Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pulp Innovation Chapter Twenty Six

The day broke, clear and sunny, with a fine soft west wind off the bay. People were out, going to work, eating in bagel shops, sipping that first delicious draft of coffee. They were driving to work in convertibles with the wind in their hair, reveling in the fine weather. All was sunshine and light on the outside.

Or at least that's the way it appeared from my bedroom window, peering slightly off to the left to get a glimpse of the street down the narrow alleyway between my building and the one just across the way. Mornings were probably another invention we should chalk up to Torquemada, even mornings as bright and clear and resonant as this one. No wonder Starbucks and Caribou and a host of other cartoonish coffee klatches had succeeded. Most people didn't want to get out of bed even on the best of mornings, and they needed that caffeine kickstart to get them moving.

For me it was a fine morning outside, but a clock and a calendar clicked away inside my head. Today was the 30th working day since I'd presented to Accipiter's management team at the Excelsior. In that time period I'd had one voice to voice call with Johansen, left two voicemails for Phillips (unreturned), left three voicemails for Briggs (unreturned) and had four conversations with myself about what had gone wrong. Silence from a firm like Accipiter is as inevitable as rust, and since no executive in his right mind will tell you what is happening until the ground under his feet stops moving, the silence reverberated in my office. I understood that no decision would be taken quickly, but Accipiter was moving with the speed of a prehistoric sloth surrounded by hungry Cro-Magnons.

I tossed back my breakfast, a mixture of day old coffee with a slash of something Irish and dressed, pondering my next move. First, I asked myself, did Accipiter intend to do anything to innovate? Next, if so, did it intend to seek out an outside partner to assist with that work? Third, if so, how likely was it that Marlow Innovation would be that firm. Last, if all of those suppositions fell in my favor, what was the approximate timeframe until the next global warming period? In all honesty I answered my questions as 1) maybe but who really knew 2) probably, if for no other reason than to ignite some energy 3) Very likely since I'd met and spoken with most of them and 4) that date got reset each quarter.

Fortunately Matt and I had enough on our plate to keep us occupied, expanding the office, bringing Meredith up to speed, working with other existing clients and trolling for new opportunities. Hiring Meredith brought immediate and unexpected benefits - a small trend spotting and synthesis project for a traditional media company. Meredith had contacts and introduced Marlow Innovation as a firm to assist with trend spotting, synthesis and scenario planning, which we won fair and square, which is to say without competition. We'd be starting that project this week.

Trend spotting and synthesis is one of my favorite types of projects, because it is somewhat removed from the pressure of identifying a new "product" and more interested in discovery of new opportunities or markets. There's some of the Blue Ocean in a trend spotting and synthesis exercise, especially as it extends into a scenario planning workshop. Our goal is to look 5 to 7 years out, extending key trends and developing a description of the future conditions and possible outcomes. This work is interesting because it involves conjecture, and trading off alternatives and forecasting actions and reactions across time. Many firms do this work exceedingly well - the Shell Oil company has used scenario planning very successfully and much of what we do is built on the work they and the Defense Department created in the 60s and 70s. The other reason I enjoy trend spotting and synthesis is that we often open up unexpected opportunities and challenges for our clients.

For example, in one trend spotting exercise years ago we extrapolated the growth of the "doc in a box" or minute clinic, and one of our projections was that these locations would become the predominant place for people with insurance, as well as the underinsured, to obtain more of their healthcare. At the time, the health insurer laughed off that assumption. Two years later they were investing in minute clinics and considering completely new compensation schemes for doctors in those clinics and the patients who frequented them. Pressed to provide more coverage for the underinsured, where did they turn? To the locations with the least overhead and easiest access - the minute clinic. Done well, trend spotting, synthesis and scenario planning can provide a glimpse into a very possible future. All that remains is for the client to take action before some other firm does.

Thinking about the trend spotting activity brightened my morning. Or perhaps the Irish part of my coffee breakfast was kicking in. I finished dressing and went down to take part in the great commute in the warm summer breeze, my mind already exploring the trends in the media space and extrapolating into possible scenarios. Accipiter and its glacial pace would wait another day.


  1. Hi Jeffery,
    I think a dedicated new blog for your pulp innovation has also acted me to get out of my "box" to give you the comments for the reading I have been enjoying.( It was sort of granted for me to read your blog and wait for the next one without thinking about providing some comments)
    First, thanks for this; a "blook", a nice book in the form of blog sharing innovation experience in the idealistic form for someone to learn from it, which is story telling. I don't wait to read your chapters for the next day, perhaps I read the moment you finish writing (I have a RSS alert). I'm learning lot from your experience, despite working in the innovation regime for a while helping people innovate. You bring several key aspects subtly through your story and I believe this should be a book you publish soon for millions of other people do not have access to your blog (or time).I'm very keen to read about how your new junior partner embrace the work, which could directly help me in understanding how to work with an innovation consulting company.


  2. I totally agree with Prakash.
    I also can't wait for new chapter to appear.

    This real-life novel about innovation consultants make me to think about this job, too. Thank you, for that!
    You've well spotted the obstacles to innovation climate in big organizations and everyone can learn from relationship between Marlow & Accipter.