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Stratification: Agility and Resilience

If you’re ever short of inspiration, go and grab the podcasts or watch the videos from the RSA talks. I find them enormously enlightening. And just occasionally I find echoes of my own work in the words of one of the speakers.

Last month, Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation gave a talk on building more resilient cities, not from an architectural point of view (though design is often the output) but from an organisational, strategic perspective. She preaches a model where cities learn from disaster to build in resilience to an ever-changing environment where the next crisis is never far away, be it earthquake or flood, cyber attack or terrorism. Where silo’d organisations communicate and integrate better to create a ‘resilience dividend’ where a single investment in mitigating risk creates multiple benefits.

Listening to the talk I realised a lot of what Rodin is preaching for cities is similar to what we are preaching for all organisations with Stratification. Where Rodin talks of ‘resilience’, we talk about ‘agility’. Both are about adaptation to fast changing scenarios. Where Rodin talks about integration, we talk about reducing the friction between units in an organisation by better codifying roles, inputs and outputs.

In a previous RSA talk on ‘Soulful Organisations’, Frederic Laloux talked of how sometimes ideas are just ‘of the time’, and are arrived at independently by lots of different people. It feels to me like this theme of resilience or agility, and the means of achieving these characteristics, are very much of their time.

If you’re interested in making your organisation more agile, or more resilient, whether you run a city, a company, or a charity, we’d love to talk to you. We’ll soon be publishing our framework for agility in template form — get in touch for early access.

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Personal Applied Futurism

Last week I shared for the first time outside of a client engagement our tools of Applied Futurism. We’ve been developing these tools for the past two years. Though we’ve discussed them in meetings and at conferences, this was the first time we had tried to teach other people how to use them.

In a workshop at the Institute of leadership and Management, I walked thirty managers through our three original tools:

  • Intersections, our tool for understanding how macro technology-driven trends will shape an organisation’s future
  • Arcs, our tool for telling the story of that future to stakeholders in a way that catalyses change
  • Stratification, our framework for agile organisations, designed to support not just one transformation but ongoing change

The feedback on the tools was fascinating, Three things came across particularly strongly.

Firstly, I’m pleased to say that the response was incredibly positive. Both directly and through the organisers we’ve received some really reassuring praise. As a result we’ll soon be releasing these tools as template packs that people can download and use in their own organisations (for a fee, obviously).

Secondly, where there was criticism, it was about complexity. I was worried going into the session that although simplicity was our goal, the processes were perhaps so simple that people would say ‘duh’, and tell me it was all obvious. Not so much. In both the language that we use and the theoretical leaps we make between stages in the processes, it seems we can do a lot more refinement. And we will: the plan is to keep developing these processes rather than leave them static. For this reason we may be looking at a subscription model for access to the tools, as well as a one-off purchase.

Thirdly, and perhaps most valuably, someone pointed out that our processes are exclusively targeted at the organisational level. What about personal futurism?

This is a fascinating idea and one we hadn’t even considered before. Could we build a tool set that is aimed at individuals? Perhaps one that helps people with career planning? Or one that gives them guidance in day-to-day management rather than organisational-scale transformation.

Our next talk with the Institute is in Manchester on the 16th April, by which time we plan to have developed some initial ideas around personal futurism tools that the audience may be able to apply.

It all sounds a little Russell Grant, but there may just be something in Personal Applied Futurism.

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Is A Personalised Web An Unfair Web?

Every now and again I’m asked to comment on the issue of personalised pricing. I say the issue: there’s very little proof that it online pricing personalisation happens, though I know many who would swear they have experienced it.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it goes a little something like this. Even if you have never visited a website before, the minute you click ‘go’ on its URL, that website learns a lot about you. Not all of this information will be available every time, or 100% accurate, but for example, they can find out where you are and what machine you’re using.

If you’re using the latest iPhone in leafy Surrey, you might be offered a different price to say, someone using a three year old Android phone in north Manchester. That’s to make no comment on either place: the rough geographic data that is available to the website would simply tell it that people in one place are wealthier than the other.

If you have visited the website before, then the likelihood is that it knows a whole load more about you and can make much more sophisticated decisions. One of the accusations is that travel companies display higher prices to people who have already checked out a flight, gone away and come back. But if you’ve ever shopped with them, before you have even logged in they will likely also know your name, age, email address, Facebook profile and a lot more on which to base their pricing, or any other decision.

The other possible decisions are important because this data in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if it can spook people. If it was all bad, it’s unlikely I would have founded CANDDi, a software company that makes possible the gathering of this data, six years ago. We envisaged companies using this data to create an experience that was more like your local shop.

Here we’ve had personalisation (and personalised pricing) for centuries. In a rose-tinted vision of past village life, the butcher, baker and landlord all knew just enough about you to have a friendly conversation as you walked through the door, and to trust you enough to let you off now and again when you were a shilling short.

In reality, the data that CANDDi collects is used for all sorts, but nothing nefarious that I have seen. It’s mostly companies trying to operate a 21st century version of the village store on a much larger scale — both in terms of numbers and geography.

The original premise of this post was this: is a personalised web inherently unfair? There are certainly issues with personalisation: it narrows our experience of online content, reinforcing our existing choices/prejudices and hiding alternative products and views from us. It’s like only ever reading one newspaper: you will only see the world through its lens.

If pricing is personalised to us, based on our perceived wealth or how much we desire a product, is that unfair? My natural inclination is that it is, and the Office of Fair Trading agrees: in 2012 the organisation looked into personalised pricing and didn’t find any evidence that it was happening. But it warned that if it did, there would be penalties for ‘misleading or unfair practices’. The Competition and Markets Authority is similarly looking at the issue with regards to price comparison sites, according to this recent briefing from Out-Law.com.

I’m off to 5live to discuss this topic this morning, and they may have some new evidence. It’s definitely a topic to watch.

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8.5% of the Year is Gone Already. What Have You Done?

It’s a disturbing thought first thing on a February morning that the new year is not so new any more. By the end of this week a full tenth of the year will be gone. And most people are just getting started.

What have you done this year? And what are you going to do now?

We live, and work, in a fast-changing world. It’s hard to determine a focus. Hard to set priorities. Even harder not to get distracted by the constant pulls on your time. The urgent but not important. Before you know it, another month will have passed and you won’t have paid any more attention to the big picture.

This is how organisations fail. Lots of people sleepwalking into the future, until the future smacks them in the face.

Applied Futurism is about helping people and organisations to address this problem before it’s too late.

If you want to make changes in your organisation, and stop it from following the fate of so many others who have failed to look to the future, here are three things to think about.

1. Do you have a vision?

What does the future look like for your organisation? Have you or someone senior in the business spent time looking at the macro factors that might boost or batter your organisation in the coming months and years.

Business plans tend to be normative, based on an ideal future and the steps necessary to realise it. They are often too focused on internal factors, with external issues limited to competition and market forecasts. This is how major disruption is missed.

Think instead about a more wide-ranging, exploratory vision that takes into account all of the factors that might transform your market, before you lay out where you want to be in it.

2. Does everyone share your vision?

It’s not enough for a company’s leaders to have a vision. If it is to be effected, it needs to be shared: with customers, shareholders, and staff.

If you feel like your organisation is moving slowly it could be because you are pulling against some unnecessary tension or friction from one of these groups of stakeholders.

3. Are you equipped for change?

Change is hard for individuals, let alone whole organisations. But for some organisations it is harder than others because rigidity is baked in to the structure and the practices.

If your organisation has been doing the same thing for a long time, there’s likely to be extra resistance to change. If you work in a vertically integrated business in once sector, you might find people have often lost sight of the larger corporate goal.

One great test we put to organisations we work with is about how fast data flows. If the chief executive wants to get a message to customers, how long does that take? For example, a change in price, message, or product. And how long does it take for the response to reach the chief exec? Whether that’s sales numbers, safety issues, or service complaints. When they’re honest companies often accept that the answer to these questions can be measured in months.

Think about how to accelerate your organisation and make it agile.

Take these steps and with some effort, this time next year you won’t be ruing another lost month.

Tom Cheesewright