Category Archives: The Future of Work

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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C4CC is amazing – what next?

C4CC-LOGO
The Centre for Creative Collaboration
will close on 17 December 2014

C4CC will close at noon on 17th December 2014.  For 5 years, we have supported collaborations between Universities, businesses, staff and students and creative freelancers.  In the past two years we have also worked with Small and Medium Enterprises across London as part of the London Creative and Digital Fusion project – supporting more than 200 businesses directly ourselves.  We’ve also helped to form and support 37 start-ups creating over 100 jobs.

We’ve spoken to our resident projects and partners about the closure over the past month or so – and this post will, I hope, let a wider group of friends hear the news directly from us.  To cut a very long story short – our funding has finished, the University of London has decided not to support us further and the lease on our building expires early next year.

I talked to Lloyd Davis recently and we recalled the excitement of getting the keys early in February 2010 – and how big and empty the space seemed.  The project was scary and exciting at the same time.  It’s worth remembering that, when we did the research for the project (in 2008/9) there were very few spaces in London that we would now recognise as co-working or collaboration spaces.  So it was a bit of a leap in the dark – and a testament to the vision of our early supporters, especially Sir Graeme Davies who was
Vice-Chancellor of the University of London at that time.

We will hold an event on 12 December at C4CC to share our experiences, tell stories and celebrate what we’ve all been part of – if you would like an invitation, please let me know.

My plan is to ‘to do my own thing’ again as an independent consultant and adviser; I’m looking at a number of opportunities for 2015.  I’ve learnt a lot of new (and I hope useful!) things in the past 5 years – and I will be happy to help other people and projects to benefit from my experience.  So if you’d like to talk about opportunities to work together, please get in touch.

I am on social media as brian_condon or add a comment to this blog.

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.

Women in Leadership

Ruby McGregor-Smith, CEO of Mitie, speaking on Women in Leadership: Breaking Down Barriers.

David Docherty says Ruby is one of the few women running a FTSE 250 company.

Ruby at NCUBRuby starts by saying “It’s a rare thing to be both female and Asian and be at the top of a FTSE business”

Women have a massive role to play. We need gender equality at the top of businesses and we need to celebrate diversity. I was successful because I joined a very young organisation in a very young industry. We had fewer hierarchies and could think about talent differently. The Chair and CEO said ‘we’ll teach you’ as they knew I hadn’t done it before. It needs mentoring and support at different levels in women’s careers.

When I became a mother – it was almost impossible to juggle everything. I took 2 years out. The non-execs of MITIE didn’t really understand that, but it worked. She also chairs the Women’s Business Council – and that’s about understanding the barriers at each stage of a career.

It starts early in schools and colleges and Universities – and it’s about setting aspirations. Needs more collaboration on careers – and this is pretty weak still. We’re still grappling with understanding how and where to recruit the right graduates for example.

Loads of barriers – how do we start a business – where do we get the mentoring and support we need.

While things have changed over the past 25 years – there is still much to do on diversity – beyond gender. Need to make sure young people demand and expect equality in the workplace.  More work to do.

We shouldn’t underestimate how far we’ve come – and culture is slow and difficult to change. We do need to support people to rise through the ranks.

In the world of facilities management – it’s very male dominated. Don’t focus on your differences – focus on your talent. Difficult to achieve but we can make progress on this – at every single level. Young people need the biggest possible aspirations – and it’s time to make sure this happens and that people see the opportunities and are able to grasp them.

Q- what role doe employees have to play in helping with career guidance?

Ruby says that school is very different from the workplace – we need to help young people to understand what work is like – and there’s a role for existing employees to help with this. It’s very important that graduates and others are supported in the early stages of their careers.

Q – what is in the gift of the government?

Flexible working is very important – and affordable childcare for families (not just for women). There are specific things government can do. They’ll say there’s no money – but they have to spend money on something.

How can universities help?

Better workplacements, a better understanding of the role of outsourcing – not always the most popular of industries.

Q – which countries have better working practices than the UK?

Ruby says the US is better in certain areas – but she doesn’t like quotas. We have a multi-level problem. We seem to have issues at each level in our organisations.

Q – how about the difference between the best person vs the best team issue?

She says if you pick the best person they should find the best team [errrm].

Q. – role of apprenticeships

Ruby says they are as important as graduates and often better. We have about 500 apprentices and this is more than the number of graduates we recruit. They are very important to us.

Q – re aspirations and people recruiting “people like us”. How can we change this?

Select talented people and give them responsibility early – be less hierarchical – fast track people to big roles early.

Q – re lifelong learning – how to implement in business?

Ruby responds that we need to make developing people integral to the role of the business – send them to a business school – make sure you keep them up to date – very important.

Q – who helped you develop and who mentored you?

Partner in accounting firm, CEO of SERCO – provided her with encouragement and support. I wish I’d had more confidence and self belief. We also need to develop cultures where ‘getting things wrong is an important part of every day”

Q – Ageism is an issue for women – often they are considered ‘past it’

A – Not about age – it’s about ability to deal with change and deal with rapidly moving markets. We need to help women get back into work – it’s a big untapped market and they need to be brought back into the workplace.

Q – How do we deal with demands on women to be the main Carer especially as parents get older. How do we change that?

No easy answer. It’ll take a long time – but increased flexibility in working will help – fitting more things around work. Changing society is a tough call.

Q – what could businesses do to help fathers play a bigger part especially when their children are younger and need someone to go to them

A – Boards need to be family friendly – once that happens things will improve.

Q – re leaving for extended periods to have children vs the idea of ‘backing off’

A  Once you’re out of the workplace – the phone stops ringing and no one is interested. This is very difficult.  It is very hard coming back in  – and you just have to make it work.

Q- do you need to behave like a man to make it in business?

A – It’s a shame if women feel like that – it’s important that people are prepared to be themselves. I always tried hard to be me and I think that’s the way we can make progress.

Workplace Trends – Designing for Inclusion

Charlotte Sweeney

BIS External Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Panel

Workplace Trends – why inclusion

 

In 5 years time 36% of the working population will be over 50, we'll have 5 generations in the workplace.

Here's how Charlotte defines an inclusive workspace

 

https://twitter.com/dougshaw1/status/522309481636843520

 

 

Can you make the workplace feel like a village or a street? can 'life seep into work'?

 

Steve Maslin – Designing for Mind and Body

Who and how are we designing for?

 

Maybe we should be designing 'around a needs envelope' – comparison with the design of aircraft.

 

 


Meeting the Occupier's Needs

Richard Baldwin, Derwent London

A fantastic opportunity for Bradford