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?

What if your client was the UK and your brief was Brexit?

Richard Wallace

As Brexit looms, Fearlessly Frank have set ourselves a challenge — how would we have done it? We’re a company that excels in big changes, and managing leaps into the unknown for maximum impact. We believe change is a necessary way to grow and seize new opportunities — but that change has to be done correctly, or else you end up with something of a crisis on your hands.

If Britain itself was one of our clients, how would we be utilising our Fearlessly Frank Thinking process to give the country a lucrative and successful future?

Join us for a series of five blog posts in which we take the UK through our five-step process for successful innovation. If you’re reading this Theresa, maybe grab a pen and paper…

Dig deep

The first stage of our innovation process is Dig Deep. Any innovation project requires research in order to get the best possible results, so we begin by delving into your industry, your consumer base, your competitors, and your product.

This step is absolutely crucial, and one of the main reasons why Brexit appears a little chaotic is because, well, the government simply missed this vital stage altogether.

If you cast your mind back, the whole thing started with a gamble. David Cameron, who called the referendum, was clearly banking on a Remain vote — and when that didn’t happen, things got a bit, well, weird. Because nobody had really planned for a Leave vote beforehand, this imperative research stage was not started until the process was already underway. Big mistake.

It meant Cameron had a strategy for the vote, but no foundation for executing the results.

You wouldn’t attempt to grow your business if you weren’t sure of the marketplace. So why would a country attempt to transform itself without adequate preparations?

How would food supply chains be affected by a Brexit vote? How would we ensure medical supplies and emergency equipment were still available in the event of a No Deal exit? How would the backstop issue work?

The problems we read about every day in the paper were simply not foreseen, because the vote was being implemented on the fly.  Had more research been done beforehand, these questions could have been answered before the point of no return.

Instead, we found ourselves on the back foot at the negotiating table — because you can’t retrofit your strategy. Your strategy needs to grow organically from an objective, and an objective needs to come from a genuine need, whether that’s a customer need or the needs of the electorate.

We’re not taking sides here—a result is a result. The catastrophic issues we’re now facing are not products of the vote itself, but the products of poor (or nonexistent) planning. Had the UK been one of our clients, the Dig Deep phase of our Fearlessly Frank Thinking process would have allowed us to research the possible outcomes and unseen issues in advance, so that a solid plan of action could be drawn up before Article 50 was triggered. This is, quite plainly, the absolute foundation stone of any attempt to put your country — or your business — through a fundamental step-change.

Every business feels that a fundamental change to their future revenue stream — which is exactly what the country has invited by leaving its main trading bloc — is something of a leap of faith, and for that reason, many businesses are unwilling to take the risk in the first place. But in order to innovate and grow, change is necessary. Just because it’s a leap of faith, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to figure out where you’re going to land.

The important thing for a business that wants to innovate is that its evolution has a strategy that is based on solid foundations of research, data-driven insight and strategic forecasting.

A country is no different — any entity, whether its a business or a nation, must Dig Deep, or else it may find itself in a shallow grave.

Join us next week as we move onto phase 2, Dream Big — how could the UK have envisioned a wholesale change to its identity in a way that is consistent with successful innovation?

We took over The Drum’s cyber-warfare issue to discuss why the best defence is innovation

Richard Wallace

From The Drum:

 

The new issue of The Drum, which ponders the marketer’s role in cyber wars of the future, is out now, with an amazing cover by Fearlessly Frank that asks the question: “If a single drone can shut down major airports, what could it do to your favourite marketing magazine?” Have a look and pick up a copy over at The Drum store. In the meantime, the innovation consultancy’s strategy director Blackett Ditchburn looks at how the armed forces could benefit from innovation.

Pick any defence policy document published in the last five years, and it will thoroughly examine everything that is wrong with how the UK is defending itself from its enemies. Such public self-flagellation is a sign that all is not well with our defence forces and their procurement systems.

One word recurs with frequency in those documents: innovation. But it’s used loosely, rarely defined. It’s really used as a synonym for ‘it’s a big problem and we don’t know what we’re going to do, but when a bright idea comes along, we’ll buy it really cheap and the problem will go away’.

As weapon systems proliferate and become more expensive, and more complex, our nation’s defenders don’t know what they need to buy, and by the time they’ve bought one, it’s obsolete.

Overlay this with the opportunities that digital technologies are offering our enemies, and running the armed forces suddenly looks like the very definition of a poisoned chalice.

We have well-funded armed forces (the UK is second in the world after the US in the global league table of per head spend) which are being challenged to get ahead of the game, and don’t look like they’re succeeding.

And here’s where the nation’s defence begins to look just like many large businesses and their innovation efforts.

To be in innovation consultancy is to listen endlessly to big corporation executives lambasting their employers for their inability to innovate before the downward spiral begins. As times get tough, the first job is to cut costs. Then to do the same thing a bit more.

Then to put pressure on advertising and marketing to ‘be more innovative’. So, communication gets a bit more strident, and media reach and frequency declines but performance is massaged to pretend that nothing has changed – despite a huge cut in budgets and a change in appointed agencies.

Finally, someone tells the emperor that he has no clothes, and says the only option is sustained innovation in earnest pursuit of profitable revenue. Except the cost cutting of the last ten years means there’s no money left so could this initiative double forecast revenue in the next quarter please… and beat that new, disruptive and well-funded startup.

The forces innovation dilemma

The dynamics may be different, but those in charge of defending our nation find themselves grappling very similar issues that stem from living in a bubble from which it is hard to escape. Joint Forces Command – the bit of government bureaucracy that is responsible for ‘preparing the Joint Forces for the future with capabilities and thought leadership’ – finds itself in a bit of a bind. On the one hand it is criticised for its budget overruns and earnest policy wonks tell it to ‘be more innovative’. But on the other, they are told to also follow tighter and more draconian procurement procedures.

These demand sophisticated risk-assessed cost-benefit analyses and lowest-cost open tenders. In consequence, there is no money to be innovative. No money to invent radically different future scenarios against which to create the weapon of the future. No money to try new ideas to form part of a journey towards world defence leadership. No money unless the outcome is guaranteed.

In such an environment true innovation – where by definition the answer isn’t known until towards the end of the game – doesn’t stand a chance. Apple couldn’t know with certainty that the iPod, and iTunes, would make it the financial powerhouse it is today. But it took the risk.

A kind of risk that is impossible to even contemplate inside the head office of our defence forces. So, they stick to what they know, leaving the innovation to our enemies – and hope that if something happens they can respond quickly. But since doing nothing costs nothing, the risk of doing nothing is never assessed with any real quality of thought.

Politics’ first job is to provide all citizens with security. As terrorism incidents and evidence of cyber manipulation show, someone needs to point out that it’s time for real innovation. We need to be ahead of the game, not merely responsive if we’re to reassure the population that they’re safe. Expensive bombs and fearsome tanks aren’t a lot of use when faced with misleading information or everyday objects converted to weapons.

The digital shift

What we must defend against has changed irrevocably in the light of the digital revolution. The purpose of so much global malevolence isn’t to win territory, as it was in the past, but to destabilise the enemy such that the perpetrator is in a better, stronger position.

Russia probably doesn’t want to occupy Europe – but it most certainly wants it destabilised so it tears itself apart and the sanctions it imposes break down. This kind of shift in the very nature of the threat we face demands, logically enough, a shift in what we use to defend ourselves. That means innovation and change – both of which are systemically absent from our current approach to defence.

Cyber warfare in particular cuts at the very heart of what defence really means: is it possible to achieve global advantage for a country through cyber means only? Is that what Vladimir Putin was seeking over the USA in his alleged fake news attempts through social media?

And if that’s how the game will be played, and it proves effective, where does that leave conventional bombs and bullets? Is a bloodless takeover of a state becoming possible?

If President Trump promised the Venezuelan people that he’d make their country the 51st state of America, would they say yes?

If a post-Brexit world became really messy, and the UK population lost all faith in the politicians to find a way out, would that create fertile conditions for enemies (both terrorists and other nation states) to gain advantage? Maybe even offer a more stable, coherent and popular leadership alternative?

Such examples may be a bit farfetched, but they’re colourful possibilities.

The moment seems ripe for long hard look at how we choose to defend ourselves. It needs to start with a creative and thorough examination of our society in the light of the changes flowing through the world. And then, from the ground up, redesign how we respond in terms of defending ourselves, and promoting our interests around the world. To do so requires the entrenched behaviours of the current defence establishment to be thoroughly challenged.

If our armed forces are to avoid major revision at the hands of less-than-expert politicians concerned at the burden on the public purse, then they must innovate, and innovate well.

No structure or practice can be left unchallenged. Why do we have a separate Army, Navy, and Air Force? Is there a justification for such a structure in today’s environment, or do we simply continue to support a nostalgic fantasy of those in charge? Within our defence structure, who is responsible for looking after the virtual realm? Is it OK that GCHQ is only semi-integrated?

Now is the time for the UK’s defence effort to learn to innovate – and in doing so challenge itself to its very foundations.

Not unlike the challenge faced by many big corporations.

Blackett Ditchburn is strategy director at Fearlessly Frank,the agency behind the covert takeover of The Drum magazine’s latest cover. In the new issue, we take a look at the role of our industry in a world where humdrum technology and everyday communication have become weaponised, from our smart homes being hacked and our fridges held to ransom to fake news and deepfakes having far-reaching ramifications for global politics. You can buy your copy here.

Can big data be used not just for profit, but for good?

Richard Wallace

Every company wants to make a profit – but what’s perhaps rarer, and even more valuable, is the company that also wants to make a difference.

Recently the Elon Musk-backed OpenAI project unveiled – or partially unveiled – a machine-learning platform that can automatically generate news reports and even literary fiction so convincing that the company themselves have refused to make the technology publicly available. In an era of fake news, with platforms like Facebook under increasing scrutiny for the real-world implications of its technology, the potential ramifications of OpenAI’s text-generating platform were deemed simply too dangerous and unpredictable to release into the wrong hands.

Whether or not this act of corporate restraint was a clever stunt, it was enough to make headlines – and raise eyebrows. The fears surrounding new technology is often justified, but the question that was buried beneath all the consternation was that of corporate responsibility. If a large tech venture believes itself to have a responsibility to not release a potentially destabilising piece of technology, does it also have a responsibility to use its tech clout for active good in the world? Should companies like Amazon and Google, which use highly powerful data manipulation to change and encourage our consumption habits and even our emotions, be honour-bound to use that data for more than just profit-generation?

For all the criticism that he receives personally and professionally, Elon Musk would presumably argue that it does. After all, his most well-known ventures – SpaceX, Tesla and The Boring Company – have, at their hearts, big social ambitions and a belief that positive change can come through innovation (and that everyone in America should have an awesome flamethrower.) Google, similarly, has Google X, also dubbed The Moonshot Factory – a secret R&D division that incubates innovative tech solutions for the benefit of mankind. If we soon find ourselves in a world where Wi-Fi enabled hot air balloons rove the lonely skies, allowing those in the most remote climes and communities on the planet—from the Sahara to the ice-deserts of the poles—to access their Kindle Cloud Reader, we may well have Project Loon to thank, and Google for helping get it off the ground.

If a cynical mind could argue that global internet connectivity funded by the world’s biggest internet company might not count as an entirely selfless gesture, they could look beyond Google to Rezatec, which is committed to using data to solve even bigger social problems that might not even occur to profit-driven companies. Just as Facebook has the power to manipulate human emotions through the careful deployment of data, so too does Rezatech believe that data can achieve wholly positive ends through geospatial technology – whether that’s monitoring wildfires from space, working with Bristol Water to manage water catchments, or teaming up with SIAP and the UK Space Agency to help improve crop yields for Mexican farmers.

Unicef, too, now invests in diversified tech portfolios designed to specifically aid children. With an investment focus on infrastructure, products for youth, real-time information, and knowledge products, Unicef has helped fund projects in 38 countries, from Spain’s Dymaxion Labs to Argentina’s Cireha. That means that a key part of Unicef’s development work now funds objectives as diverse as mapping global infrastructure (just like Rezatech) and developing products like the Cboard, a communication interface to help children and adults communicate who do not have the ability to use their voices.

Of course, while Unicef and Rezatech are companies specifically designed to focus on change for good, Google is a company which has found wild success in the commercial consumer space, and are now using some of their vast profits to develop more socially-conscious ventures. The question of what the future of corporate responsibility looks like also has a third option, somewhere in between the two extremes: the company which specifically incorporates both profit-making and social improvement into its offering. No company currently exists which can honestly claim to fit this model, but with every new generation, consumers are putting higher and higher pressure on companies to provide more than convenience or luxury – but to actively contribute more to the world than they take. With climate change a growing – and in some circles, positively seething – concern, and the shortcomings of hyper-capitalism increasingly mainstream as a political ideology, there is a chance that the success stories of tomorrow will need to feel both a moral and a financial imperative in order to win consumer trust.

One way that we’re already seeing that mindset take root in the corporate world is through the B Corporation, a voluntary status that conscientious businesses can apply for. B corps – which include famously progressive ice-cream giants Ben and Jerry’s and crowdfunding platform Kickstarter – are held to higher standards than traditional companies, pledging to minimise their environmental emissions and treat their employees as, well, people. “They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and  the environment,” says the official B corp site. Considering the controversy that currently surrounds Amazon’s working conditions – as well as those imposed by gig-economy players like Deliveroo and Uber – this may be a way for companies to differentiate themselves from less scrupulous competitors. The B corp upends the traditional narrative of ruthless profiteering and replaces it with a more harmonious vision, in which big business can learn to leave small footprints. With that in mind, will we eventually see a marketplace in which a more environmentally sustainable company is a more financially sustainable one?

Here’s hoping. If innovation can’t change our lives for the better – if it is simply confined to making some angel speculator richer than Croesus – then what’s the point of it all?

After all, true innovation is step-change, not iteration. If we can’t rethink our relationship with how corporate entities and for-profit organisations interact, or imagine a landscape in which the two might have unified aims, then we’re probably thinking too small. That’s why the proliferation of companies with a drive to help us, rather than hold us back, is immensely heartening. There is saying we keep close to our hearts at Fearlessly Frank, with regards to what a forward-thinking company should look like: Make a profit, not a killing. If every entrepreneur all took a little of that mindset into their next venture, then we’d be writing a more radical future than a prose-generating computer ever could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the next Facebook, Google or Amazon will start in FinTech – but end up selling groceries

Richard Wallace

“How can we be like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, or Google?”

Find any tech start-up the world over and you’ll find them asking the same thing. It’s the million-dollar question – or should that be multi-billion dollar?

These four companies have cast a long shadow over the world of tech. And given that Apple in particular is now officially the wealthiest company to have ever existed, it’s hardly a surprise that smaller companies want to emulate them.

But with hundreds of thousands of new start-up ventures launched every year, where will the next big success story come from?

Well, if we could predict that, we’d be writing this blog from our gold-plated yacht in the Azures. But you don’t need a crystal ball to see where the market is likely heading, and for what it’s worth, our money is on a rapidly-growing, and hugely exciting, new category: FinTech.

There is good reason to expect FinTech to provide fertile ground for disruption. Open banking, the ubiquity of mobiles, and massive post-recession distrust of banks (as high as 92% among millennials) means there is a genuine consumer need to be met: “if the computer in my pocket can change the way I shop, why can’t it change the way I bank?”

The explosive growth of Monzo proves that we have no issue trusting challenger banks with our money. But so far, while Monzo and Transferwise – some of the most successful FinTech companies to date – may be a minor threat to Barclays, they’re not only competing with Barclays. They’re also competing with the likes of Facebook or Google – and they’re still a long way from that kind of dominance.

When you compare them to smaller companies, the success of the Big Four really starts to look dauntingly unique. But while they have found wild success, the reason why is no secret. In fact Professor Scott Galloway, of New York University Stern School of Business, has written a book – The Big Four – which aims to analyse just that.

And based on his insights, one particular a rule-of-thumb comes to mind: we shouldn’t think of the Big Four as “tech pioneers.” In fact, let’s not think of them as “tech” at all. Not anymore, at least.

While each of the Big Four began in its own modest way, providing small-scale online services or consumer goods, the real meat of their business has revolved around diversity and adaptation.

They have been nimble enough to move into new categories – Amazon, for example, now provides not just the cheap books and CDs it once did, but all kinds of consumer goods. And groceries. And web services. And – in the near future – perhaps even pharmaceuticals.

And it has moved from bookselling into publishing, with Amazon’s e-book services completely upending the traditional publishing industry and creating a self-publishing revolution.

Facebook, too, has moved into publishing – predominantly news and media. It’s gone from a fun way of staying in touch with friends and family to one of the world’s biggest sources of news: in fact, for 22% of Americans, it’s their only source of news, and is now a sizeable influence on how we think and see the world.

Meanwhile Apple has ensured that it operates as much as a luxury consumer brand as a tech brand – a coveted label, like Louis Vuitton, whose customers pay for the name and design more than the actual capability of the product. This approach has been so prudent that Apple’s turnover is now twice Louis Vuitton’s.

And Google has become, along with Facebook, one of the world’s biggest advertisers – Palo Alto’s resident multimedia empire brought in a whopping $79 billion in ad revenue in 2016. Add that to Facebook’s revenue and the two platforms between them were responsible for a fifth of all global ad revenue that year.

This is how you build a brand to last. Sure, the Big Four had vital products to begin with – which may be the first step for anyone hoping to follow them to the top – but they also explored business ideas and areas that complimented their core offerings rather than directly related to them – and in some cases, areas that bore no relation at all, such as Amazon’s pivot into the grocery and web service markets. This type of big, wild, innovative thinking has proved massively lucrative – web services now makes up around 70% of Amazon’s total revenue.

This is why FinTech is just crying out for the next unicorn to emerge from its midst. There is a customer need – a vital product – at the heart of many FinTech platforms, as evidenced by their rapid growth. But that’s just the start.

Their potential is to create a service that a variety of businesses and individuals can plug into, as Amazon has done (Netflix runs on Amazon Web Services, for example, meaning their customers range from self-published erotic fiction writers to streaming giants).

Banking is a big, convoluted industry, and for a company to nail a single platform that both simplifies and maximises the average user’s relationship to the world of finance – while sitting at the heart of a product ecosystem – the rewards will be astronomical.

What would this product look like? Well, again: yacht, Azures. But we firmly believe that players in the FinTech space should be thinking about the unification of services. That may be plugging insurance, investing, pensions, money-management, travel exchange and home equity into a single manageable interface, or it may be using big data to reduce car insurance premiums, match individuals with brokers (“Lendr”?) or offer group discounts on pricey consumer goods. Or perhaps it’s simply the ability for consumers to pick and choose financial products on an individual basis, rather than as part of a high-street package – giving them the ability to buy individual bags of crisps, as it were, rather than multi-packs when they already know they won’t be eating the cheese and onion.

The possibilities are endless – and already there are businesses brewing up financial offerings in far more detail than we are. The point is, anybody doing so should be thinking a little differently, and considering how they’re going to provide longevity and real value to their business as well as early growth. Because it seems that the days of doing one thing well are pretty much over, and the most stable businesses are the ones taking the biggest risks.

Did you enjoy this post? Then be sure to stay tuned for our next Unframing video, where we’ll be diving even deeper into the future of finance.

 

So, you want to work in innovation?

Richard Wallace

This week Fearlessly Frank co-founder Ben Little talks pitching madcap ideas to Royal Mail and why he had to leave ad-land for good…

In a recent interview with one bright and optimistic potential candidate, the conversation of career change came up and I was asked two questions; the first was, “what is innovation?” (good question) and the second was, “how does someone cross the bridge from doing marketing and communication services to doing innovation?”

Here’s how the conversation went…

When you think of ‘innovation’, what do you think of? The word sparks a lot of debate, especially these days, as the industry of innovation consultancies and agencies moves from a gaseous state to a solid state. A space now occupied by everyone and everything from ad agencies to management consultancies, a lot of people are making their claim, and more people than ever are banging on our door saying, ‘I want to work in Innovation’.

An easy place to start, is at home. Fearlessly Frank is an innovation consultancy. We are not a marketing and communications company, nor a PR agency, nor are we a management consultancy. When we talk about innovation, we talk about the creation of future earnings-enhancing revenue through propositions and methods not currently used. Simply put, we help companies make more money — not incrementally, but fundamentally. We answer far-reaching questions such as “what will you be selling in ten years’ time, to who, and how?” And we’re measured against it. We bring the entrepreneurial gene and the conditions to think in new ways into organisations that have become overly occupied by ‘business as usual’.

So how about that bridge?

My career began in a global American advertising agency, making tea and binding pitch documents, and I loved it; being on the frontline meant I was always working with the best people and I was always learning. With each pitch came an opportunity to play a role, and before long I was ‘allowed’ to speak up and add a point-of-view.

The first pitch I presented in was to Royal Mail. At the end of a two-hour presentation with enough polyboard to build a house, I was given a three-minute slot to contribute ‘something a little different’.

I had this crazy idea that if Royal Mail wrote to every house in the country and gave them a Royal Mail email address, they could compete with Hotmail in market-share within months: your house name or street name with number@royalmail.co.uk.

I was 19 and very proud, and then one of the clients spoke up: ‘Email is the enemy’. Swiftly brushed under the carpet, I witnessed a series of nostalgic scripts re-presented, designed to show the audience the emotional depth of a Clintons birthday card, and everyone was happy.

The truth was, my idea was only ever going to be a bit of theatre; even the biggest agency on the planet (at the time) couldn’t deliver an idea that different. Nor did they need to. They never thought in creative ideas that solve business problems; they thought in billings and awards. I loved working there and I never gave up on pushing my ‘crazy ideas’, but in my heart I knew I was always going to have to leave — not just the agency but ad land all together.

Two agencies and eight years later, I did just that and founded Fearlessly Frank with my partner Wayne Guthrie. No more IPA, no more Cannes, no more Campaign. We were alone. It was scary, but it was great.

My bridge into innovation was a journey of blind optimism, supported by fantastic mentors, all great thinkers and entrepreneurs, daring clients, supporting us, believing in us and our way of thinking. It was unstructured, uncharted and experimental.

Today, things feel a little more consistent. We have a fine-tuned a process, a methodology, tools, systems and great people who do fantastic work. Every month brings new challenges, and often new team members. In the early days, finding people that could do what we do was hard. But today, in an agile world occupied by more entrepreneurial thinking than the industrial revolution, it’s getting easier.

Today, we look for patterns of behaviour. In my mind, the people capable of crossing the bridge come in a few forms:

The advertising industry has always attracted bright opportunists. I worked with some of the best; so bright they could have done anything. But they chose advertising, the noble profession that allowed freedom of thought; a profession that held top table C-suite relationships. But in the World we live in today, advertising is a commodity and creativity is undervalued. Formally commercial creativity under-utilised many exceptional people who thought beyond advertising, I’d argue these people might have more luck, more fun and find greater opportunity working in innovation.

The daring and the different are the people who think like entrepreneurs, who spot things others don’t, and are often mad enough to start something, build something, change something. Our clients value people who have done stuff, built things, and have the scars to prove it.

Finally, the deep and observant. We innovate not from the point of technological capability but from the point of consumer pain-points and demand. If you can understand people, you can innovate. The people who take the time to pause and look around, challenge what’s happening now and think about what might be, are invaluable to our clients.

Regardless of who you are, the skills you bring, or your desire to work in innovation, there is something I learnt and truly believe, and that’s that you can’t do it from within another industry such as marketing and communication services (especially advertising).

I’m a big subscriber to Govindaraja’s three box solution and, in truth, it’s as applicable to the aspiring innovator as it is to the companies we help innovate: in order to transform you, have first have to manage the core. Then, you have to abandon the past. Only then, can you invent the future.

So, you want to work in innovation?

Ben Little is co-founder of innovation consultancy Fearlessly Frank. 

Computer Says Yes – FF founder Wayne Guthrie on fintech and banking on change

Richard Wallace

We’re all obsessed with tools – and the one that revolutionizes the banking industry is likely to be just around the corner, argues Wayne Guthrie in this week’s FF blog.

Technology’s potential to make retail banking simpler, safer, more accessible or at the very least, more useful, is widely acknowledged.

So why isn’t it happening?

Just over ten years on from the biggest financial meltdown since…well, since the last one, we’re all still waiting for change to happen.

However, all we’ve really witnessed so far is the world’s longest and most expensive apology, in the form of a seemingly shared strategy of austerity. Let’s call it the ‘we care about you, we really do’ line of communication.

Trouble is, in the wake of such difficult times, talk – however sincere – just isn’t enough.

The only thing that can atone for past mistakes, restore public confidence or have any hope of fostering lost loyalty, is action. A clear and powerful demonstration that lessons have been learned and everything possible is being done to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

‘New’ products and services with catchy names won’t do. Flexible opening hours, instant access to emergency cash for lost or stolen cards, cash-back schemes and online support are not innovative ideas based on relevant insight. They’re merely examples of adequate customer service.

The people demand change. And if traditional retail banks don’t innovate to deliver it, others will. In fact, they already are.

Amazon, eBay and Spotify didn’t come out of nowhere. They were built quickly on opportunities that retailers and record companies didn’t recognize. Or did, but didn’t take seriously enough to invest in.

With PayPal, Square, Adyen, Monzo and various cryptocurrencies already offering us new ways to pay, businesses like Lending Club and Funding Circle are providing new models for peer to peer lending. And with fees redefining the current account, change isn’t so much on the horizon as it is in the room and looking a lot like an uncomfortable elephant.

Right now, someone who’ll be a household name by 2021 is working on something that will evolve the current landscape of retail banking and change the way people behave in the process.

Not because this as-yet-unknown has access to a crystal ball, but simply because they – whoever they are – have taken the time to think about the present, mine for insights and re-imagine the way we live with money.

So, what are the people working on alternatives and solutions thinking about?

Probably big data and mobile for starters – two of the most potent drivers of the innovation we’re about to see, and the two that are inextricably linked. And you can throw in AI as well, which has the potential to hugely impact the way we spend, save, invest, and think about our cash.

Our obsession with tools is what makes us human. And whether it’s a chisel that releases an angel from marble or a gun that reinforces foreign policy, our favourite tools are those that help us make things happen.

So it should come as no surprise that data became one of the world’s most valuable commodities the moment most of us achieved constant fingertip access to a smart phone.

A deep knowledge of your customers’ habits and the fact many of them are now equipped with the most powerful communication tool in history must surely mean banking is about to become a highly efficient and almost invisible presence.

A kind of rational fiscal intuition fuelled by our own behaviour that will help us spend more wisely, travel more safely and consistently get better value.

In simple terms, another version of ourselves that is really, really good with money.

The importance of this happening, and fast, is crucial as we know that in the post-digital present, only companies capable of ‘communing’ as well as ‘communicating’ with their customers will survive, meet market expectations and prosper.

Let’s consider some relevant examples. Our banks know if we travel abroad frequently and where we go when we do.

So how refreshing would it be to receive a message informing you that due to your native currency hitting a six-month high against the Euro/Dollar/Peso your bank has purchased a sum on your behalf for use on your next trip?

They could call it ‘Funny Money’ because every time you hit reply to accept the transaction, you’re laughing.

Likewise, when faced with the ultimate sweater, the only thing we should be thinking about his how magnificent we’ll look in it at the next party, job interview or X-Factor audition, not worrying over whether or not we are paying too much.

Our banks could and should come shopping with us, advise us on how to afford what we want and supply an instant analysis of the effect each purchase will have on our personal bottom line.

All while seeking better deals based on an instant knowledge of our location or more favourable prices online.

Banks could also be the first marketers to really harness social media as an enabler of innovation.

Imagine a social media platform – let’s call it Goal – that lets friends and family team up to access group savings deals, funding everything from vacations to weddings or even higher education.

Or take it a step further. Imagine connecting anonymously with other bank customers who have similar purchase or investment ‘Goals’. Suddenly, you’d no longer have to settle for the TV you can afford, because you’ve joined with hundreds or thousands of others to demand a better price on the one you want.

These thumbnail sketches and thought bubbles are merely a taste – a peek through the curtains into the bright light of what is possible and necessary if our banks are to not just make their retail offering reliable, sincere and personal again, but more nuanced, more intimate and essential than we ever imagined possible.

To be sure, the challenges involved with realizing the potential of technology and the Internet (now that we are finally starting to understand both and their consequences) are numerous and often steep, but we must never believe them to be insurmountable.

The talent, energy and enthusiasm are all there.

It’s just a matter of the sector encouraging and empowering talented people to develop innovative ideas, and in the process, allowing themselves as organisations to embrace the natural levels of risk involved with testing and executing these ideas for the benefit of their customers.

Only then will we be able to rely on an established name, as opposed to a radical and fleet of foot newcomer, to set the standard in what must surely be the most exciting period for development and growth the sector has seen for generations.

Wayne Guthrie is co-founder of Fearlessly Frank – an innovation consultancy that helps businesses develop and take to market ideas that drive revenue and growth.