Business musings

Articles and thoughts about all things innovative and strategic

16
Jun
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.

30
May
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.

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.