Business musings

Articles and thoughts about all things innovative and strategic

17
Apr
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.

14
Mar

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.

04
Mar
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.

[REPEAT]

 

13
Feb

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!

WBS-Case-Study-Illustrations

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 www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/wbs/casecompetition/

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!

20
Dec

Christmas specialist, Santa Global, has released a new online slideshow showcasing the technological innovations behind the Christmas build-up, which have been developed in conjunction with Stocker Partnership—the company’s strategic innovation partner.

“With the help of Stocker Partnership we have trialled a number of technological improvements over the last twelve months,” reveals Santa Claus, CEO of Santa Global. “This has helped us streamline our operations and increase efficiency, so we are in great shape going into our busiest period of the year!”

Amongst the innovations taken up at Santa Global’s North Pole headquarters is a company-wide trial of Google Glass. Warehouse elves have been using the head-mounted computers to increase efficiency and Santa will benefit from the system’s voice-activated navigation and delivery data—as well as solar-glare protecting lenses—during his crucial Christmas Eve flight. Another development is the eReindeer programme, which has implanted chips in reindeer antlers to track in-flight performance as well as vital measurements such as body temperature and heart rate. On the ground, LED-embedded workwear for elves has led to greater visibility during the long Arctic nights and fewer accidents.

These are just some of the exciting range of innovations in place at Santa Global HQ. For the full story, please view the SlideShare below:

“Santa Global is a very forward thinking company and it has been a real privilege to work with the team during the past year,” comments Matt Stocker, Director of Stocker Partnership. “From Santa right down to the wrapping elves we have found everyone to be receptive to our ideas and the concept of change. That has made our job a lot easier and we are delighted to have helped with a number of strategic recommendations that have already transformed operations up at the North Pole. Of course, the proof is in the pudding but everyone is confident that Christmas 2013 is set to be the company’s most successful in its 1,700 year history!”

06
Dec
Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Finance  Innovation  Leadership  Our News  

Are you determined to grow your business? GrowthAccelerator can help you get to the heart of the barriers that are holding your business back, enabling you to identify the critical steps you need to take to achieve your next phase of growth—rapidly and sustainably.

GrowthAccelerator logo

What is GrowthAccelerator?

Launched in May 2012 by Business Secretary Vince Cable, GrowthAccelerator is a partnership between some of the UK’s leading, private sector growth specialists and government, which has already fast-tracked over 10,000 businesses (of which 12% are in the West Midlands).

Supported by coaching, workshops and masterclasses, the service provides a framework to help you:

  • Build a successful growth strategy
  • Discover new routes to funding and investment
  • Unlock your capacity for innovation
  • Harness the power of your people

Whether it’s insight into what’s holding you back and developing a plan for the future, helping you build a case for investment and finding new sources of finance, turning your most innovative ideas into profit, or providing training and masterclasses to develop confident leadership and management, GrowthAccelerator is focused on a single goal: the growth of your business.

How does GrowthAccelerator work?

To begin, GrowthAccelerator will help you review your business’s current position and define a bespoke growth plan specific to its needs. This plan will outline the challenges your business faces and how GrowthAccelerator can offer support, be it through coaching, workshops or masterclasses.

In addition to support from a Growth Manager and Growth Coach, GrowthAccelerator gives you exclusive access of up to £2,000 match-funding per senior manager for your senior management team to hone their leadership and management skills.

You will also become part of the GrowthAccelerator high-growth community, giving you opportunity to meet and network with other liked-minded businesses and growth experts who have already experienced or are experiencing the successes you’ve achieved and the challenges you are facing.

How are we involved?

Matt is a registered and approved Growth Coach for GrowthAccelerator. As a Growth Coach, his role is to work with companies on a one-to-one basis providing relevant and individual support. He will act as an advocate and a catalyst for change. The help you’ll receive with GrowthAccelerator is bespoke and we work with you in a way that is tailored specifically to meet your objectives.

Under the GrowthAccelerator service, we are also able to provide match-funded training for your leadership and senior management team.

Who is GrowthAccelerator for?

Just as we love to work with dynamic and growing companies, GrowthAccelerator is for businesses with ambition, determination and potential. A few other criteria also apply: to be eligible, you must be able to answer yes to all questions below…

  • Is your business registered in the UK?
  • Is your company based in England?
  • Does your business have fewer than 250 employees?
  • Does your business have a turnover of less than £40m?

How much does GrowthAccelerator cost?

Your contribution will depend on the size of your business. With Government making a major contribution towards the cost, you pay only a fixed fee.

A table showing the fees for GrowthAccelerator: 1-4 employees, £600; 5-49 employees, £1,500; 50-249 employees, £3,000; for all size of business an additional £700 VAT is also applicable.

 

 

 

*VAT is based on 20% of the nominal value of the service, at £3,500, so all businesses pay the same amount of VAT.

Should you wish to then also access leadership and management training, match-funding of up to £2,000 per senior manager is exclusively available to your company.

Find out more

If you would like to find out more, why not give us a call on 02476 100 193 or contact us for further information?

To learn more about GrowthAccelerator, you can also visit www.growthaccelerator.com

21
Nov
Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Leadership  Our News  

For those of you who know us, you’ll know that we blog and tweet (@mattstocker and @debbiestocker); we’re on LinkedIn; we send out regular e-newsletters (in fact, we sent one just today—if you didn’t receive it, sign up here); and we have our own print collateral. We also believe in creative, visual and design thinking. As such, we thought it was about time we joined SlideShare.

Presentations can be a brilliant medium through which to communicate visually and creatively; and to think and communicate via design. Believe me, I’m not talking death by powerpoint here! Rather, I mean presentations that capture the imagination, communicate complex concepts simply, resonate deeply and catalyse action. Whether we can claim any of our presentations do these things, only you, our audience, will be able to tell us. But we hope to embark upon a journey—one in which we learn and continually develop our skills. And one in which we hope you find useful insights that you’re able to apply in the course of your business.

A short guide to organisational ambidexterity

You may remember that Matt wrote an article about organisational ambidexterity some time ago. In this, our first ever contribution to SlideShare, we explore what organisational ambidexterity is, what it means for you, and how you can achieve it.

10 ways a business leaks money like a sieve

Did you know that 75% of new leads never hear back from the business they contacted and office workers are interrupted roughly every 3 minutes? We look at 10 ways that businesses are pouring money down the drain. Find out how your business scores and start plugging the leaks.

Follow us on SlideShare

If you liked these presentations, why not follow us on SlideShare for further updates? Do also feel free to share, like or comment on any of the presentations we upload—we’d love to hear your thoughts. Each presentation is downloadable from SlideShare if you wish to read it offline.

Photo of a well lit, walk-in wardrobe with clothes hanging on a rail, whilst bags and shoes are neatly arranged on shelves

Wearable technology is an evolving marketplace. Although some would argue that the market is not new—Thomas Stuermer, senior executive with Accenture’s Electronics & High-Tech group, observed that the term ‘wearable device’ was used as early as the 1990s and the first watch with a digital display was unveiled in 1972—advents such as Google Glass are thought to be the start of a present day wearable revolution.

Earlier this year, Credit Suisse predicted that the wearable technology market will increase tenfold to as much as $50 billion USD over the next 3 to 5 years. Others also believe that wearable devices will explode in popularity over the next year. Whether you agree with the figures or not, it’s inevitable that wearable tech is here to stay.

That said, I read an interesting article earlier last week in which John Holt Ripley, Front End Developer at Linney Design, wrote:

Wearable technology—things like Google Glass and the Nike FuelBand—have a bit of a problem in that they’re not particularly wearable. They’re designed as devices rather than accessories to clothing.

Even the Samsung Gear isn’t that big an improvement on the calculator watch I had in the eighties.

Ripley instead showcased the new, and rather beautiful, Shine by Misfit Wearables.

Shine is a waterproof, wireless, activity and sleep monitor that can be worn as a discrete accessory anytime, anywhere. In Misfit’s words, it has been “built to last a lifetime,” in a “timeless, award-winning design” that is “precision-crafted from aerospace grade aluminium”.

Stylised photo of a woman wearing a bright yellow, tasselled dress, standing in front of a theatrical mirror applying lipstick. She is wearing a Shine necklace.

What impressed me as I flicked through Misfit’s website is that, in many photos, Shine is almost imperceptible—it’s a button hole, a necklace (above), a brooch, a badge.  Admittedly the bracelet form is more similar to other devices, such as the Jawbone UP, but in its essence, Shine seems more akin to jewellery than another wristband.

Many consumers no doubt embrace wearable devices in a recognisably technological form—Peter Brown observed that an estimated 8 million Britons already don some form of wearable device and 39% intend to use wearable tech when it becomes more widely available. Some consumers even wear the technological form as a statement in itself. However, it is likely that wearable technology will not become a day to day reality until it becomes a subtle and integrated part of our lives.

Do I like the idea of a smart watch? Potentially but I’d rather wear a time piece that suits my style and femininity. Several commentators have similarly pointed out that Google Glass is great but they don’t wear glasses. Rosella, who worked as a designer for Valentino, observed that: “Google Glass is asking us to change the way we look on a daily basis…It might be fun in a work environment, but why would you want it to become your everyday style?”

Three photographs of different people wearing Google Glass. From left to right: 1) A man with a beard wearing a black leather cap, light grey cardigan and dark grey T-shirt; he is standing on a street and holding the index finger of his right hand to a white Google Glass. 2) A woman with short, reddish brown hair, wearing a red dress and standing in an office environment; she is wearing a blue Google Glass. 3) A young man and woman, both with blond hair and wearing grey T-shirts. He has his arms folded and she is holding a cup of coffee.  Both are wearing blue Google Glass'.

Does that mean that we’re not target market? Perhaps but wearable tech also faces other, more practical challenges. For example, if I purchase an item of wearable clothing, inevitably the technology is only embedded into that particular piece. Say this item is a jacket, to avoid wearing the exact same jacket day after day, I need to purchase more than one of the same wearable device in different colours and styles. But even if I do this, I’m still locked into buying the same brand.

In contrast, my wardrobe today contains only one such item and that is a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans in two different shades—everything else is unique. Different brands, different styles, different colours, and even vintage. Understandably, this is why many devices are sold as an accessory but this returns us to the fact that they’re not very wearable.

Innovations in sports and cycling, such as the truly brilliant Hövding (described as an invisible bicycle helmet), the Sporty Supaheroe (a cycle jacket embedded with LEDs that sense body movement and directionality), and NuMetrex’s range of heart monitoring apparel (sports bra, men’s cardio shirt or women’s racer tank) seem to be a little more wearable but these devices are not designed for everyday activities or use. Several still also require additional transmitters.

 Three photographs of people wearing sports technology. From left to right: 1) A woman holding onto a railing and standing astride a white bicycle. She is wearing a black and white striped dress, a coffee coloured smart jacket and around her neck she is wearing a Hövding airbag. 2) A man sitting on a stool wearing sunglasses. He is also wearing a Sporty Supaheroe jacket and the white LEDs are lit either side of his chest. 3) A woman standing with her hands on her hips. She is wearing a blue NuMetrex sports bra.

In the longer term, and as argued by Liat Clark in Wired, it seems likely that for wearable tech to survive and thrive it will need to become as much a part, if not more, of the fashion industry as it is part of the technology market today. But again, for wearable tech to become truly mainstream, it needs not to get stuck in haute couture but to transition into something that the everyday (wo)man on the street is happy to wear.

As technologies both advance in capability and shrink in size, such a future becomes increasingly likely. At a recent Internet of Things Midlands Meetup, Neil Chilton, Technical Director and Co-Founder of Printed Electronics Ltd, shared that circuit boards can now be printed on some fabrics. With some such circuit boards being wafer thin, I imagine a day where I could pick out a dress and embedded in its fabric is imperceptible tech. Would I wear such a dress…just because it has tech in it? No. Because it looks fabulous? Oh yeah!

Image credits

Custom open dressing cabinets by ANYWAY doors on Flickr
Shine by Misfit Wearables

Google Glass by prae on Flickr
Google Glass and Future Health by tedeytan on Flickr
Google Glass OOB Experience by tedeytan on Flickr
Hövding Airbag for Cyclists
Sporty Supaheroe Jacket
NuMetrex Heart Rate Monitor Sports Bra

29
Aug
Posted by Matt & Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

Last week, we took a behind the scenes peek at how we went about creating the case study for Warwick Business School’s inaugural Case Competition. Today, we’re following this up with a look at the day of the competition itself. Alongside Tornar Yang (MBA student and official photographer), Matt acted as an unofficial photographer, so we’ve put together a brief snapshot to give you a flavour of the day.

Let the competition begin!

The day started at 8.30am with students arriving at WBS from all over the country—some had a very early start! Participants had received Part One of the briefing one week before but they had no idea about the second part of the challenge or what surprises the day had in store.

A selection of photos showing the students arriving at the WBS Case Competition and being briefed before the day starts.

Intense teamwork

The challenge itself had been designed so that it was difficult but achievable. Teams worked together to understand and balance the conflicting and competing demands of the case, while at the same time ensuring they kept the brief in mind and achieved the required objectives. Experts were on hand to answer any questions but teams were required to schedule meetings and to weigh the advice they were given. We were privileged to sit in on a number of discussions throughout the day and were extremely impressed by both individual and team insights—there was certainly no shortage of either brain power or enthusiasm!

Selection of photos of students working intensely as they discuss the non-adherence and digital healthcare challenge

Time to present

In just a few short hours, the time to present had arrived. Gathered together once again and with an audience of experts and judges, each team anxiously awaited their turn.

Overall, the standard of presentations was very high. Each team had taken their own distinct approach to the challenge and it was clear that a huge amount of work had gone into each solution. Several judges even observed that many of the insights and several of the presentations would not have been out of context in a professional, client-facing setting.

At the end of the day however, there could only be one winner and, in 2013, Lancaster University Management School’s team stole the day.

Students make their final presentations as judges score their performance and content.

Behind the scenes

The day itself, and indeed the whole competition, wouldn’t have happened without the incredible drive and dedication of both WBS staff and the Case Competition’s student Executive Team. Thanks must also go to WBS and University alumni who provided significant expertise and who judged the presentations, along with IMS Health, partner and sponsor of the competition. We certainly felt privileged to have been involved and, as always, it was a pleasure working with all.

Photos of just some of the people that made the WBS Case Competition day happen including sponsors, experts and WBS staff

We very much look forward to watching the Competition continue and grow in 2014.  We know that WBS hopes the event will grow to be one of the most prestigious global case competitions in the MBA calendar and become a must for all MBAs aspiring to a career in consulting or the healthcare sector, so we are excited to see it evolve.