A Fearless Brexit: Part Two (How to Dream Big)

Richard Wallace

Last week we imagined what it might look like if Britain itself was a client of Fearlessly Frank, and how our innovation process might have changed the outcome of the Brexit process. Can the rules that define a successful business define a successful nation, too?

We answered the question with a post about the necessity of building a solid foundation of research and analysis before starting any large-scale project, as reflected in the Dig Deep phase of our Fearlessly Frank Thinking process.

But now, in the second part of our five-part blog series, we ask: what happens next? Once you have your research and stats, and once you’ve combined it with insight and analysis, how do you begin to translate it into an actionable plan?

We, those familiar with our five-step process will know that the next crucial step is to Dream Big – to draw a bold, wild, unconventional solution that may or may not be possible, but which is undeniably the ideal outcome. For a brand, that might be the ultimate expression of their company vision, or a simulation of how their business might capitalise if, say, they launched a new proprietary tech product, disrupted their sector, and changed the typical behaviours and habits of their entire audience.

For a country, it might be harder to reach a consensus about what success looks like – but it still must be attempted. Why? Well, look at how we’ve approached Brexit so far. There was some Big Dreaming on both sides of the debate. The campaigns for both Leave and Remain have been dogged by accusations of dishonesty, the most famous example being the notorious Brexit bus, which suggested we send “£350 million” a week back to the NHS – only for this figure to later be revealed as a mistake.

In other words, the entire vote was a battle fought amid a smog of uncertainty, both sides shouting louder every time the outlook got that little bit foggier. The facts were mutable; there was a sense that nobody really understood the game they were playing, allowing the slickest communicators to seize hold of the narrative.

With so much division, conflict and one-upmanship defining the discourse, no consensus was ever reached about what “the perfect Brexit” might actually look like. Some want an immediate, hard Brexit; some want to remain in the EEC; some want the Norway option; some want a second referendum.

If Britain in 2019 was a client of ours, the Fearlessly Frank Thinking process would help to avert some of the worst of these divisions, by asking what a ‘perfect’ solution would look like – as in, a solution based on our strengths and weaknesses as a nation, not one dictated by compromises, political roadblocks, or pragmatism. What would work best for the country, in an ideal world? What are the big answers that everybody is too focussed on the day-to-day delivery of Brexit – the procuring of medicines, the aligning of supply chains, the “business as usual” stuff – to see? Would the answer be a modern Industrial Revolution – a FinTech revolution, for example? Could Britain reposition itself as the new global home of Bitcoin, blockchain, and grassroots challenger banks? Or would we lead the way as environmental pioneers, renting our shore-space to Europe to construct new ultra-efficient and unobtrusive wind turbines? Would we ask our great modern British artists – Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gilbert and George, Anish Kapoor – to design them, creating a new British icon in the process?

Or should we find a way to harness the thing that every other country associates with Britishness more than anything – the endless, constant rain? If Britain was able to somehow turn a light, insistent drizzle into a renewable energy source, we could find a standalone, but mutually co-operative, new position on the world stage by becoming a provider of vital and sustainable services to a world that desperately needs action on climate. Some may point out that these eventualities are broadly impossible, either politically or practically. Maybe so, but this kind of speculation is useful. Having an eventual destination – even an impossible one – helps unpack the difficult questions, sketch out the next stages of the project, and also clarifies the objectives of the mission that’s about to be undertaken. One of Brexit’s biggest flaws so far is simply that nobody can agree what getting it right looks like – because there is no common goal at the end of the journey. Before you can make something happen (more on that next week) you need to know where you want to go and how you want it to look. And that can only be done with real imagination.

Imagination combines with the insurmountable to illuminate opportunity. It guides the way to the methods that are actually possible and practicable. Which is why we should have Dreamed Big before Article 50 was invoked – not afterwards (and why we should have done it in the context of research and analysis.) There’s no such thing as an impossible brief, even one as complex and politically charged as Brexit – but by jumping in with a fuzzy idea of what success looks like, those leading the charge have found that they’re rushing not into the future, but into a thick fog. And what good is a Brexit bus if you can’t see where it’s going?