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The next few months are impossible to predict and therefore difficult to plan, so think different. Blend specialism with generalism.

When I got my first job, the first thing my bank did was send me a credit card: instant debt. So I started to run my finances like many FDs run those of their company: manage borrowings by cutting the cost line and growing the top line.

It took me a long time to realise that I didn’t have to chase after every sales incentive I could see. All I had to do was stop using the card. In other words, see the blindingly obvious – work out a budget and follow it through.

What had made things difficult for me were the unexpected expenses, not least of which was a 15% mortgage rate. But this is what passes for financial control in more businesses than perhaps we all realise.

Q4 2020 – Q1 2021

The next few months are impossible to predict. We’re told that the world is falling apart and yet we’re still expected to keep businesses alive and kicking. Some sectors will inevitably find this easier than others; many are already feeling the squeeze.

So, are the unexpected things that could throw your plan off-course really unexpected?

Let’s have a look at that.

COVID-19 is expected to flare up again as the weather gets cooler. This will have consequences: international travel will dry up again, domestic travel will be harder as public transport has reduced capacity, online shopping will continue to grow – high street visits can’t recover when we can’t go out.

Don’t forget the flu either. The NHS always sees a winter spike in demand. This year could be exceptional.

These are real and present dangers facing most business sectors. Although we might assume that service industries such as accountancy and law might escape, no-one is immune. If contracts aren’t being signed or deals done, accountants don’t win clients. If courts aren’t open, solicitors can’t act for clients. And a similar story will play out elsewhere.

The massive shift to homeworking has shown us that commuting isn’t essential. As a result, people working at home have begun to move away from cities and into towns and villages. Rental values in cities are already dropping in commercial and residential sectors, while rental values and house prices in less populated areas are doing OK. These sorts of connections can be made across many industries.

How about some other big factors?

In November the US goes to the polls. In December the UK leaves the EU. Both of these events have direct impact on the UK’s trading future. Brexit is a turning point in the UK’s economic history that few are prepared to look upon as a good idea and, whatever the eventual outcome, this winter looks like supply chains are going to be stretched. Don’t forget, the Chinese New Year happens in February. Another bump in the road.

Then there’s the weather. More floods are forecast this winter than we saw at the beginning of 2020. Rising water levels have been a known phenomenon for years, but many flood defences still aren’t adequate and planners haven’t stopped granting development permission on flood plains.

The blindingly obvious is a bit uncomfortable to consider, and I know this is a list of possible doom and gloom, but the fact is that many of us choose to keep doing what we’ve become used to doing despite what common sense tells us.

What to do

Think different. Blend specialism with generalism.

Your specialism is what you do. Ours is what we do. What we do is everything you don’t.

If you want to explore why house rents and the numbers of commuters might affect you, as just one example, please pick up the phone or email to book an initial conversation.

It’ll cost you nothing and it may lead to a great partnership and a new strategic view.

Working together, you’ll benefit from ideas and insight that we will deliver in a way that helps your team plan a radical response to disruption.  

The plan that will follow our process will not only make the radical completely reasonable, it will give you options to switch to if the unexpected events written into your strategy actually come to pass.

It’s a big promise and it’s a big job. Are you prepared to take it on? We are. Book a call now.

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

I don’t mean, hey wake up and smell the coffee – you’re going out of business!!!

I mean, change is happening and you are being affected. There’s an opportunity to innovate if you read the signs of disruption and act before your approach becomes “an exaggerated attitude”.

There are many times when a prospective disruption is announced, only for it to fade away unnoticed. A great idea, a charismatic founder, a well-funded start-up: you’ve seen it all before. A novel idea followed by a funding round and then…nothing. Nothing happens all the time.

But disruption can happen differently. Change can occur silently in markets aa consumer reaction is carried along with it. In these cases, a new solution grows quietly, people refer it to their circle of influence and before long, there’s a success story to write up as a great example of human-centred design.

An exaggerated attitude

Listening to a veteran WWII pilot describing his approach to landing on an aircraft carrier in a big sea, he made nothing of the size of the waves, the instability of the landing deck, the speed and unpredictability of the wind, or the metaphorical tightrope he was walking. All he said was, “we approached the deck at an exaggerated attitude”…and yet his meaning was clear.

Discussing whether a training centre would reopen to finish a teaching course, the student was asked if the course could be delivered online. She replied, “no, that would deliver a far reduced experience.”

No fanfare. No declaration of failure. No signal that a new solution is needed, but the message is clear and the opportunity stares out.


Problems across markets are often disguised by a clever turn of phrase, or ignored by management teams who don’t respond appropriately. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, tells of company bosses gaming numbers and performance-based decisions to focus on the short-term, where the need is actually to play a longer game. This is not in the personal interest of those chasing a performance-related bonus, but it is what a strategy might demand.


Arguments are currently raging (and will probably continue to do so) over 5G technology.

Huawei is the undisputed frontrunner in commercialising 5G and is the leading supplier to government-sponsored organisations around the world. But Huawei’s Chinese origins engender suspicion and it has become the bad guy of telecoms. The US won’t work with them and the UK is back-tracking. All this against a backdrop where the CEO of British Telecom says that to strip Huawei out of its infrastructure will take at least ten years. There isn’t a single person at BT who will be in the same job in ten years, so that withdrawal from using Huawei ‘kit’ is probably already doomed.

While the arguments go on, businesses will continue to develop 5G products, launch them to market and try to make money from them. The disruption will grow, the value proposition will become ingrained in every part of life, and the noise in the supply chain won’t make the slightest difference. Huawei will inevitably attract competition but, by then, the ways in which 5G has integrated our way of life will be too far evolved for it to be outed, until another wave of disruption tapers in. It will probably happen.

Other trends to watch?

RPA will continue to do the grunt work that people used to do; healthcare is moving towards being preventative; cars will be full electric; shared transport will shrink as individuals find ways to travel without being crushed up against somebody else – think bikes, eBikes and scooters; plant-based eating will outstrip consumption of animal protein, cash is fading out in some markets, social media is the heartland of conspiracy theory. These are just a few of the viewable mega trends where disruption will affect consumer behaviour and supply chains. Companies used to selling meat processing or spark plugs, please note: your markets are in slow and irretrievable decline.

I don’t mean, hey wake up and smell the coffee – you are going out of business!!!

I mean, change is happening and you are being affected. There’s an opportunity to innovate if you read the signs and act before your approach becomes an exaggerated attitude.

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

Enforced or voluntary migration puts people into survival mode and catalyses market disruption and growth in the places they go to. The job losses due to COVID-19 present an opportunity for those who have been forced to move on. Your ex-staff are your new competitors.

Companies are closing

Last week, Milton Keynes lost a significant employer. A company servicing the convenience foods market closed with the loss of 2,000 jobs across two sites, 615 of them in MK. These 2,000 people now have to hustle to maintain the wellbeing of their families. 2,000 people with skills that can be taken to a new venture, and with interests they’ve never before had the time to pursue. And if you’re in business in Milton Keynes, whether in the convenience foods market or not, there are now 615 potential new competitors.

New competition

This is representative of a trend you should be aware of and have a plan to mitigate against.

A good number of those 2,000 currently jobless people will find a niche in which to thrive, and to do that, they’ll disrupt anyone that gets in their way. They will undercut you, offer more than you, engage one-to-one with your customers (without a CRM subscription) and take money from your business, because theirs is a battle for survival at the micro level. 

Your ex-staff are your new competitors

COVID-19 has accelerated trends that were already gaining momentum: distrust of corporate reliability; growth in self-reliance; trust in the gig economy; pop-up culture; short-term business planning; rapid start-up and pivot support – these are just a few factors that are prevalent in market sectors right across the industry spectrum, from astrology to wound care.

A trend we’ve seen before

This trend isn’t new. Enforced or voluntary migration puts people into survival mode and catalyses market disruption and growth in the places they go to.

The job losses due to COVID-19 present a similar situation: an opportunity for those who have been forced to move on, and a new potential threat to you. Your ex-staff are your new competitors.

One person with one idea

New market players who can see the potential for new technology before anyone else can control a segment for a time. Look at the beginnings of the world’s biggest companies: Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Tesla. They all started with an idea. HP famously started in a garage, Spanx on a kitchen table…one idea, one or two people and the rest is history.

Established business may be able to ride out this new dynamic, but would you bet against disruption in your market? Drop me a line at

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

New normal

Inevitably, the events of the last three months have disrupted business and personal planning. Unprecedented circumstances have that effect.

Just before the world went into COVID-19-enforced lockdown, the UK was fixated on Brexit and guess what? It hasn’t gone away.

Other major global challenges (climate change, deforestation, plastic waste, air pollution (it’s returning)) are still out there too, but let’s, just for the sake of planning our short-term futures, have another look at Brexit.

Debt, grants and furlough

Since March, the UK has generated vast amounts of debt. Businesses are drawing on government support in the form of grants, loans and/or furlough funding, and also delaying paying rent and VAT. Hold that thought.


In June, the UK enters a critical period of negotiation over its future relationship with the EU.

If, by the end of June, we don’t reach an accord over matters such as fishing and an agreement over trade borders with Ireland, there may not be an agricultural policy deal, or any deal. Despite the UK government talking up its prospects of success, EU member states aren’t likely to agree a set of terms for the UK that are better than they can get themselves. This is part of the problem.

With no outline deal in place, we are heading for a no-deal exit that will come into effect on 1st January 2021: about the time when personal tax bills will be imminent; three months before business rents could be a full year overdue; and a couple of months before delayed VAT payments must be settled. That’s a lot of cash due to flow from businesses into the Government’s coffers within the space of a few weeks.

Future thinking

To an innovation agency that tells business to plan for the long-term, it’s clear that planning for even the next nine months, without the benefit of a certain trading relationship with our closest overseas markets and supply chains, will be problematic.

The signs are that 2021 also has the potential for new lockdowns, if COVID mutates into COVID-21. Restricted access to the workplace through enforced social distancing, app-led movement controls, face-recognition surveillance and zero return from banked cash will all still feature large.

We’re anticipating at least another year of disruption, uncertainty and risk of infection, and so, at room44, we’ll maintain a pragmatic approach of seeking new opportunities through the application of consumer-facing innovative practices.

Normal has moved on

If your business had a problem maintaining its supply chain when COVID first hit, or if you had to shut down your branch of a national chain, you probably understand the trust that previously brought customers to your door has now been diluted. Those small operators you didn’t worry much about before have been working away to fill the vacuum while you were away, and they’ve made gains in market share. It may only be local in your eyes, but it’s enough to keep them going.

Local is the new trusted brand equity

Lots of companies have pivoted into service models where their product can be delivered to consumers through new distribution methods. Even more, though, are waiting for the ‘new normal’ to float back into view, hoping that it looks a lot like the ‘old normal’.

As disrupted businesses cut back or close, there are people new to the jobs market and they too are trying to generate income by starting up a micro-business locally. Local is becoming the new trusted brand equity, further disrupting established business in a virtuous circle

Normal has moved on. Don’t wait for a return to business as it was – start working on a new plan. Tomorrow has always been different from today. Your tomorrow may be unrecognisable.

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

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