Listen longer, adapt faster.

I am missing the energy and interaction of a workshop in a real room. That said, I can concede that virtually delivered projects in these Covid-constrained times can prove more effective. A good example is a recent project for Unilever.

Our project objective was to determine the key business model and capability developments that would enable the division to become ‘future fit’ for the next 10 years. Our first step was to generate the most significant possible future disruptions facing the business. These disruptions served as a focus for identifying winning responses to accelerate / sustain growth. Prioritised responses then informed capability and model development choices to enable growth and build competitive advantage.

The distillation of accumulated research on trends and market developments was our foundation, but we also wanted to stretch internal perspectives with input from specialists in and outside of the organisation. Previously we had achieved this with expert guests invited to workshops but given Covid-19 we chose to curate and deploy ‘virtual bursts’ of stimulus. We specifically wanted our senior decision-makers to start by working back from a in-depth consideration of future challenges (and not today’s).

Using MS Teams or Zoom we conducted and recorded c40 interviews with diverse experts in which they discussed the significant developments they could see and potential implications. This individual input (avoiding group bias) significantly enriched and expanded the fourteen ‘mega disruptions’ we initially drafted.

To immerse our decision-makers and develop our ‘mega disruptions’ we invited them to listen to an online discussion group with a subset of our experts. The senior team’s brief was to listen, seek clarity and not to worry about how to respond (yet).

Following this discussion we incorporated learning and created a 90-minute film that distilled c30 hours of interviews to bring each disruption to life. Prior to our online workshop for developing and prioritising critical responses each participant viewed the film alongside written stimulus.

Work will continue for some time on developing model options and capability planning but it is clear that the online stimulus pushed and provoked detailed consideration of future challenges. Furthermore, it has enabled us to effectively engage those outside the core team. In addition to the feature-length stimulus, edited individual expert interviews were made available. Importantly, many of our contributors are keen to connect and collaborate further.

Hearing an authoritative expert express their view can have a bigger behavioural impact than words on slides. Combining different perspectives and making them widely available challenges narrow thinking and supports a future focus.

Let’s hope I can say thank you in person to at least some of our influential contributors before too long…

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