Category Archives: Resources

Silver bullets and other mythical creatures

I started writing this post 5 years ago. It was a post on the Hilton Barbour blog about Silver Bullets that originally got me thinking, but the post stayed stuck in that neverland of unreleased world-changing ideas called ‘drafts’.

A discussion about a new project I saw in my company reminded me that I had written something about this. Perhaps I could point to a nascent post from years past to demonstrate my insight. Alas, not.

I never posted it, so instead of pointing to wisdom and foresight, it stays reactionary. Unless that is you are reading this in 2022 and think, “smart guy – he saw this 5 years ago”. Even if this happened, I think I’d still be frustrated that I didn’t publish in 2012 and look insightful by a whole decade.

Anyway … time to ‘publish and be damned’.

The myth of the Silver Bullet.

Those mythical solutions that fix all known problems.

Perhaps we could write a list of attributes that companies can test their projects and ideas against – the Magic Bullet test.

Does it …?

  • Save money
  • Save time
  • Increase efficiency
  • Provide a competitive advantage over any other choice
  • Connect A to B and C and D
  • Simplify everything
  • … and so on … until you realise this list is essentially ‘solves all our problems’

For now, ignore the cost … because this will be BIG.

Magic bullets are never cheap, but hey, against those benefits it must be good value for money. Yes, it means that a load of other things won’t happen, but this project is going to solve ALL our problems.

Check your project against the list and if you get a high enough score which can mean it solves all our problems – then DING – you have a magic bullet project.

At that point, the smart people should stand up, bring the discussion back into the real world and say, “Sir, you have a silver bullet project … we need to stop this madness“.

The smart people won’t of course.

We then enter the real world version of ‘The Emperors New Clothes‘, as it becomes increasingly obvious that the strategy/project has no realistic chance of success, but no one wants to say so. Nobody wants to jinx the plan. And so the dance continues. A chance to define a practical (but less exciting)  solution is missed, time is lost and the failure continues – with the magic bullet sucking up all available budget.

So if you spot what you think is a magic bullet, how do you call it out (without putting your job on the line by questioning this amazing idea)?

Answer: You ask for evidence. You seek validation of the claims.

This can be done in a positive way, but it absolutely needs to be done.

“This is a great idea, but how do we know this will work”.

The response to this will be to dismiss your question, as near heresy, but stay the course … your next point is what matters.

After listening to the response, you come back with the safety value.

“That’s great, so we should expect to see this [add defined outcome] by [date] and [add second outcome] by [second date].

What you are doing is putting in a simple safety value(s) that if this condition is not met you can ensure that the project is subject to the governance as other projects. You are not questioning the project, but merely putting in some simple qualification criteria that it needs to meet. If you are right and the project is anything close to a magic bullet, you will have minimised the cost of failure – or better still, forced a re-evaluation. The good news is that if the project is successful (and you were wrong) then it doesn’t matter – the project can continue.

So what is the point you ask?

Surely there is nothing special or unusual here?

But there is – a characteristic of a magic bullet project is that it typically seeks to exempt itself from measurement and validation. It is that special and important that the normal rules don’t apply. Which is all the more reason that the measurement and validation need to be there.

This all reminds me of The TV program, The Last Leg. Perhaps it would all be so much easier if we gave everyone a bullshit button and let them vote.

Magic bullet program. BULLSHIT.



3 Lessons from the Apollo Program


We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …“.

This iconic speech from John F. Kennedy set the US a clear and ambitious goal of landing a man on the moon.

The date was September 12, 1962.

Many Americans thought the US was losing the space race. The USSR has launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957 and four years later had beaten the US Program Mercury to put a man in space.

The Apollo program achieved its goal, with Neil Armstrong becoming the first man on the moon in 1969 in Apollo 11. This was followed by another five successful landings on the moon, with the last one being in 1972.

The Apollo program wasn’t the start of the space program of course. The US had previously had the Mercury and Gemini programs. What the Apollo program did was raise the profile and the budget of NASA – and critically set a very clear goal.

Whilst the costs appeared huge, with Apollo reported in 1973 as costing $25.4bn (around $150bn in 2017), when we look at these in more detail, particularly in relation to total US spending, the numbers are very small. From 1959 to 1972, NASA represented roughly 2.2% of US federal outlays, with Apollo accounting for about 50% of this, or 1.1% of US total federal outlays. Since 1972, NASA has operated with an average of 0.5% of the total US budget. If NASA funding had been maintained at pre-1972 levels, the US would be investing around $67bn in 2017 rather than the $19.5bn it will actually receive .

If we look at the Apollo program, I think there are some clear lessons that can be learned from this, that apply equally to companies today.

1) Set big bold goals.

If you want to achieve something, set a big bold goal. It needs to be ambitious but achievable. The US was perceived to be behind the USSR, but this is perhaps with confidence rather than technical competence. The US successfully launched the Explorer 1 satellite in 1958 and successfully launched Alan Shepherd into orbit only a little over a month after Yuri Gagarin. Unlike Gagarin’s fully automatic flight, Shepherd had some control of his spacecraft. Amongst modern businesses, Elon Musk’s strategy probably best typifies the modern interpretation of setting big bold goals and exciting visions – across not one industry, but several including software, space transport, solar & battery power, and not least vehicles with Tesla.

2) Hire the best

NASA had a great start with Space Exploration. After World War 2, the US moved about 1600  of the top scientists, engineers and technicians from the Nazi rocket development program to the US. One of the most famous of these, Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, later become the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the moon. Von Braun was noted as taking a cautious approach to engineering, designing in ample safety factors and redundant structure. It was ironically this caution that caused the US to ‘lose’ the space race to put a man in space as Von Braun insisted on additional tests for rocket that would eventually put Alan Shepherd in space, taking up the slot that would have launched Shepherd into space three weeks before Gagarin.

The mantra of hiring the best is now accepted as a core principle at every leading technology company. Although Alphabet (Google) stands out in its positive public promotion of engineering as a discipline, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon all compete vigorously for the best engineering talent. Amongst startup companies, the demonstration of industry leading innovation will accelerate offers to buy companies that have never even made a sales as companies seek to acquire talent that will help them advance past their competition.

3) Invest!

The JFK “We choose to go to the moon” speech was very clear that this ambition was going to require additional investment. Extraordinary outcomes and big bold goals require investment.  The level of funding for NASA during the Apollo period was approximately 4x what was given to NASA after that program finished. Whether this was value for money is a subjective issue, but it was clear that big outcomes require big money. For the US, and most companies, the issue is not funding – it is prioritisation. The US can afford to innovate and invest in NASA. Most companies can afford to invest in initiatives which will allow them to achieve big bold goals, but they are not willing to prioritise these. Instead investments are either spread across a number of projects to reduce risk (often to reduce the risk to individual managers, rather than the company) or potential investment is returned to shareholders as dividends or buybacks to keep the stock price high. This is of course a subjective decision – because doing this prevents the company from investing in programs which could positively transform the value of the company – as a Apollo program did for the US.

Again, this lesson is absolutely understood by today’s technology leaders. Whilst the older established players such as Microsoft and Apple (and IBM, GE, Siemens etc) balance investment with meeting market expectations (and paying dividends), Amazon and Facebook aggressively invest in growth. Amazon in particular is veracious in its investment in new businesses – whether launching new Amazon products such as the Kindle Fire or Alexa, building whole new categories of business such as Amazon Web Services or its continual expansion of its core logistics business – across warehouse expansion, automation through AI and robotics or its vertical expansion into shipping, air freight and local delivery.

As I wrote this post, it became clear that there is another element that is critical – both for the Space Program and for successful companies. A real x-factor. An unquantifiable element that is essential but hard to qualify.

x) An inspiring Leader

I don’t see it as a coincidence that the Apollo program and successful innovative companies all have inspirational leaders. It is almost a truism to state this, but if we examine this a deeper, it is perhaps the most critical element.

Why is this?

Because without the charismatic leader ‘to make the case, to define the vision, to convince the stakeholders, to secure the investment, to rally the troops’, none of this happens.

If no one stands up in Congress, takes on the cause of NASA, makes the case to the American public – then nothing happens.

It is the same in companies too. Unless someone tells the story, shares the vision, paints the dream, then nothing happens. In a company where there is always an opportunity cost, there is always alternative use for the money – whether another project or a dividend.

It is up to the leader to make the case and inspire the vision. If they don’t, the investment doesn’t happen and you allow your competitor to win. The graveyard of failed companies is full of great ideas that were not supported.

JFK’s speech offers some good advice here about how to maximise your success. He made the goal big, bold and clear. It wasn’t to build a better rocket, to drive efficiency in engineering – it was an easily understandable goal – to put a man on the moon. He laid out the scale in easily understandable measures, “as tall as a 48 story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field“. He demonstrated capability to achieve the goal, “Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth. Some 40 of them were “made in the United States of America” and they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.” and he made is relevant to everyone in the audience and did’t shy away from the cost, “I think we’re going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid”. Perhaps most importantly – in fact, absolutely critically – he inspired, “Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.”

This speech has endured as one of the most famous, and important of the 20th Century. Learn from it. Think big. Inspire and define your own moonshot.

The role of a designer is to rethink how the world works

I love this quote.

It comes from a Fast Company article reviewing a book by Kern and Burn.

Short and simple and it sets a high bar on ambition.

If we define a designer in this way though, doesn’t it allow us all to be designers?

I’m not sure that was the intention when it was written, but if you are rethinking ‘how the world works’ then are you really a designer?

You might not know Photoshop, carry a Macbook and or wear expensive black t-shirts, but if you are rethinking how the world works are you any less a designer than someone working on redesigning his brothers small business site?

Of course not.

But of course, it doesn’t matter.

Being a designer is a mindset. Just as being an artist is …

Or a writer … Or an interior designer … You could be completely crap at it (and many are), but it doesn’t matter. Creativity and art is by definition subjective. It has to be, else you would be an engineer, defining for function within accepted boundaries of what constitutes normal. Of course, there are highly creative engineers, but you get the idea. It is about pushing boundaries and challenging norms; in short, changing the world.

Sounds good to me.

Gary Burt, Designer

Want change? Stop complaining, start helping

Want to change something?

Stop moaning.

Stop whinging.

Stop complaining.

Instead shift your energies to focus on how you can help.

Seriously. Stop judging, start helping.

Make the change that you want to see more attractive, easier, better paid, simpler … make it the best choice.

You can criticise people for their choices, but it is more likely to cause the other party to defend their position, entrench their views and be resistant to change.

It doesn’t matter what the change is. Put your pride aside. Assign resources into making the change you want to see the best option. This is NOT the same as making the original option less attractive, which is the strategy taken by benefit cuts for example. Making the shift attractive means understanding the real-world blockers to the choice and implementing positive actions to remove these. Over the longer term you can shift resources but don’t do this at the start – it simply alienates the people you want to engage with.

So how can this work in the real world?

The baby box is given free to parents of newborns in Finland provides a brilliant example of this strategy in action. Instead of lecturing new parents, criticising them for what they should or shouldn’t do, it offered help. It shifted from telling to helping. It made this help unconditional. It didn’t mandate it. It didn’t attach conditions. It didn’t lecture. It offered practical help. And it worked. Finland now has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.


So how could this thinking be applied to our current problems?

Example 1 – Obesity

Forget trying to mandate against unhealthy choices. Instead shift energies to positive changes. No VAT on bikes, investment in safe cycle routes. What about safe, secure FREE lockup areas at all public facilities. Make gyms and healthy food cheaper. Free gym places? Free healthy food at school to help develop a change a nations taste buds? What about investment in sports facilities that are affordable to families? Over time, you could increase taxes to fund more changes, but NEVER at the start. Start with the positive first.

Example 2 – Studying science at school (and beyond)

As with obesity, it is hard to know where to start – not because it is hard, but because there are so many potential areas to improve. Start by paying science teachers more. Recruit the best – invest in new labs at schools, provide resources for more engaging lessons focused on hands-on learning. Get rid of the whiteboard and replace these with living learning spaces that put the children’s experience at the centre of your strategy. Provide free science holiday camps so the resources stay utilised. Make university places for science courses free. Provide tax breaks for science graduates who work in a science discipline for 5, 10, 20 years after graduating.

Example 3 – Traffic congestion

The simplest to fix. Invest in public transport and remote working. Stop messing about with high speed broadband installation and devote serious resources to this to make things happen quickly. Public transport doesn’t need to be just affordable, it needs to be clearly the best financial option. That means a big differential between alternatives. So prices need to fall. On rail they need to drop massively. All of this costs money of course, but having snarled roads at rush hour all over the country is sheer stupidity. It is the best example you could find of a system not working. It isn’t a quick fix, but you could make a difference in months.

Can you see the pattern?

Focus on the positive.

Make the shift attractive. Invest your time in the change you want to see, rather than than putting efforts into things that you want to stop. When you shift your thinking to the positive, your problem is not knowing what to do, it is knowing which to do first.

How do you know which one to do?

You try it.

Pilot, trial it, but DO IT.

Be methodical, use research methods, but start and keep going. Adapt, evolve and learn, but don’t make failure an option. Stay positive and refine what works.

Whatever you may hear on TV or in the media, the primary blocker to these happening though is not money or funding. It is political pride and a focus on short termism. 

The examples so far have focused on public policy, but they equally apply to any change. From getting your children to read or swim (incentivise the change and make it attractive to them), to increasing productivity in the workplace (provide great spaces and good tools, trust people and stop micro-managing).

And one final tip.

Be patient.

Very patient.

The results of the Finnish study took a generation to fully appreciate. Changing life choices takes time. Changing any behaviour is a challenge, but not impossible.

Complaining though … you can do that for as long as you want. It doesn’t work.

Why your job description should be as short as possible

Don’t write long job descriptions, instead pose exciting challenges that inspire candidates and open a dialogue about what role they can play in helping your company.

Thanks to LinkedIn I am fortunate to be contacted with a lot of prospective opportunities. Most of these follow the same predictable process.

Agency/HR person: I have an exciting role that you may be interested in … can I send you the job description?
Me: [After checking the basics] sure I will have a look …

What then happens is that I usually receive an overly detailed job description containing:

  1. An uninspiring job title
  2. A generic checklist of skills and experiences (often not particularly related to the job)
  3. A detailed list of character and professional attributes that are usually generic to any job

Agency/HR person: What did you think?
Me: Do I tell the honest truth or be polite? The answer I give is a combination of both. “I am not interested, the role is not for me”.
Agency/HR person: Why is that? [I am aware that they need to submit a number of candidate CVs and that a good candidate is easy money]

The reason is all too often the same … because there is nothing in any of this that is exciting.

What the company or the agency has done is define a generic role, looking for generic skills to do a generic job. This may not be reflect the reality in the employer, but a generic job description doesn’t help me differentiate between companies. It you ask for generic skills, I see a company that sees me simply as a resource.

Assume that you already have an income and a job you enjoy – why would you be interested in that. People are not resources. I am not.

No company that is going to be great to work for sees people as resources. You cannot say people are your most important asset and then call them resources.

I want a company that doesn’t want to hire generic resources, but wants to engage people. Intelligent, passionate, smart people who want to commit to the challenge and leverage their experience, networks and knowledge to deliver success.  Diverse, interesting and complex people.

This is a world away from the way that most HR companies and most agencies think.

If you want to hire the best people, inspire them from the very start.

Don’t write generic job descriptions, instead define exciting challenges that inspire candidates to play a part in defining HOW the problem is solved.

Don’t define exactly what you think you want in terms of experience (as you may miss excellent candidates), but instead provide a candidate with the opportunity to WOW you. If they can WOW you, they are much more likely to WOW customers, partners and your other employees.

And above all don’t write LONG job descriptions. Write short ones that explain the ambition, inspire passion and challenge the applicant.

There is an overhead to this. It takes longer to deal with real people than electronic CVs, automated sifts are not going to work and you will need to have conversations with more people. The upside though is that not only do you have a better chance of finding a great candidate for the role you are advertising for, you also have a chance to link candidates you see potential in with upcoming roles (thereby removing the whole search task and cost as you can approach directly 1:1 when the time comes). More importantly than this, you have an opportunity to show every unsuccessful candidate why you are a great company. You may not want to hire them today – but you are likely to want to keep them as a future customer, partner or supporter.


The madness of price wars

A great post from Neil Hopkins on the excellent Interacter blog.

His opening comment brilliantly sums up a business truism that many companies consistently fail to remember.

“Opening a price battlefront is NOT the way to secure your future.  Competing on value is.”

It doesn’t matter whether this is in retail, airlines or corporate business. The maxim holds.

The last thing any company should be doing is to initiate a race to the bottom. A war in which all players may lose. That is not to say that being competitive on price is not important, and that pricing isn’t a critically important part of the marketing mix – of course it. Leading on price though is incredibly risky, perhaps the last ditch throw of a failing company. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the companies offering the biggest discounts, then count the ones that are in business in a year’s time.

Leading on price though is one of the most misunderstood strategies in business and one which is at the heart of many company failures. So lets get the reason for this stated right at start.

You do not win on price leadership – you win on cost leadership.

This is a distinction that many experienced strategists and marketers often fail to understand. Or if they do understand this, they fail to understand the logical implications of this.

In its most basic form:

  • Cost is the total sum that you incur in getting your product into the customers basket.
  • Price is what the customer pays.

From this simple definition we can logically determine some key rules:

  1. Everything that you do in your business impacts cost
  2. Reducing price without reducing cost lowers margins
  3. Reducing price below cost means that you make a loss

So, it also means that:

  • Reducing costs increases margin


  • Increasing price increases margin

Of course, both lists are caveated with (assuming sales are constant), but you get the basic idea.

So how does this impact profit and performance:

  • If you want to reduce prices, you need to reduce costs if your margin is not to reduce.
  • If you reduce prices, but do not reduce costs, you need to increase sales to offset the reduced margin
  • Even if you increase sales to offset the loss in margin, your profitability is decreased as you need to increase revenue to deliver the same margin
  • Increasing sales will be possible for small increases, but larger increases will require additional investment [more stores, more flights, bigger warehouses, more people etc etc] (which again impacts your cost)

Starts to get complex doesn’t it … and this is only at the level of GCSE Business Studies.

So, reducing prices risks undermining your whole business.

I’m serious. It is that fundamental.

So faced with price competition, what should you do?

Neil’s article gives the answer here too. Win on value.

This is not simple to deliver in reality, but it is the correct answer.

How do you win on value? There are a thousands of  small possibilities – giving you  millions of combinations. What you need to do is understand which of these matters to your customer and focus on delivering these. Don’t do all of them (you cannot, but if you try then your costs will rise too high to make you unprofitable), but don’t do none (your competitors will invest, redefine service or product norms and your customers will defect).

Difficult? Absolutely. This is certainly in the hard bucket.

So where do you start?

  • Go through your whole operation and understand how each step adds value to the customer? Boring name (value chain analysis), hard work, but essential.
  • Examine whether you can do this more efficiently? Have you tested new ways of working? Can others do this better. Can you cost effectively improve it?
  • Look for opportunities to eliminate steps that are not needed, or to redesign those that are.
  • Monitor how other industries are innovating. Will these drivers affect your business?
  • Review and refine your customer listening processes? Are you listening to customers? Can they tell you what is not working and what they want to improve?
  • Know what your customers want better than the competition – then do it better.

And the most important one … START NOW.

You can avoid starting a pricing war, but you may still be dragged into one. In the current climate this is much more likely as failing business take a final throw of the dice to try and save their businesses.

Three tips to (be prepared) to survive pricing wars:

  1. Do not compete head to head in a race to the bottom if there is any other option. If a competitor business is failing, customers will notice this too. Whilst this will attract some bargain basement hunters, many customers will avoid the business. Focus on winning these customers. Sell to the values that your customers care about. Remember that price is only one of these. Instead of reducing prices, can you improve services without increasing prices [thereby increasing value]?
  2. Drive costs out of your business NOW. Don’t wait until you have to, because by then it is too late. If you have to compete on price, be able to retain workable margins and keep your business afloat. Know where you can reduce costs if you need to, even if you haven’t. Don’t underestimate the impact that reduced margins will have on your business.
  3. Remember that market leaders innovate – not just in what you can see, but what you cannot. Examine your business operations and look for efficiencies. I don’t mean getting rid of old John Smith in the warehouse – look for opportunities to work more intelligently. Even in the smallest business, examine how long tasks take and whether you can speed this up, automate it, or remove it.


If you see a business say that it is going to lead by reducing prices, look to see whether they have said how they will achieve this, and how they will manage reducing margins and lower profitability? If you see no sign of this, then the business is likely to be in trouble and is throwing the dice for the last time. If they have a plan built on operations efficiency, intelligent processes and innovation, then get worried, because they are not lowering pricing, they are lowering costs … and this does work.

The art of envisioning, trade secrets and ideas to make it work

I can imagine the advert now … with the soft soothing voice over the gently fading corporate images …

“Worried about all this new technology?

Wondering how social media and enterprise mobility can help your business?

Want to understand how to use the iPad to reinvent your business?

Then what you need is someone to make sense of all of this, 

someone to help you understand the ‘Art of the Possible’

What you need is an Envisioning Workshop.”

Available from all good design/technology/service companies NOW. 

And so the sale continues.

Yes, the sale. It is all about the sale. Not the art of the possible or anything like it, but the sale.

The harsh reality is that most envisioning workshops are thinly disguised sales tools, delivered by someone whose view of the future only extends as far as their next bonus (that will come from selling you loads of hardware or software you probably don’t need) and will probably not deploy even if you buy it.

At first it may be hard to spot, as the facilitator, envisioneer, or futurologist (if they use that last term, throw them out) focuses on identifying relevant industry and technology trends, but before you realise this you will be focusing on solutions … and guess where these come from?

Yes! The people delivering the envisioning session. It is their technology which provides the answers and solutions to these trends.

You think they understand your company … they are using a tried and tested process to reel you in. Most of what you are being told will be told to every customer, regardless of industry. And those trends that they talk about?

It is their technology that helps you benefit from these.

What a lost opportunity though. What a missed chance to actually spend some time thinking about how to really improve your business. I am not saying that Envisioning Workshops have no value. In fact I am a big fan of them – when done properly – but not when used as a sales tool to simply sell more technology regardless of whether it is really needed or not. When done like this, it is little more than a tech-bandaid to a bleeding organisation.

Perhaps the problem is with the name … Envisioning Workshops.

Maybe they should be renamed to be more accurate of what they are:

  • Workshop to better understand how our technology can help your business, but only if you buy our products
  • Workshop to look at how your business environment is being affected by changing technology trends that we can help you solve if you buy our products
  • Workshop to talk about cool new stuff and scare you into thinking everyone else is using this and you are being left behind, so you buy our products

Do you see the common thread???  … technology, and the technology from the supplier who did the workshop

The underlying assumption behind most envisioning workshops is that new technology is the answer before you even start. This risk with this is that it becomes limited by what we know technology can do today, ideas become framed within what we know is achievable (and for technology companies what is predictably deliverable and available). You cannot sell what doesn’t exist, so you sell what you have and promise what you don’t. Whilst this may be more advanced than the company has today, it may not be the best option or strategy. More importantly though, it is likely to exclude non-technology changes.

Cisco tells you the answer is Cisco

Oracle tells you the answer is Oracle

Microsoft tells you the answer is Microsoft (although unlike the other two, Microsoft does have the technology breadth to actually delivery on their visions).

… and so on.

What did you expect though … Microsoft to tell you that iPads are the answer? Oracle to recommend SAP?

So, if technology is not the correct focus what should be?

Simple answer: People.

Instead of focusing on technology problems and technology opportunities, focus on people.

Look to the problems and opportunities facing people (that may, or may not include their interfaces with technology), but is never about the technology on its own devoid of a human problem.


  • The reasons that people cannot do what they want
  • The processes and practices that stop people doing what they want
  • The things that customer want to do, but cannot do today
  • The pain that people experience using technology
  • The fear that people have with new technology
  • The things that users, customers or sales people would love to do, but cannot today
  • The things that people dream of doing

When you do this, you will quickly see that there are plenty of problems and opportunities with existing processes and services that we could address. We don’t need to look to the future because we have enough now. We don’t need to guess what is coming next to be successful, because if we fix these issues we will be well placed to embrace the future rather than fear it. Whilst technology may be a part of the solution, it also may not – in fact the best answer may be to eliminate technology that isn’t working, or to simplify overly complex technology. This approach – human centric envisioning – is in stark contrast to the technology dominated norms that we have today.

So how does human centric envisioning differ?

human centric envisioning …

  • focuses on people, their interactions and human values
  • emphasises the value of collaboration and shared understanding and working
  • looks to holistic understanding of problems, seeing them as they impact people, not as abstract concepts
  • sees the role of technology as enabling people
  • recognises that elimination or simplification is preferable to increasing complexity
  • knows that low tech can be more effective as high tech
  • embraces service design tools and design thinking to understand processes from a human viewpoint
  • recognises that the future is a progression of what we have today, anchored in human values not an abstract concept or utopia
  • understands that technology can be a major enabler to people, but recognises that it brings risks and that there are downsides too
  • sees human values (the value of personal relationships, importance of family, importance of trust etc) being broadly constant over time
  • doesn’t care who makes the technology, so long as it does what it needs to do
  • embraces privacy and respects the rights of individuals

This list could go on, but you hopefully get the idea.

The purpose of human centric envisioning is not to develop a roadmap for technology (that will undoubtedly be wrong – they are always too optimistic and assume everything works first time), but an understanding of how we want to evolve and improve how we work and potential areas that technology may be able to play a role – both now and the future. Because it is founded upon human values not technology releases, it has greater longevity and can be used to not just plan our future, but rethink our today.

The outcome is not a business case for shiny new things, but a shared understanding of what we need to address, why this matters, and who cares.

A manifesto of what we want to be and how we want to work, a definition of our aspirations and goals.

Technology may play a part in this understanding and the solution, but it equally may not.

The outcome may be a set of actions that do not involve technology, that eliminate broken processes, simplify inefficient tasks or introduce more people into an organisation.

Helping people work better, reducing problems, improving collaboration and ultimately making life better … that is something worth spending time on. That should be the goal for your envisioning workshops. Not to mention that many actions will not involve a big technology price tag.

So the next time you are invited to an envisioning workshop, before you attend – ask what the workshop is trying to achieve and what the measure of success is. If it is clearly a thinly veiled technology sales process, decide whether you want to support this, or politely decline and spend your time helping your organisation and your colleagues, not those hoping to generate revenue from it.

If you do attend, challenge technology determinism when you see it. Challenge assumptions. Stay true to what you know from your experiences today, and keep the discussion grounded in the real world. A good facilitator will embrace this and use your energy to keep the discussion valuable to your company. A thinly veiled sales guy will wish you would be quiet and want the day to end as quickly as possible, and wish he hadn’t promised something he couldn’t deliver.