I love working on strategy – it’s all about the stories

I love working on strategy with clients especially when we can use scenario planning techniques.

It’s very exciting and engaging. It’s more about trying to understand people and what they might do rather than thinking up products and trying to work out who to sell them to. The nice thing is you can invent quite complex believable worlds with stories and thoughts about how people and businesses exist and thrive; and behaviours need to reflect the conditions in those worlds. It’s not about being right, it’s not about making predictions or being a ‘futurist’.  It is about telling stories about the future.

There’s a lot of work and thought needed to create believable stories about the future and they have to be credible. It’s really interesting to see how clients react to scenario planning. If you’re used to strategy being a linear extrapolation of what you do today, then it can be a bit of a shock. The kind of business thinking that places your business at the centre of the picture and then maps the world to it is generally resistant to scenario thinking. If you have someone who thinks like this, you can use expressions like ‘strategic narrative’ and a word with ‘ology’ at the end of it.  But don’t kid yourselves – they’re stories.

Scenario planning drives you to think about the world first and then think about what your options and decisions might be in each world.

In theory, scenario worlds should be extreme and quite different. In practice, if you make them too extreme, they cease to be credible. If worlds diverge too quickly then it’s difficult to develop pragmatic strategy. The invented worlds need to overlap to some extent – and it’s in the overlaps and gaps where you can look at the scope for innovation and new ideas.  Ideally, you should be able to think up some elements of the strategy you will adopt that work in all the worlds you envisage – this is possible but difficult. A lot of the time though, you tend to map out options as the scenario worlds develop over time.

While it may seem fanciful, we can, though, see signals in the present of how the world might evolve in the future and we can use these as a way to generate different potential worlds. How do you find and listen to those signals and which ones do you use to develop scenario worlds? This is at the heart of the creative process of scenario planning.

You can talk to people working on new things, look at trends, look at what people do around you. For example, a few years ago on trains going up and down to London from Kent, there were increasing numbers of well dressed business men (yes men) of a clear level of seniority using iPads; these were the kinds of people who previously would open their briefcases and bring out paper copies of e-mails (no doubt printed out by their secretaries) and write replies on them. One man used to drive people mad in the mornings by tearing up these printouts in a kind of artisanal shredding process! You can speculate on why this trend was happening.  Keyboards are low status or they were unable to use them so no laptop, other men were seen using iPads for business applications (remember David Cameron’s iPad government dashboard app?) so they felt able to, cost reductions and redundancies meant that there were fewer support people around, increasing environmental concerns about waste…..

Another example, in a previous job, we developed scenarios for how people might use mobile technology in their daily lives.  One of the scenarios I particularly enjoyed had people walking about with small devices using little screens to control the device and communicate. No PCs, no keyboards, no wires. We got one of our designers to draw (on a big mood board) pictures of people doing this. The client hated it! At that time (and it’s a while ago!) mobile phones were just phones; Short Message Service was used by few people (aka Texting now).  Another scenario was a world where the big fixed networks dominated and smart phones were a minority interest (largely due to cost).  We looked at how technologies were developing that would lead to smartphones and we looked at behavioural research and consumer analysis, we did PEST analysis in the days before it became PESTLE! And we developed different worlds with different characteristics.

So how does all this relate to business strategy? Using scenarios makes business strategy simpler – if you have a story about how the world might evolve then you can look at how you might behave and the decisions you might make as a result.

The world is a complex place and strategy needs to be simple. Many people think that business strategy needs to be complicated to reflect the complexity of the world.  On the contrary business strategy needs to be

1) Simple – so you can “execute” it (ie ‘do it’ – venture capitalists love the term ‘execute’ for some reason)

2) Clear – so you can communicate it to customers, colleagues and other stakeholders

3) Expressed in a model (eventually!) – so you can see if it works

So my advice is, don’t start with a business model and work up, start with your stories of the future and work down, define your strategy simply and clearly and then build a model.

Startedin – Edinburgh comes to the City of London

The event began with Frank Ross – who Convenes Edinburgh City Council’s Economic Development activities.

"Pitching" the Edinburgh
“Pitching” the Edinburgh Offer – Frank Ross

It’s about graduates and about computing, academic excellence, spinouts and innovative startups. There are 15 incubators in Edinburgh – Creative Exchange, Carbon Innocation, Techcube; lots of others.

There is a danger that incubators are operating in isolation – it needs to be joined up – so we’ve established the online portal Interspace – to make it easy to do business in Edinburgh.

It’s about quality of life, quality of jobs and quality of city! He pitches the city and he’s proud of it.

Amazon has been in Edinburgh for over 10 years

“We run major chunks of Amazon from Edinburgh” says Graeme Smith of Amazon

Graeme Smith presents Amazon
Graeme Smith presents Amazon

And here is what they get up to:

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Skyscanner – it’s about the quality of life in Edinburgh

Richard Lennox from Skyscanner – this is how he sees it:

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He’s from Carlisle. “I’ve always wanted to work in a global scale technology business”.

Why Edinburgh not London?

It’s not tangible – but it is about the quality of life in Edinburgh.

Here are my more detailed notes and liveblog in Storify

 

 

The Fuse Manifesto

To Birmingham for the Fuse Manifesto.  But what is Fusion?
What is FuseWe had an Eclipse Break (it’s the featured image).

Cathy Garner spoke about London Fusion:

Cathy Garner

 And the liveblog using Storify is here.

And some more pictures:

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Bristol is Open

Bristol is a great place – and there’s always a lot going on.  I to the launch of Bristol is Open and here is the liveblog:

Creating the world’s first open programmable city!

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Clearing space for thinking and writing

 

Here are some thoughts

  1. Switch off/ log out/ never use browser-based e-mail – the tabs are lurking to catch you
  2. Switch off notifications, disable e-mail polling etc on all mobile devices – phones and tablets. Set e-mail clients only to gather e-mail when you want (you are weak but will at least be in control)
  3. Set your main e-mail client (in my case on a Mac PowerBook gathering 11 mailboxes worth) to only collect e-mail once per hour – each hour use GTD techniques to respond to e-mail – if you can do it in less than 2 minutes then deal with it, if not schedule a time to deal with it. Get back to writing as soon as you can.
  4. Always have your phone on silent – when a call comes in – have a quick look – be ruthless and push it to voicemail. If it’s a client, friend or otherwise important – take the call; deal with it quickly. You will return to writing with more energy. Distinguish between the important and the urgent.
  5. For writing – use Scrivener – you can chunk up the work to allow for essential interruptions
  6. Go on long train journeys – buy cheap first class tickets in a quiet coach (often cheaper than standard if bought in advance) and write, write, write. They will bring you tea etc. This is good.

The Local Opportunity

Social Investment Commission Report Launch

 

John Kingston, Commission Chair

John is an early pioneer in social investment – and while there has been loads of growth and noise – we need to remember that it has to be about ‘a locality’. Social investment is a tool in the toolbox – not a panacea. It is a useful tool.

We started by trying to work out what the demand in local communities might be. What are the needs – particularly for finance – from local social enterprises and organisations with social objectives. Social investment needs to be a mechanism that meets local needs and supports the mission.

It’s about access to capital for charities and others – and while there’s large scale lending now – more difficult for local organisations to access smaller, simpler forms of social investment.

Social investment can help to tackle social problems – cites example of the first Social Impact Bond – helping to prevent re-offending by young people in Peterborough. These mechanisms enable organisations to work together with flexibility – draws analogy between dinghy sailing and a rail journey. Dinghy needs constant adjustment – trainjust goes. SIBs are an example of a locality coming together to tackle problems on an integrated basis.

The fundamental difference between a social investor and a grant-maker is that the former looks to build capacity in the organisation; the latter buys a solution. merit in people coming together in a ‘safe place’. Politicans want answers by Wednesday week – the problems tackled by social investment are often complex and the timescales can be 7-10-20 years. It’s an investment philosophy and it needs to be long term.

How do we avoid the report ‘staying on the shelf’? This is very important to us – we want to see action – and suggest 3 practical ways of using the new tools.

We look forward to debate and pushback!

Kieron Boyle – Cabinet Office

He heads up social investment at the Cabinet Office and was part of the conversations behind the report. Social investment is about helping social ventures achieve more impact. It is about in impact philosophy. Pioneers often philanthropists. There is though from a national perspective ‘a mountain to climb’. Social ventures a innovative (more than commercial ventures he says). But there are challenges in coming up with robust answers to spending challenges at the local level.

We need a national/local debate. How do we see common principles? We need leadership – to take the principles and make them into reality.

Discussion

John asks “Have we reflected reality?”

One Westminster CEO – we are a lot of grassroots organisations and we feel that sometimes these reports come from another world – how can we connect?

John – needs access to very simple social investment products. The Social Impact Bond is at the complex end of the problem. But we do have some examples of local charities providing services as part of a SIB. It has to be about accessing capital. We need to be able to pay for assets over extended periods – and we also need to open up access to income.

Q – Larger organisations often feel they can be responsible for and help smaller groups – but it’s difficult given the funding picture and also the lack of robust systems in smaller organisations – even managing a £4,000 needs systems.

Point from CEO of a local development trust. We need to recognise that often small organisations may be able to make big impact – but they don’t have scale and the system of ‘big is better’ commissioning acts against supporting local organisations. You’re preaching to the converted. The challenge needs to be to the people who have the money – and power to commission. They need to invest in social capital. We need to engender the debate – commissioning may not lead to the best outcomes.

Point from a SBus person – The uncomfortable thing about the report is paying back £18k when you’ve borrowed £10k and you’re funding revenue activity. Too risky.

John intervenes and agrees that – it might be ok for capital – but it’s risky for revenue. We mustn’t encourage people to take unnecessary risk – needs to be appropriate risk. A matter of judgement. Sometimes we need facilities available as a ‘safety net’. Social investment can provide such a safety net.

In the case of the SIB – we can see that working over 3-5 years based on a consortium approach, especially for smaller local charities. Need to be part of a combined integrated service. I agree with you and I am jumpy – which is why I’ve taken time to answer this question.

Q – do all the charities invested in have to be incorporated? This has been an issue. John says most organisations and social investors will invest in a ‘purpose’ rather than a corporate form. It’s about the social purpose.

Paul Doe – CEO of a Housing Group and St Mungos Broadway (which has a social impact bond). Do something you know really well. We take the risk though – the investors will not take any risk. You have to be very careful about what you get into. The legals etc took £50k. Positive – what about crowdfunding – this has not been mentioned and returns an be good. We need to invest where we live.

Kieron Boyle – need to be clear about who is helping social ventures get ‘investment ready’. From government’s perspective it’s often a challenge to move money towards preventive services. Also it’s a challenge to buy from small organisations. Cites the social value act as part of the process. Needs to be joining up of the national and local. Can we align local money with national commissioning to make it work. Agrees that crowd funding can work- but it seems to be skewed towards equity investment – this can be a challenge for some organisational forms.

John – needs a way of attracting local people to own and be part of the solution – and it may not be pure investment.

CEO – Westway Trust. The market has been developing – cites Good Deals Conference. But does the intermediate layer take out value rather than add it? There are some mid-sized organisations that need support and don’t really see it working well. be in a dialogue with organisations – especially mid-sized ones.

Kieron says that there are some intermediaries that are very good.

David Warner London Funders – an apposite time for this report. Funders and investors see the need for a range of products including grants at the local level. Need to invest to tackle problems over a longer term. Needs to be new ways of unlocking local giving and therefore local capital and social investment.

How the work can be taken forward

David – need to combine the Triborough approach more broadly with regional reality. Need something to glue the top-middle-bottom to make systems work. There are issues over capacity for CVS organisations – they’ve taken a battering. Agree that crowd funding is a really interesting opportunity – there are people with disposable wealth – and we need to engage them in local investment. There is a piece here about private investment from local businesses – can we get social investment from them?

There’s lots to do – need to be realistic about the scale of the task. Needs to be a local and a regional task – need to make sure we spread further than London possibly. “I’ll be e-mailing – need to form a task force”.

 

 

 

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