room44 innovates

My dad broke his back in a motorcycle crash. It was a time when spinal injuries weren’t well understood and he didn’t walk again. He was nineteen.

In those post-war years, being a paraplegic put some pressure on your job prospects. It took three years to get my dad into a wheelchair and then home. For most of that time, he lay on his back and had few visitors.

Cause and effect.

One person who did visit was the chap who was riding pillion at the time of the crash. He came to see if my dad’s insurance would cover the cost of a new suit (the suit he was wearing had been torn when my dad broke his back). No-one seemed to think it remarkable that this guy had been the pillion rider in previous bike crashes. Unrecognised cause and effect?

Being from a farming family, when Dad was lying in hospital it relieved the family of the need to feed him. When he went home, he was a burden. He got a disabled carriage: one of those small, single-seater, single-cylinder cars with handlebars instead of a steering wheel, and started selling different grades of oil to farmers, displayed in Kilner Jars so they could see the colour difference and know which oil was better for their tractor or rotovator. Not a common job these days.

You can’t buy more time.

Eventually, Dad trained as a watchmaker and found his groove. For over sixty years, he repaired watches. He fixed clocks too, and old clocks became his speciality. Those rickety old timepieces that were never really destined to keep good time, but which did a better job when he’d replaced their steel bearings with brass or jewels. Engineering that did a good enough job when timekeeping was more of an approximation than a science.

When man made it to the moon, watches became electronic, so Dad learnt to fix them as far as he could. When quartz watches launched, he decided he was not going to try: the technology is disposable, and the chips too small and cheap to try and fix. Even in the old days, there were companies that only made movements, and they supplied the same workings to all brands.

My dad made a good living from watches and clocks. He sold some, he fixed some, and he got paid what the service was worth. Because everyone knew what an alarm clock, or a Timex or a Rolex, cost, there was a limit to what he could charge for these repairs. But because no-one could put a price on an antique grandfather clock, or a Fusée movement, he charged what the customer would pay: value-based pricing in the service sector.

Over time, my dad became the only watchmaker in town. He outlived the others, or just kept working when they retired. Being in a wheelchair meant he couldn’t take up golf or sailing, so he did what he did. We never played football together, but we did go fishing. There were pastimes that he could apply some logic to – use his engineer’s mind.

To be in an industry that’s showing signs of changing in ways that you can’t see is not unusual.

As time went on, though, the price Dad could charge for repairing a clock became a matter of intense negotiation on every job. Whether the clock’s timekeeping was accurate was usually not a question: it was its status as a heritage piece, with an emotional value for the customer, that dictated what they’d pay to see it working again.

Gradually, the value of his work dropped. The quality was still as high – sixty years of knowledge and practice was hard learnt. But, whether you pay £5 or £50,000 for a watch, you can’t buy more time and can’t buy accuracy that makes that much difference. Watches and clocks now hold a different place in our value eco-system. Phones, screens and cars tell us what we need to know.
The old master made enough to live off by being good at what he did, but the market moved on. We all forgot about watchmakers – most of us are unlikely ever to need one.

This story is one that you can track through time and industry sectors right across the consumer product and medical landscape. Things that mattered to our parents and their parents simply don’t matter to us. Technologies that have come and gone are easy to list as far back as you can remember. My dad didn’t have a strategy: he had a skill that fell out of favour. Everything does eventually.

To be in an industry that’s showing signs of changing in ways that you can’t see is not unusual. Your time will come: that’s why we do what we do.

We help you to see how the trends developing around you will impact on your revenue line, and we work with you to develop a plan that underpins your continued business success.

Innovation isn’t an option.

Innovation isn’t an option, it’s an imperative. Unless you are planning to play golf or go fishing, and that isn’t really much of a plan.

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

After the Christmas holiday, in the northern hemisphere, we look at January and see a joyless month with little to get excited about – except maybe a shorter month of no alcohol and crowded gyms in February. Don’t tell me you don’t. Even if you have delayed it, you’re almost certainly planning something like a dry spell or a step-up in training. From the holidays to vacations. Six months of strategic planning.

The holiday trade knows this. TV schedules are full of programmes offering ideas for holidays and consumers start to think about winter sun, skiing, summer sun – anything that takes us away from the inevitability of January.

Here’s how a typical holiday planning process  goes: we talk about when we want to go on vacation. We decide a theme and a time. We look for destinations. We agree where, when, who we go with, how we get there and what we’ll pay. We plan the clothes we’ll take, the route to the airport, the car park we’ll use and the shopping we’ll pick up in duty free. We now know if we need to dig out the snow boots from the garage or the snorkel. Down to the suitcase each of us will take, we know every detail of our plan.

Timing, budget, destination, team. Place, price, product, promotion.

This is strategic planning at the highest level. We do it every day: school selection, house location, car purchase, style of clothes we wear to project our personal image, how many children to have, dog or cat…

Every one of us is good at strategic planning because we are trained in it from the moment we are aware.

So, why is it so hard to plan a strategy at work?

Part of the answer could be that we don’t choose who we work with, and so our vision for the future is automatically a compromise. You can argue all you like that business strategy is all about what’s best for the business, but the fact is, people make a business, and everyone has an agenda.

The more people involved in making a decision, the more diluted the vision becomes. A decision-maker is needed. Often this is the CEO. Often this is the wrong person.

A CEO knows what she/he knows. They know what they see and what you tell them. They see it differently to you. Because you’re the innovator, you see things developing in a future that a CEO may not have begun to consider yet. In January, she/he is still looking at the year end, and will be until April. 30% of your year is already gone.

You’re the innovator. This makes it your job to present a totally compelling picture of your vision: justified and rationalised. If you get it right and they agree with you, everybody wins and you set the strategic direction you worked on. Get it wrong and you carry on doing more of what you did yesterday. Maybe not dangerous, but not a strategy either.

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

Drop me a line to talk about how room44 can help with your innovation strategy.

The innovation landscape for 2018 is so exciting and so uncertain that it’s hard to know which way to turn. Which idea to invest in, which competitor to watch, which customer to target? We’re at the tipping point of so many technological developments and behavioural shifts that the dilemma is understandable.

And yet, no-one can stand and watch. Having a strategy that centres on innovation is now more important to business success than ever before. Here’s why. In 2014 some figures were published reporting the life expectancy of companies listed on the S&P 500 to be 18 years. Otherwise put, 75% of the companies listed on the index at that time would be replaced by new businesses we haven’t even heard of within 10 years.


These figures were generated before the current rate of change really took hold. Absolute figures are hard to find now but let’s take a wild guess (call it a forecast if you like) and suggest that this outlook might be overly positive in some cases.

This list from World Economic Forum says a lot about what to look out for and reinforces the call for innovation to be nmore than just a part of what you do.

  1. The right strategic vision is critical – in addition to anticipating what your customers are going to want, you need to define the depth and scope of the changes and redesign your internal processes and broader ecosystem.
  2. Execution is the hardest part of transformation – more than half of all companies undertaking transformation will fail to achieve their desired outcomes. One of the most common stumbling blocks is underestimating the operating model refinements that will be required across the organisation.
  3. Beware leaders who are clinging to past or current successes – this is the hypnotic siren song of the status quo. Transformation needs to be a continuous, never-ending process rather than a distinct ‘event’.

On the other hand, “Great companies make change for a living.” Thank you, Michael Schrage:

Let’s stay in touch. Sign up for our weekly innovation insights newsletter. Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.


From FOMO to JOMO. Innovation strategy helps you to stay focused on the important things.

Being reactive to consumer demand is, by and large, still a tenet of customer service. Taking note of what your customers say is (nearly) always a good idea.

As technology develops, our customers will be ever more demanding for ‘new’. Innovation is designed to meet the need. What we mustn’t do is dilute the effort of doing one thing well into chasing every shiny opportunity.

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a modern phenomenon. Culturally, we have educated our commercial departments (and our children) to be present on social media 24/7 and to manage their time to respond to customers immediately. We recently heard of a brand that responds to every one of the 20,000 Tweets it receives in a day within 180 seconds, in a bid to engage meaningfully with the customer. This is a technical achievement of some note, but meaningful?

Keeping up with trends can be like this. Being pressured into trying to consume everything that relates to your business, and all those things that might, is energy-sapping and time-consuming.

Similarly, mass B2B marketing is another area that creates stress and the sense of fighting a losing battle. Conversion rates from e-mail and social campaigns can’t help but drop over time, and so an endlessly increasing budget in creative execution becomes a management battleground when year-on-year increases in business performance are demanded.

Now, it’d be wrong to suggest that growth isn’t a natural business ambition. It’s also daft to try to be all things to all people.

A backlash is signalled. This quote says it nicely: “The internet has made it possible for people to communicate easily while slowly weakening personal connections. Technology has allowed companies to track productivity with monitoring software, at the same time weakening trust. Relationships have proven to be the way to increase sales and strengthen companies. Organizations will strive to build these relationships through face-to-face interactions that are personal, meaningful and fun.” What’s more, of 22 predictions made in the article in Inc., this one came in at #2.

As you’ll be aware by now, room44 believes that companies need an innovation strategy at the core of their being. A strategy that directs forward thinking and constantly reviews signals for the future, against which decisions can be made about product design and investment decisions can be made with some confidence that ROI will be returned into the future too.

The by-product of an innovation strategy is to know what is important and what can be put to one side. It’s also extraordinarily releasing.

A psychologist friend of ours recently presented something that burst a bubble for me. Apparently, it is actually impossible to focus on two things at once. Being busy doing lots of things isn’t the same at all. This is simply trying to keep lots of plates spinning. And we know how that goes eventually.

The joy of missing out deliberately is powerful. Know what to do, do it, don’t get sucked into hyperbole and diversions. Just get done what you know is the priority.

JOMO. The joy of missing out, deliberately.

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.

I almost booked a course today. £75 for a half day of intense tuition. In my part of the world that’s the same price as a parking ticket or a pair of running shoes, almost.

I didn’t book it.

The course date is September so there’s time.

Does anything fill up these days? – not really. Maybe there’s a live stream.

But the truth is that I applied a bit of logic and talked myself out of it. My system one response was “Hell yeah!” My considered response was ‘Meh!”

Why did I hesitate? Because I know what I know and I’m comfortable with that. If I go on the course and it delivers what it promises I will have to change – possibly everything I do.

Can I afford to take that risk? And it’s a real risk because I’ll need to make time to behave differently and I’m busy running a business.

So the decision, whether it’s conscious or not, is to learn or not. To understand why I must change my world or to plan for a change when it’s necessary or do nothing. The innovation paradox was ever thus. The rock and the hard place.

If the course delivers what I expect it to I will have invested £75 and half a day to be enlightened and to scare myself into a change of strategy.

If I don’t go on the course I can sit back and do what I do, comfortably.

I booked the course.

Innovation is stranger than fiction.

There are loads of predictions dating back to a time when the signals suggesting technologies we enjoy today weren’t so easy to see.

The phrase ‘throwing a spanner into the works’ is thought to have originated in PG Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves, published in 1934.

Not so long after that, Arthur C. Clarke started writing about his view of the future and eventually recorded a fascinating monologue for the BBC at the time of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. If you can spare 15 minutes, this is worth a listen. Clarke’s preoccupation with space travel and planet colonisation was topical then. The other concepts he describes, however, are very topical now.

The point of suggesting this isn’t to denigrate anyone’s’ view of what we can expect in our own futures, but to make the point that, among all the data we review to see the way forward, there is merit in looking back too.

Identifying trends that have resulted in commercial success today and seeing their inception occur is highly instructive. We can see how left-field macros informed product improvement and how to join the dots. We learn that diffusion of innovation is still a sound concept and we can see that disparate events are often joined abstractly if we take the time to look hard.

As Arthur C. Clarke said, the future is going to be better than we can imagine and is largely unpredictable. What he doesn’t say, is that the data available to us today as insight, gives us the opportunity to see market demand through a different lens and with a bit more clarity.

Not to look at the future of your business could be the spanner Wodehouse wrote of. The more radical your ideas are, the better. From the freedom to play and be ridiculous come the seeds of great breakthroughs.

Applying a bit of naivety to innovation is to ask the obvious question. We’re good at that. We never assume we know. We never assume our bias is correct and we always question yours – it lets us see the world with a different tint.

We believe that every business needs an innovation strategy. But then, it is what we do. Future thinking. Future proofing.

See Arthur C. Clarke speak here.

These videos are very evocative of a lost time but the extreme nature of the thinking demonstrated might make us think too.







“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.

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