Category: Topic – Customer Insight

Reconnecting Managers with the Real World – Why hard, why crucial, why now and how

THE FOUNDATION FORUM

16TH november 2017. WRITTEN UP WITH THE HELP OF SIMON CAULKIN

To download a PDF, please click here: Reconnecting Managers with the Real World – Why hard, why crucial, why now and how

Losing touch is the easiest thing in the world on a personal level. It’s also remarkably common at work. It’s hard enough to stay in tune with customers and colleagues. It seems harder still to stay in touch with the mood of the nation. If the people in charge of the nation’s institutions prioritise themselves, feathering nests, looking out for their own, then unsurprisingly, eventually, support wanes. If at the same time organisations we buy from and work for treat hitting the numbers as everything with people’s wellbeing a bonus at best, despite the good words on the website, you can see how a country might start coming apart at the seams.
So managers are evil? That may be a bit hasty. Any group of people who spend time working closely together develop a shared view of the world and common beliefs about what matters. As social animals we’re good at fitting in with our tribe. What it looks like from a distance, standing in other people’s shows, is hard to empathise with, at least without deliberate effort. Out of sight is out of mind. No one means to become out of touch – it happens naturally. So what can be done? And is there more to this than the thoughts above?

“Almost certainly, and so we asked three people to share their views one dark November night, people who know about the boardroom and about the real world, people brave and honest enough to say it how it really is. They were…”

Rita Clifton, who has a long and strong-speaking background in brand and communications with Saatchis, Interbrand and now as a Non-Exec at Nationwide,
Asos, Ascential plc and Populus. She has also served on boards including Dixons plc, BUPA and Emap plc. She has publicly challenged high pay (and some highly paid individuals), and is closely connected to the world of the customer and to issues faced by society more broadly. She saw environmental challenges coming in the late 80s and started to urge the business world to act. Now, a scarcely believable 30 years on she’s just as vocal and even better informed, seeing what to be inspired by and what to worry about from groups of leaders around Board tables and groups of ordinary people around the world.

Danuta Gray, ex of O2, now sits on the boards of Aldermore, Direct Line Group, Old Mutual and at the Ministry of Defence. O2 in its prime was famously and customer-led, pioneering all sorts of industry changes in a bid to make the world of mobile work better for the people it served and better for the people who worked there. It took bravery and conviction, qualities she brings to her Non-Executive roles. From these experiences she feels strongly, and more than ever, that it’s essential always to have customer and people on the Board agenda.

And Anthony Hilton, a business journalist and writer who speaks as he finds and whose honesty and experience led to early calls that all was not well on the subject of which we plan to speak. He is at his paint-stripping best around issues like this, and he’s been banging on about the risks of business leaders remaining in their own over-paid bubble for many years. He’s challenged leaders directly and seen occasional outbreaks of common sense, but more often it’s been pointing out that what feels wrong is indeed wrong and foreseeing the issues that follow.

So what did they say? And where did the discussion take us? Can the country be put back together again? Simon Caulkin has summarised where we got to, which was arrived at via a strikingly bold and challenging discussion.
It’s the paradox of the age. Never have we been more connected. Never has so much been known about so many by pollsters, marketers, probably governments and also crooks. We quantify ourselves and almost everything else.
Yet the age of Big Data is also the age of the Big Disconnect. Elites from the just-about and really-not-managing. Politicians from voters. London and Washington from their hinterlands. News media from those they aim to inform. And business from customers and workers.

“The speakers at The Foundation’s November Forum on ‘reconnecting managers with the real world’, in a conversation that was both fascinating and sobering, all agreed that business and the people it serves increasingly appear to inhabit different planets.”

‘The values that business executives run on are increasingly divorced from the values of society’, observed the Evening Standard’s Anthony Hilton, the gulf between the two neatly reflected in, and exacerbated by, the widening pay ratio between CEOs and the average worker. The pay disparity between top and bottom currently stands at 140 times, compared with 33 in 1984. The resulting evaporation of trust in business, was indeed ‘the elephant in the room’, according to brand guru and experienced non-exec Rita Clifton.

It is one that many boardrooms have had the utmost reluctance to acknowledge and the panel described the way some boardroom conversations were capable of making them cringe. ‘Most people don’t live in the bubble that those making decisions about their lives inhabit. There is a disconnect that has got greater and greater as the years have gone on’ confirmed Danuta Gray, also in demand as a non-exec as well as being a member of the Defence Board at the Ministry of Defence.
Business people like to tell each other that they have a communication problem. No, said Clifton: the problem is that they do alien and unacceptable things that distance them from the society of which they now seem only nominally a part.

women-in-leadership

Evidence of the divergence is everywhere. Business people often look and sound different from ordinary folk, noted Clifton, their strange jargon sometimes reflecting the linguistic strain of trying to euphemise the unjustifiable. Banks and telcos unwittingly demonstrate what they think of their customers by placing their service centres on the other side of the world. Ignoring the evidence that many people prefer humans to machines, retailers and airlines automate check-ins and check-outs, and governments boast of making their services digital by default, irrespective of human cost – see Universal Credit.
Boardroom discourse centres on the numbers, share price and City opinion, pointed out Gray, which is also how success is measured, while customers and workers who make it happen barely get a look in. According to Gallup, the thing most people in the world want more than anything else is a steady job and a paycheck. Yet work gets ever more precarious and oppressive (think Amazon, Ryanair, social care), and as Gray noted average pay has lagged behind economic growth for the past three decades.

“In other words, the disconnect with business is not an illusion. We’re not stupid. Interests have diverged. What’s good for business is no longer necessarily good for society as a whole.”

How this happened? Several hypotheses emerged. Hilton noted that fear and loathing largely centred on large and remote public companies, as opposed to the local shop or enterprise – an important distinction. Among the former, herd behaviour and fear of standing out from the crowd play a part; Paul Polmans – leaders who are willing, like the Unilever CEO, to speak up for sustainable, inclusive business – are rare. Clifton felt that issues of high – and low – pay could be difficult to discuss in many or most boardrooms. A generally macho, aggressive business culture didn’t help. As Hilton remarked, business is a game played by alpha males to norms devised by men, to which many women understandably decline to submit themselves. ‘On that basis many people get to the top not because they are the most talented or aware or sophisticated, but because they are best at corporate infighting, or luckiest, or both’.

A weightless economy coupled with an abject race to the bottom in national tax regimes has allowed large corporates to swerve taxes for which everyone else believes they are liable. And Hilton described a version of Gresham’s law
in which bad business methods drive out good – a prime example being the rapid spread of unscrupulous sales tactics by banks and derivative houses chasing seemingly unlimited profits in the early 2000s, culminating in the great crash of 2008. If you acted responsibly your figures looked poor next to competitors who didn’t play by the rules. Pressure was applied to the good guys to behave like the bad, who didn’t get found out until years later.

“Because questions weren’t asked about how such good news was being generated, we sowed the seeds of bad business. And it’s still happening now. Just as striking is the adoption by recent Silicon Valley ‘unicorns’, copiously backed by venture capital, of business models incorporating tactics clearly bordering on the unlawful.”

The big unsaid here, as hinted at by both panelists and questioners from the floor, is the doctrine of shareholder-value maximisation, which despite increasing criticism from outside business still holds hard-to-question sway in most boardrooms, at least in the Anglosphere. By demanding overriding allegiance to capital markets, and by linking executive pay to this narrow result, current corporate governance orthodoxy is itself responsible for driving a wedge between executives and other stakeholders. At the same time it both legitimises the behaviours that have fostered the great disconnect and creates a formidable vested interest behind the status quo.
‘Although a lot of chief executives I know are well aware of the problems and can articulate them better than I can, whether they will follow through with embracing the wider stakeholders is another matter. Ultimately their personal financial interest is against change,’ reflected Hilton. ‘Does this mean the gap is now so wide as to be unbridgeable?’

No, said the panel – although for all the above reasons doing so may be painful. But a burning platform is a powerful motivator for change: ‘Human beings only respond to catastrophe, and what has happened over the last year socially, politically, economically has certainly been a catastrophe. This is one good thing [that may come out of it],’ opined Clifton. One unexpected ally is social media. ‘I mean, you used to be able to rape and pillage with impunity, but now it’s out there so you can’t get away with it,’ noted Hilton. Turning it round, transparency mandates authenticity: ‘You can’t be a fat, lazy and evil business and cover it up by spending a ton of money on marketing and communication,’ added Clifton. ‘This is good.’
Perhaps ironically, the strongest argument for an impending break with the past may simply be that the pendulum has reached the end of its swing. Changing economic and working conditions are dramatically shortening the life cycle of the traditional large hierarchical public company, Hilton suggested. Too inflexible to cope with the new world of networks and distributed information, it is being left behind by flatter, fleeter, more fluid organisations in better sync with the needs of individuals and today’s evolving society, and thus ‘perhaps better able to avoid the mistakes of the past’.

busy-street

This tallies with wider research showing that in both the US and UK the population of publicly quoted companies is in decline, having more than halved in the last 15 years – a finding that to many suggests that the short-termist, stock-exchange driven prescriptions of Wall Street and the City of London are simply not conducive to long-term corporate survival.
But even if the Darwinian thesis is correct, human effort is urgently needed to hasten the new age into being. As Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer, a dispassionate observer of power in organisations, has put it, getting the powerful to do good is above all a matter of getting more of the good into power.
The case for gender (and other) diversity is incontrovertible – all the panel agreed that more women in the boardroom is a pressing necessity. Gray signalled that boards need to be uncompromising in their choice of leaders as well as how to reward them. ‘Having a leader who is genuinely curious and passionate about putting the customer at the heart of decision-making, and who also understands that to get great service you have to treat your own people really well’, had to come before financial track record in the selection, she insisted.
If we want a better, more inclusive business world, then responsibility is inclusive too. ‘Whatever capacity we work with in business, if it’s to do with driving diversity then we should own that personally. If it’s to do with challenging the thinking in a boardroom, then do that,’ she urged. ‘We should each reflect on how we consume goods and what messages we give to business by what we allow them to do on our behalf versus what they shouldn’t do; we should all take personal ownership of this as well’.

THE FOUNDATION’S VIEW

So we did we make of it all? The three points we took home with us at the end of the night were these, some of which Simon has drawn out above.

  1. To really change the situation might take a catastrophe, which would explain what’s going on now and why it isn’t necessarily a bad thing
    As Rita said, we only make really big changes when we’re faced with disaster and there seems to be no other way. Danuta described the need to force it, to push hard and confront some of the dissonant behaviour going on. The panel seemed to feel there were often fine words about purpose and values, but then self-serving behaviour in remuneration committees and the Executive Suite (we’ll come on to language in a minute!) The force is needed because we seem to be stuck in some kind of social glue. Carefully crafted language is used to explain outrageous decisions, such as what leaders are paid (as Anthony said, CEOs were paid 33x average salaries in 1984 and 140x now). The precise-sounding waffle makes the situation justified enough to allow the practice to continue, but it doesn’t convince anyone really.
    Then we get plain speaking outsiders – think Trump and Farage – who talk in words that make sense even if the ideas behind them aren’t sensible. In a world paralysed by politeness, being forced to confront some of the catastrophic decisions that come from their rise in popularity will shake-up the status quo. Only when a current situation becomes untenable do we invest completely in creating a better alternative. The NHS and the European Union came out of the last World War. Let’s hope we use the unfolding crisis well before we need another battle on that kind of scale.
  2. Changing the conversation, literally, is a much more crucial part of this challenge than it sounds
    The reality of the Board Remuneration Committee was described, including the fear of looking silly in challenging the easy conversation to do more of the same. It sounds like it shouldn’t matter but we are social animals and it literally hurts to be excluded. Despite some progress on diversity, diverse views are difficult to embrace.
    The language we’re surrounded by shapes our perceptions of what’s going on. As Anthony described, the media and the markets respond only to numbers and don’t question how they are achieved. So the business smashing sales out of the park without integrity puts massive pressure on the lower performing competitor doing the right thing. It is far harder for them to justify their approach than for the charlatans who might or might not get found out years down the line, bonuses banked, hero status enjoyed.
    We explored measurement and interestingly it is possible to measure the beliefs, or the discourse to give it a more precise anthropological term, of an organisation. Linguistic Landscapes http://www.linguisticlandscapes.co.uk/ is a company doing just that, and for leaders who want to make a change, something that holds a mirror up to people’s conversations can give a means to steer with a little more skill.
  3. Fashion in business may have a part to play, with a new kind of leader becoming an aspirational role model for the next generation
    Part of the problem with money is that it becomes a proxy for status, and given the human quality that more status is good, more money becomes the aim whether or not you already have so much that you couldn’t possibly spend it all.
    The focus is on the peer group in the race, not on what the race looks like from the stands. Individuals have bucked the trend. Richard Pennycook when he was CEO at Coop had to lead the difficult and painful turnaround from a proper disaster to something true to their values and commercially sustainable. But what stood out was his request in April 2016 for a 60% pay cut – he explained that the job had been very intense and would now be less so, and so he should be paid accordingly.
    Paul Polman has tackled other parts of the problem, announcing on his first day as CEO that Unilever would abolish quarterly reporting because it was unhelpful in building a business to succeed in the long term and in the right ways. He reasoned that his first day was the one on which he was least likely to be fired.
    What we need is for this kind of behaviour to start to equate to status, for leaders who do the right thing, who call out the system where it is failing us and take action not just say stuff to be the most admired of the lot. If enough of our next generation find this kind of leader, this kind of choice and this kind of organisation aspirational then maybe our human instincts can take us to a better place. Smoking used to be cool. These things can change.

So the situation is tough. But to have hope is not to admit insanity! 

ABOUT THE FOUNDATION

The Foundation is a management consultancy specialising in growth. We help clients address big organic growth challenges; growing faster, growing into new markets or fending off threats to growth

What these challenges share is the need to influence customer behaviour, but this is inherently tough. Why? Because people in any organisation naturally see the world from the inside-out, with colleagues close and customers distant, and lots of assumptions about how things work that aren’t challenged

We help clients look from the outside-in, re-connecting them with what customers really value (the problem they want to solve, not usually what the client sells), then finding new and better ways to create this value

This means working both as expert advisors and facilitators. The issue with simply gathering outside-in information is that it lacks impact to get senior teams to tackle inconvenient truths in what customers want, and to believe their own organisation can be different

By using ‘Immersion’, personal conversations with customers and leaders of organisations in other sectors who have tackled parts of their challenge, we help teams get round beliefs that stand in their way. This helps them develop better answers for customers and new ways of achieving lasting success

We most often answer three questions:

  1. Developing new propositions
  2. Improving customers’ experiences
  3. Developing customer-led strategies for broader issues such as increasing retention or lifetime value

Our clients include HSBC, JLR, O2, M&S and Ebay, with achievements including helping create Plan A at M&S, adding £100m of value to a Travelex travel money proposition, and giving Morrisons a competitive direction contributing to their return to growth.

Behind our work our most distinctive characteristic is our team and their outlook. Each individual is motivated to and experienced in crossing the border between the worlds of customers and business which often resist mixing well.

Contact Details

Charlie Dawson (Founding Partner): cdawson@the-foundation.com / +44 7785 268 859

Charlie Sim (Director) csim@the-foundation.com / +44 7958 574 917

Anna Miley (Director) amiley@the-foundation.com / +44 7816 261 987

John Sills (Director) jsills@the-foundation.com / +44 7990 943 402


Innovate or Die A challenge for specialists or crucial for all?

THE FOUNDATION FORUM

23rd February 2017. Written up with the help of Simon Caulkin.

To download a PDF, click here: Innovate or die – a challenge for specialists or crucial for all?

Innovate or die, apparently. And many organisations seem to choose the latter. Not consciously of course, but as a by-product of finding it so hard just to be big. Most people spend most of their time making sure what’s planned to happen is what happens in practice. There’s precious little left for finding a better plan.
Given innovation is crucial and it’s largely badly done (UK productivity figures make the point all too eloquently), we thought we’d shine a trio of lights on the issue and see what that told us about how to improve.

  • We had Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, where he is the Academic Director of the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He recently co-founded the Real Innovation Awards alongside Management Today with the stated aim of showcasing the authentic, haphazard and, as a result, exciting business of real innovation
  • We had Mark Evans, Marketing Director at Direct Line, where a determination to steer clear of the price fighting aggregators led to the only alternative, innovating to create something worth paying more for. A search for wow factors and a deliberately grown capability in digital technology have led to a business enjoying rude health in a market with a heavy dose of flu
  • And we had Scott Cain, a leader at the Future Cities Catapult, with the challenge of nudging a whole country into more innovative action to make our cities work better by becoming smarter. When you stop for a moment to think how many organisations have a view on how cities work, and competing views on how they might improve, you realise this is the mother of all pieces of string to push and a serious motivation and co-ordination challenge

According to the ONS it takes a German worker four days to produce what we make in five. In the time a British worker makes £1, a German worker makes £1.35. Unsurprisingly the average British worker toils away for longer, in return for lower pay, than their German equivalents. No wonder they get to the sun loungers first. Their towels are thicker too.

But to be fair everyone, even the Germans, finds it tough to make new things happen in large organisations

And good new things are rarer still.
At the heart of the conundrum is the need for innovation (which starts small) to make a significant difference (which means big).

At the beginning end of the equation, having ideas, it seems self-evident that a focused group of people intent only on finding new and better ways will get a great deal further than an army marching in step on a route that’s prescribed trying a bit of juggling on the side. But later on, when the small team of lateral thinkers has something that works, they find they have a serious persuasion job on their hands, and a question or two about whether their baby can survive a serious growth spurt without losing its essential but delicate brilliance.

This is only one way that specialists have been tried. We’ve also had corporate accelerators that became all the rage at about the time of peak beard. And catapults are another example of a specialist team, in their case taking raw potential from academia and building bridges to the commercial world and issues that society needs solving.

But maybe this is all a distraction. Maybe innovation never really takes hold unless its everyone’s job, front and centre, what we do all day. When a business or a charity or a government gets a serious challenge under its skin, a sense of purpose that is authentic and all consuming, then mountains get moved. When Singapore was ejected by Malaysia and found itself becoming a nation state in 1965 it was assumed to be ‘non-viable’. Economic development wasn’t nice to have, it was critical, and 20 years on it was thriving with unusual approaches to tax, education, chewing gum and more.

pexels-photo-123318

When something’s burning, most often a platform but sometimes an ambition to go further, faster, to win and to prove people wrong, then a whole body of people spend their time on improvement. Necessity really is the matriarch perhaps?

But where are the matches kept? if you’re somewhere that’s comfortable, at least on the surface, how do you create the urgency that seems to be needed?

The Real Innovation Awards took a more bottom-up approach to understanding. It’s a scheme that’s kicking back on some of the neatness above. The assumption behind them was that, for such a crucially important process, innovation is badly served by awards that largely describe a simplified, sanitised and inaccurate view. The belief was that real innovation is messy, more uncertain, and more serendipitous than most believe. And the first winners’ stories, which we at The Foundation enjoyed playing a small part in helping choose, bear this out.

So many thoughts, so much familiarity, serious importance and a need for some guidance.
So to the discussion itself – three views, plus wisdom from around the room, on how to innovate not die.

How do we do innovation?

It’s a question that has worked its way steadily to the very top of the economic agenda. At national and international level, fading innovation is one important reason why some leading economists foresee a period of global secular stagnation as the long era of growth comes to an end.
At firm level, the same innovation drought has left large incumbent firms across a swathe of industries perilously vulnerable to disruption from digital-savvy insurgents with massively more efficient business models.

And without a jolt from innovation, a public sector confronted with the need to do ever more with ever less faces a future of near permanent austerity.

Yet as a crowded February Forum heard, innovation, like the Holy Grail, is fervently desired, difficult, mysterious and often tantalisingly out of reach. There are a number of reasons for this elusiveness. One is that although the need to innovate seems obvious, setting out to do it in the abstract, like deciding to paint a masterpiece, is meaningless. There must be something to drive and shape it – a purpose. While there are good negative reasons to innovate (change will overwhelm you if you don’t), as Mark Evans, marketing director at the Direct Line insurance group, put it, the positive imperative for innovation is purpose, in its hard-edged sense of ‘having a legitimacy for your business in the future.’

Five years ago, he recounts, Direct Line was a broken brand (part of RBS) in an industry that, having spent the last two decades talking only about price, was absolutely ripe for disruption. Actually, the pivotal insight was hiding in plain sight: ‘blow me, it’s not a point of purchase thing, it’s point of need: insurance is about fixing things, putting things right. How could we have lost that category insight for 20 years?’ Then it was a question of going back to marketing 101 ‘and saying, we have a better mousetrap, we do insurance better. We do it at point of need and we differentiate ourselves that way’.

A 40 per cent rise in the motor insurance business last year is proof of the pudding. Thus emboldened, and in line with its purpose of ‘protecting an ever-changing Britain’, and the principle of prevention, it has launched eye-catching innovations like a ‘Shotgun’ app which rewards safe young drivers with pizza and coffee during their first 1000 miles when they are most accident-prone, and ‘Fleet Lights’, a system of drones to light the way in dark streets.

 

capture
A second reason why innovation is elusive (one dear to the Foundation’s heart) is the difficulty of maintaining a customer focus. Most organisations look at the world from the inside out, through the prism of their boardroom or their product or service, rather than from the outside in, through the eyes of the customer. Even if you can maintain this unnatural stance, it’s easy, as LBS’s Professor Julian Birkinshaw pointed out, to pay attention to the wrong kind of customers or misinterpret what they are saying. ‘What we’re trying to do of course is to get to the unarticulated views – what is the underlying thing that the customers need but they don’t actually know quite how to express, what is the underlying ‘job to be done’?

This means much real innovation is a gamble based on guesswork (‘unreasonable conviction based on inadequate evidence,’ as Tom Peters once put it) – gambles often don’t sit well with shareholders or those with a vested interest in the status quo. Mark speaks feelingly of the internal ‘vitriol’ that was directed at Marketing as a result of suggesting, then pursuing, bold and unusual initiatives. Not surprising, then, that for every Direct Line that cracks it, there’s a Kodak or Nokia that can see the tip of the iceberg ahead, but can’t change direction fast enough to avoid the hidden bulk below.

Further blurring the issue for would-be innovators is the widespread assumption that never mind the question, the answer is technology. For Scott Cain, who leads on business and project development at an organisation called the Future Cities Catapult, ‘where innovation fundamentally failed over the last 10 years or so, it’s primarily because people are saying I’ve got this great big technology hammer and I just need to find that available nail and keep on hitting with it.’
Thus in his field there is a plethora of vibrant, exciting technologies for making cities smarter or more liveable, to the extent that city authorities are overwhelmed by the proliferation of choice. But features don’t necessarily translate into benefits – particularly in complex entities like cities, systems of systems where each has knock-on effects on others so that it’s hard to establish reliable evidence of what works or work out a viable business model between them.

Again, purpose is key. When Dubai in 2014 decreed its aim of being the smartest and happiest city in the world (by 2017), it approached the Future Cities Catapult to establish just what that meant in context and how technology could contribute to its achievement. The city state has now worked through the first set of projects from the findings and is into its second.

Finally, most organisations are good at either being efficient (‘exploitation’) or being inventive (‘exploration’) – and for all the reasons above exploration is the road less taken, which of course makes it all the more desirable, and essential.

But innovation-driven companies such as Apple, or Intel in semiconductors, that exhibit this drive are rare. Those that don’t have it in their DNA and have to summon up the impetus from elsewhere. Evans calls it a ‘groundswell’, a combination of pride and striving to do the job better, that Direct Line has channelled into an ideas lab that yielded 3000 suggestions in its first year.

Organisations should focus on areas they are competitive in – ‘not necessarily Real Madrid or Bayern Munich; Arsenal will do,’ says Cain – and where something is broken, or markets are not providing a good solution. Internally, a burning platform, as at Direct Line, may be the stimulus to get things moving. The timing needs to be right – innovating too far ahead of customers is as bad as being too late. And while scaling up is a huge issue in itself, ‘the way it becomes a bit more viable is to start at the smallest scale you want to be operating at’, counsels Cain. ‘Start at the very, very human scale, that’s my insight’.

Unsettlingly, innovation isn’t primarily a matter of cold management reason. On the contrary, cautions Birkinshaw, big data and analytics can be bad for innovation. With information everywhere and research costs approaching zero, marshalling data can take only a company so far. (In any case, most of what we call disruptive innovation is actually emergent: the disruption only becomes clear after the event.) So it’s avoiding the trap of over-analysis with decisive action and emotional commitment that are the key to successful innovation, Birkinshaw argues: ‘When we look at the Facebooks, the Amazons of this world, the companies that succeed are the ones that know when to stop gathering information and when to start actually acting on a little bit of intuition’.

This puts a premium on leaders with the wit and courage to make the important calls (and knock some heads together if necessary to bring the talking to a stop) – and on the cussed, unreasonable people, sometimes lower down in the organisation, who make it their business to provoke, stir up the status quo and go on asking the uncomfortable questions until they are either kicked out or get their way.

On the people, in fact, for whom the phrase ‘innovate or die’ has a literal meaning.

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The Foundation’s view

Three points most starkly stood out for us from the evening, complementing Simon Caulkin’s summary.

  1. Diversity matters. And in a substantive way. Mark Evans shared his belief in Neurodiversity, a hitherto unrecognised version referring to people who literally have different brains. Dyslexia, dyspraxia, colour blindness, autism and plenty more lead to very different ways of seeing the world, of drawing conclusions from it and of having ideas. If you want to look round corners that usually get in the way, ensuring diversity of thought and style matters, in version 1.0 gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the like, and in this version 2.0 way as well (as he described it). What also emerged less intentionally was a rather masculine way of describing the qualities needed to succeed with innovation, and cajones along with their Anglo Saxon counterparts were referred to several times, and called out by one of our questioners too. It was a sobering moment and showed how less visible things like language matter when discussing and framing issues, opening up or closing down options unconsciously
  2. Innovation is no way to have an easy life. All the way through the examples that were shared, unreasonable people were the ones who had to put up with the slings and arrows on their way to outrageous fortune. Mark described the vitriol that was directed his way as a result of suggesting then pursuing bold and unusual initiatives in the insurance business, like helping young drivers have a ‘shot-gun’ riding alongside them, coaching them towards safety and away from £20m claims that result from disfiguring best friends in all-too-common accidents. There are more or less challenging styles that go with being unreasonable, but relentlessness and unshakeable will are at the core, and ideally these people need some air-cover and space, so they can work through the process of ruling out all the wrong ways to do something towards the right way where the pot of gold lives
  3. Well-meaning collectivism is an enemy. Well-meaning collectivism is fantastic for many many things and would ideally be far more common in the world of work. But innovation is not one of them. Ask enough people and someone will find a reason to say no, or a sensible suggestion to modify, or to test a bit more carefully. Benevolent dictators made their presence felt, labelled, like unreasonable people, by Julian Birkinshaw and described by him at places like Oracle (Larry Ellison – we are moving to cloud, no debate) and by Scott Cain in cities like Dubai where interestingly the person in question was female (we want to create the world’s happiest City, and we’ll do it by a week on Tuesday – well, three years, but you get the idea). This kind of unarguable direction can also come from a deeply held purpose that gives direction and conviction that something matters to everyone involved. Direct Line now has a belief in being fixers, there to put things right when insurance is called on, and people across the business are in action with their interpretations like delivering a replacement TV in person because otherwise it wasn’t getting there before a crucial boxing match that a customer desperately wanted to see

 

About The Foundation

The Foundation is a management consultancy specialising in growth. We help clients address big organic growth challenges; growing faster, growing into new markets or fending off threats to growth What these challenges share is the need to influence customer behaviour, but this is inherently tough. Why? Because people in any organisation naturally see the world from the inside-out, with colleagues close and customers distant, and lots of assumptions about how things work that aren’t challenged.

We help clients look from the outside-in, re-connecting them with what customers really value (the problem they want to solve, not usually what the client sells), then finding new and better ways to create this value This means working both as expert advisors and facilitators. The issue with simply gathering outside-in information is that it lacks impact to get senior teams to tackle inconvenient truths in what customers want, and to believe their own organisation can be different.

By using ‘Immersion’, personal conversations with customers and leaders of organisations in other sectors who have tackled parts of their challenge, we help teams get round beliefs that stand in their way. This helps them develop better answers for customers and new ways of achieving lasting success.

We most often answer three questions:
1. Developing new propositions
2. Improving customers’ experiences
3. Developing customer-led strategies for broader issues such as increasing retention or lifetime value Our clients include HSBC, JLR, O2, M&S and Ebay, with achievements including helping create Plan A at M&S, adding £100m of value to a Travelex travel money proposition, and giving Morrisons a competitive direction contributing to their return to growth

Behind our work our most distinctive characteristic is our team and their outlook. Each individual is motivated to and experienced in crossing the border between the worlds of customers and business which often resist mixing well

This link will take you to more information about us and our Forum events: http://www.the-foundation.com

2007-10-07 at 23-39-27

Contact Details

Charlie Dawson (Founding Partner):
cdawson@the-foundation.com / +44 7785 268 859

Terry Corby (Partner)
tcorby@the-foundation.com / +44 7446 173 137

 


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