room44 innovates

How trawling for trends can identify risks and opportunities at the same time.

The people my wife teaches ‘A’ Level to recently had a conversation about the current tranche of dystopian TV shows, exampled by Station 11.

The class showed empathy at how a pandemic can change normal lives but couldn’t begin to imagine that anything would stop the internet. It didn’t compute.

That the internet relies on electricity wasn’t a connection they’d made.

That mobile phones ran on the same stuff also came as a surprise – in a moment of alarming realisation.

The relative problem of the internet may not have occurred to seventeen-year olds and it may not to you either.

This made me think. Our perspectives inform our view of our futures. Logically, we don’t know what we don’t know – or choose to see.

Five generations

In business today there are people who were born this century alongside others who watched England win the World Cup, watched the first moon landing, Vietnam, the Torrey Canyon, Exxon Valdis, the Khmer Rouge, the Falklands… There are five generations working at the same time.

Older generations may find it easier to imagine a wholly different set of predictions than those born into a digital age.

Our common concerns are the same but our attitudes towards them could vary.

The probability of a failure in the UK national power transmission system is estimated at between 1% and 5%. At the upper end this means that there’s a 1 in 20 chance of national power interruption at any one time.

How would you cope?

  • No water supply or sewage services
  • No internet
  • No fuel distribution or logistics
  • No lights or heat…

Who do you trust?

More importantly, how much do you trust the people who control the systems that keep you running to do their jobs? Following the UK Air Traffic Control failure in August 2023 the questions around how small but pernicious data errors could be catastrophic, are very conspicuous.

The thing about viewing emerging trends is that other stuff comes into view at the same time. Being innovative and looking for information that can inform strategy is one side of the coin.

Seeing a better informed reality and being able to assess risks is the other.

Put together, the data set allows us to estimate the probability that your innovation/ product development/ new service will enjoy commercial success.

And it all comes from being interested in what’s going on around you.

This is what we do.

To talk, write to me

room44 takes a sideways look at non-obvious trends currently developing and asks; who does this affect?

Chapter 1: Challenging questions:

  • Politics in the UK.
  • Cladding and negative equity.
  • Interested party pacts.

Listening and watching news in June 2021 it feels as if life is good.

The UK is emerging from a year of COVID-19 lockdown, the summer is coming, pubs and restaurants are re-opening, the Conservatives have just had a landslide victory in local elections, with the implication that consistency at the top is what the UK wants. In the UK, at least, if we believe the news media COVID-19 might be a manageable problem.

Hooray, let’s go to the pub… and most of us did.

Then the hangover happened and with the cold light of day questions emerged.

To be honest, what you’re about to read is snapshot of what I’ve read, heard and seen since the euphoria of meeting people socially – and maybe you can help me join some dots together.

Politics in the UK.

The UK is one party state.

The UK is gradually regressing into its constituent parts. When Scotland votes to leave the union it’ll only take Cornwall and Yorkshire to declare independence for the everyone here to need a passport to drive from one end to the other.

Objectively, while the majority of the UK, apparently, all vote for the same political party, the place is pulling itself apart which seems a bit contrary to reason.

As a competent alternative to conservative rule, the Labour party has spent more than enough time kicking itself to death and has given us with great example of a brand failing to change with its audience. Becoming less relevant, they entered the last general and local elections without realising that ‘Labour’ is a moniker rooted in a forgotten era of industry and collective bargaining. Those days have gone and the red flag flies now over people who don’t remember what it meant.

Will Labour do the work needed to reinstate itself as a serious government candidate before the next election (and probably the one after that too)? No. Of course it won’t and so the electorate can look forward to an uncontested parliament for another decade.

With best will in the world, for Greens, Liberals or anyone else to make a serious dent in the UK Tory power base, something fundamental has to change. The signs are that they won’t despite the massive vote-winning assistance potentially offered by the biggest and most obvious crisis ever to emerge across the world – global climate change.

Cladding and negative equity.

We live in an odd period of history for all kinds of reasons. There’s always one reason or another but this particular moment in time has us sliding towards more central control, less freedom of movement, more censorship, less liberty…

Part of the conditioning that we in the UK are subject to is that home ownership is the pinnacle of achievement.

If you’ve never done this, try applying for credit and tick the ‘not a home-owner’ box and see what happens. If you want to know what it feels like to be treated like a second-class citizen this is a good way to start.

So keen are we to own property that some of us opt to buy a lease. Today, what happens when that property is found to be a serious threat to your life, because the structure of the place is significantly flammable, is a travesty.

You may need to research this but here are the bones of the issue. In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster it has been found that many properties of the same kind are at the same risk of fire.

Understandably, until the guilty cladding is replaced these properties have little or no value on the property market.

It’s a complicated area of law but the bottom line (in my mind) is that freeholders appear to be able to pass the cost of refurbishment on to leaseholders which, in most cases, far exceeds the leaseholders’ ability to pay.

So, despite buying a lease in good faith that the home is safe and fit for purpose, it transpires that when it is found not to be, the purchaser is liable. Caveat emptor to say the least and stalemate.

It isn’t the first time the ‘little guy’ gets the rough end of the stick or that politicking is used to wiggle out of paying for mistakes made in the past. Unfortunately, in a period when the country has to stay at home through an imposed lockdown, those people who already felt unsafe, also have this extra concern for their personal safety.

Threats to van life.

In a property market that already excludes a huge tranche of people, young and older, in the UK because of the consistent rise in house values well beyond inflation rates; and in the face of doubts over the safety of some more affordable options, people are turning to alternative living arrangements.

There’s a real buzz around tiny living and van life, at the moment. It sounds romantic – and can be, but there’s a threat to this non-conformist trend that needs understanding.

To want to live in a van takes some level of dissatisfaction with traditional arrangements – or an inability to be able to afford rents or mortgages – or a rejection of the price of doing so. I’ve got a mortgage and sometimes I wonder if it’s a good decision to keep it going.

Some say that when everything is counted, the capital gain from owning a house over the life of a mortgage do much more than match the outlay. Anyhow, If you live in a van and enjoy that way of life, good luck to you.

However, our conditioning is so strong that when a van parks up on your street there’s a temptation to be wary. The Lady in the Van movie made suburbanites wonder what they’d do in that situation and regular press coverage of alleged traveller misdemeanours could be behind another governmental move to restrict the liberty of an ‘alternative’ lifestyle.

A bill has been in development and on Tuesday 16th March, 2021 the UK government held the second vote in parliament for the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill*.

MP’s voted in favour by a majority, and the bill now goes to the committee stage, followed by the House of Lords before it becomes enshrined in law.

What is it?

This law enhances the Police’s power to confiscate the property of, particularly, van dwellers if they suspect that the occupiers may commit a crime in the future. The confiscated property can be kept for an indeterminate period.

So, we have a government supporting the removal of homes from people who have no other shelter, on the basis of nothing more than a potential complaint from another citizen and/or the suspicion that they may commit a crime someday.

Add this new law to existing wide-ranging surveillance, number plate recognition, banking and insurance monitoring networks and, even before facial recognition really finds its feet in the UK and we have a serious and insidious control of our civil liberty building in the background.

As a user base we’ve already given up our personal data to our mobile phone networks and we know our online footprints are regularly monitored so, it’s no real wonder that some of us are trying to find a bit of off-line space to live in.

News media and party pacts.

If you read and consume the same media as I do, we’ll probably have a similar view of the world. If you don’t, we won’t.

This is the reason I founded room44; to offer company teams different views of markets and market influences  to reveal opportunities, not otherwise apparent.

It has always been the responsibility of the individual to search out your truth. You can doi this by consuming content from different media outlets that have different biases: political, commercial, cause or whatever.

So, a supposedly unbiased and independent media outlet is a good thing to know about.

Here, in the UK, it is widely believed that the BBC is that body but…

Where some stories get coverage, less headline-worthy items such as Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would, seem to get less. Personally, I can’t remember ever seeing it mentioned and I, for one, wonder why?

Media has always been available to support any specific idea/notion/belief and today is no different – except the number of outlets is huge, making it easier than ever to find validation of any and every idea with a few clicks on a keypad.

Consequently, people in business can avoid reading the other side of the argument with zero effort and so, a balanced opinion becomes less easy to arrive at.

The unofficial contract that is said to exist between the establishment and media outlets controls what is published on a daily basis. Media briefings have the effect of pushing content creators in specific directions. Effectively, this controls what news we are fed every morning.

While social platforms have made it easier to avoid only seeing propaganda published by ‘interested parties’, the establishment has got better at managing the news agenda which can be seen in action every day with the focus swinging from more contentious issues to more palatable ones without much logic.

So what?

Taking a consumer view of the factors, such as those described above, and making connections between them can be useful in informing your product strategy.

For example, consumers buying vans for conversion, camping equipment, hardware and conversion services, solar panels etc all buy their products from someone.

Camping space that closes for the winter are seeing year-round demand.

The companies that sell these products may want to look at the potential for the impact of new laws to affect what they sell and who they sell to.

It bears some monitoring. To be continued.

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

* Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

  • The Bill contains enhanced police powers to deal with public order and wider offences and increased sentences for breaching conditions imposed on assemblies and processions by the police. These proposals have significant implications for the right to protest, an aspect of the rights to free speech and free assembly.
  • The Bill contains a new offence targeted at persons residing on land without permission, coupled with powers to seize property. These have implications for the right to respect for the home and the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, of both the landowner and the resident, and may have a disproportionate impact on particular ethnic groups.
  • The right to respect for private life is engaged by the Bill’s proposed power to extract information from electronic devices.
  • The Bill also proposes a number of changes to sentencing, including extending the use of ‘whole life orders’ and altering sentencing for children and young people, with ramifications for the right to liberty and the rights of victims. Changes to community sentences also give rise to concerns about respect for private life and the home.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]room44’s data-driven approach reveals hidden trends and new opportunities to help you create high-performing, sustainable product strategies. The result? A strategic vision that is actionable in the short, medium and longer term – increasing revenue, promoting growth and encouraging brand tenacity.[/author_info] [/author]

History tells us that the likelihood of most companies surviving much beyond the founder’s involvement is slim. Many businesses get bought, absorbed into other companies or simply fail. In fact, according to John Elkann at Fiat, only 49 companies per million last beyond 100 years.
If you were able to audit your own probability of remaining innovative would you?

From A to Z

Companies, like Amazon, are big news today, but even they could fail to thrive once the founder is no longer involved. While Jeff Bezos ran Amazon. Larry Page and Sergei Brin guide Google, Howard Shultz is still at Starbucks and Mark Zuckerberg sits at the top of Facebook a the new ‘normal’ looks OK. If they really move on, rather than say they will but stay on the board, then what?

Consumer appeal

Put into context, what’s your gut feeling about Uber and AirBnB lasting longer than their unicorn status? AWS probably has life in it for longer than Amazon B2C (step up Andy Jassy who started the division) but market reports about saturation and financial results suggested that Tim Cook needs to change something in The Valley if Apple is to maintain its unique consumer appeal.
As growth starts to get harder established companies will consider their consumers more actively: i.e. to put innovation at their core. To be fair, Amazon as one example, has always been good at this, but often, brands do the opposite. The tendency, after the visionary entrepreneur leaves and the money-men take control, is to respond to anticipated competitive threat. For most companies it’s almost inevitable the they will.

Who takes decision-making responsibility?

Seeing competition developing and moving to defend a market position with a similar proposition is the sales target-driven, fast-follower route to product development.
Here’s a blog about that ‘Product trends trending. Competitor confirmation bias.‘
Established companies can’t bring themselves to put decision-making responsibility into the hands of one person and so creativity suffers. Whereas owner-operators won’t shy away from the big decision. If something needs doing to protect and grow a business, an owner will step up.

Make ROI the driver

This particular skill is really hard to replace. If the culture that sits around Jeff, Larry and Mark has got the company to where it is, who’s going to do that when they’re gone?
An answer is for the founder to help the team to treat innovation as the driver of strategic decisions: make strategy about consumer experience more than ROI. Get this right and ROI is the net result. Make ROI the driver and consumers will fall away.

Innovation is doing new things

Tools are available for this process to be successful. Sometime external moderation helps. We offer to start by running an innovation audit.
Auditing the way your company regards innovation and how it pushes initiatives into the market can be a key indicator of business sustainability.
“Creativity is having new ideas. Innovation is doing new things.” – Theodore Levitt.
Book some time here and I’ll talk you through it.
Seeing it differently. 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.

Not being able to anticipate change is a common problem in companies where financial and sales targets rule.
It’s really easy for the CFO to kill an idea, a conjecture or to argue a trend because the data won’t support a forecast. It can’t. Data is historical. But that’s why the CFO doesn’t work in New Product Development or Innovation.

Convert your CFO from an Analyst to a Visionary

You can help them with this. Ask them what they’ve learnt anytime in the last five years. What they do differently now that they didn’t do in 2015/ 16/ 17.

Remind them of the new piece of ‘efficiency’ software they invested in, of the new reporting system (Xero, Sage…), of the project management platform (Trello, Slack, Asana…) or of the savings that come from a Lean initiative.

All of these ideas were new, untried, unproven and a risk, once. Now they’re normal, standard, common practise.

You’ve got a fuzzy front end

Looking back we have absolute clarity. Looking forward, it’s harder for us all to see the same opportunity. The future is a bit fuzzy. The answer is to know what you will be doing because you have applied a process that uses logic, creativity, analysis and imagination.

room44 has a test for this. It’s called our CRiTT Test. We compare ideas across four metrics and the ratings make it obvious which ones can be delivered now, next and later.

Instant ROI from an innovation project that can be run in a day.

Let’s have a chat about how this can be a part of your plan for 2019/20. Book time here or e-mail me on

[button link=”” type=”big” color=”red”] Innovation concept test[/button]

For more on this subject, read this blog called What is the life expectancy of your company?

To stay relevant to your customers over the next couple of years you’ll need to be aware of mega trends: the very biggest macro factors.

Mega trends are those irreversible, slow-to-grow changes that we tend not to recognise as quickly as we might. It’s a bit like seeing a child (puppy, kitten) after a period of time: you notice their growth much more than if you see them every day.

Who do mega trends affect?

Mega trends affect us all. They offer opportunity and threat to business in equal measure. The opportunities presented by mega trends are visible to companies who actively look for ideas to grow. The threats that mega trends present are also clear to companies looking for ideas to grow. The message is this – if you’re not looking at trends, you aren’t seeing either growth opportunity or risk of disruption.

Here in the UK many brands, especially SMEs, are wrapped up in Brexit, and it’s become really easy not to look too far into the future. While Brexit is definitely a macro factor, it’s also been difficult to plan for.

True mega trends are usually easier to read than Brexit, and definitely more likely to open up an opportunity. These are some mega trends you might like to take a look at…

The sharing economy – this may be a hard one to get to grips with if you sell consumer products. As things are developing, your newest customers are making fewer capital purchases – but there are two sides to this.

If you sell sofas, you can rent out sofas. If you sell bikes, hire out bikes. The transition to a subscription model is not hard unless you just don’t see the need.

Personal Mobility – while governments around the world are pumping billions into the electrification of cars, there is an undercurrent of radical change that still has a long way to go.

Not only are cars and other vehicles subject to changes in fuel systems, with all the knock-on impact that will have on the automotive supply chain, but even this emerging market is under pressure from the sharing economy. This trend is going to run and run, and electricity won’t be the only fuel solution explored. This blog talks about this more:

Emotional intelligence – Human Resource departments are great at building systems to recruit team members who ‘fit’ with each other.

They have known for decades that IQ isn’t the only measure of probable effectiveness. Emotional Quotient (EQ) is now better understood and it’s being managed and exploited. EQ describes the way you monitor your emotions and the emotions of your colleagues, as well as how customers react in response to your brand messages. EQ extends through your recruitment, staff management and how you are able to manage consumer loyalty.

To build a sustainable brand position, your launch planning must be part of the innovation process and persona development at the earliest possible time.

The room44 Innovation Process takes EQ into account. Let’s talk about this complex part of your plan. You can book some time here to talk.

Ages of population – here’s how the ages of the various generations are described.

Your customer personas need to anticipate how the ages of your shoppers are shifting. It’s thought that 75% of the workforce in 2025 could be Millennials.

People who sit in Gen Z and Alpha will live well beyond 100 and have plenty of time for several discrete careers. What does this mean? Well, one theory is that Gen Zs are already approaching an age when their first business sectors are changing enough that they need to retrain.

Law – the legal systems we abide by have been developed over hundreds of years. Prevailing laws are the compound product of ideas and reactions to societal developments that have taken place over time.

History tells us that legislators are slow to evolve laws to meet a new situation, and yet the forecasted rate of change in many areas of our lives means that the legal system must accelerate to keep up. Laws rely on precedent to direct us, but technology is applying pressure here. Financial management, online business, digital fraud, autonomous vehicles, geographic and geo-fenced boundaries, artificial and human intelligence are a few examples of the areas where the law is evolving, but may need to anticipate what’s coming rather than react to what has happened.

These mega trends are just some of those that sit on the horizon. They’re already in play and will cascade to affect your customers’ choices, your brand positioning and your relationship with your buyers.

room44 watches trends, builds systems for our clients to watch for themselves and trains teams to innovate by being aware and informed about the way their markets are changing – before the change arrives.

 We can help with that. Call us to find out more: +44 208 144 9800 or click through to see how our outside insight service works. Don’t worry, there isn’t another form to fill in.

outside insight

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

Faced with a journey, you’ve got choices: plan the route or start walking (driving, cycling – whatever you choose).

Planning feels logical. Get the map out, plug coordinates into a sat nav and see how long it takes. Your route to a final destination, plotted via a set of well-worn pathways.

The expected outcome is clear.




So, what about the journey to a new destination that hasn’t been visited before, by anyone, ever?



Things aren’t as clear now. It’s harder to know how to get there. You might not even be sure where ‘there’ is. How do you take the first step?

This is the problem that an innovation process tackles.

Now we’re talking about a different set of variables: who is your target customer and what will they be struggling with at the end of your product development process? With technology and competition developing at current rates, you can’t assume that today’s customer will be the same in six months’ time.


This is why we look at time horizons and consider new trends – not data. Data is historical. Trends are emerging. There’s a major difference in their usefulness when it comes to plotting your customer need as it will develop – not as it did.

Think of it like this: over the course of, say, five years, lots of products will fade from the market. Trends like electric vehicles are growing. Consequently, the bits and bobs that sit under the bonnet of your family saloon won’t be needed in the numbers they are today. Stuff like carburettors, exhaust pipes and so on.

and place

If you make carburettors or exhaust pipes, you have time to develop a new strategy – but not much. Deciding what you’ll do when exhaust pipes aren’t needed; raising finance; buying and receiving new machines; becoming a player in a new product segment…all these things take time.

A five-year window isn’t very big at all, and by the time you make it to market with a new idea that meets a need today, that need will have moved on.


This quote from the World Economic Forum says it all

  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’.

The article’s called “What is the life expectancy of your company?” It’s a good question.

room44 has a process for helping you succeed in a changing market place. It’s called the Programme for Changemakers. Click below for details.

[button link=”” type=”big” color=”green” newwindow=”yes”] Programme for Changemakers[/button]

Presenting at a trade event gets the creative juices flowing. Sometimes this can be a good thing. Sometimes it leads to other ideas.

This is what happened this week. I was invited to present a short deck at Pro2Pac at London’s Excel. Appended to the annual IFE show, Pro2pac is a mash-up of machine and packaging manufacturers alongside smaller brands of, sometimes, niche and regional food products. It brings together a compelling mix of people and ideas.


My agenda time slot was titled ‘identifying and addressing consumer needs through intelligent design’.

My abstract read like this: Trends across consumer behaviour strongly signal that plastic packaging has lost its place in the hearts and minds of shoppers.

As Generation Z becomes more of a force in the buying community, companies grown and built on the belief that plastics present the best way of shipping CPGs and Produce, over long distance and in the extended supply chain, are being challenged.

How do we break the cycle that causes consumer frustration at the apparent apathy demonstrated by the packaging industry and its perceived lack of preparedness to accept responsibility for the change that is, in some peoples’ eyes, inevitable?

Already I can feel hackles rising amongst plastic packaging producers. So here’s my point: whatever output and efficiency targets incumbent producers need to hit to make money, how ever much the packaging industry tells us that we need plastic nets around oranges or seven-element packaging to make a pot of soup look premium, or a bag around bananas, or plastic wraps around trays of mushrooms… consumers know they don’t. Retailers may prefer pre-packaged goods to make the supply chain more efficient and to manage, their definition of, food waste within the system that the packaging industry and they have created – but consumers don’t NEED it.

With this single, unavoidable ‘black elephant*’ the packaging industry is losing the hearts and minds of consumers.

During my presentation, I referenced the work that is being done in class rooms with Key Stage 1 to 3 students in schools right now. Educating children about the impact of avoidable plastic usage and even more serious environmental concepts is having an effect.

Generation Z

Generation Z has received this information and the recent Greta Thunberg inspired schools strikes are an illustration of a change in the wind; new consumers beginning to make their feelings felt.

Not to put too fine a point on it, there’s a sentiment building.

With industry so hung-up on Millennials as the largest shopping age group, it’s no surprise that subsequent segments aren’t front of mind. For reasons of sustainability, yours and everyone else’s, Gen. Z should be. Do you even know what age Gen.Z is?

My presentation at #Pro2pac was along these lines. As an identified trend, age-specific shifts in attitudes towards consumerism is as clear as day. It’s signalled and is being shouted from all segments of your consumer audience. Resist all you like but if you don’t adapt and change, your business will feel it.

I’ve drawn a quick infographic that sums up this concept and you can get it here. It’s called ‘Who will you sell your packaging to?’ Have a look. I’m interested to talk to you if you agree with this sentiment. I’m more interested to speak to you if you don’t.

To talk about how we can help you re-envisage your product design strategy, we’re a call away and this link will drop time into my diary. Let’s talk soon.

*The Black Elephant is combination of boardroom clichés: the Elephant in the Room, the thing which everyone knows is important, but no one will talk about; and the Black Swan, the hard-to-predict event which is outside the realm of normal expectations, but has enormous impact.

A few years ago, probably 2012 or so, there was a right old kerfuffle when some bright spark fitted a skateboard with a petrol engine, and the craze for powered personal mobility took off. For the first time, a semi-viable alternative to a bike was available and early adopters took to the idea as a commuting option. It didn’t last. The UK government decided the idea was silly and stories started to appear in the red tops saying that users weren’t contributing to the road fund license in the way other road users did (ignoring cyclists, of course).

Then came mini-bikes: the scourge of common land at weekends when dads turned their kids loose on waste ground. More headlines and an occasional sad accident saw the end of another passing consumer trend and a flood of unwanted Christmas presents on eBay and Gumtree.

But things are changing. Welcome to the age of fully sanctioned, free-from-surcharge, powered mobility for everybody? eBikes have changed your journey options and given us democratised mobility for the 14 to 104 age range.

What’s changed? Technology, that’s what.

Today, the gradual realisation among road users that cars aren’t the only option for getting to work is helping a new market expand: the electric bicycle.

Where will this lead?

Increasingly difficult road conditions and congestion have seen a rise in the use of bikes as a commuting solution. Not so much that the UK has invested in significant infrastructure developments, but enough to cause a blip on retail indices. In response to Team GB’s success at the 2012 Olympics, and by Brits in high profile road races, weekend warriors have been out and bought carbon bikes that now get them to work and into triathlon and other bike-based pastimes.

The recent development of (almost) affordable electric bikes has seen the age of cyclists rise too. A realistic 40-60 mile range gives new life to older legs. The price of eBikes is still pretty high, but we can see the trend in downward prices and greater choice. Not all schoolkids will be getting an eBike for their birthday, but some might.

Why is an eBike allowed when powered skateboards weren’t? According to Electric bikes: licensing, tax and insuranceYou can ride an electric bike in England, Scotland and Wales if you’re 14 or over, as long as it meets certain requirements.

These electric bikes are known as ‘electrically assisted pedal cycles’ (EAPCs). You do not need a licence to ride one and it does not need to be registered, taxed or insured.”

Say that again: sanctioned, free-from-surcharge, powered mobility for everybody?

Now, take a look around the world at what’s going on in urban centres. Powered scooters are a serious Metro alternative in many EU and US cities. Not so much in the UK, but it’s an observable thing now. eBikes are entering sectors where bikes previously didn’t get a look in: mountain biking, general leisure, shopping, commuting and so on.

In the 1970s, sixteen-year-olds used mopeds as their ticket to freedom and independence. 50cc motorbikes fitted with fold-away pedals were de rigueur. Recently, Harley Davidson released first sight of its Livewire project, originally announced in 2014, with bikes ranging from full-size Harleys through lightweight urban vehicles to eBikes. What are the chances that fold-away pedals get a look-in along the way to blur the edges between a bicycle and a motorbike?

Are other brands doing similarly? Of course they are. Look at Van MoofCitycoco and Yulu for an existing alternatives. In fact, there are loads from under £1,000 to over £10k.

So, what does this all mean? Democratised mobility for the 14 to 104 age segment. Less reliance on car parking. Potentially less road tax revenue. Smaller road footprint options for single occupancy vehicles. A variety of demand levels, depending on the climate. Product development in insurance. More onboard camera and security products. Changes to workwear styles and materials. Different ways of using roads, pathways. Different ways of travelling in groups such as in families. Greater demand for dedicated bike lanes and integrations across existing vehicle networks. Workplace charging facilities. Releasing space to bikes on public transport for people who travel further, but who want to use a bike as part of their journey. Rental and shared access. And the list goes on…

The striking thing about these developments is that they are happening now and will mushroom over the next 18 months. These aren’t local influences affecting notorious early-adopting cities like LA, Amsterdam or Shanghai. These are global trends that are limited only by availability of a newly feasible product and how willing you are to adopt them.

Wherever you live, your mobility options have recently shifted into a different paradigm.

You can find out what we’re doing in the personal mobility market and how the emerging trend is opening up new product opportunities by talking to us. Click here. Just like cycling, talking is free.

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

There’s a feeling among company managers that external perspectives can’t add much to business strategy. It’s an opinion we hear fairly often and yet, McKinsey seems to be doing OK. Is this because buyers of management consultancy just want to buy in resource to get a job done, or because an external perspective adds value?

Let’s look at a case study.

In the UK, Europe and the USA, the car market is changing. Not so much that existing suppliers to car brands can’t survive, but enough to suggest that, in many cases, their days are numbered.

This diagram paints the picture.

innovation process,

The bottom triangle shows where established business is today. The top one shows how insurgent and disruptive business sees its opportunity.

With legislation telling us that the only cars available in twenty years will be full electric, where do you think your business sits in the diagram above?

Let’s look a bit closer at this market.

In 2018, the EU car market grew by 0.5% – good news. Nothing to worry about there. Plug this number into your financial plan and it’s going to be a good year. Launch a new car every five years, let the supply chain develop components to meet the need. Everybody wins.

Oh, but wait, Uber has signalled that consumers don’t need to own a car to navigate a city. In London alone, that’s over 10 million people who rarely need to buy into this sector.

How about driving autonomy? Not going to happen?

Tesla disagrees. Toyota has invested $500 million in Uber self-driving technology projects. Google has invested over $1billion already. Since 2015, Dyson has been pumping $2.5billion a year into electric vehicles with some self-driving ability, and its recently announced move to Singapore puts the company close to the fastest-growing electric vehicle (EV) market – China. Coincidence?

One of the issues that EVs must resolve is range. Range correlates to weight, so EVs are built to be light. Cars designed for short trips come in under 450KGs, compared to over a metric tonne for cars made of metal. Where the language of car makers used to be of smelting, tensile strengths, rolling, beating, pressing and casting, now we hear of moulding, laminating, bonding, extruding and injecting.

There are other factors to consider in the car market. Hydrogen could utilise the infrastructure of filling stations the world over, if safe movement of the fuel can be assured. Environmentally, hydrogen has its fans and does present a viable alternative to electricity, avoiding the need for the creation of a charging system for EVs.

Supply chains change.

If you are part of the supply chain to the automotive market, or active in the maintenance of cars as they exist today, you can be certain that your world is changing. You just may not have seen it yet.

So, does an external perspective look like it could be valuable? Whether you make toothpaste (plastic packaging), potato crisps (metallised lamination and gas flushing), processed meat (veganism), or fashion (slow fashion, circular economy), things are changing for you.

Buying in an objective view of your market opens the door to fresh ideas. There is value in re-examining data that you’ve discounted, and in bringing your consumer’s perspective into your reckoning.

This link will download our free guide, ‘Seeing it differently.’ room44 specialises in delivering value from Design Thinking – the act of building a strategy from your customer’s perspective. A strategy that meets a need today and anticipates what you must do to stay relevant as your market changes around you.

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

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