Monthly Archives

11 Articles

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Why risk is greatest when you’re happy and profitable

Do you run a happy ship? Does everyone in your organisation sing from the same hymn sheet? Are you all aligned to the same goals? Do these happy staff stay with you for years and years?

Then you’re probably in trouble. Because experience has taught me that these characteristics are often the precursors to a fall.

I’ll explain.

There are two types of organisation that typically call me up for consulting engagements. A small number get in touch when they’re doing well and they want to identify the next opportunity. The majority call me when things are not going so well and they’re looking to get back on track with some insight into where their market or sector is going.

These latter organisations often have much in common. When you interview the management and staff, you find a number of key characteristics:

  • Until recently. the organisation has been profitable for a long time — often growing (or in the public sector, funded with a manageable amount of cash, year on year)
  • People stay with the organisation a long time — more than seven years — and often trained with that company
  • Staff are totally sold on the company message. Apart from the usual gripes (IT, inter-departmental communication, their boss) you hear the same story about the company and the market from everyone

In these circumstances, something happens. Or rather it doesn’t. People don’t ask hard questions. Because they don’t want to risk the comfort of the warm bath they’re in. And because with so little exposure to what’s going on outside, they don’t know which questions to ask.

If you run an organisation that sounds like this one, get help. Bring in someone with a fresh pair of eyes. Get them to take a good, hard, critical look. Listen to what they come back with, and act on it.

Crucially, don’t let this analyst stay involved too long. Six months at most. Longer than that and they will be infected by the good will and happiness. They will lose objectivity and start to believe things like “that won’t affect us” or “that doesn’t work in this market.”

Once this analyst has done your diagnosis and made a prescription, bring in other people to help you make the change. Specialists in people, technology and transformation.

Six months later, bring your analyst back and tell them to look again. Don’t be surprised if they raise new criticisms.

Repeat the process.

In this environment, the only way you keep your organisation happy and profitable, is through constant evolution.

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Need an analyst to help you see the darkness in your bright and shiny world? You need an Applied Futurist.

Get in touch and we can help you directly, or introduce you to one of our growing number of partners nationwide.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Two Mornings Experiment

One of the joys of running your own business is that you are not quite so beholden to other people’s schedules. Despite this, in the last ten years I have done little to break out of the usual nine-to-five routine. Rather, I have fallen into the typical self-employed trap of extending the day at both ends and doing little to disrupt the typical period of limited productivity in the middle.

This year I plan to change all that.

As a naturally early riser I typically start work early, around seven AM. This would give me lots of brownie points according to the entrepreneur-y, self-help blogs but I don’t pretend it’s some sort of virtue. It’s just the way I’m built.

There’s no doubt I am at my most creative in the few hours after I have woken up. I can be incredibly productive until somewhere between 10 and 11, when I tend to run out of steam and get very hungry.

In the past this has meant I faffed around until an ‘acceptable’ lunch time around midday (or worse, I’ve snacked). Once I’ve eaten, almost whatever I eat, my body goes into a serious lull for a couple of hours.

A ridiculous work ethic has always seen my try to fight this lull, getting progressively more frustrated at my lack of focus until it finally returns somewhere around 3. Because I feel I’ve wasted so much time I’ve then stayed at my desk for hours to try to make up for it.

This is clearly a drastically simplified summary of my working day that ignores the more varied reality. But you get the idea.

So what am I going to do about it?

Firstly, I am leaving the office every day at 4. That still means a ten hour working day rather than the ‘usual’ 8 (which no-one I know actually does) but it’s a start.

Secondly, I am going to have lunch when my body tells me I need it — usually around 10:30/11:00, about 4 hours after breakfast (it’s no wonder I’m hungry now I write that down).

Thirdly I am going to sleep. Every day I’m in the office and commitments don’t clash, I’m going to have a nap after lunch.

Here’s my little cosy corner. Headphones in and podcast on, I’ve found I have absolutely no trouble dozing off fairly quickly.

The idea is that whatever gives me that creative boost in the morning can be replicated with a 20 minute nap at lunchtime.

The results? So far so good.

The reality of my working life is that only a fraction of my days are ‘normal’. i.e. in the office from 7–4. But on the days that are, I’ve managed to get my head down for a nap three times in the last week since the beanbags arrived for me to kip on.

And once I’ve had a kip? Well I knocked this blog post out in about 20 minutes. Not quite my pre-8am rate but not bad.

This schedule won’t work for everyone, but I think it’s very likely that we will see increasing flexibility in the structure of the working day. The more we know about human performance and its infinite variety, the less sense it makes to force people into a rigid single structure.

Does 9–5 work for you (or more likely 8–6)? And if not, what can you do to change it?

 

 

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

I Need Digital Feng Shui

My digital life is, to say the least, a little disordered. I need a digital feng shui consultant to come in and organise things for me. Though ideally with a little more of the rational and a little less of the superstitious.

Like most people these days I create and consume a lot of content, and most of it is digital. I create reports, articles, blog posts, images, radio and TV clippings, gadget reviews, podcasts, presentations, websites and even hacky bits of software. I consume music, television, video, websites, eBooks, podcasts, pictures, comics, and yes, software (some of it very hacky indeed).

I am not disciplined enough to organise things as I go. I try, but things slip. Documents end up in the wrong folders. Ripped music is mis-categorised. Images get downloaded two, three or four times because I can’t find the original. Receipts sit in a drawer for three months before getting scanned.

My approach to date has been a bit like the child asked to tidy their room: everything gets stuffed into a cupboard. The only difference with me is that every time I run out of space in the cupboard, a few dollars more to Dropbox or Google gives me a bigger one.

Now, the great tower of digital junk has reached epic proportions and threatens to topple on me whenever I open the cupboard door. So it’s time to get it sorted.

But sorting it is proving painful.

At home I have started with my music collection. The best solution I have found so far is Beets, a command line tool for scanning, tagging and organising your music collection. I’m slowly importing all my MP3s* into a new, clean folder structure. The problem is that this is not an automated process. The MusicBrainz database that I am using to recognise and tag my music often doesn’t contain the CDs that I own, or the system wrongly identifies them based on the way they have previously been tagged. Once I’ve processed them all I will need to go back and fill in the blanks — probably re-ripping many CDs.

A Spotify subscription suddenly looks like a really good option.

At work the impetus has come from the launch of our new subscription tools service. For this I will be updating around 20 documents each month as we incrementally advance the each of three tools on a three-month rolling cycle. On top of this I will be producing supporting content, images and slide decks for our subscribers.

All this means an already large load of work is likely to get out of hand.

I need a system that will help to automate some of the production and uploading, ensuring each document is properly version-controlled and date-stamped for licensing purposes. Then uploaded to the relevant parts of the website. We’re into the territory of Enterprise Content Management, a type of software I’ve written about but never had to deploy for my own business before.

Of course all this will do is enforce the human control of my content. Neither my home or work systems will be smart enough to actually organise my content — automatically — in a way that makes sense to me.

This is what I want.

Right now human beings are much better than machines at this sort of abstract pattern recognition and classification. But this won’t always be the case, and that pleases me. I want an always-on, digital cleaner/feng shui consultant to organise the digital world around me to my preferences and make it easy for me to find and interact with the things I create and consume.

* I did once rip all my CDs into FLAC… then accidentally formatted the disk containing them. I’ve never managed to bring myself to re-rip them all…

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

[Press Release] The Applied Futurist’s Toolkit – Now Available for Management and Marketing Consultants

Today we’re announcing the availability of the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit via monthly subscription.

These are the tools that we use in consulting engagements, refactored and enhanced for use by marketing and management consultancies with their own clients. Use these tools to help clients to see the future more clearly, and respond to what they see with greater agility.

Read more in the release below or download the Applied Futurist’s Manifestofor full details.

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The Applied Futurist’s Toolkit: Now Available for Management and Marketing Consultants

Management consultants and marketers are today invited to become Applied Futurists, with the release of a new suite of tools from Book of the Future.

Applied Futurism is a response to the accelerating pace of change in business that has seen many established leaders displaced by new, more agile entrants. It equips organisations and their leaders with a new, future-ready approach to business planning and operations.

The Applied Futurist’s Toolkit includes three tools:

  • Intersections: a foresight tool that helps consultants to show their clients the future in a fast, efficient way. Intersections connects macro trends to the pressure points specific to individual companies and markets, highlighting the most important issues to address right now.
  • Arcs: a narrative planning tool, helping organisations to lay out a response to change trends in story form that is clear to staff and shareholders, customers and partners.
  • Stratification: a framework for agile organisations that embeds flexibility, responsiveness and high performance into the structure of a business. Stratified organisations are more connected to external change trends and better able to respond, delivering sustainable success.

Subscribing to The Applied Futurist’s Toolkit gives marketers and management consultants access to these proven processes plus multiple Template Packs. Each Template Pack guides the user through applying the tools in a different way: running interactive workshops, developing content marketing assets, or producing strategic plans.

The Toolkit is backed with direct support and rich resources such as slide decks, graphics and blog posts to help consultants communicate new ideas to clients.

Access is available as a monthly rolling licence at £125/month. Users can sign up online at http://www.bookofthefuture.co.uk.

The Applied Futurist’s Toolkit has been developed by Book of the Future founder Tom Cheesewright, over three years and hundreds of engagements with companies and individuals. Book of the Future clients include BUNZL, the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW), LG, Nikon, University of Manchester and Enfield Borough Council.

Cheesewright is one of the UK’s best-known futurists, a frequent face and voice on TV and radio and in-demand keynote speaker. In the last twelve months he has addressed conferences in London, New York and Amsterdam on the future of travel, telecoms and money. His TV and radio credits include Channel 4’s ‘Sunday Brunch’, ‘Home Hero’, and ‘In The Future’, Channel 5’s ‘Saturday Show’, Sky News, BBC Breakfast, World Business, 5live and Radio 4’s You and Yours.

About Book of the Future

Book of the Future provides Applied Futurism tools for management consultants and marketers. Through proven processes and simple-to-follow templates, consultants can help their clients to see the future more clearly, share their vision and respond with agility. For more information see http://ww.bookofthefuture.co.uk.

For more information contact Book of the Future on 0161 850 0460 or at hello@bookofthefuture.co.uk

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

In An Information Age, Knowledge isn’t Power, It’s a Commodity

When politicians talk about a ‘knowledge economy’, it sounds like information is gold. A durable good that can be stored and trickled out to the market to keep its value high.

It isn’t.

Just a decade ago it might have been true. If you came up with a new product, process or business model, you probably had a few years grace before it was replicated. With the wind behind you, you could create a defensible position, for a while at least.

Technology has changed this.

Knowledge isn’t durable like gold. It’s a fast moving consumer good. A low-value, high-volume commodity. The power in knowledge today is not in holding it but managing its flow. Getting it into your business quickly, extracting its value, and moving on.

Most businesses don’t get this. And it’s not the leaders’ fault. We’ve spent years being conditioned into the idea that there is fundamental value at the heart of our businesses. That the way to improve them is to optimise what we do. Boost margins here. Squeeze costs there. Sell more. Charge more.

This is old thinking. Today, agility trumps optimisation.

The value at the heart of your business is constantly being eroded. The gold turned to lead. The power drained from the knowledge.

Technology has lowered the friction in the flow of information to the point where goods and ideas can flow much more easily. Between organisations and across borders.

Other people can do what you do. They can do it faster and cheaper. And do it in completely different ways through totally new channels. Threats can come from nowhere and become existential in a matter of months.

If you want to succeed and sustain in this fast-changing environment you have to make changes.

First, you need to make sure that you are exposed to the information that matters. That inside your market, and in adjacent or relevant markets, you are watching what is happening and taking that learning into your business. Listening to customers, listening to peers, looking for threats and opportunities around the corner. It’s too easy to run with your head down, focused on the challenges inside the walls of your own organisation.

Second, you need to ensure that information flows fast. From the customer, to the decision makers and back again. One of the first questions I ask new clients is about the length of this round trip. The real answer is often around 12 weeks. Too slow.

Ensure that you collect relevant data from your organisation. From customers, partners, departments and suppliers. Make sure that you share this information with the right people, in real time, with maximum clarity. No manual processing. No subcommittees and tiers of review where all meaning gets polished from the data.

Finally, make sure that you equip the people who matter with the power to respond. Take decisions yourself or push power to the edge. Enable people to act on the evidence that they see in a time frame that makes sense. Clue: that time frame is short.

Technology will help you to do some of these things. A well-designed customer interface. Integrated software systems. But these things only add value in a properly-structured organisation with the right behaviours.

Establishing those is much harder than signing a cheque for a new website or social media campaign.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Jumpers for goalposts?

Action for Children is calling for parents to ‘unplug’ their children from technology and spend more time on other activities. As usual with campaigns of this sort, the message has been simplified to so blunt a point that it risks doing some harm along with the good.

I’m all for limiting the time kids — and adults — spend in front of screens. The screen is a limited form of interaction that sucks our attention away from the richer, physical world. Anecdotal research from Silicon Valley tech CEOs suggests their kids spend less time than average in front of a screen.

But screens do not equal technology. Calling for kids to spend less time with technology? That’s problematic.

For example, my six-year-old made an FM radio using an electronics kit, largely unassisted*. Is that the sort of technology to which access should be limited? She happily spends time collecting things to look at under a microscope. Is that technology? Clearly this isn’t what the campaign is targeting but by talking about ‘technology’ in such generic terms, you risk a lot of misunderstanding.

It’s a harder story to tell without patronising parents but I would argue the campaign needs to be about the type and range of stimulation children receive. Highlighting ‘technology’ as the issue is an attractive proxy for a more challenging problem, but using such a broad term enhances the case of reactionaries keen to denigrate and dismiss anything new.

Even the assessment of screen time needs to be a little more nuanced. There’s a vast difference between time spent watching My Little Pony and time spent playing Minecraft. Between playing Angry Birds (do people still do that?) and learning to code, or designing and 3D printing their own toys.

I understand the charity’s challenge: how to make a campaign that is worthy at heart, also worthy of a space in the news cycle. I’ve been there. But technology isn’t the problem here.

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*Yes, as you can imagine, I am ridiculously proud.

 

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Creative Tension

On the Saturday Show last week, we talked about the time lag between new technologies arriving and the development of social norms around them. My argument was that issues such as trolling will be less of a problem over time, not because we establish more laws or better policing but because society establishes and enforces a set of social norms.

In fact, we largely enforce these norms on ourselves: it isn’t the permanent presence of a police officer over our shoulders that stops us stealing and murdering. Consciously or not, most of us accept that conformance to society’s rules carries benefits that outweigh the short-term gains of breaching them.

But in the time where those rules are yet to be established, there is an undoubted tension between possible behaviour and desirable behaviour.

Much of this is bad. Social media has become an outlet for ideas and beliefs that many of us hoped were on their way out, even if we recognised that they were far from gone. Absent the physical presence of any sort of societal policing, people are willing to express publicly all sorts of ideas that might otherwise have only been whispered across a pub table.

But the very expression of these ideas brings them out into the open where they can be challenged. Perhaps, painful as it is today, the darkness of trolling is just part of the process of establishing new norms.

While there’s much darkness flying around, there’s also a lot of more positive expression. Not just new art forms but a venue for the discussion of a much wider range of ideas. As the historian Ian Morris suggests, humanity’s periods of greatest progress occur when different societies interact. Nowhere is this more in evidence or has it ever been than online, today.

Rational Animals

There is a second form of creative tension that is very visible right now. That between our conscious and unconscious minds, our animal and logical selves. It’s a theme well explored in Star Trek: the cold, analytical Vulcan (and later android) and the rash, emotional human.

Much of our behaviour remains totally irrational, much as we might like to convince ourselves otherwise.

Listening to one of my new favourite podcasts, Science’ish, this morning, a scientist described how accurate electoral forecasts can be made based on no more empirical data than photos of the candidate’s faces. Show them to a bunch of people without any context and they’ll tell you which one they would vote for. Whoever has the preferred face also tends to win the election in the real world.

Yet we are rational enough to recognise this and explore it. To understand our physiology, our world, our universe and the rules that govern it. To begin to manipulate these things to our own ends. We can feel joy and love and wonder, while knowing that these things are the down to the firing of specific neurons and the flow of chemicals through our bodies and brains.

Knowing doesn’t seem to diminish the experience, just as understanding physics doesn’t make a rollercoaster any less enjoyable.

Sometimes we might wish that the rational minds would win more often. Much of the time in my case. But there are plenty of cautionary tales in history and fiction about moving that slider too far in the direction of rationality.

We can revel in our rational capabilities, but no-one wants to see a Brave New World.

Tom Cheesewright