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The Leader’s Narrative – Utilising Common Denominators

April 5, 2014 Dil Sidhu Connection Economy, Diversity, Strategy No Comments
The Leader’s Narrative – Utilising Common Denominators

Working at a major global University I often encourage MBA and undergraduate students come to visit me in my office. I purposely seat them so they face 4 large movie posters and more often than not I can see the student’s eyes look at the posters and on many occasions they stop the conversation and ask about the movies I have chosen.

When communicating in a multi-cultural and diverse environment (the University of Manchester has over 40,000 students studying across 20 different institutes and schools of faculty and come from 157 countries and territories) it is important to send and receive messages, through conversation and dialogue, that are relevant, able to connect with the recipient and understood. We often hear about the ‘Leader’s Narrative’ and the power of storytelling and while it is a great approach many leaders, in my experience, feel they don’t have enough ‘interesting and captivating’ stories to call upon.

Finding common denominators for narrative can be a great way to get the point across using the metaphor of a movie as most people, across all cultures and different backgrounds have experienced the power of film. I have seen my colleagues at TomorrowToday using the metaphor of film to great effect when they deliver the ‘Adaptive Leadership in a Dynamic World’ session to senior teams from global corporate organisations.

So, what 4 movies appear on the wall behind my desk you may be thinking and why those 4? Let me take you through my choices:

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Partnership Working – What Habits Really Work?

March 27, 2014 Dil Sidhu Organisational Development, Strategy No Comments
Partnership Working – What Habits Really Work?

It really does take two to tango!

Strawberries and Cream, Lennon and McCartney, Laurel and Hardy, Batman and Robin, Gin and Tonic, Bonnie and Clyde (okay, that one didn’t end so well!) are cited as great partnerships that complement each other and illustrate that you can be better together than on your own.

In business today you hear a lot about the word ‘partnership’ and it has perhaps been so overused that it has damaged its image and pushed it into cliché status. This is partly because partnership arrangements inevitably end up in a ‘win-lose’ scenario rather than the coveted ‘win-win’. Human nature is such that we want to work with people that we know and who know us. This builds a certain degree of familiarity, trust and understanding about what each brings to a business relationship.

The irony is that organisations are looking more and more towards establishing partnerships and subsequently need to be more cautious about seeking and announcing partnerships. Business activities like; outsourcing, co-development, supplier integration shared-services and even gaining the much coveted but seldom realized ‘trusted advisor’ status all require a thorough understanding of what attributes make for a successful partnership. Defined this means that it is meaningful for both parties this approach also applies equally within the sphere of learning and development.

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The biggest problem in business right now? I.T.!

The biggest problem in business right now? I.T.!

Over the past few weeks, in a number of workshops and interactions with clients I have become increasingly bold in my pronouncements about IT. Most companies’ information technology departments are now holding their companies back. They are protecting outdated systems and policies. They don’t have the resources to run ahead of their organisations – they’re doing all they can to hardly even keep up. Many are nothing more than techie solutions departments. And almost none have a future-focused orientation, with resources to experiment, play and discover new technology that could push their organisation forward.

Some IT departments are like this because they are lazy. It’s easier to just say “we can’t do that” than to create complexity in the system (for example, in allowing a ‘bring your own device’ policy, or in creating multiple levels of security access so that some people in the company can actually watch YouTube videos). But mainly it’s because IT departments are under resourced and have budgets that are not nearly adequate for the technology age in which we live. Who knows why companies do this to themselves right now. But then, IT departments are often complicit in these budget processes, not standing up for themselves or presenting an adequate case for what they should be doing for their businesses.

Whatever the reason, the state of IT is dire right now. And that means most companies are not living up to their potential in the digital age.

Here’s a video I recorded recently where I talk about this problem. Feel free to share this as the starting point for a conversation in your firm about the correct role of IT right now.

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The art of asking the questions and seeing the weak signals

The art of asking the questions and seeing the weak signals

As information thunders through the digital economy, it’s easy to miss valuable “weak signals” often hidden amid the noise, says Martin Harrysson, Estelle Métayer, and Hugo Sarrazin of the consulting group McKinsey & Co. These “snippets” of data they say can help companies to “figure out what customers want and to spot looming industry and market disruptions before competitors do”. This article ties in nicely to many of the key messages in our leadership and development programmes. Recently we were running a future-proofing leadership bootcamp with John Lewis Partnership and we were discussing the important but seldom used leadership skill of asking questions. In a rapid fast pace complex and ambiguous world, predicting the future is a wasteful exercise. Rather leaders need to be asking questions that start or shift conversations, ask questions that motivate or inspire people to change and importantly ask questions that help identify the opportunities behind weak signals. By doing this leaders can identify disruptive forces and innovate to leverage the competitive advantage disruptions offer.

Weak signals are everywhere, of course, so deciding when and where to keep the antennae out is critical, the article by McKinsey provides a nice framework for a four step process to seeing weak signals:

1) Engaging at the top

Senior leaders need to get actively involved in the social media where weak signals are coming from. They need to engage with the thought-leaders and tribal heads of social communities. Tony Hseih is a great example of a leader who uses social media platforms to share his dreams, thoughts and aspirations. With over 2.8million followers most importantly Tony does not use the  platforms to sell his company, but rather as a way of having a dialogue with the people important to him both inside and outside his company.

You can view an excerpt of the remaining steps below or follow this link to MQ


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Trust Me, I’m an Expert!

February 12, 2014 Dil Sidhu Strategy 2 Comments
Trust Me, I’m an Expert!

Trust Me, I’m an Expert!

I recently had the opportunity to speak to MBA students many of whom were aiming for a career in the world of consulting and professional services. A significant number stated they would like embrace a role where there is c-suite level interaction, strategic issues to develop and being able to convert their newly minted business acumen into business benefits for the client organisation.

Having worked within the sector with two of the ‘Big Four’ global professional service firms there is a great emphasis placed on project and team-based work and as Tom Peter’s points out, ‘To win today you must master the art of the project.’ This comment applies to any business role but especially the world of professional services, be it investment banking, consultancy, legal services, architecture, etc., where fees are usually based on a project or program completion basis.

However, there is one title within the professional services arena considered to be the gold standard in terms of prestige and being viewed as part of the professional services elite. This is the much sought after but rarely awarded title of ‘Trusted Advisor’. Many executive education programmes I have designed and delivered are focused on this elusive domain name with senior level professionals searching for ways in which their clients will view them as indispensable and the first point of call when a sounding board is needed.

So what is required to commence the journey towards trusted advisor status? Much has been written about the topic and perhaps unsurprisingly many of the traits illustrated by true trusted advisors have less to do with technical skills and more to do with who you are as an individual, a professional and a person. Based on my experiences and research conducted into this area here are some key attributes associated with being a trusted advisor.

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3D printing rapidly approaching tipping point

February 7, 2014 Dean van Leeuwen Disruptive Forces, Future Trends, Innovation, Strategy, Technology 1 Comment
3D printing rapidly approaching tipping point
We’ve been watching and tracking the implications of 3D printers and a disruptive force and innovation for over five years now. We’ve observed many exciting developments from the work of Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California, who created a 3D printer that prints houses in 20 hours, using a process called contour crafting; to the use of 3D printers to print human tissues, spinal columns, jawbones . NASA has taken a 3D printer into space  and; Nestle (one of TomorrowToday’s clients) is experimenting with the printing of chocolate and pizzas. It seems that the innovations and uses for 3D printers are limited only by our imagination.
The rapid development and adoption of 3D printers, (Amazon now has a dedicated portal for 3d printing fanatics, London has iMakr - the world’s largest 3D printing store, and colleague and TomorrowToday co-founder Graeme Codrington bought a 3D printer for his family – making him the coolest dad for his 3 Gen Y daughters!); is leading to an explosion in the types of printers, materials used (from Titanium to human cartilage) and the costs are rapidly reducing. McKinsey, a leading management consultancy, believe that 3D printing or additive manufacturing has now reached the tipping point and senior leaders need to be observing 5 disruptions that will accompany this trend. You can read their article on 3D printing takes shape below or at their website.  Two thing are for sure, 3D printing is set to reshape the world of manufacturing (if not the world at large) and we are a tad proud to say TomorrowToday’s futurists got it right again.

The $27,500 rifle that never misses

The $27,500 rifle that never misses

TrackingPoint makes s $27,500 smart rifle that doesn’t miss it’s target even at a 1000 yards. The Texas based business is backed by $35 million in funding from founder John McHale, his buddies and Austin Ventures. The rifle’s smart system is so clever that any novice can pick up the gun, point it at a target a thousand yards away and hit it dead-centre first time (or at least that is the promise). Peer down the smartscope and line up a white dot (the centre of the crosshairs), push a red button to lock the gun’s guidance system on the target and pull the trigger… nothing happens, you’ve duffed it… shaken too much. The rifle’s system takes over calculating the perfect alignment sensing your breathing rhythms and countering your moving hands. Without warning at the precise perfect moment the rifle fires itself hitting the target.

Wouldn’t life be great if your company had a super-gun, aim at your target audience, your perfect employee prospect, hit the red button and at the precise moment of alignment your message is fired off to hit the target spot on. Thing is companies seeking smart systems, smart data, smart everything forget there’s more to business than just smart systems and smart mechanics. Where is the art, where is the skill, where is the adventure when any dummy can punt your offering? Because it’s doesn’t matter who fires your message when the system fires for them, removing the element of ‘human error’.  But if anyone can do it aided by a computer, a robot, a machine… where is the competitive advantage? …gone!
Here’s the catch: This is the world we are hurtling towards, a world where any dumb company can point and the system will shoot. Whatever. The human error gives your company heart and soul, the human error helps you learn. TrackingPoint is in trouble because the perfect gun doesn’t always hit the target, seems there are external factors when the smart system doesn’t alwaywork, it’s too hot, it’s too cold. TrackingPoint is making a loss, bleeding over $7 million a year even though their youtube videos go viral with millions of views.
In this world of smart, it’s still the operator, the retail assistant, the leader, the person that matters most because when everyone is hitting the dead-centre it’s the personal touch that hits the sweets pot.
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New Year, New Start

January 16, 2014 Dil Sidhu Strategy No Comments
New Year, New Start

New Year New Start…

I won’t start with a ‘Happy New Year’ salutation as a recent online forum suggested January 11th is the last ‘official day’ to use that greeting – glad to hear that it was done online rather than a government sanctioned international select committee!. Another date-related New Year’s fact is the majority of people give up on their resolutions around January 9th (especially those to do with ‘exercise, eating better and living a more active life’). Well, like most people I have resolutions and want to share them as research shows we are significantly more likely to keep our resolutions if we make our commitments to change in an ‘Active, Voluntary and Public’ way. Basically, this means you should shout from the rooftop that you’re going to start exercising, eat better and be a better person, etc.! Say it out loud and set the expectations in minds of others about your intentions!

My resolutions are fairly straight forward and rather than just include things that I am going to start doing they include things that I will stop doing. Resolution number one is that I am going to change some of the relationships I have with some of the people in my life. As it happens many of these individuals do provide me with great enjoyment from their company but it is not without a long term cost. So, with much regret, I will be seeing less of the following people (including a member of ’Royalty’ no less!) during 2014: Ronald McDonald, Burger King, Jack Daniels, Arthur Guinness and just about the entire Mars and Cadbury families!

I have traded in those familiar friends to hang out with some new, younger and unfamiliar ones that include Nike trainer, Life Fitness treadmill and Boflex weights. In terms of us getting along it is early days but so far, so good!

Resolution two is in two parts and covers learning new things and giving something back. Not a new one I know and one that many of us contemplate on December 31st but then ‘life and work’ get in the way and the time we think we have to share dissipates into other commitments. Some refer to this desire to give something back as ‘Legacy’ and relate it to a generational need to put something back after being able to succeed in our own right whether it be in personal or professional life. So I am committed to learn and give back in two different ways.

Part one is about learning new things so scuba-diving and motorcycle lessons here I come! I know these are classic ingredients for a mid-life crisis but lucky for me I have already been through that and this is different! Part two will focus on how to give back in a more meaningful way than I have done so in the past. Like many of you I too have on occasion signed up as a volunteer to paint the proverbial community hall or clear the rubbish in the local park. However, that is probably not my greatest strength! While I can push a broom, wield a paint brush and operate a lawn mower with the best of them, what I’m better at doing is being a resource-investigator and creating learning and development events! So I am doing just that for the UK Charity and Non-Government Organisations sector (NGOs). It will be a programme underpinned by a major global University and after finding out what the needs of the charitable and NGO are I will design a no-charge workshop for them. This is giving back something of greater value than what I am usually tasked with providing and it plays to my strengths.

In closing I have noticed that the U2 song ‘New Year’s Day’ gets a lot of air time around midnight of December 31st. Just be wary that the first line of lyrics states, ‘Nothing changes on New Year’s Day…’ Be sure to make your change lasting and meaningful to you…and let others know so you are more likely to live up to your commitment!

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No fracking please we are British

January 14, 2014 Dean van Leeuwen Strategy No Comments
No fracking please we are British

The heat surrounding the debate, protesting and exploration for Shale Gas in the UK is on the rise. On the 10th January last year, I posted a blog predicted that shale gas would revolutionise the world and that the UK and it’s European partners needed to act quickly or they world be left behind as the US and other countries who embrace the technology surge forward. This week it became clear that that prediction is coming true. Regardless of the debate and your feeling around fracking  it’s going to happen. The US is already benefiting from cheap oil and gas and very soon will become the world’s largest producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia. Now that’s equivalent to a oil tanker doing a hand-break turn!

This week oil giant Total announced they will be investing in the UK shale gas industry. On top of this, Prime Minister David Cameron has  promised a business rates windfall to councils that approve shale gas projects, recognising that if the UK is to remain competitive on the global stage an investment in fracking is required. Another reason why the UK government can not ignore shale gas is because they will not meet their CO2 emission commitments if they don’t. Nuclear energy is too expensive and controversial and green energy is not where it needs to be to meet demand. Battles will be fought with environmentalists but I fear they will be as effective as a peashooter, the shale gas revolution is here to stay. Current shale reserves (and more are expected to be found) will sustain the UK for at least 50 years.

What does this mean for green energy. The government should take some of the windfall from Shale gas and use it to invest in a greener future. Failure to do so will be very shortsighted indeed.

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Booz & Co’s Strategy+Business Best Business Blogs of 2013

Booz & Co’s Strategy+Business Best Business Blogs of 2013

The editor of Booz & Co’s Strategic+Business magazine and blog site selected his favourite business blogs of 2013. I like this list a lot – there’s some really valuable articles here. It’s an eclectic list, but well worth taking some time to read through and share with your team:

Susan Cramm: Retaining Top Talent: Yes, It Really Is All about Them
If you want to retain your high-potential employees, you have to get involved in helping them plan their careers.

Ken Favaro: Is Strategy Fixed or Variable?
Successful strategists understand that their role is to manage a process fraught with contradictions.

Sally Helgesen: The Three Habits of Highly Effective Demotivators
Surefire tips for stamping out morale and making sure you get the least out of your employees.

Nick Hodson and Thom Blischok: What if Clay Christensen Is Right about the Grocery Business (and Amazon Is Wrong)?
The disruptive influences of e-commerce may finally be setting their sights on the grocery industry.

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‘Tell them what they want to know not just what you want to tell them’

‘Tell them what they want to know not just what you want to tell them’

This is an familiar quote to anyone well versed in designing learning and development interventions for executive audiences from any sector in the private or public domain. It relates to ensuring that the designers listen to the client issues before developing content.

At a recent event for the Association of Business Schools (ABS) there was discussion about the gap between what business schools offer and what business leaders say they need. Senior leaders indicated that while the traditional topics of business were being well covered (e.g. Corporate Finance, Leadership, Strategy, Human Resources, etc.) This menu of business knowledge only covered part of the insights, tools and techniques that global and local businesses need to survive and thrive.

The missing piece is around the ability to look at and over the horizon of the constant change, in many cases disruptive changes, that face business.

So what do business leaders want to know versus what business schools are telling them? The trends related to ever faster moving technology and what it means for them specifically and especially before they invest money in what just might be ‘old technology’ by the time the new systems are implemented. What does it mean for business now that trust and institutional values have been tested and show to be failing in their promise to various stakeholders? Trust in banks and government has equally been damaged by the post-2008 downturn and their reactions to stem the melt-down. Demographics are a huge topic area and how can business leaders distil the information and leverage it for their businesses? The stalwart is environmental issues but go well beyond being a ‘Green’ organisation – what are the strategic planning implications of consequences (positive and negative) sit behind their activity or inactivity in this fast growing business and social issue. Lastly, how are social values changing and what will be the impact on business? Not just in terms of the traditionally viewed family unit of ‘Mother, Father and 2.4 kids’ but in terms of the changing social values across generations, groups and individuals. Again, there are business positives and negatives around social values but many organisations have no idea how to even start the dialogue with customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and a myriad of other stakeholders.

Equally important business leaders want to know what strategies and tactics they should be considering to both take advantage of these disruptive changes and to better shield their businesses from the impact expected. They also want their management and leadership teams to have the insight, planning ability and courage to face these disruptive challenges head-on!

Business schools, like any business in any sector, need to look at their offerings through the lens of their customers to ensure they are relevant and add real and substantial value to the thinking of current and future managers and leaders. There are many models and frameworks that have been created by some incredible minds to help organisations grow and consider their place in the competitive landscape. Tools and frameworks like the ‘SWOT’ analysis, ‘Boston Matrix’, ‘Five-Forces’ and many more have been utilised to great effect and taught in many business schools. A meaningful and relevant addition would be a framework through which future horizon scanning can be achieved to ensure trends and disruptive changes can be properly filtered and utilised as a competitive insight for advantage or early warning radar for changing organisational direction.

This approach will create an opportunity for business schools and the organisations with whom they work. It will also add a new element to the business school-participant relationship dynamic with a new process that starts with ‘Unlearning’ before learning can take place. Business is finding that what got it ‘this far’ may not be enough to take it further. This implies there is a need about identifying and acting on signals from an effective horizon scanning approach.

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Today’sTransformers: Hointer & Nadia Shouraboura

Today’sTransformers: Hointer & Nadia Shouraboura

“We write code, play with robots, experiment with tensioned tubes and cables and drink lots of Red Bull,” says Nadia Shouraboura CEO of new start up Hointer a retail store that combines technology and with traditional shopping. It’s the ultimate in high-tech, modern shopping experience – fast and efficient as buying online, but with the added advantage of allowing shoppers to try on and touch the clothing.

Shouraboura used to be Amazon’s VP of global supply chain and technology so she knows a thing or two about what works in today’s instant gratification world of shopping and she is rapidly expanding her new business model and shopping experience having invested $5 million of her own money and another $5 million from friends and family. “We are zooming,” says Shouraboura — with plans to open new stores in Bellevue, San Francisco, Tokyo and Shanghai this is one business model that has the ability to radically transform retail shopping.

Hointer understand that people like to engage in the real world – see, feel, touch, hear and smell the product they want to buy. But they also enjoy the speed and efficiency of the web. Hoinster’s business model is designed to offer the best of both worlds and shows how an innovative business model can merge the digital world with the physical world.

The Hointer Experience

Enter a small but spacious store with only one item of each individual product for sale being displayed. Using your mobile device and Hointer App scan the bar code to view style guides, social media and customer reviews. Once you’ve chosen what you want to try on, a single tap of a button on your smart device has the items of clothing delivered to you in a changing room within 30 seconds via a tension tube. If the item is too big or too small or not the right colour, no worries, toss the unwanted item into a chute and request the new item and again within 30 seconds you are ready to try on the new garment. Find the item you want, just swipe your credit card and walk out – no lines, no waiting.

Watch the video to see how this innovative business operates.


Today’sTransformers is a TomorrowToday Strategic Insights initiative that brings you insights on innovative and pioneering people, organisations and companies that are using disruptive forces to transform the world and make it a better place to live, work and play. Use them as case studies and inspirational stories for your team and help them think differently about the unique challenges you face.

For more insights please contact our Strategic Insights Team 

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Primary Blog contributors

The main contributors to this blog are:

Dr Graeme Codrington, co-founder of TomorrowToday, author, speaker and expert on the changing world of work
Dean van Leeuwen, co-founder and CEO of TomorrowToday UK & Europe, speaker, consultant and Chief Intellectual Adventurer
Catherine Garland, head of the TomorrowToday Strategic Insights team and previous MD of GFK Research in the United Kingdom
Keith Coats, co-founder of TomorrowToday South Africa, leadership development guru, speaker and author
Professor Nick Barker, director of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program at the East-West Center in Hawaii, leadership development expert
Markus Kramer, marketing director for Aston Martin and brand building expert
Keith Holdt, Visionary Enabler of business growth and change, currently works for LDC as an investment executive.
Dil Sidhu, Chief External Officer, Manchester Business School; Executive education specialist.
Dawna MacLean, expert on fostering meaningful change and creating authentic experiences through transparent and trusted partnerships.

Click here for a full list of contributors

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