McKinsey article: The four global forces breaking all the trends

There’s a concise piece on McKinsey that sums up four macro trends that are coming down the line:

  1. The age of urbanization

  2. Accelerating technological change

  3. Responding to the challenges of an aging world

  4. Greater global connections

Each of these topics has a wealth of information written about them, but this short piece is a useful primer if you are unfamiliar with where the world is heading.

Admittedly the list would be more complete if it included something about bioengineering, but that’s probably able to be captured in point three…

Source: The four global forces breaking all the trends

John Oliver reframes complex narrative with ‘Dick Pics’

I watched the John Oliver show about the renewal of the Patriot Act upcoming in June.Β  His central argument is that the American people don’t care about NSA mass surveillance programmes as it’s too complicated.

He goes to Moscow and interviews Ed Snowden, and you can watch Snowden struggle to understand how to frame his story.Β  Then John Oliver reframes the massive complexity of NSA surveillanceΒ  around, errrr…Dick Pics sent online.

He shows Snowden interviews with people in Times Square before and after the reframing, and the results are absolutely clear when it comes to the formation of great narrative.

The full clip is 30min but you need to watch it in it’s entirety to see the beauty of the formation of the story.Β  Before the reframing people aren’t particularly worried about the powers of the NSA.Β  After the reframing they are passionately against it.

It’s a virtual masterclass in how to reframe complexity in such a way that it can trigger a narrative to be re-told.Β  It’s also an extremely topical and relevant story in itself.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Government Surveillance (HBO) – YouTube.

Resources for Leadership NZ Workshop attendees

This post is for attendees of the workshop for Leadership NZ on 28 Oct.Β  It’s a list of resources that may be of use when thinking about different ways to think about the future, and how to tell your story.Β  Firstly, here’s a list of organisations that think about the future, and share that thinking:

  • Shell energy scenarios can be accessed here.
  • The Institute for the Future in California publishes a wide range of information, including it’s Maps of the Decade.
  • The team from the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the Singapore Government do some outstanding work.Β  they blog here and publish in a range of places, including here.
  • The Sustainable Future Institute has a robust and fascinating series of publications that address the future of NZ, and you can access them via the website here.

With regards to telling rich stories that resonate, here’s a list of the links I referenced in my presentation:





(off topic) Six Common Misperceptions about Teamwork (HBR)

Richard Hackman is apparently the guru of team dynamics, and the article link below was from another guru, Bob Sutton at Stanford. This combination means that although this post is not directly related to my usual topics, it’s worth reading for anyone in business.

Misperception #2: It’s good to mix it up. New members bring energy and fresh ideas to a team. Without them, members risk becoming complacent, inattentive to changes in the environment, and too forgiving of fellow members’ misbehavior.

Actually: The longer members stay together as an intact group, the better they do. As unreasonable as this may seem, the research evidence is unambiguous. Whether it is a basketball team or a string quartet, teams that stay together longer play together better.

Six Common Misperceptions about Teamwork – J. Richard Hackman – Harvard Business Review.

Introducing The Growth Agenda

You may have already picked this, but I’d like to formally introduce The Growth Agenda. It’s a global network of smart thinkers with proven track records that collaborate to help organizations address big challenges and exploit major new growth opportunities.Β  The network spans both geographies and sectors.

The organisations that have already worked with the Growth Agenda have found the insight and innovation produced to be far richer and deeper than available elsewhere. What makes the offering different is the implicit link to concrete growth platforms for the future Β – the identification of tangible, sizeable and credible opportunities that will shift a sector are the outcomes of our projects.

As you can see from the website ( the Growth Agenda builds on the proven approaches from the past and takes innovation and growth strategy the next step forward:

  • It is already enabling major organisations to identify emerging changes and develop growth strategies to create and capture value from innovation,
  • It provides access to a wealth of expertise and different perspectives to help organisations to find new ways of creating significant and sustainable growth.

What is different (and we think unique) about the Growth Agenda is not just the scale and level of challenges being addressed, but also how this is being achieved: As well as a transparent approach that links together a bespoke talent group to each project, it also provides organisations with a simple way to engage and work with this expertise so that is just like partnering with a single entity – but one with a great combination of insights and experience. This is explained in more detail here.

For every project, a core team member of the Growth Agenda acts like a film producer – bringing together the ideal combination of global talent and expertise to deliver the best results. They select the most appropriate experts to help address the challenge / opportunity; choreograph how and where this expertise is most effectively involved; and ensure that the questions addressed help to push the boundaries and identify the biggest, best and most sustainable growth platforms.

The Growth Agenda itself is incidentally a not-for-profit organisation with no overheads as exists solely to bring a bespoke group of leading talent together in a equable and impactful manner:

  • It operates as a network where all organisations involved are able to support and be supported by the very best expertise available.
  • Within the global network we have people leading growth in major businesses, leading academics, expert consultants and government advisors.
  • Some see that this approach is reinventing how organisations access the best talent to identify major opportunities well ahead of the competition.

From a personal perspective, the Growth Agenda provides me with the opportunity to work with great people in terrific organisations on big issues with a unique combination of talent that work together as one seamless group.

If you have any questions about this and our perspectives, please do not hesitate to ask.

Why have multi-day workshops?

When I suggest a workshop to clients, the usual expectation is for a half day format – or – if they are really serious – a full day event. I always find it interesting to gauge the reaction when I recommend taking three full days to address strategic impertatives.

There are many reasons why you should have multi-day workshops when tackling thorny issues.

Most importantly they give people time to think, and acknowledge the complexity that is inherent in many of the problems and challenges that are common to large organisations.Β  It’s unrealistic to dumb this type of work down, and expect solid, coherent solutions from a half day workshop, let alone one that was conducted as an ‘off-site’ complete withΒ  Jack Daniels and golf (although not necessarily in that order).

One of the more subtle reasons is that by focusing on issues over several days (three days is about right) you provide the opportunity to absorb, sort and frame new information.Β  This is not a hunch, or some half baked concept, but something that has attracted serious scientific attention.Β  For example, read this from The New Scientist :

Ever wondered why sleeping on a problem works? It seems that as well as strengthening our memories, sleep also helps us to extract themes and rules from the masses of information we soak up during the day.

Bob Stickgold from Harvard Medical School and his colleagues found that people were better able to recall lists of related words after a night’s sleep than after the same time spent awake during the day. They also found it easier to recollect themes that the words had in common – forgetting around 25 per cent more themes after a waking rest. “We’re not just stabilising memories during sleep,” says Stickgold. “We’re extracting the meaning.”

And, more recently from the BBC:

Sleeping on a problem really can help solve it, say scientists who found a dreamy nap boosts creative powers.They tested whether “incubating” a problem allowed a flash of insight, and found it did, especially when people entered a phase of sleep known as REM.

Volunteers who had entered REM or rapid eye movement sleep – when most dreams occur – were then better able to solve a new problem with lateral thinking.Β  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published the US work.

“We propose that REM sleep is important for assimilating new information into past experience to create a richer network of associations for future use”

These findings reinforce the need to tackle complex issues – such as those prevalent in strategic innovation – over the course of two or more days.Β  While the body is sleeping, the brain is processing, and that means that people return to the issues better equipped.

The findings also have an unexpected payback for office workers who are bored to tears with mundane roles.Β  Armed with the above research, they can awake from a mid-afternoon desk slumber, ready with the defense: “I was problem solving.”

Hard at work - solving problems

The Yes Men do it again – newspapers from the future

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a great fan of creating fake newspaper front pages from the future.Β  They are very effective at positioning people to think differently about how the future could be, and what decisions lie ahead.

Last week, The Yes Men did it again, and printed a fake IHT from December 19th 2009 to illustrate the decisions facing the Copenhagen Climate conference.Β  Read all about it here.

Recommended Book – “Weird Ideas That Work”

I recently stumbled across a book by Bob Sutton called Weird Ideas That Work (and subtitled how to build a creative company).

It’s interesting because it does not have the word ‘innovation’ on the cover.

It’s interesting because it’s written by a guy who wrote a book called “Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense” (he also wrote the “No Arsehole Rule,” which surely must go down in history as the best title ever given to a business book.)

It’s interesting because it’s based on research and observations by a Stanford professor over ten years.

The book is fascinating because it’s not some breathless magazine article extolling the virtues of a fad, or some factoid one-pager from a consultancy group (in my experience nothing pulls your head ten directions quicker than a whole bunch of shallow articles rabbiting on about business trends).

Here’s the summary (I’m still digesting the book):

The three key principles are to increase variance in available knowledge,see old things in new ways, and break from the past.

The weird ideas that aid in implementing those principles are:

  1. Hire smart people who will avoid doing things the same way your company has always done things.
  2. Diversify your talent and knowledge base, especially with people who get under your skin.
  3. Hire people with skills you don’t need yet, and put them in nontraditional assignments.
  4. Use job interviews as a source of new ideas more than as a way to hire.
  5. Give room for people to focus on what interests them, and to develop their ideas in their own way.
  6. Help people learn how to be tougher in testing ideas, while being considerate of the people involved.
  7. Focus attention on new and smarter attempts whether they succeed or not.
  8. Use the power of self-confidence to encourage unconventional trials.
  9. Use “bad” ideas to help reveal good ones.
  10. Keep a balance between having too much and too little outside contact in your creative activities.
  11. Have people with little experience and new perspectives tackle key issues.
  12. Escape from the mental shackles of your organisation’s past successes.

Highly recommended if you are grappling with how your organisation builds an innovation culture while still having people focused on operational goals (which, by their nature, tend to stifle innovation).

Shell Technology Futures

From 2006-2008 I spent the majority of my time working alongside the Shell Gamechanger team in The Hague. It was a fascinating exercise on many fronts.

Firstly I was based in New Zealand and working for Innovaro in London for a client which although had some of it’s team in The Hague, could meet anywhere in the world.Β  Inevitably London and The Hague worked fine for us, although Houston or Bangalore would have equally fine. Personally Europe worked well for me as I could regularly visit Singapore on the way – a city with a firm view on the future (but that’s another story).

Secondly, as an organisation Shell is arguably the best user of scenarios in the world. Innovaro’s Technology Futures programme dovetailed into – and fed – the scenario development.Β  Innovaro ran the programme in 2004, again in 2007 and there should be another update in 2010.

The Technology Futures programme built a view of the impact of technology on society in the next twenty years. To construct something that was robustΒ  – but still captured enough leading edge thinking – was a detailed process.Β  the summary is as follows : identify which adjacent sectors can impact upon the core business (either postively or negatively), seek out the subject matter experts in these sectors, gather them together for a week and then synthesise the output of the sessions.

We assembled a huge variety of people – from those who are pioneering the creation of life from scratch, to Mars roboticists and architects that are designing massive new green cities in China (the workshops are held under Chatham House rules which means that I cannot name the people or organisations that were represented). The conversations that resulted were compelling, intriguing, confronting, dynamic and never dull.

From the discussion we created a view of the world in twenty years time.Β  What is interesting about this view is that we can track everything back to a spark in a peer reviewed journal, or the commentary of a world expert in a certain field.

In this instance there were a series of outputs, the most visible being the book I co-edited and breathed into life (along with Barry Fox of New Scientist fame).Β  The book is also the only publicly accessible output from the programme, and you can download it here (5MB PDF).

The book is also the only publication to leave Shell without being edited by the PR department and as such is an untouched view of the Technology Futures programme.

The Innovaro Futures programmes are a proven way of seeking out white space opportunities for organisations looking to find new high-growth businesses, but they are also applicable at a macro level.Β  Innovaro has been talking to Governments about the possibility of running the programme at a country level, and this would be a natural fit for the process.

People get intrigued by the programme, but in the interests of blogging brevity I will close this post.Β  Howewver if you are interested to know more, please drop me a mail (now *at*