Business musings

Articles and thoughts about all things innovative and strategic

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

Photo of Matt sitting in front of a radio microphone and wearing headphonesEarlier this year, one of our good friends, Adair Richards, invited Matt to appear on Radio Plus.

On Monday evenings, Adair presents a drive time show, in which he invites local and global stars to the studio for some honest chat.

In a short interview, Matt and Adair chatted all things business. Highlights included the motivation behind setting up a business, what it’s like to work with a business partner who also happens to be your wife, thoughts on consultancy, and ideas about how to solve the England football team’s crisis in the World Cup!

Listen to the full interview below (approximately 12.5 minutes). You can also check out Adair’s show every Monday between 5pm to 7pm on Radio Plus, 101.5FM.


Interview transcript

Adair: I’m sitting here with Matt Stocker, Director of the Stocker Partnership. Welcome to the studio, Matt.

Matt: Thank you very much.

Adair: Ah well, it is a pleasure to have you here. Now, I invited you on because you are one of the business gurus of our city, and in fact, you run your own consultancy—that’s right?

Matt: Yes, I do.

Adair: So, I was thinking to myself, how do you go—or why, even, would you go—from a nice, stable job to starting up your own business? Isn’t that a risky thing to do?

Matt: Um, yes. Probably—especially at the beginning of a rather large recession, which you might have noticed over the last few years.

Adair: It has crossed my attention, yeah!

Matt: I mean, ultimately, I set the business up to create myself the job that I wanted but couldn’t find. So, it was really to create myself the ideal job.

Adair: Well, that sounds like a pretty good reason. And how do you go about that? Do you just quit your job and start as a trapeze artist, or whatever you enjoy doing?

Matt: I guess I was in the fortunate position of being able to take voluntary redundancy, so that obviously gives you a bit of a kick. And it was either taking voluntary redundancy or waiting until the actual redundancy happened. So I decided to go for the voluntary option and, I guess, make my move while I could.

Adair: Well, that sounds pretty good. And how’s it gone so far?

Matt: Yeah, it’s been good. It’s had its highs and lows.

Adair: So what are the good points? Why would you commend it to us—starting a business?

Matt: I think…It’s yours! You’re not relying on anybody else—that can be a good thing and a bad thing. But I think that you’re creating something that you’re creating, rather than having somebody else telling you what to do or just working for your pay packet, actually you’re building something. And I think that’s really satisfying. And I guess the kind of work that Debbie and I are doing, it would be very hard to find this kind of work unless I was working for a different consultancy. But then I thought, well, I might as well start my own consultancy rather than working to build somebody else’s consultancy.

Adair: And naming it after yourself, as well.

Matt: Yes. [laughs]

Adair: Why not? And you mentioned Debbie—so who’s Debbie?

Matt: Debbie is my wife and business partner.

Adair: Ooh. Wife and business partner—that’s brave!

Matt: Wife first and then she joined the business about two years after I started it.

Adair: Ok. And does she work for you, or do you work for her?

Matt: We work together.

Adair: You’re such a diplomat! Now, I must say, I love my wife incredibly, she’s an amazing woman but I’m not sure that she would ever want to work with me, no matter though I’d want to work with her. How does that work? Do you work from home together? How do you switch that relationship round?

Matt: Yeah, so we work from home. We did add an office dog into the mix, who is in charge of distraction and getting us out of the house when we’re working too hard. We work very well together. I have 51% of the shareholding and Debbie has 49%—the 2% is due to me starting the business and our accountant said, “If you ever do disagree, one of you needs to have the majority.” But fortunately, it hasn’t worked like that, so we haven’t needed that, “I have more shares than you,” argument.

Adair: [laughs] I’m glad. And how do you go about…because presumably you don’t work 9 to 5?

Matt: No.

Adair: Do you set your own holidays? Do you holiday 12 weeks a year? How does it go?

Matt: We haven’t quite reached that stage yet! We keep it flexible. So earlier this year, we had got a holiday planned but we just had too much work on and client deadlines, so we postponed that. But then, when you’re in a quieter patch, you can go, “Well, how about a week off?” The boss agrees. Or both bosses agree. So you go for it and just take the week off.

Adair: Very nice indeed. And there must be some downsides to it—because you paint a beautiful picture of being at home with your wife and your dog making shed loads of money doing your perfect job. Is that how it really is?

Matt: Um…in a good week, yes. I think there’s…you do trade some of the security, so I guess if you’re used to working in employment it’s quite a big difference in that you have a very specific role, you have a defined salary and you have a defined job role. So you do the job, you get paid, and you know when the payment’s going to hit your bank account. Whereas running your own business, actually there’s a lot more uncertainty. So you have to invoice your clients; you then have to get paid; you have to pay all of your tax and PAYE, and all of that kind of stuff; and then you get paid—essentially last.

Adair: Speaking about pay, one of the things in the Queen’s speech this year was some new legislation to try and help small businesses to get paid, because apparently they get paid late a lot. Is that something that you’ve experienced—as having issues with payments?

Matt: Earlier on in the business, yes. But we’ve made various changes in terms of credit control. And also the types of clients that we work with has meant that that hasn’t really been an issue over the last couple of years. But it’s certainly something that businesses struggle with. Some of the research out there suggests that actually…some companies will actually wait a couple of weeks before they invoice, whereas the research shows that the quicker you invoice after you’ve done the work, then the quicker the company will actually pay you. Whereas if you leave it longer, then the company paying you will also leave it longer.

Adair: Wow. Fascinating stuff. Good tip there. Thank you, Matt Stocker. We’ll be back with Matt after the business news.


Adair: You’re back with me, Adair Richards, and we’ve been speaking to Matt Stocker from the Stocker Partnership, who is an entrepreneur and consultant. Now, a consultant may mean many things. If you’re a doctor, it means you’re, like, top of the tree. Now, my understanding of a business consultant is basically—you go into a business and you decide to tell people to fire everyone and then the Managing Director doesn’t get the stick from his employees. Matt, is that correct?

Matt: I think that would probably be a very cynical and jaded view of consultants. I think it does happen. Sometimes MDs kinda need the confidence or they’re looking for somebody to blame. But I think, in the vast majority of cases, your work is a lot more positive than firing everybody because that’s generally not always the case for how you create business value!

Adair: Good. It was a little bit of a facetious question!

Matt: [laughs]

Adair: So what do you do then exactly?

Matt: So, we’re a strategic innovation consultancy, which sounds a bit posh, but…

Adair: So you say the words, but my head just goes, “Blah,” which is like when I try to explain science to people!

Matt: Yes. So there’s strategy, which is how businesses get to where they want to get to. And then there’s innovation, which is really, “How are you going to do things that are different?” “How are you going to set yourself apart from competitors?” So, ultimately, you as consumer, you choose the better product, you choose the better service. And, as a business, how do you make sure that you’re the one chosen rather than the one left on the shelf?

Adair: Ok. So do you go in and speak to everyone and tell them the answer? Or how does that work?

Matt: It really depends on the project. And I guess that’s part of what we love about our jobs, really, is that no two projects are the same. So sometimes it will be very facilitatory, sometimes it will be quite a lot of market research, sometimes it will be training. It really depends on either the problem or the challenge, or the outcome that the business wants.

Adair: Well, let me give you a problem then and see if you can help out, not just me, but the entire nation. Let’s say that we brought in here Roy Hodgson and the whole England football team, who, let’s be fair, have not exactly done amazingly well over the last couple of weeks. And our project is to make the England football team half decent. How would you go about that kind of process?

Matt: I think probably the key challenge there is a) I know very little about football. But I guess the Premiership League compete, so you’ve got multiple football teams competing, but each of those football players are actually part of the other team, so actually you’re not talking about one team, you’re talking about bringing together disparate players. So, I guess from a business perspective, it would be like picking an MD from one business, a number of different staff members from lots of other different businesses, shoving them all together for a couple of weeks, and going, “Right. There you go. Perform.”

Adair: Wow. So an All Star team is quite hard to bring together then?

Matt: I think so. I guess that’s what everybody else does though, so what our secret is, I have no idea.

Adair: Perhaps we should just, kind of, give it up and take German nationality, then at least we’d be half decent, hey? Or maybe not. Ok, well lets move it on to perhaps something that you’re a bit more familiar with, and that’s the business environment here in Coventry and Warwickshire. Are we really out of recession? Have you noticed things change the last year or so? Or, in fact, are we still in the doldrums?

Matt: I think, generally, things are looking much more positive. I think a lot of the thing about recession is about people’s confidence levels, and I think people have stopped complaining. And I think that, generally, people are feeling much more positive that we are through the worst and that we can be much more positive. I think that the recession has changed people’s attitude somewhat. I think people are probably slightly more risk averse—the memory of pain is still etched into their memory—so I think people will move forwards with maybe more caution. But I think there’s opportunity there for the businesses that want to move forwards and innovate, whilst their competitors are maybe just still storing money under the pillow or under the mattress.

Adair: Sure. So, some of our listeners will be either not in a job yet or at the moment, or thinking about maybe a change, and they may be thinking about becoming an entrepreneur. Now, as someone who’s done it for a few years, and yet is still so youthful yourself, do you have any advice for them? What would you say if they’re considering a career as an entrepreneur?

Matt: YeahI think most of it’s about going for it and actually making the decision. It’s not necessarily that you have to do it straight away but making the decision that that’s something that you want to work towards. So whether that’s going and getting the skills that you need in order to actually run your own business. Whether that’s going off and doing market research in order to find out whether there’s legs to your business idea. Maybe saving, so you’ve got a bit saved for a rainy day, so if things don’t quite go to plan in the early days then you’re not suddenly stuck without any cash. I think that there’s lots of things that you can be doing even if you’re not immediately ready to actually set your business up and resign from your job.

Adair: Great. And if anyone wants to find out more about you, and your work, how would they get in touch with you?

Matt: Probably our website’s the best thing. So, that’s And that’s ‘S-T-O-C-K-E-R’ and then ‘Partnership’ (hopefully you can work out how to spell that).

Adair: Yeah, if you can’t spell that, then you’re not interested!

Matt: [laughs]

Adair: All right. Matt Stocker, from the Stocker Partnership, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Matt: Thank you, Adair.

Earlier this year, we were busy researching, writing and designing the challenge for the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition.

Held on 25-26 April by Warwick Business School, the competition brought together multi-disciplinary teams from 12 university-based business schools across Europe. In a close-run contest, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford emerged victorious, walking away with both the title and the £4,000 prize.

Sponsored by global providers of transformational medical technologies and services, GE Healthcare, and global business and technology leader, IBM, the competition was focused on a big data solution designed to both stimulate progress in clinical neuroscience and improve outcomes for those with a neurological disorder.

Taking up the challenge to recommend a scaleable business model for this digital product were teams from Aston Business School, Cranfield School of Management, ESADE (Spain), HEC Paris (France), IE Business School (Spain), Lancaster University Management School, Manchester Business School, Mannheim Business School (Germany), SDA Bocconi (Italy), University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, and Warwick Business School.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing the welcome icebreaker event on Friday night, the kick off of the competition day itself, and case materials.

On hand to act as a sounding board for participants as teams developed their ideas were experts from GE Healthcare, IBM, KPMG, the NHS Health & Social Care Integration Centre, University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire, Warwick Medical School, and WebMD.

Adding another invaluable perspective were Ken Howard and Dorothy Hall, to whom we were introduced by client and changemaker, Gill Phillips, creator of the award-winning Whose Shoes? approach.

Ken describes himself as an old biker, sci-fi fan, granddad, music lover and free thinker. He was diagnosed with dementia around 8 years ago but has been living with its effects for much longer. Although little can be done medically, Ken is determined to fight dementia every day by challenging himself and staying involved as much as he can.

I am conscious that I have a short shelf-life. It makes me impatient and frustrated that progress is so slow. I am trying to achieve as much as I can. There is life after diagnosis.

Dorothy is an Independent Social Worker and Practice Educator. Like Ken, and having had personal experience herself caring for a close relative with dementia, she is passionate about increasing awareness. Dorothy is also an advocate for flexible, personalised, imaginative care arrangements.

Together, experts and advocates prompted participants to an awareness of multiple perspectives and the vast array of complex challenges involved. Neurological conditions include not only Alzheimer’s disease and dementia but also stroke, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and more. Collectively, such conditions are estimated to affect up to one billion people worldwide and the World Health Organization believes these disorders represent one of the greatest threats to public health today.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing participants meeting with experts, teams working on the challenge and a team as they presented.

Not only was it timely to focus on neurological conditions but big data solutions to global health challenges are extremely current. Enterprises of all sizes are grappling with demanding technological, regulatory and market challenges, and the business models required continue to be disruptive. Neither the participants nor the judges had an easy task ahead!

In a twist on last year’s format, teams were judged over two rounds. Mannheim Business School, ESADE and Saïd Business School, University of Oxford emerged as semi-finalists, after which the three teams were given one final challenge to reconcile against the clock.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing  the three semi-finalists (Mannheim Business School, ESADE and Said Business School, University of Oxford) in action.

After much deliberation by a judging panel that included senior industry experts and leading academics, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford were pronounced the winning team.

With combined experience in medicine, pharmaceuticals, neuroscience and computer science, the team not only delivered a strong presentation but were able to answer all the judges’ questions with persuasive reasoning and supporting evidence. Together, Grace Lam, Yen Nyugen, Marco Pimentel, and Sindhura Varanasi presented a well thought out approach to a tough challenge.

And although there could only be one winner, all were worthy contestants.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing the winner's announcement, judging in action, and experts, judges and the WBS Executive Team..

Once again, feedback on the day was incredibly positive, and as Warwick MBA student and competition organiser, Corinne Montefort, said: “The competition was a great success.”

As always, it has been our absolute pleasure to be involved. The work of both WBS staff and the Case Competition’s student Executive Team was outstanding and we’ve been privileged to work alongside such an array of great people, from sponsors to experts and judges. Thanks must go to all.

Looking forward to next year and watching the competition grow once again!

In the meantime, we leave you with kind words from two members of the final judging panel…

Debbie and Matt of Stocker Partnership prepared the case study which formed the basis of the Warwick Business School International Healthcare Case Competition 2014. The quality of their preparation and investigation was impeccable and the case set up a highly engaging and challenging scenario on which the whole competition revolved. I’d have no hesitation in recommending Stocker Partnership for this or related specialist support and I’d be delighted to work with their team again!

Dr Jagdeesh Singh Dhaliwal
Medical Advisor, Healthcare Technology & Innovation, Global Government & Health
BT Global Services

I really enjoyed the case presentation, and given the time constraints, the scope was judged very well. Complex and with sufficient detail, the literature review, ambiguous data, overview of the environment, and the setting of some true and false trails for the students all worked well. If the participants worked well as a team, with the right experts – as Oxford did – then they could make a very good showing.

Alan Davies
Medical Director, Global Medical Affairs
GE Healthcare

Coverage elsewhere around the web

Warwick Business School: Said win £4,000 and WBS Case Competition

University of Oxford: CDT in Healthcare Innovation student Marco Pimentel and team from Said win WBS International Healthcare Case Competition

Mannheim Business School: MBS participants succeed at renowned Warwick Business School Case Competition


Have you ever wondered exactly what corporate values and purpose are or how to go about defining them for your organisation?

Based on our own experience and drawing on research from Jim Collins, Jerry Porras and Nikos Mourkogiannis, amongst others, our short guide gives you the low down on exactly what values and purpose are, why they matter to an organisation, and how to work with your people to create them. Real world examples from a wide range of organisations, businesses and charities (such as Google, Help for Heroes, Volvo, P&G, the RNLI, and more) are included, along with practical exercises for you to work through.

To find out more, view the SlideShare below.

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Our News  

We love all things innovation and are thrilled to be involved with the Marie Curie Centre for Analytical Science Innovative Doctoral Programme (Marie Curie CAS-IDP) as an industrial partner. Based at the University of Warwick, the programme has been funded by the EU under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) Marie Curie Actions to train an international group of early stage researchers (ESRs) to carry out world-leading analytical science research under two multi-disciplinary themes:

  • Predictive modelling of bacterial cell division
  • ‘Quality by Design’ of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products

With an integrated approach that blends sectors, disciplines and nationalities, the programme seeks to produce new ways to solve problems innovatively and efficiently, and to train scientists who think creatively, innovatively, critically and practically. We were delighted when we were asked to be involved and it is our pleasure to offer an industrial secondment to one of the students, Erick Ratamero.

Erick is Brazilian, and in his words, he “studies interesting things”. His primary interest is in Mathematical Modelling and he’s bringing this to bear in both his research project and his work with us. In the last couple of years, he has worked with Evolutionary Game Theory, Innovation Theory, and has even done a bit of modelling for Sports Science. With diverse interests, Erick’s research project is focused on understanding the FtsZ protein and its effects on membrane remodelling in bacteria, whilst in his work with us he will be using mathematical modelling to understand social network effects. It’s early days yet as both projects take shape but we’re hoping for some exciting results.

Collaboration in the most beautiful city in the world

Famous for its cultural heritage, Venice is certainly thought to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world—a sentiment that I cannot disagree with. It is also home to much creativity and innovation. Somewhat of a fitting location for the most recent Marie Curie CAS-IDP Networking Meeting.

As part of the programme, regular meetings are held for students, academic supervisors and industrial partners to review progress, share training, further develop cooperative relationships, and to benefit from knowledge creation and sharing. We have just returned from such a session held at Warwick in Venice, a University of Warwick teaching premises housed in the 15th century Venetian Palazzo Pesaro-Papafava.

Collection of photos from the Marie Curie CAS-IDP Networking Meeting, May 2014. Clockwise from top left: whole group of researchers, supervisors and industrial partners standing outside on the balcony of Palazzo Pesaro-Papafava, Warwick in Venice; small group of ESRs mid-discussion in a training workshop; ESR talking to an academic member of staff about the poster describing her research; small group of ESRs mid-discussion during a training workshop; group of ESRs standing around a poster, pointing to its contents and mid-discussion; supervisors and industrial partners discussing the outcome of ESRs training sessions.

During the two day session, many interesting conversations were had, good scientific progress was made and collaborations flourished. Putting into practice some of the frameworks we love, Matt and I delivered two training sessions to the ESRs focused on creating great relationships with supervisors and industry liaisons. Together, we encouraged researchers to step into their supervisors’ shoes and explored ideas for how to manage well across projects, time, meetings and people.

 Collection of photos from the Marie Curie CAS-IDP Networking Meeting, May 2014. Clockwise from top left: close up of Matt smiling with Burano in the background; view of Santa Maria della Salute from the water of the Grand Canal; canal side view from the balcony of Palazzo Persaro-Papafava, Warwick in Venice; view from the Rialto Bridge at night time with lights glistening across the Grand Canal; Debbie writing on a flip chart during facilitation of a training session; view of a Venetian street with washing strung across the street.

We throughly enjoyed the whole experience and have certainly learned a lot ourselves. In addition to the scientific focus, one of the most notable features of the experience for us was the quality of conversations and the breadth of topics explored, from the chemistry of confectionery to a love of fiction, beekeeping to a shared passion for cars, biology to pilates. Such shared experiences build relationships and can also be the spark for new ideas. We ourselves have come away with food for thought and are looking to develop some of these ideas further in coming months.

Image credits

Collection One
Top left: Naomi Grew, 2014; used with kind permission.
All others: Alvin Teo, 2014; used with kind permission.

Collection Two
Bottom centre: Alvin Teo, 2014; used with kind permission.
All others: Matt Stocker & Debbie Stocker, 2014.

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Psychology  

Uploaded to SlideShare a little while ago, we’re finally catching up with ourselves on the blog, so here is the second presentation in our Innovation Tools Series…

A short guide to photo diaries

A qualitative research method, photo diaries are a fantastic way to gain rich insights into people’s environment, behaviour, opinions, routines, likes and dislikes. The tool is not bound by language—instructions can be translated or even given in symbols—meaning that this form of research is accessible to almost everyone, whether they are old, young or speak the same language, and no matter what level of reading ability. Similarly, the method can either be low tech (cheap disposable cameras) or high tech (with loaned digital technology or via digital platforms). An easy, fun, engaging activity for participants that can be used over hours, weeks or months, photo diaries drive innovation by giving you direct access to someone else’s world.

For our short guide, view the SlideShare below.

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

One of the common questions posed to Matt and myself about the case studies we have written is: “Did the case work out as you were expecting?” Our usual answer is: “We didn’t know what to expect.” Although each case scenario has solutions that are more desirable, feasible and viable than others, the beauty of a live market case study is that there is no single right answer. We do not write a case with a given solution in mind, and as in real world consulting, a number of different avenues will be available, each with its own merits and risks. We ourselves learn in watching the development of solutions and I especially love it when participants uncover a gem of information or a potential solution that even we had not anticipated.

That said, there are a number of competences that underpin success in both case-based assessments and real world consulting engagements. With the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition now only days away and the first part of the case having been sent out to participants, here are our top tips.

1. Impress with your research

Proud winners of the WBS Case Competition 2013, the Lancaster MBA team were nonetheless the first to admit that none of them had a background in healthcare or related industries: to others who had seen them in action, this came as a surprise. One of the standout features of Lancaster’s presentation was the level of preparation the team had undertaken. Not only had they followed the trail laid down by the case study but they had actively sought out expertise and insight by meeting with Lancaster academics from other, relevant disciplines.

In a consulting engagement, such research demonstrates knowledge and expertise. It also shows that you are actively interested in the client. Typically, a client employs a consultant to gain access to insight beyond that of their own: showing a client that you can truly offer this service is important.

The same is true of case-based assessments and competitions. Those who stand out are the teams and individuals who have gone the extra mile: those who know that little bit more; who understand and correctly use relevant terminology; and who share up-to-the-minute knowledge that others might have missed.

2. Show your working

“Show your working!”  The mantra of every maths teacher up and down the country at GCSE, A-level and beyond.  Who’d have thought it was also relevant to case competitions and consulting?

Through a number of case-based events, Matt and I have been privileged to observe firsthand the creative process as teams develop their solutions. Some teams are fiery, others are thoughtful, but whatever the team’s style, one can almost guarantee intelligent, insightful conversations and some truly brilliant ideas.

When the time arrives to present or to share recommendations with the client however, we are often surprised by how many of these ideas have been lost. Had we not been witness to conversations earlier in the day, we would never have known the ideas existed.

“Show your working,” is the mantra of many teachers because it ensures that even if a student’s final answer is wrong, the pupil will nonetheless be given credit for their working. A similar principle exists in case-based assessments and consulting. A client, assessor or judge may not agree with your final recommendation but if they can see the path you have taken to arrive at your conclusion, this provides a firm basis for further discussion.

Similarly, it is often as helpful to share the solutions you have discounted as the ones you have chosen. Understanding that, “Solutions A, B and C are not viable because… Therefore we recommend Solutions X, Y and Z,” enables a client or judge to grasp the full picture. It also shows that you have done your job comprehensively and any client should feel that they are in a safe pair of hands.

3. Always ensure you meet the brief

In a consulting engagement, failing to meet your brief will likely guarantee that you end up with an unhappy client. Clients request those things that are important to them. If they make a request, it matters.

The same is true of case-based assessments. If something is asked for in the brief, it is there for a reason and you will be assessed on it. We were surprised during the WBS Case Competition 2013 that many teams did not directly address the issue raised by the last minute newscast. In a real world engagement, to ignore breaking news that has direct relevance to the client’s situation and your recommendations may just prove disastrous.

4. Get to the heart of the issue

On the flip side of meeting the brief, it is also vital that you are able to take a step back from the client’s perspective and to become objective. Both clients and cases present information from a particular viewpoint and often with a particular agenda. Sometimes that perspective is accurate. Other times information is missing or erroneous judgements may have been made. Occasionally, information or the viewpoint held by a client might just be wrong.

Case-based assessments require that you are able to synthesis knowledge in a complex environment and that you can analyse this knowledge from multiple perspectives. Benchmarked against the competition, is the company performing as well as the client thinks it is? How desirable is the product or service to potential customers? Looking at the market as a whole, are there future shifts that could prove game changing? How does the situation appear when viewed from multiple stakeholder perspectives?

Be prepared to challenge the assumptions that have been made to date. Ultimately, clients, assessors and judges are looking for solutions and recommendations that work, that deliver real return on investment, and that have value. Rarely is someone looking for a yes man. Finding the heart of the issue—whatever that may be and regardless of whether it is an easy pill to swallow—is key.

5. Have the courage of your convictions

Once you are sure that you have arrived at a solution of merit, that you can back up your recommendations with accurate data, and you are confident that your ideas will deliver, hold fast to your convictions. Similarly, as you are developing your recommendations, dare to trust your instincts.

In last year’s Case Competition, although Xceletra—the pharmaceutical company around which the case was based—had already undertaken its own research into a particular avenue, the brief itself was open. Those teams that stood out, including Lancaster, were the ones who dared to step outside the box. Teams who, despite a weighty suggestion to focus on a given area, had the courage to assess the bigger picture and presented solutions that were bang on the money but broader than the client may have been expecting.

Unsurprisingly, this tip does not however come without a caveat. To stick to your guns, you must be confident that you are right. If you’re presented with information that suggests otherwise, you also need to have the courage to hold up your hands, back down and rethink. Continuing to hold fast to a misguided belief or conviction will spell trouble for both you and the client.

Ultimately, great consultants are able to combine their insights with a deep understanding of their client. The same is true of competition winners: teams and individuals who combine creativity and insight with a deep understanding of the case. These individuals are able to empathise and understand but they also have the ability to lead judges and clients on a journey: “We understand that ‘A’ was your favoured option but have you considered ‘K’?”  This is not said at anyone’s expense nor in ignorance of valid concerns, but rather, with conviction that the answer has the best interests of all stakeholders in mind.


Innovation is inherently creative. If you’ve met us, you’ll know that we live with one foot firmly in creativity and the other in business. We love post-it notes, posters, whiteboards and timelines. We like to tangibly interact with information.

As such, we collect tools, techniques and frameworks.  Where effective techniques do not yet exist, we create our own. Rather than hiding these ideas away, we thought we’d share them with you in an Innovation Tools Series. Launching today, we’ll be creating short guides to the tools we regularly use and love.

Here’s the first in the series…

A short guide to empathy mapping

Good business demands an in-depth understanding of people: your customers, partners and other stakeholders. Empathy mapping is a fun and visual way to change your perspective by putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes. In turn, this drives innovation by enabling you to discover unmet needs, identify frustrations, empathise with daily dilemmas, explore new perspectives and question your own assumptions.

For our short guide, view the SlideShare below. Links to an online template and downloadable empathy maps are also included in the presentation.

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Psychology  

I’m working hard.
In the zone.
I’m focused.
I’m distraction free.

Then there’s this itch.
This little inbox itch.
Have I got any mail?
Who’s emailed me today?

Should I look?
Should I check?
What if it’s important?
What if something’s wrong?

I want to check.
I want to send and receive.
But I’m focused.
I’m distraction free.

I need to work.
I can’t keep scratching this inbox itch.
Ok, maybe this once.
But then no more.




Last year, we co-created and wrote the challenge for Warwick Business School’s inaugural Case Competition. This year the competition is back, it’s going international, and we’re thrilled to be involved once again!


Building upon last year’s resounding success, the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition will bring together the finest minds from university-based business schools across the world. With a focus on fostering creative solutions to complex problems, the competition is an opportunity for multi-disciplinary teams of students to once again bring their talents to bear on a contemporary healthcare issue.

We’re delighted that we’ve been commissioned to develop and write the challenge, working in partnership with both Warwick Business School and GE Healthcare, kind sponsors of the 2014 Competition and global providers of transformational medical technologies and services.

The event itself will take place on 25-26 April 2014, with a prize of £4,000 being awarded to the winning team. To find out more or to register (applications must be submitted no later than 5pm GMT on 21 February 2014), visit

Update 5 March 2014

From an overwhelming number of applications, 12 teams have now been selected to compete. Taking up the challenge on the day are teams from Aston Business School, Cranfield School of Management, ESADE, HEC Paris, IE Business School, Lancaster University Management School, Manchester Business School, Mannheim Business School, SDA Bocconi, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, and Warwick Business School. Let the competition begin!

Beware the Bermuda Triangle of business: the definition of which is a situation, department, organisation that can absorb limitless time, energy and resource with no discernible improvement in performance. Usually caused by the wrong people, wrong managers, wrong processes, wrong systems or all of the above. Proceed with caution should you be lost forever!