room44 innovates

Most Mondays we try to publish a short list of thought-provoking facts that bear some relevance to the time of year and current events.

It’s not a science project, rather a list of things that catch our eye during the week from reading, viewing and absorbing by osmosis.

If anything grabs your attention, please get in touch. It’ll be a pleasure to talk;


Music streams in the US broke one trillion streams this year, up 11.9 billion on 2021.

  • Blackrock

Natural future

Tortoises living to 150 years old do so in the same youthful state as when they were 50. 

Future of work

“…employees working from home could be “socially disconnected from their organization.” Their work could be less inspired, …, and companies could experience higher turnover.”

  • Malcolmn Gladwell,

Wework reimagined – watch the growing trend for redundant retail space. Failed (and failing) department stores are being regenerated as retail units combined with food courts and shared work space.


UK inflation examples, in the last year:

Cheddar cheese +26%

Dog food +31%

Butter +27%

Milk +36%

Brussel Sprouts -2%

  • Kanter

Eggs +50%

  • The Grocer

In 2019, three years after the ‘BREXIT’ referendum, Jacob Rees-Mogg  is quoted as having said “I can see the opportunities of cheaper food, clothing and footwear, helping most of all the incomes of the least well-off in our society.”

Most Mondays we try to publish a short list of thought-provoking facts that bear some relevance to the time of year and current events.

It’s not a science project, rather a list of things that catch our eye during the week from reading, viewing and absorbing by osmosis.

Usually we publish on LinkedIn. From now on, we’ll publish here and will share widely.

If anything grabs your attention, please get in touch. It’ll be a pleasure to talk;

Monday thoughts

47% of Gen Z prefer to shop in stores versus online

Traffic can increase by more than 50%, from a new store’s surrounding area, to a retailer’s web site within six weeks of opening a new store

  • British Land

37% of shoppers research online and buy in-store

  • Uberall 2021

The majority of Apple’s customers are reported to research in-store and buy online

How can you shift your paradigm without designing the paradigm to shift to?

  • Thomas Kuhn

When I’m successful in persuading a previously closed mind of the value in looking to the future for inspiration and idea stimulus, it’s always a moment to celebrate.

Having the energy and tenacity is our part of the deal: to keep looking forward, to keep seeing value in things that don’t immediately appear promising – to see the future that other people can’t yet see. Clients just have to turn up and be willing to drop their barriers to entry – the practical matters that mire a company in the here and now.

It takes time. Clients need time to trust me and I need to keep them interested long enough to make a breakthrough.

Now and then we get lucky quickly and an idea meets a moment when eyes sparkle and everyone says “hell, yeah.” 

Are you the project?

The part in this that we don’t sell, but which occurs as a by-product of being open to new ideas, is that our client always develops a new perspective. 

‘What are you working on?’ is a line I stole (like an artist) from a book called ’Show your work’ ?

It’s one of a few books I return to when I’m looking for another way to explain what we’re here for.

Innovation is a process, not a workshop.

Regularly turning up to hear, explore and consider external suggestions is not something that enough business leaders do. In fact, it’s not something enough of us do generally.

Whenever I get a fancy to start a new thing I’m accused of having another mid-life crisis. In reality my decisions to open an eBike shop and start a sustainable clothing brand were both the outcomes of years watching things develop around me until I felt the time was right to step up.

Again, from a book – “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” (John Cleese)

So, ‘what are you working on?’ is my adopted mantra for myself.

This screen grab from Austin Kleon’s book explains why it is so much fun to take time to consider the unnavigable journey into the future. It can be exciting, thought-provoking and sometimes terrifying but it’s a journey I believe we all need to take.

My role is to make it possible over a different path than you may choose for yourself.

Let me know if you fancy trying it out.

Check us out here.

The data you need to see aren’t always where you want them to be. There’s a value to inviting an outside party with an enquiring mind to look at your condition.

Here’s an example.

Cardiff’s housing market is sinking without trace – maybe.

In The Guardian’s Audio Long Read podcast of 29th August (The century of climate migration: why we need to plan for the great upheaval), Gaia Vince presents many arguments in favour of the title of the article. It all makes perfect sense, to me.

During this period of change, it’s high on the list of important things to understand that migration of populations and climate change are inextricably linked. One of the ironies is that we (the UK) are working hard, as an independent nation, to smooth and ease the flow of goods and services in and out of the country while making it ever harder for people to travel in and out without friction. It’s people who make stuff we want to export and yet we currently appear not to want people?

I strongly recommend you have a listen, or read it here. It’s full of insight and data you should know. One particular nugget is that “the Welsh capital, Cardiff, is projected to be two-thirds underwater by 2050.”

Pause while this sinks in.

Cardiff? Really?

If this is accurate, it means if you’re buying a house in Cardiff now, by the time you reach the end of your 25-year mortgage, assuming you don’t live on a hill, your investment may not be looking that great.

Estate agencies in Cardiff may or may not have cottoned on to this yet. But it proves the point that, from a personal and due diligence perspective, trends and threads of thinking like this are massively important when planning how to act in the short term to protect and thrive in the long term.

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

Disclaimer: room44 looks for data points that need examination. This one hasn’t been examined by us so make your own decision based on your own research – at least it’s on your radar now.

Since we started our business in 2014, room44’s aim has always been to be a bit different. ‘Thinking differently’ has unfortunately become something of a cliché, and future-proofing has become rather under-valued since COVID-19 knocked everybody for six.

Reading the runes and ‘helping’ clients see trends that will affect them is the currency that a new breed of consultancies trades in.

We did it differently in 2019 and 2020.

In early 2019, it was pretty obvious that the climate change agenda would impact mobility. Our thinking suggested internal combustion engines were doomed, and not only because governments laid down dates by which they would be outlawed, but also that these dates may be brought forward as new data became available.

Thinking differently has always been our strength and so, rather than sell this mantra exclusively, I decided we’d leap again.

Seeking a new venture for room44 to expand into, that would benefit from all the signs we read, we settled on eBikes. The reasons are many and various but after running our own scenarios assessment, this sector stacked up as a great opportunity.

How did we capitalise?

Simple. We started another company and now we sell eBikes, eBike service contracts, eBike hire schemes and we’re active in promoting local micro-mobility as part of the evolving multi-modal model.

Hang on, did you miss that bit: localism is a trend that had to evolve and this was part of the rationale too.

I have to admit, we didn’t factor in COVID-19 as part of the equation back in Q2’19, but serendipity has its place.

“The more I practise, the luckier I get.”

To start a company from scratch would have taken more time than I wanted to spend getting going, and we got lucky in the same way that Gary Player got luckier at golf the more he practised. Researching, meeting, talking, interrogating, investigating and filtering all featured in my personal bid to get into a market I simply knew would be good for us. And eventually we found our partner.

I met Fully Charged at the inaugural eBike Summit in Oxford and from that moment on our trajectory was set. A new partnership and venture takes tenacity and energy: even eighteen months into our relationship, we still have to work really hard to keep the ball rolling but, with trust on both sides, I couldn’t be happier with where we are and I know that Fully Charged is happy with our first year’s performance. Everybody wins.

Case study.

Back to the ‘we help’ generation of consultancies. It’s not usual for a creative agency like room44 to step out of its groove and try something completely new based on its own trend analysis. It’s more common for them to create a digital version of project delivery so they can pull in more clients without increasing their staffing costs. I believe in thinking differently.

Ask yourself, who would you rather talk to: a business that has started up in this market environment, got going and become established when markets are in turmoil…?

Or someone who ‘helps you’ to see new ideas without the recent experience of seeing a trend and following their own intuition?

If this encourages you to have a chat, here’s how you can make a date that suits you.

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

The way a business evolves from start-up to demise is trackable through a cycle that has strong parallels in nature. Stepping back and seeing the similarities is a useful exercise and shows a set of practices that can help you avoid some repeated pit falls.

Mega trends

This is one example. The planet is seeing a noticeable increase in wildfires. Not so long ago, such fires were a problem but not always devastating for humans. That’s changed. But wildfires are a necessary part of the ecosystem: they clear away detritus and let new plants see the sky with room to grow.

Caught in the fire zone

OR – how planning restrictions, self-interest and a poor understanding of environment have conspired to push nature into a corner, and how she is fighting back.

Towns go through a cycle of early growth to reach a high density of population. People need places to live, so an increase in building creates homes for lots of people. As prosperity rises, people prefer not to live on top of each other, so they begin to push out of the town boundaries and into open space. We know these areas as the suburbs.

Parts of the world have drier areas around towns than others. In the UK, our forests are pretty damp, so fire doesn’t often occur, but in other parts of the world, such as California, it’s much drier.

At the time of writing, the USA has 63 wildfires burning, affecting over 38 million acres of land That’s a lot of fires, affecting a lot of people, and science tells us that the conditions are linked to climate change led by man-made pollution.

Creating the right conditions

As housing development pushes out from town centres, rules are created to protect the environment for its residents; often these restrict property height. This limits the number of families living on a single plot and so urban sprawl continues.

Human development means nature must also be managed. Firebreaks are built into city design, and trees and other flora are cultivated: this is the point of Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI) – where nature meets housing. Historically this area was undeveloped but, as homes are needed, it has been adopted and built on.

Nature, however, doesn’t stop doing what nature does and so, seasonally trees shed leaves and old wood, which forms layers of detritus circling towns and cities. This keeps building until temperature conditions create the perfect opportunity for fires to thrive – and the store of combustible materials is ripe for burning. And it does.

Managed Retreat

People who are newly switched on to the risks of fire destroying their homes and businesses are entering into a period of managed retreat: a process of moving away from danger zones. Funding for such retreats falls to the home owner and, clearly, not everyone has the means to facilitate this. So houses are being abandoned, or simply left deserted after they’ve burned to the ground, and their owners must start again, the value of their investment in bricks and mortar lost.

The above process describes a set of uncontrollable changes that have a direct effect on homeowners: climate change and long-standing development practices building up a body of accumulated waste that eventually brings the house down.

Your fire line

After a successful period of selling a product or service, inevitably customer preferences move on, a business is left trying to sell its old offering and the conditions in which it operates all move beyond its control. This is when it gets burned.

The average lifecycle of a business today is around 15 years, so you may have survived more than one cycle already, either through good luck or great foresight. But even your previously accurate foresight may need to change to adapt to the new world order.

Design thinking

Our tool of choice is design thinking. It’s a pretty straightforward process, but can be harder to execute. As we’ve said in the past, design thinking is like climbing a 50-foot rope and ringing a bell: simple to understand, much harder to do.

So, call in some expert rope climbers

This is what room44 does. We see your problem from a different perspective – and we walk you through the design thinking process so that you can develop customer-facing strategies that will provide the things they are looking to buy today.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do. Get in touch here:

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.

Supply chains and the hospitality market are decoupling, signalling a resurgence of mindful consumption in a high street near you. New demand will bring back variety to the domestic landscape.

Twelve weeks ago you:

  • probably had to explain what a Zoom meeting was;
  • couldn’t have imagined having your kids at home for two terms;
  • would have struggled to describe a future where online learning was not only possible, but could be transformative.

Twelve weeks ago, fashion houses were expecting their summer collections. Twelve weeks later, their garments are sitting on workshop floors unfinished. Fashion isn’t selling, but bandanas are. Face coverings are a new market.…and pizza is winning in the takeaway stakes. It doesn’t spill and can be reheated.

Music has gone off-piste

Restaurants used to play music that didn’t offend. While restaurants aren’t a thing, music has been rediscovered and new consumers are exploring genres their peer group would have sniffed at before. I’m listening to K.Flay and my teenager has discovered The Cars. Good news for artists and consumers.

Old is good

Old has been embraced. Clothes are being repurposed. Furniture is being renovated and upcycled. Houses aren’t selling, so remodelling is booming, and builders and tradespeople are booked out for years.

Going to work will return to being normal for many people. For others, it won’t be the daily necessity it once was. Both employers and employees are finding new ways.

But here’s the really interesting bit: there is a decoupling in the supply chain and hospitality market that signals a resurgence of mindful consumption in a high street near you.

Supply chain

When COVID-19 hit, supply chains failed. Shipments from overseas dried up and stocks of many consumer products vanished. The effect wasn’t long-lasting, but it has brought into focus the true value of having a long supply chain. Manufacturing scrambled to ‘on-shore’ supply and, now those sources are turned on, there’s a pragmatism about whether they can remain part of the mix. Local supply sources have been winning during lockdown and it’s likely that a meaningful amount of business will remain with domestic suppliers now.

This new demand will not only invigorate production skills wherever you live, but it will also bring back variety to the domestic shopping landscape.


While good news stories about pivots to home delivery and take-away services abound, there are two sides to this story. Voted the ‘best’ restaurant in the world, Noma in Copenhagen re-opened as a burger takeaway. This is a trend you can see up and down the high street – but generally not from the homogenous chains. The indies are fighting back and grabbing market share while the competition is furloughed.

There are many outlets in the hospitality sector, though, that simply won’t re-open. Some say one in three won’t. It’s our prediction that properties will be available at great rents for new tenants on a shorter-term basis. At room44 we’ve predicted the resurgence of the high street several times, albeit not anticipating something so radical as a pandemic. Now it has happened, the trend seems set.


The issue of variety comes up here too. With less ‘sameness’ we will see more local bias in the ingredients used to deliver cuisine from every region – and we can’t wait.

This could be good news for food distributors too. Some restaurants have sold over 28,000 meals in a four-week period, where they previously wouldn’t have seen that many covers in a year. Because diners are buying take-aways and not sitting in the room, the cash value of the transactions is down by 85%, but the volume has boomed.

So what?

If entrepreneurs want to enter the market without the fat overheads that corporate operations build over time, now is the perfect time to start looking for premises.

Future thinking. Future proofing. Future opportunity. 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.

but it depends on how you see it.

Perspective comes in many shapes and sizes.

Here’s an example:

‘“…I’m overdue for a Donald.”


“Trump,” she explained.

Thank God for that, I thought she meant Duck.’*

Two people, two interpretations, one misunderstanding.

This is what happens when you’re made aware of a trend and you only see it from your perspective.

Here’s another example:

At the Consumer Electronics Show (#CES) this year, digital flexible screens were causing a buzz in many different product areas. I heard an exhibition stand manufacturer comment that these could offer some interesting visitor display experiences.

Well – yes, that’s true. But this is reducing the extent of his imagination to the work he does today, which is commercially limiting and demonstrates a very silo-based attitude. And let’s face it, armed with news of this emerging technology at an early stage, to restrict his product development thinking to a B2B market is to ignore the true potential the flexible screen has to offer.

You too have this choice. You can see an emerging trend as an opportunity to exploit, or as a reason to do nothing and wait.

Time plays a part

In 2017, I wrote that mobile phones would slide out of use within five years. The people I know who make apps for mobiles disagreed.

This year, at #CES, the trend is more obvious. Developments in haptics and screen texture sensations mean we’ll soon be sending texts without needing to look at a screen. In fact, this has been on the cards for some time, but it’s now winning awards as a product and not just as an idea.

In 2017, this information didn’t offer much of an opportunity to app developers, but what if they’d started building a consumer value proposition then?

Seeing the opportunity

To add to the demise of the smart phone, #CES also showcases smart glasses. Cloud-connectivity and heads-up displays combine with voice activation to seriously reduce our reliance on mobile phones.

Since 2014, when Google launched its first glasses, attitudes have changed. VR is now a part of everyday life for many people, and Google just released an Enterprise version of the Glass product, moving it from its R&D stream into its product portfolio. This is more than a trend – it’s a nailed-on certainty that the technology is coming. Carrying a phone will seem archaic when you can wear the functionality.

And don’t think this is limited to your phone…

The way you choose to see these concepts is entirely down to your attitude to your business. If you’re happy to manage innovation as it is and without considering a different future, you can do so.

If you see emerging trends as an opportunity to develop new products and future-proof the business, that’s your choice too. All it takes is your willingness to embrace the potential that new ideas may deliver, and then rank those ideas on a scale of probability.


We see the developments that will lead to less reliance on mobile phones as transformational. If you are in the mobile phone market, the camera business, the telematics services sector – in fact, any market where you deploy lenses and screens today, we think it’s time to take note.

Duck or Trump? It’s your choice.

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

*Taken from London Rules by Mike Herron

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