is rarely relied upon these days, but think about your biggest decisions.

Where do I live? What will I drive? Who will I marry? Will we have children? These aren’t decisions usually committed to a spreadsheet, although it’s true that some people (I suspect mostly accountants) do. If so, the answer to #2 might vary but it’ll be a blue one.

So the statisticians and, more commonly now, marketers get busy with the algorithms to produce a set of slides that will categorically pronounce that option A is likely to succeed better than option B.

Now comes the tricky bit. There’s a baby boomer sitting in the big chair listening to the detail. She’s been around. She’s seen trends and she’s won and lost decisions, based on hunches, in the past. She’s happy to be persuaded by the P&L projection and yet… her intuition kicks in and she goes with B – or nothing.

That may frustrate the other end of the board table. It may even retard the company’s progress into new and growing markets, but unless you can hit a chord that resonates right along the wire from what she learnt in the past to what she might believe about the future, you are coming up short.

Show her a strategic end point. Finish the argument and actually predict a future scenario for her. Stand by your own hypothesis. If you don’t, your story is just a story. Whether it’s based on data and history or just made up for effect, your best forecast is still essentially a guess.

Data may show us a door, but human intelligence and our special reasoning still hold the key.

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

‘Change’ is racing towards us so quickly, that to choose the one thing that will make a difference to our business fortunes seems impossible. What if we get it wrong? What if we don’t get it right enough? Not so much the rabbit in the headlight but the kid in the sweet shop.

As a result, the rate of change can retard the speed at which decisions get made.

Much of what we read at the moment is no more than speculation. Open any news site or magazine and the most popular subjects are AI stealing our jobs, autonomous cars and electric vehicles. Throw in a sprinkling of badly explained CRISPR and the picture is pretty much complete.

However, when even the non-techy weekend sections talk about change anxiety, it shows an underlying concern about what we don’t know yet. One of this weekend’s supplements featured a piece* by a mother and daughter team about change anxiety and GAD-7, among other articles that centred on CRISPR and the future of transport. If these are themes that appeal to Features Editors, then the subject is surely hitting mainstream consciousness.

The answer is not simple to unpick and it won’t come in a flash of divine intervention. Continuous review and company-wide contribution are steps in the right direction. A framework such as Design Thinking is also useful.

Here’s what Kevin Ashton, the consumer sensor expert who coined the phrase ‘the Internet of Things’, said about innovation:

“I’d been lied to all my life: great innovation didn’t come from geniuses having moments of inspiration. It was about putting in the work; finding a way through and messing up and figuring out why you messed up, and then trying something different. And this incremental, step-by-step approach to innovation was just how everybody else was doing it around me, too.”

room44, innovation justified.


*This website’s subscription prevents us from linking to this article. See The Midult’s Guide To The Future. The Daily Telegraph Magazine 3rd June 2017.


The predictions are that smartphones will be old technology within a few years. Commentators are sceptical. Try telling anyone you talk to and see what they say.

And yet there are developments that may just be tolling the death knell for our favourite device:

Bone conduction implants have been around for a while and used in medical settings but the technology is now creeping into the consumer space after a few false starts. One of the more recent “Zungle’s Panther Bone Conduction speaker transmits sound waves to the skull via vibrations.”

Spectacles by Snap send video straight to your online account. They see what you see. GoogleGlass anyone?

Project Jacquard may be the glue that sticks the emerging tech together. Already available as a Levi jacket: “Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms. Everyday objects such as clothes and furniture can be transformed into interactive surfaces.”

With haptic and audio prompts part of the consumer landscape, gesture control and voice control appearing more and more and connected screens increasingly integrated into everyday lives, our need to carry screens is decreasing.

As directors of a business that has been successful your job is to see into the future. To know where your competitors and customers are headed and to get there first. To be ready with the solution to a need they haven’t seen for themselves yet. It’s not impossible but the vision of the future is confused. The many conversations that are going on around us are fractured and unclear. No-one knows what the future holds except that we can’t predict it accurately.

To be relevant in this market and to stay relevant in the medium and short term will take a steady hand and some foresight. It’ll also take some plain talking in a language that everyone understands. Let’s leave the lexicon of the CTO out of it. Let’s discuss the signs that we see that will make a difference to you.

Let’s talk about people, product and function of the things you make and can make.

Let’s think about the design of products to meet a real and tangible consumer need that is developing. Let’s be as definite as we can about how our markets are shifting.

Let’s design our futures and set the VR, UX, IT/SQL/Python guys off and running to deliver them. Let’s work through the process of design thinking and write our innovation strategy down. Then they’ll know which direction to run in.

Innovation justified: it’s what we do.

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