Business musings

Articles and thoughts about all things innovative and strategic

“Notice anything different about me?”
Five words that will strike fear into anyone’s heart. The panic as you rapidly assess the options…is it their haircut, new clothes, new car? Help! You’re not sure…Maybe go with the clothes car haircut—that’s probably safest.

Cartoon of a stick person sitting at a table with "?HUH" about her head. Another stick person stands in a doorway with "TADA!" above his head. Through the window, you can just see the outline of a car. The caption reads, "Chloe was struggling to spot anything different about Tim this evening - but then she hadn’t yet seen his new Porsche on the drive."


This is essentially the question businesses ask their potential customers to answer on a daily basis. “Notice anything different about us?” Not necessarily different from yesterday, but different from our competitors.

But more often than not, it’s really not obvious what is different about the business, its products or its services. In a sea of choice, customers need to be able to understand your proposition and what makes you different; what makes you better; what makes you ‘the one’.

You’ll understand from your own purchasing decisions that differentiation is critical to your buying selection, whether you are buying a new car or choosing where you want to grab a bite to eat. At times, you might not be very aware of your decision making process, but you’ll be using multiple buying criteria to make the choice.

  • For example, when buying a TV, Debbie and I could have got it cheaper online; however, the 5-year guarantee that John Lewis offers made buying from them much lower risk.
  • When we’re looking to eat out, there are so many places to choose from, but Millsy’s do a full gluten-free menu that is almost identical to the normal menu which makes me happy. (Remember not to underestimate the power of the minority!)
  • In choosing a tradesperson to work on our house, recommendation is critical—either in person or online to ensure peace of mind that the work is going to be of decent quality.

You get my drift. We always have to justify our buying decision to ourselves in some way, and we’re drawn to difference. We’re drawn to those things that meet our needs.

While this might seem basic, and even somewhat obvious, you’d be surprised how many companies haven’t considered what makes them different or what their key competitive advantage is. Even if they have, it’s often from their own internal perspective (e.g. “We use the DC4543sXF chip instead of the DC4543sXW chip used by our competitors”) rather than their customers’ viewpoint.

Cartoon of two stick people. One is standing in front of shelves on which there are gadgets. Above his head it says, “It’s got a much better chip than the others.” The other stick person is looking at this scene with a thought bubble above his head that shows him eating a plate of chips.

Herein lies the opportunity, for your marketing strategy, innovating your differences, and developing your competitive advantage. By taking your customers’ view of the world, digging into how they see you and your competitors, and understanding your customers’ buying behaviour and decision making processes, you’ll begin to understand how you can make yourself noticeably different—in a way that your customers actually care about!

Introducing Erick Ratamero

Today, we’d like to introduce Erick Ratamero. Erick is a PhD student with the Marie Curie Centre for Analytical Science Innovative Doctoral Programme (Marie Curie CAS-IDP), with which we are involved as an industrial partner. It is our pleasure to offer an industrial secondment to Erick and we’re thrilled to share with you his experiences at PyCon UK.

Photo of Erick Ratamero standing in front of his academic poster at PyCon. Erick is wearing glasses, a blue shirt and a red lanyard. The poster is white, with a blue border, and is entitled 'A multi-layered approach to cultural Dynamics (with Python!); it includes an abstract, background, details of our model and future work.

2015 was the first time PyCon UK, a well-established community conference for Python developers in the UK, added a Science track to its schedule. As it was happening here in Coventry, I have decided to join them and present the work I have been developing with my supervisor at the University of Warwick, Matthew Turner, and Matt and Debbie Stocker.

We have been working on a model for studying the two-way interactions between populations and “broadcasters”, that is, agents that can influence the opinions of a whole population. With small adaptations, broadcasters can come to represent media, advertisers, political parties, innovators and so on. It’s not finished and there is a fair amount of work to be done, but it’s interesting and we have some preliminary results, so we decided to show it to the world!

PyCon itself was a great experience. I am used to academic conferences, so going to an event where most people are in industry was a welcome change of pace. I was amazed by how strong the sense of community was! Everyone seemed completely comfortable striking conversations with anyone else, no matter how ‘important’ they were. I think there is a lot more both industry and academia could be learning from each other when it comes to software.

The poster session was really interesting. I realized how much I have come to rely on jargon to explain my work, and having to describe what I do to people who are very clever but who do not share the same vocabulary was a great challenge (that I hope to have overcome). There seemed to be a lot of interest for the work I have been doing, with lots of people asking to take pictures of the poster to read the references later and some great discussions with academics and developers alike. I will certainly attend again in 2016!

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Our News  

Earlier in the year, we ran an innovation masterclass at the Coventry Growth Hub for the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce. It was great to see everyone getting their heads around innovation and what it means for their business. The event has been featured in C&W in Business and we thought you’d like to see the article.

Participants explore how to become more innovative during the Chamber’s January Masterclass run by strategic innovation consultancy Stocker Partnership

It’s looking like 2015 will be the year of innovation…

For the 30 businesses that attended the Chamber’s Innovation Masterclass run by Stocker Partnership, it’s looking like 2015 will be the year of innovation.

The well-attended event was relocated to the conferencing facilities at Cheylesmore House due to high demand from business professionals wanting to learn how to apply innovation in their businesses.

Innovation specialists Matt and Debbie Stocker from strategic innovation consultancy Stocker Partnership challenged participants to think differently about their businesses and to step beyond their everyday experiences.

They opened the group’s eyes to the fact that it is possible to innovate anything and everything within a business, rather than innovation being limited to the creation of new products alone.

Sarah Hickman from Public Marketing Communications said, “Innovation can seem like a daunting subject that doesn’t necessarily apply to your business on a day to day basis. When you think about innovation you tend to think of organisations like Apple. You might think, ‘I could never aspire to be an organisation like that.’

“The Masterclass has been useful because we’ve learnt ways that you can actually apply innovation to your business. Even if you’re a small business or a sole trader, you can still innovate and there are practical steps you can take to introduce innovation.”

The Masterclass covered a number of powerful innovation tools, from disruptive thinking that challenges accepted norms in your marketplace or company, to using the power of silent crowdsourcing to generate ideas and solve problems through BrainSwarming.

It also looked at how approaches from another industry can be introduced to expand thinking and unlock new ideas as the latest Software as a Service revenue models were applied to create new income streams. Participants worked hard throughout the morning to develop practical ideas that they could implement as soon as they got back to the office.

Matt Stocker, Director of Stocker Partnership, shared, “It was great to see everyone beginning to view themselves as innovators and starting to understand the value of innovation in their businesses at a deeper level. Innovation is a hugely powerful tool that can be used to drive revenue growth, reduce costs, solve complex challenges and differentiate businesses from the competition. I’m excited to see how the great ideas that everyone came up with will be applied in their respective businesses over the coming year and the impact that this will have.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June edition of C&W In Business, Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber’s official magazine.

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Our News  

Introducing our Stocker Partnership video! Filmed and edited by the talented Nico Turner, it gives you a short introduction to who we are, what we do and how we do it. If you like what you see and wish to explore working together, do get in touch!


Continue reading for the full video transcript


From The Guardian to Cisco, big business to small, it seems that everybody is talking about the Internet of Things — but what exactly is IoT and why does it matter?

In our latest SlideShare, we take a deep dive to explore the many faces of IoT in Healthcare. Technology research and advisory company, Gartner currently place the Internet of Things at the peak of inflated expectations and there are certainly challenges. But IoT also holds real promise for healthcare and it is already making an impact today.

We demonstrate why the Internet of Things has a far reaching impact across all determinants of health and how it could lead to a broader model of healthcare. We look at some of the technologies that are available to buy or that are already in development today, whilst also exploring some of the very real challenges that integrating such technologies into healthcare presents. Finally, we offer some ideas about how you can get involved, whether you are a healthcare professional or not.

Find out more by viewing the SlideShare below.

Coventry MakerSpace
A couple of months ago, Coventry MakerSpace opened for business at the Koco Community Resource Centre in Spon End, Coventry. A really exciting addition to the local community, there are already some great projects underway, including MakerKids and a hand built Arcade Machine. If you fancy joining, membership is just £25 per month for unlimited access.

Back to my design roots

Debbie spotted Coventry MakerSpace via MeetUp a little while ago, and having persuaded me to go along to one of their Maker Open Nights (held every Thursday), I got the design itch again. In the last month or so, I finally made the leap to join.

Before my Management Sciences degree at Warwick, my original intention was to be an Industrial Product Designer and I completed the first year of an M/Des BSc in Industrial Product Design at Coventry University before transferring to Warwick. I don’t regret my degree or career change in the slightest, but I do still love design.

I love the way design trains you to think. How it teaches you to visualise ideas and bring them to life practically; to prototype, test, scrap stuff and start again. I love the constant learning as you challenge yourself to fuse ideas and concepts together into a cohesive whole. Once you’ve learnt to think that way, I don’t think it ever leaves you.

So having decided to join MakerSpace, all I needed was something to design and make! Given that we work with a lot of technology and software businesses, I wanted to choose a challenge that would be relevant, that would develop my skills and understanding, and that would, of course, be fun.

My other requirement was that I wanted to write a series of articles both on the project itself and on some of my thoughts about the design/creation process. I’d like to include some of the interesting technologies I come across along the way too.

A good excuse for a Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi (portrait)Having been hankering after a Raspberry Pi for a while, I decided to base whatever I designed around that. In some ways it feels like a cliché—make something, use a Raspberry Pi, post it on Instructables. Even so, I loved the potential flexibility of the Pi—it is essentially a blank canvas, albeit with certain constraints. With the arrival of the Pi—the new B+ revision with 512MB RAM and micro SD card—at the Stocker Partnership offices, I really had no excuse!

Given that the main reason I was drawn to the Pi was its flexibility, I wanted to create something that didn’t hinder this and that stayed true to the blank canvas approach. The issue with failing to narrow the scope adequately, of course, is you can end up with something that does nothing very well—not unlike the new F-35 Fighter Jet, although my project is admittedly significantly less expensive! A Frankenstein of design, if you like.

In narrowing the scope, I did know that I wanted whatever I made to be audio focused and to have a touchscreen interface. I also knew I didn’t want it to look like spaghetti junction with wires sprawling in all directions, unlike most of the Pi creations I’d seen. I knew I wanted the project to be my own creation and that I didn’t want to just follow someone else’s instructions—ideally, I’d like to do something a bit unique. Finally, I wanted to 3D print, and potentially laser cut, the case to explore these technologies in a product design/prototyping context.

So I wouldn’t say the above counts as a ‘clear brief’ as such. More, a creative direction in which to explore further. This outline was certainly good enough for me—and given that I am both the client and the designer, I’m pretty confident that I can clarify more further down the line when I know more about what’s actually feasible!

Watch this space for more updates as I work on the project…

MakerSpaces are creative spaces in which people can gather to create, invent, design and learn. Typically, these community spaces provide access to opportunities and technologies, such as 3D printers, computer-aided design (CAD) software and wood working tools, that would otherwise be inaccessible or unaffordable for many. 

Coventry MakerSpace has been set up to support the makers, engineers, designers, artists, programmers, computer scientists, modellers and all the other people who like being creative in Coventry. It’s an organisation run by members for members in a relaxed and safe environment. To find out more about Coventry MakerSpace, visit @CovMakerSpace
Facebook Coventry MakerSpace
Wiki Coventry MakerSpace Wiki

Not only has Debbie’s work been published on one of Hong Kong’s leading education websites but Matt’s opinions have now reached as far afield as Australia. In September, we received a rather surprise email from the editor of Tasmanian Business Access asking if it would be possible to feature Matt’s review of one of the best selling business books of all time, Good to Great by Jim Collins. Of course, we were delighted to say yes.

Tasmanian Business Access connects with the people and businesses of Tasmania, one of Australia’s most dynamic regions. Each month, 20,000 copies are distributed direct to businesses, networking groups and selected residential areas throughout Hobart, Launceston, Burnie and Devonport.

Matt’s review was featured alongside the thoughts of Iain Bayly, Editor and Publisher of Tasmanian Business Access. For this article and others, including insights on creating a learning culture, why sales doesn’t have to be a necessary evil, and when business failure is not business failure, download the full publication.

Header of the Tasmanian Business Access October 2014 edition

Tasmanian Business Access - Good to Great Book Review

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Leadership  
Allan MurungiIntroducing guest writer, Allan Murungi

Today, we’re thrilled to introduce a new guest writer to our blog, Allan Murungi. As someone who is studying for an MBA at Warwick Business School, we met Allan at a WBS case study event earlier this year and were instantly impressed with his passion and enthusiasm. In his own words, Allan is an Innovation and Creativity enthusiast, IT Professional, Warwick MBA student, avid book reader and (recently) keen (road bike) cyclist.

The story of IBM’s resurgence during the period 1994 to 1998 is a story of innovation and creativity from the bottom up, started and championed by David Grossman. Grossman’s vision and tenacity resulted in IBM transforming itself from a company that was in decline into an Internet Services firm that rode the wave of e-commerce opportunities to the tune of $20 billion by the end of 1998.

And yet this begs the questions: Who was David Grossman? How did he manage to lead this innovation effort at IBM? And can this innovation and creativity process be replicated?

In organisations, innovation and creativity have traditionally been considered the domains of Chief Executives and other members of the C-suite. The best example of this is perhaps John Chen, formerly of Sybase Inc., who is now leading the turnaround at BlackBerry. As recently as June of this year, BlackBerry has, under his leadership, reported a positive net income of $23 million, up from an $84 million loss during the same period last year.

Innovation and creativity are also generally considered the domain of Research and Development. For instance, the vaunted R&D division of Apple gave us the iPod and iPhone, while Pfizer, the US pharmaceuticals giant, has maintained its dominance through such R&D as developed Viagra.

Where does David Grossman fit in all of this?

During the Winter Olympics of 1994, David Grossman, then described as a midlevel programmer at IBM, sat at home watching the Olympics on TV. As the official technology partner of the Olympics, IBM was responsible for collecting and displaying all the results. This gave the firm the exclusive privilege of displaying the IBM logo at the bottom of the screen, together with an interleaving of IBM ads at regular intervals.

However, upon surfing the Internet, Grossman discovered that Sun Microsystems had set up a rogue Olympics streaming site, complete with the Sun logo and marketing. As such, if someone only had access to this online stream, they would be given the impression that Sun Microsystems was the Winter Olympics’ official sponsor!

Grossman promptly reported this to his superiors, which resulted in IBM’s legal team sending Sun Microsystems a cease-and-desist letter. But Grossman didn’t stop there. He saw the opportunity that the Internet presented and set out to get IBM on board.

First, he set up a demonstration for senior executives in which he showed them exactly what the Web was and the vast potential it held for IBM. This piqued their interest and got their support. Grossman then became the right-hand man to John Patrick, who was present at Grossman’s first demonstration and worked in corporate strategy. Together, they worked on projects to convert IBM’s disparate divisions to the potential of the Web and to design IBM’s first homepage. Grossman and a handful of IBM’s best Web engineers rescued the website that broadcast the chess match between world champion, Gary Kasparov, and IBM Supercomputer, Deep Blue. By the time the Summer Olympics came around in 1996, IBM had built the first ever Olympics website, which also happened to be the world’s largest website at the time. And by 1998, IBM had a huge web presence!

So what does this mean for innovation in your organisation?

Grossman was just a frontline employee. He certainly didn’t have responsibility for innovation and creativity in IBM and he wasn’t part of the strategic planning team. And yet his contribution is credited with enabling IBM to successfully harness the power of the Internet at a critical time, in turn ensuring that the company maximised its potential.

The question then is: Was IBM lucky to have the tenacious and passionate David Grossman on its team?
And the answer is: Absolutely!

Would IBM have got on board with the potential of the internet without him? Maybe/Eventually/Possibly.

Our questions to you then are:

  • What is your innovation and creativity strategy?
  • What are you doing to support and engage your frontline employees in innovation for your company?
  • Are there systems in place to capture the generation of ideas, select the best ones and try them out?
And for those of you who like the research…

The complete story of IBM’s turnaround can be read at Harvard Business Review:
Waking up IBM: how a gang of unlikely rebels transformed Big Blue

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

Photo of Matt sitting in front of a radio microphone and wearing headphonesEarlier this summer, 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.

Continue reading for the full interview transcript

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Our News  Strategic Planning  

Our Agile Strategy Planner is a brand new tool that enables you to create a dynamic strategy. We’ve been using it in our work with clients for just over a year now and thought that it was about time to release it into the wild!

The Planner acts as a bridge between strategic intent—that is, your vision, strategic priorities and core objectives—and detailed implementation. It allows you to take your intentions and to rapidly prototype what these might look like in reality. As you visualise how one objective impacts another, you’ll quickly be able to see whether your strategy is realistic and if you need to scale back your plans or can in fact afford to be even more ambitious.

Well documented strategic plans are important but there’s a danger that they become a weighty tome sitting on a shelf gathering dust. Their relevance can also be fleeting for those firms that operate in fast-moving, unpredictable markets. We wanted to create an approach that was different. As a tool, the Agile Strategy Planner is flexible, collaborative, transparent, easy to use and visual. It’s also suitable for all kinds of organisations—from software to services, corporates to charities, and everything in-between.

We’ve released the Agile Strategy Planner under Creative Commons so it’s free to use and adapt, even commercially. The only requirements are that you share alike under the same license and that you give appropriate credit to us, the Planner’s original creators.

We’ll be sharing more of the thinking behind the design of the Agile Strategy Planner soon but in the meantime, find out more by viewing the SlideShare below—the short guide has all the lowdown you need to get started. Free downloads for both the 3-year and 5-year planner are also included or simply download now.

If you use the Agile Strategy Planner in your organisation, if you have thoughts, feedback or ideas that you’d like to share, or if you progress our work under creative commons, we’d love to hear all about it! Do drop us a line and feel free to share on Twitter #AgileStrategyPlan