Category Archives: Innovation

Climate Finance Accelerator DAY 5: Financing the Future

On Friday, Government delegations from Nigeria, Colombia, and Mexico presented their climate finance propositions to a diverse group of investors, at the close of the week-long Climate Finance Accelerator.

These engaging read-outs of their learnings marked the culmination of 5 intense days where country delegations worked alongside the finance community to test and develop climate finance plans. The delegations were praised by Aziz Mekouar, from the Moroccan COP Presidency, for “showcasing leadership and forward thinking”, by taking part in this first Accelerator. The delegates themselves showed remarkable progress and cohesion – remarking on how impressed they were with the commitment of the financiers to supporting them in developing bankable pipeline.

The climate imperative for all stakeholders

Private sector, Governments and NGO’s reiterated that there is no alternative to action on climate change. Steve Waygood, our host from Aviva, spoke of climate change as a business imperative with Aviva committing to invest £500m annually in low-carbon infrastructure projects and actively diversifying out companies that are not responding to the climate agenda. Mr. Mekouar set the bar high “We shouldn’t speak of climate finance”, he said “all finance needs have a component of climate.”

The countries presented exciting opportunities but showed that there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to financing, even across the same sectors, as each country’s context differed

Miguel Angel Gomez from the Columbia delegation had three key messages for his audience: Columbia has ambitious goals, the institutions necessary to deliver these goals are in place and there are bankable projects underpinning them. He presented a sustainable mobility plan for Bogota that, using the proposed Metro as the core, creates an extended proposition to increase climate impact by integrating with other modes of transport such as cycling. The $4bn capex required is proposed to be funded by a mix of trade finance and green bonds. Columbia overcame the issue of fragmented finance requirements in both energy efficiency and agriculture by proposing an ESCO structure and Climate Smart Ag fund, respectively, that would each aggregate smaller projects into more attractive / “mainstream” investments size-wise. The ag fund was worked out during the course of the CFA as the country delegation and financiers from BNP Paribas and Enclude looked for ways to move away from small, single, idiosyncratic projects likely to be dependent on grants, to more commercially sustainable structures. Colombia also identified $ several billion of further NDC related projects requiring finance, in just the transport, energy and agriculture sectors.

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Giesela Meindez and Daniel Chacon-Airaya presented on behalf of the Mexico delegation. They focused on energy and transport, which together make up 50% of Mexico’s carbon emissions. An e-taxi pilot project to convert 2700 taxis in Mexico City (2% of fleet) and Colima (40% of fleet) was proposed. In addition, through clever structure to reallocate existing subsidies, devised during the CFA as a result of the team’s work with HSBC, a further project to provide solar for 25 million households and 4 million SMEs was put forward.

 

Olukayode Ashuolu from Nigeria’s central-bank sponsored agriculture guarantor NIRSAL, presented an electrifying speech on behalf of the Nigerian delegation. He spoke of his governments’ strong commitment to NDC-related projects, as they are vital for climate compatible development, diversification of the economy and economic and social inclusion. Nigeria’s initial NDC plan has outlined more than $142bn of investment.  Working wth Deutsche Bank during the CFA, they had identified  8 projects for immediate focus in the agriculture and energy sectors. cfa9

A statement by Ha Han Nguyen from the Vietnam delegation, who observed the weeks proceedings, confirmed her country’s eagerness for further future engagement in the CFA process, for which a funding package is now being sought.

All speakers remarked on the value of the Accelerator and the pre-London processes run in-country to bring together people who needed to be at the same table. In a panel, country representatives discussed their thoughts from the week’s proceedings. Some of these were:

  • “We [governments and financiers] speak different languages, but we can learn to understand each other”
  • “We need to enhance dialogue between the private and public sector at international, but also local levels, to know what is already happening inside the country [finance-wise] and to leverage that”

“There is a huge amount of focused work required to move from plan to projects to desired outcomes and results”

  • “Climate finance is still finance, and needs to manage risk and be linked to returns”
  • “We need access to international funding to enable us to pursue larger projects outside boundaries of local finance and to access other networks and knowhow”

The rigour and attention to detail of investment bankers is vital to successful climate projects

In a panel with the investment banks which had worked with the country teams, Tessa Tennant praised the bankers for their commitment to the process – even earning the kudos from one country delegation of “these bankers, they’re actually quite nice”! She spoke of the importance of having term sheets to act as ‘dictionaries’ between financiers and policymakers, to ensure everybody understands and can act on the spectrum of issues that need to be addressed to get projects over the transaction line.

Graham Smith from HSBC spoke of three considerations to access finance: ensure the rule of law is in place (i.e. contracts enforceable and protected), know your customer (clarify if the mandate allows for customer type and country risk, and ensure the right people are on board); and lastly, check that the project is ‘bullet-proof’ (i.e. practically workable in context).

Bankers spoke of their delight to discover that dialogue was constructive and friendly and were impressed by the interest of the delegations in unpicking what risk really meant. They were pleasantly surprised that their colleagues from other parts of their institutions were also interested in the opportunities and ready to get involved.  They saw the CFA as a ‘deal-flow network’ and all were keen to stay involved with this and future processes.

“Further, faster, together…”

Nick Nuttal from UN Climate Change summed up the main objective of the 5-day process: “The Paris agreement was like a shiny new concept car – looks incredible, but there’s as yet no engine under the bonnet. The CFA is helping to create that engine, and move the car from concept to the road”. His final words rang true for the audience: “This”, he said “is where the future is…”

Want to learn more about what went on at #CFA17? Sign up for our ‘NDC Financing Made Easy‘ webinar, which will expand on the outcomes and teachings, read our twitter feed and previous blog posts. 

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Climate Finance Accelerator Day 3 and 4: Navigating the obstacles

Days 3 and 4 of the innovative Climate Finance Accelerator, brought countries and financiers together to co-create solutions to meet climate commitments. This is the third in this series, following the process and highlighting insights from the day. 

“I’m learning to be flexible”, said a senior country delegate on Wednesday, “to get on board and not give up – to jump, to hide, to move around obstacles – make it happen, and keep going until it’s done”. 

All participants are showing entrepreneurial grit and determination as they begin to align agendas, reframe projects as bankable solutions and develop workarounds to challenging contexts.

Plenary discussions focused on four challenge areas:

  1. Aligning interests, priorities and ways of working

Policy-makers and financiers have different mandates, related accountabilities and ways of operating. As one person pointed out “it’s like getting people speaking only Spanish to understand those speaking only Chinese”.

This is further complicated by the fact that within government institutions and across different parts of the finance community objectives differ and ‘green’ and ‘climate’ are understood differently.

A delegate from the public sector spoke of the insight that behind every question asked by the finance expert was a set of measures and the answer given is rated objectively in terms of commercial return. Once this was understood and the questions and underpinning framework made clear, the projects could be better framed against these terms.

A discussion on linking hard currency to local cash flow helped another group realise the value of local banks to fund local solutions. This group pointed out that even if there is good dialogue, it’s important not to lose focus on independent goals and the results needed to get to the best solution for end-beneficiaries.

A bemused banker spoke of trying to get a delegation to vote to prioritise projects – only to realise that they operate on consensus. Not only are people ‘speaking different languages’, often they don’t realise different cultures exist. However, it was acknowledged that “No single person or entity has all the knowledge needed to complete a deal. Everyone has a role to play”.

  1. Scoping the opportunity

The discussion within the groups looked at how to understand the opportunity beyond financing a single project to: extend impact (e.g. by taking a regional view), leverage grant funding (by taking a longer term view of finance needs) and find finance for joined up solutions that address the problem in its entirety.

For some of the policy-makers, it was important to stretch projects to meet the scale of their ambition to maximise impact on NDC’s, and then work out how to finance this project. This meant understanding other sources of capital beyond project finance e.g. local funding, guarantees, etc.

A frustration was “how green is green enough?”  In many cases funding is needed for both the transition (e.g. LPG) not just destination (e.g. renewable) in order to shift systems and this was not always aligned to funding mandates.

  1. Funding set-up

Most funders are focussed on commercial returns from specific projects. However in order to get to this, there is an investment of time and resource and the need for capacity-building. A significant amount of work is required in order to find the data required to get funding. Time is required to engage all stakeholders – no matter how brilliant the projects. More work is required where no single policy champion exists to get support for opportunities through multiple government departments. Technical expertise and other resource is required to develop transition plans that contextualise projects over time.

There is a major need for specialist financial intermediation – people who have the structuring skills and investor networks to help project sponsors meet the needs and objectives of investors and get the deals done. In many markets this is not available except for very large projects and at high cost. “Lower end” intermediaries need to be developed both in number and capacity, and this will probably require concessional funding.

There is a potential role for Development Banks and Foundations to fill this gap.

  1. “Oiling the wheels”

Doing a deal is easier where clear policy signals exist that welcome the private sector and any investment made is respected and protected.

Further, it is easier to move projects forward where early success stories or precedents from other places can be shared to create an evidence base against relevant metrics (e.g. number of jobs) for the change.

On Thursday, the discussions started to coalesce as teams look beyond individual projects to how a financing plan for their NDC has a whole can be brought into shape.

Follow @Money4NDCs and #CFA17 on Twitter to stay up-to-date with the latest from the event.
Want to learn more about what goes on at CFA17? Sign up for our ‘NDC Financing Made Easy‘ webinar, which will expand on the outcomes and teachings.

 

SIGN OF THE TIMES: COUNTING DOWN FROM $90 TRILLION

Today, above the flickering red and green signs of company stock at the London Stock Exchange, appeared a new symbol: “Climate Finance Accelerator”.

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This sign, in this context, is a strong signal of a movement gathering momentum to shift countries and companies towards a low carbon, sustainable economy.  It marked the launch of the first Climate Finance Accelerator, a bold initiative bringing together countries and financiers to co-develop plans that can help counties transform their economies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Country delegations from Nigeria, Mexico, Columbia and Vietnam have been teamed up with London based financial experts and development banks to co-develop detailed investment plans for bankable projects in an intensive 5-day process. The CFA is the brainchild of serial climate change-makers Ian Callaghan and Tessa Tenant and was set-up together with PWC and Riccardo. It provides a structure to help countries attract the finance needed to meet the climate targets they set out in the Paris Agreement.

One can understand why this is attractive to the private sector, once the sheer scale of the finance gap becomes apparent – Sir Roger Gifford, speaking this morning, put the need at $90trillion. Mexico alone is looking for more than $100bn by 2030. Countries have already committed massive budgets and are looking to the sector for smart financing arrangements for further billions.

This mini-blog will follow the teams over the next few days and highlight some of the emerging themes, resources and ideas coming through that may be useful for others working in similar areas.

A few themes that emerged today, including:

The power of multi-stakeholder dialogue

Nanno Kleiterp, development financier, said “it’s all about learning to understand each other’s language”. Hans Verholme, supporting the Nigerian delegation, mentioned “It’s about merging conversations at national and international level”. The Mexico delegation, which had representation from Government, local banks and the guild of taxicabs, noted that by involving diverse stakeholders CFA-inspired conversations had already significantly progressed the agenda.

Similarity in sector focus

Of interest is the similar focus areas across counties; transport (specifically, electrification and shift from private to public modes), energy (implementation of renewable and efficiency measures) and agriculture (including smart agriculture and land-use shifts). This offers opportunities to learn from existing projects and for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and replication.

The management of risk

The CFA initiative removes the information asymmetry that raises the price on projects by making opportunities more transparent to the finance community in a language they understand. It also allows them to weigh up endogenous and exogenous risks and develop blended and specific solutions to address each of these. Ultimately this will (as Michael Lewis from Deutsche Bank pointed out), lead to suites of new products from these institutions. It is also noted that part of the bigger transformational journey will need to include insurance companies. A Government led initiative, like the Green Investment Bank, supports increased market confidence by showing intention, creating focus and offering first capital.

Link to development

As Nigeria said in their opening statement today “Climate and development are inextricably linked”. Climate projects have multiple co-benefits that make them attractive to counties. In the UK 430 000 people are already employed in the green energy sector and it is growing at more than 12% p.a. For Nigeria, the opportunity to create new value chains in agriculture will support food security and lower cost of imported food. All of the counties mentioned the projects discussed as an opportunity to increase access to energy and alleviate poverty.

A wide range of creative finance structures and solutions are already deployed

These are very diverse and include: green bonds, Green Investment Bank (UK), Green Investment Bank (Connecticut), Green Growth Fund, Denmark Climate Fund, charges on electric bills, cap ‘n trade, carbon credit, Climate Investor 1 Fund, and government guarantees. They all offer case studies for countries and finance professionals to learn from.

Finance is not the silver bullet

While this was listed as the most important barrier for countries to move forward with their plans, other factors that need to be addressed include: in country capability development, ensuring strong governance and legal frameworks and community engagement.

A great start! Ed Wells, of HSBC, said today that “the money is there. If we can create the structures, it will flow”. Today (Tuesday) we start in earnest creating those structures, with the country teams working at different banks on an immersive ‘deep dive’ into enabling environments and how to prioritise projects.

More to follow…

Want to learn more about what goes on at CFA17? Sign up for  our ‘NDC Financing Made Easy‘ webinar, which will expand on the outcomes and teachings.
Follow @Money4NDCs and #CFA17 on Twitter to stay up-to-date with the latest from the event.CFA

RISE OF THE MACHINES – TOWARDS UTOPIA OR DYSTOPIA?

This article is a collection of thoughts from many of the participants of the Monday evening Crowd Forum. We are ‘learning our way’ into a better future and would be grateful for any further thoughts, comments or references that can expand the conversation. 

Monday night’s Crowd event was packed with people curious as to whether emerging technologies could support or detract from the sustainability and business agenda. Some were there for fear of keeping their jobs safe from the rise of robots; others were actively developing artificial intelligence, technology platforms and big data solutions to support clients. Some, like me, were curious as to what capabilities we will need to be relevant in a ‘machine’ future. Others wanted to understand how they could use their agency to shift outcomes of this disruption towards the positive.

After excellent talks from Sean Culey, Kriti Sharma, Prof. Kerstin Dautenhahn, Avida Hancock and Chris Middleton, I was lucky enough to chair a table full of curious minds from business, consultancies and NGOs. Thank you to everyone for sharing your thoughts and experience. Below are some of the themes and questions that arose…

The threat

Many fears surfaced about the rapid rate of automation and the resulting job losses. We heard from Chris, that last year China bought 66,000 robots, replacing 1m jobs. As these robots learn and become more effective, more jobs will be replaced. We learnt that the 8.7m people in the US in the ‘driving industry’ are at risk from autonomous vehicles, as are the 1m people in call centres in the UK. Yet, jobs have been replaced by automation for a long time – the difference is that with adaptive robots, coupled with artificial intelligence, more ‘skilled’ jobs can be replaced. Google translate took a large team of programmers 10 years to put together, however, within a few months, starting from scratch, an AI team had a solution that was just as good. This AI solution 5-green-robots-1now has far surpassed the original one designed by humans. Pepper, a ‘humanoid’ robot recently conducted a funeral. As one speaker said, “if you can explain what you do for a living, your job can, and will, become automated”.

Another fear raised is the threat to our existing social systems. How will our economic system deal with a “zero cost society”? If we see a concentration of technology in the hands of the few and a bigger rise in inequity, how will this affect our social and political structures? And how can our slow regulatory structures respond adequately to the super-charged rate of change?

Sharma Kriti raised another issue that struck against the fabric of our social structures when she quoted Gartner, “by 2020, the average person will have more conversations with AI than with their partner”. “Already we are more ‘wedded’ to our smart phones than our partners”, quipped one person.

One of the biggest areas for emerging technology is in war. The room went quiet thinking about the possibility of an AI driven apocalypse, the ability of this technology to radically change the way in which war is waged.

This wave of automation differs from previous waves both because of the speed of change and because it is connected, machine to machine. This means machines can interact without human interventions. It is predicted that by 2045 ‘tech singularity’ will emerge where machines will far surpass humans and not be controlled by them or need to include them, at all. What then, people asked, is left for all of us?

A reality check

Before the last major technological disruption, we were a largely agrarian society. Now, only 2% globally work in agriculture. Humans are innovative and adaptive, and have managed in the intervening years to create new jobs and new ways to contribute to society. The question is how to transition as quickly and smoothly as possible in order to minimise the pain of transition.

We also forget that technology is neutral; it has no agency of its own and will only be as good or bad as how it is applied. For example, fire can burn your house down or keep you warm – it’s what you choose to do with it. We need to understand what new mechanisms we need in order to put technology to its best use in service of all of humanity.

This means that the biggest challenge is as quickly as possible to create the new societal model required for 7bn humans to flourish in a machine world.

The opportunity

On this basis there are fundamental shifts required now in every aspect of our society.

Those involved in creating technologies need to be educated to think through the implications of their activities. They should ask themselves ‘why’ they are doing a specific piece of automation – are they solving the right problems? They need to be clever about design and the databases they use to avoid coding in the social issues we suffer from today. Already we’ve seen problems emerge with MIT facial recognition software that couldn’t recognise black women and a prison system in the US that replicated the existing issues within the system when making recommendations on re-offending. An opportunity exists to use technology to build a better society and to remove the stereotypes and prejudices society currently suffers from.

Businesses need to change their mindset in three important ways: First they need to ‘think like Amazon’. They need to put the customer at the centre of their efforts and ask themselves different questions including, “How do you treat a physical product like software?” and, “How do you innovate in real time?” They need to consider localisation and micro-logistics, work with ‘prosumers’ to manufacture (possibly with 3D printing) on demand and look to shift their business models from products to servitisation. Secondly, they need to build capabilities to be resilient against whatever emerges – as Ocado put it, “forget forecasting – learn to deal with uncertainties”. Last, they need to model Tesla – create the systems of the future where, having everything interconnected means an exponential opportunity to learn.

For sustainability, the news from an environmental perspective may be good. Already the Smartphone had condensed our need for lots of different equipment into a small handheld device. We should see more dematerialisation and therefore less impact on resources. Technology can also support the circular economy through providing better designed products, tracking them and providing essential services to maintain and ultimately re-use them. Manufacturing on demand and mass customisation may lead to less waste and localisation to less carbon through distribution. From a social perspective, some argue that the rise of machines will allow us more time to focus on relationships while the robots take care of administration. They see a revival of local commerce. They believe that in a few years anyone will be able to design and automate – that it will be as simple as designing a website and that this will democratise technology. Last, they say rising transparency will force better behaviour from corporate and individuals. Sustainability professionals, grassroots activists and communities need to work with technology as an opportunity to make their agenda more relevant to businesses and to leapfrog existing systems.

As Geoff Kendall suggested, Governments need to come together as they did for the SDGs – to create regulation to ensure the social and environmental benefits are hardwired into these systems. They need to work out how to support individuals through the transition (e.g. through the Universal Basic Income), how to educate differently and how tax should be collected and distributed.

Our political, economic, and social systems were created in a very different world than we live in today. Perhaps this offers the opportunity to revisit the foundations of our society – to ask what good looks like in a machine age and whether some of our assumptions upon which we live our lives are still valid. Do we need jobs? Should everyone work? How do we all want to live? What are the components of a happy, healthy society?

As Peter Drucker says, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Let’s get busy, then…

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This post is by Nicola Millson of The Future Academy. We work with organisations to ‘learn our way into a better future‘. Please do contact nicola.millson@future-academy.co.uk if you have any comments or suggestions.

The next big idea is a billion years old.

When we start something new, when we’re looking for solutions or are making an important decision we often look for sources of inspiration and perspective within our companies or sectors. We might interview our customers, employees, or suppliers. We might ask academic institutions or experts. We could commission research to see what competitors or even other sectors are doing.

Too often we miss out on asking advice of a rich source of wise answers that exists right in front of our eyes… nature.

Our planet is old – 4.5 billion years old. And for an astounding 3.8 billion years, it has harboured life. Life has had a bit of time to evolve strategies to maximise existence and sustain itself! It has arrived at well-adapted solutions that have stood the test of time, within the constraints of a planet with finite resources. Each new shoot or seed is nature taking a lean methodology approach to experimentation and rapid prototyping to find better solutions every time they grow. Millions of organisms have adapted and evolved to survive, to meet their needs efficiently within the limits of the planet and alongside all other life forms.

How could we learn from and emulate nature’s successful strategies?

  1. PRODUCT DESIGN

Nature is a master designer – and companies are catching on to the fact that they should look to how nature has addressed a specific challenge in order to come up with an optimised solution. This means looking at how shark skin is able to move sleekly through water and using that in swimsuit fabric and ship paint. It’s about a shift from rectangular, flat solar panels to ones that are shaped like leaves – the longest ever experiment in optimising surfaces for capturing sunlight. Interface designed pads to secure its carpet tiles to floors inspired by the way lizards have foot pads that enable them to cling to surfaces. This has transformed the carpet industry, created disruption in the glue industry and cut costs, reduced impact and provided a competitive differentiator for the organisation.

Questions to ask: What is the challenge I’m trying to solve?  How does nature perform this function?

2. PROCESS DESIGN

In comparison to the sleek processes of nature, human processes are clumsy, wasteful and inefficient.  Take manufacturing, a “take, make waste” process. We draw components out of the ground, turn them into products that may or may not be used and that ultimately land up in landfill. A tree takes resources out of the ground, moves it up a spiral and produces leaves. These resources are deposited on another side of the tree, ensuring broad distribution of essential elements that become resources for the next leaf.

Or look at innovation processes – many run by specialist teams stuck away in a room of a large building, silo’d and shut off. Nature innovates mostly in the edges – bringing together diversity between habitats (e.g. swamp land and grassland) and seeing what emerges. As the edge increases, the boundary habitat allows for greater biodiversity. Change happens at the fringes and the longer the ‘edges’ the more diversity and more change can happen.

Questions to ask: How does nature perform this process? Specifically, how could my organisation manufacture in a way that optimises resources? How can we create ‘edges’ and ‘intersections’ for our organisation to collide with others for increased diversity of thinking and accelerated innovation?

  1. ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND VENTURING

Recently I worked with a bright Imperial College graduate with an excellent idea that could shift the virtual reality industry by allowing better understanding of location for the user. He thought of how a new ecosystem would replace an old one in order to ensure that his product could be part of a technology shift into a new space. Steve Jobs did this with the iPod. Instead of just launching a ‘me too ‘music player, like the Sony Walkman, he defined the entirely new ecosystem that his music player would operate within – and the route to shift the industry. For this to work we need to think like nature – what is the broader function of this ecosystem, what are the elements that are needed to sustain it, which are key stone species?

Questions to ask: What is the broader ecosystem my venture is operating within? How do I effectively inhabit that?

  1. ORGANISATION RESILIENCE

Oak trees feed squirrels acorns, and squirrels eat harmful fungi off the oak. SABMiller buys its hops from farmers that buy its beer. Lloyd’s Bank worked with me to understand how to make the communities it operates within and takes transaction fees from, wealthier. We don’t operate in silos – everything is interconnected. Shifting thinking from being separate from the world around to being interdependent allows for greater resilience.

Questions to ask: Where can I increase my resilience by understanding and leveraging inter-dependencies?

  1. CHANGE

Nature is always in flux. We can see a tree as a static object – trunk, branches and leaves.  Or we can see it as a process in motion, taking up water and nutrients, depositing them, storing them and releasing them.  All organisations (and individuals within them) are in motion. We resist change, but it is inevitable. We can learn to flow with the changes and adapt, rather than take a static view of where we are. This involves seeing the emerging seeds of change and consciously deciding which ones to water and which ones to pluck out. It requires us to see beyond our current horizon into horizon two where these seeds will start growing to horizon three where the change will take root – and to plan and organise accordingly.

Questions to ask: What are the emergent properties of this current situation?  How do I leverage them for future success?

Einstein famously said you can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it.  Looking for answers in nature allows you to use ancient tried and tested wisdom to leapfrog contemporary thinking and to come up with better ideas.

Step away from your desk.  Walk away from the board room.  Take a walk in a park nearby. Look at patterns, look at functions and look at the way nature has worked out how to live. Be inspired. And please do remember to respect, protect and, even better to regenerate this great mentor.  

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This article is taken from a speech delivered for Interface in 2016 and to the Swiss Advisory Group in 2017. If you’d like me to speak to your audience on this and other topics that inspire action and shift perspective or to find solutions with you to tricky challenges, please do get in touch nicola.millson@future-academy.co.uk.

Learning our way into tomorrow. 

Talking shop: systems change, intrapreneurship, entrepreneurship, innovation and social impact…

Thank you Cecilia Thirlway @solverboard for a fun interview! The original posting of her interview with me is on Medium.

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Talking to Nicola was a pleasure as it brought up a topic I hadn’t thought about for a while — system change and system design. I wrote about systems, particularly human systems, a while ago and have always been fascinated by how they grow and develop. Nicola’s thoughts on the subject were a really interesting insight. It was also a joy to talk to someone who was interested in the human journey of entrepreneurship as well as the economic and commercial one — we love to tell the stories of successful entrepreneurs, but spend less time working out how more people can be helped to be successful with the right emotional and practical support. And finally, of course, the topic of tech for good is one close to my own heart.


So Nicola, tell me about The League of Intrapreneurs. What makes an Intrapreneur and why do they need a league?

Intrapreneurs as people inside companies that have got a passion to create social impact, as well as the influencing skills to be able to make good things happen. We’ve seen some outstanding examples: Miriam Turner from Interface coming up with extraordinary ideas to be able to turn ocean plastic into carpet with social returns. She’s a great example of an Intrapreneur – adding significant value to businesses whilst at the same time solving big social issues.

To be effective, Intrapreneurs need a few different things: first is the support of others to know that there’s other people like them – an identity. Second, they need community they can learn from and with, and to go on the journey with them. The third thing they need is new skills and different ways of thinking. And the last thing that they need is visibility.

The League of Intrapreneurs helps create that identity and then is supported by people like me that offer tangible services to Intrapreneurs – through peer learning circles, through workshops on systems thinking and influence and tribe creation. Others support visibility and learning through conferences like the Intrapreneurship Conference and through competitions.

Do you think anybody can be an intrapreneur or is it a certain mindset or certain set of skills that people need?

It’s a tough choice to be an Intrapreneur! I think that everybody has a seed of possibility inside them but to be brave enough to buck the system for something that you believe in is a big step.

What sort of organisations do these people come from?

We find them in almost any organisation — we’re seeing more and more people coming out of different types of organisations that could work together to shift the system. For example, the Ellen McArthur Foundation is linking together corporate intrapreneurs in the plastics space with government agencies and NGO’s. We start to see people from different organisations working together to form ecosystems of change agents tackling big issues.

And how does the League fit in with your other work?

Essentially, I do three different things:

Firstly, innovation for large organisations. This includes strategy, global innovation programmes and internal start-ups for organisations like Interface, M&S, Nesta, the Carbon Trust and SABMiller.

Alongside that I’ve been working with disruptive start-ups with the idea of helping them scale their positive impact through Upstart Advice. I coach entrepreneurs from various programmes including Climate-KIC, Mass Challenge, Climate Launch Pad, Innoenergy and Imperial Enterprises Lab.

And finally I help convene change agents and support movements for change in order for the change seeded to have somewhere to land. This means that people to have the skills, the mindsets and the ways of working in place as this change happens. All of it is a way of understanding change and the self and opportunities to create better impact.

The first one was Six Heads, which has been a huge amount of fun: it’s young and it’s quirky and it’s all on sustainable innovation. It’s a gathering place for professionals to share stories, to learn together, to run events for each other to test out their skills and that can involve anything from perma-culture to trapeze. This is now run by Louisa Harris – an extraordinary young woman. The second movement is the League of Intrapreneurs, which I’ve helped to establish in the UK. Last, is my new initiative, the Future Academy, which brings together change-makers to solve societies most challenging problems and provides capabilities required for the next economy.

So that’s my model in terms of how I think about my work within the business system: transform the big, scale the small and create fertile ground for change to happen.

What kind of things do you tackle?

We did a really interesting project with SAB Miller last year: we were asked to work with them globally to support social innovation. It was fascinating because we were working with intrapreneurs across such a range of topics: we had someone from Switzerland looking at climate change, we had somebody in South Africa looking at poverty, another looking at access to markets for smallholder farmers, at water, the list goes on. All of these were internal projects that allowed growth opportunities for the employees involved, opportunities to increase business revenue and social impact. We set-up an innovation accelerator and supported projects through structured mentoring, coaching and communities of practice.

It was wonderful getting the feedback: one of the best quotes was somebody who said I’ve finally found meaning in what I do, I’ve got purpose in my job. I can see how I can make a difference and still do what I do day to day.

I think meaning is incredibly important, isn’t itYou get to a point in your life where you wonder why you bother, and what impact you have in the world.

It’s best to think: do I want to be part of the problem or part of the solution. All of us at the moment are exposed to so much horrible stuff: you know, you can’t pick up a newspaper without seeing fish dying, climate change, social inequity and the death of democracy… so how do we sit around and not do something. I think that people are looking for ways they can work differently and I think companies are starting to take more responsibility. One of the ways that they can do that is by unleashing their talent on these issues and to look for solutions that suit multiple objectives.

Why do you think that needs unleashing and why now? There were huge amounts of innovation in the industrial revolution, but no one was an innovation consultant then.

We face bigger social issues than we’ve ever faced before, and I don’t think it’s just about unleashing it I think it’s also about channelling it. I don’t think we need any more flavours of soft drink, I don’t think we need any more flavours of ice cream, but I do think we need to channel ingenuity into solving some social problems — and not only solving them but reframing some of the ways that we’re operating as a society. From consumerism to community or from consumer to citizen.

Do you think businesses are now much more interested in doing good?

A lot of it is enlightened self-interest. If you speak to the businesses pioneering this area — Marks and Spencer, Unilever — they talk about the fact that everybody wants to work with them as a result of this approach. For all businesses, being able to capture talent is important, and millennials particularly are looking for purposeful organisations to join.

When you look at indicators about employee well-being and retention, a company that provides meaning is important. It was interesting when the retail sector here was hit how quickly Marks and Spencer bounced back versus some of the other retailers, because there’s so much trust in it as a purpose-based organisation.

And is the pace of change getting faster? Do you think movements such as Tech for Good are gathering pace?

I like to think so. Think about the progression from sponsorship 20 years ago where big corporates would give money to their local football team to modern corporate social responsibility. Now we’re seeing the third wave where it’s becoming far more integrated. You see companies having to report to investors on climate change, you see organisations having to think about purpose to attract millennials, you see them looking at their supply chains differently and having different kinds of contracts to have longer term relationships, you see choice editing which is beyond commercial.

A great example is Interface, which makes floor tiles. About 20 years ago, their CEO realised he was ruining the world by running this business and he set out to completely reinvent the manufacturing of one of the most boring things ever: the carpet tile. He’s pioneered environmental standards around how carpeting works, he invented little stickies that go on the floor so that you’re not putting toxic glue down. The most recent one uses discarded fishing nets to make carpets. These discarded nets often end up floating in the sea killing fish, but now they have a value to the fishermen so they’re not being discarded.

In one of my other interviews I discussed philanthropists like Bill Gates who make a huge amount of money and then redistribute it. Is it better to make money and then redistribute or share the talent, or is it better to have a more equitable world to start with?

I’d love a more equitable world to start with, but what I believe is that business is the biggest system that we’ve got, it’s completely powerful. It links all of us and it determines and creates the world around us, so it makes sense for us to use this system differently. What I’m really engaged in is the system redesign, because I think that business could and should be the thing that solves the problems that we’ve got. It is a social construct: we just need to construct it differently.

That sounds interesting — tell me more?

My interest in systems innovation came out of the question of whether I am doing the right thing. You try and do things, but are you intervening in such a way that you are going to make a fundamental difference? I started becoming more and more interested in what the points in any kind of system are where you can create the most change and how you work that out.

The thing that’s always fascinated me about human systems is the potential for the weird and the wonderful to happen. If you have any kind of engineering system you know you hit point a and b will happen, but as soon as humans get involved you get weirdness.

In a way, the word ‘system’ is wrong: there’s something deeply organic about the way that systems operate and in the way that we as humans operate. Where I start getting interested is in how the systems are partly embedded in the past and partly in the present, and how they are embedded with stakeholders and people. What are the stories that are being told in parts of the system, and how do we humanise it in such a way that we can start to understand where some of the levers are? A lot of the levers are around mindsets and perception.

I’m a big fan of Edison: lots of people invented the light bulb but he put the entire system together to make it work as a commercial item. Often we create something and we don’t understand what the different things are that we need to build around it. He had to carry out many system interventions to get his invention integrated — he trained people and he set up schools.

I’m noticing that coming out of the best universities are amazing post-graduates in physics and engineering and mathematics. They are the creators of the future but they don’t have a huge grounding in sustainability and systems thinking. I’m meeting some that are setting up their businesses at the moment and speaking to them about unintended consequences. People are creating drones and robotics and looking at machine intelligence, and they need to understand this stuff and go into it consciously.

It’s also important to understand that there are three journeys across any innovation programme. Of course there’s the journey from the idea to the implementation, but I think there’s two other journeys that are often overlooked. One is the journey of the self: what do I want to be, where am I going with this, but also your personal resilience — how do you make sure that you look after yourself on the journey? A personal resilience plan is just as important as a business plan or a stakeholder engagement plan.

The third journey is the journey of team, how do we get like-minded people to work together, how do you set objectives and make it work for everybody. There’s enormous amounts of literature around developing ideas and commercialisation, but the weak points making things fail are around influencing those inside your company, building a team or creating the community that can drive things through.

I think that’s what’s next for me, to think about that idea.


These articles are supported by idea management platform Solverboard. I work with Solverboard as their Head of Innovation Practice, and they have kindly agreed to support this side project of mine. Do check out their suite of idea management tools for businesses of any size, their public open innovation platform Solverboard Open, or their extremely well-written blog 😉

Crafting a beautiful business

Alan Moore is a business innovator. He changes the way people understand and think about the world, and how their businesses can succeed in a world of constant change. Alan helps companies craft innovative, high performance businesses that are ethical, sustainable and restorative that will yield high commercial returns. Building beautiful businesses is his life’s mission.

He has worked with many leading businesses across six continents, in the form of advising, board positions, teaching, workshops and invitational speaking. These include, Google, Microsoft, KPN, H&M, The Coca Cola Company, MacLaren Automotive, Accel, and Institutional Pension Funds…and of course, me…!

This article was originally published by Hack&Craft and can be found here.

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I have always been fascinated by beautiful things: architecture, furniture, tools, books, even businesses. Beautiful things are prepared with love. The act of creating something of beauty is a way of bringing good into the world. Infused with optimism, it says simply: Life is worthwhile.

The effort to craft enduring beauty is not dependent on style but truth. Beauty is what lends things their immortality. Beauty therefore gets out of surfaces and into the foundations of things.

The time has come I believe to rethink the role of business in our world and its overall contribution to our society. We need to re-frame business in the context of beauty.

What does it mean to be a beautiful business? Beautiful businesses are transformational in the universal and valuable utility they bring to the world, joyful in experiences they create. All sourced from an embracing of clear purpose of how to serve their customers well. Beautiful businesses are restorative to people and planet. Businesses with beautiful cultures are attractive – to employees, and customers. Consequently, people want to belong, to enthuse, and support them.

This raises important questions: what is the process for making retail beautiful? What does beauty mean in software? Can beauty as a lens help guide us to arrive at better answers? Can beauty scale? Can beauty provide durability, and opportunity? Can a beautiful business be adaptive?  Can a beautiful business yield high financial returns and still be ethical? Should beauty be a commercial duty? Does beauty require us to think more holistically? What would be the language of beautiful business? Do we think differently about our environment if we see it as beautiful?

So, how do we get to beauty? It is through design in its broadest terms. We always have a choice of what it is that we create, since everything man-made is designed.  What constrains us are  our imagination and the will to apply it. Designers ask two simple questions — is it useful and is it beautiful? We can use these two principles to reshape the world we live in. Good design has always been good business. As William Morris might say, ‘have nothing in your house that is neither useful nor beautiful’.

So what might companies do to craft a beautiful business? Here are a few thoughts:

Retail

Aesop is a retail business that sells products for the hair and body. Created in a minimalist style it has 42 stores worldwide and is renowned for its commitment and attention to design and detail, “why make something ugly when it can be interesting” says its owner Dennis Paphitis.

Creating the business in 1987, Paphitis already understood  that a commitment to the ultimate customer experience is what would make his company sustainable and profitable. In the same spirit, Apple rewrote the rules of retail through its iconic store design and customer experience.

The million dollar question, is this: Is it architecture, marketing or some spiritual experience that these products and stores embody?

I guess who you are will determine your answer. Maybe it’s all three?

There is something else though that joins Aesop and Apple – they are both masters of their materials. They push engineering, manufacturing, even accepted levels of service, beyond what was considered possible.

This is the foundational work, the hard work of making beautiful products, delivered in exceptional retail environments. Apple may no longer be too cool for school for some, nonetheless, their commitment to design, exceptional design and exceptional retail experiences means they have more cash in the bank than the US Government.

The beautiful experience matters today – get out of the car at a Four Season hotel and the staff know your name; order something from Amazon and you get an almost instant email to say your package is on its way. These are all designed experiences. And we are seeking experiences.

What we call experience reflects meaning, authenticity, and an opportunity to recapture a lost essence in modern life. These are values that are difficult to represent in accounting terms. Yet they all have an important and increasing role to play. Look at the rise of artisan everything; beer, gin, cheese, clothes etc., Street food fresh and fast food cooked to high levels of quality without the retail overhead. Street food vendors, without shopfronts or or retail accouterments, nonetheless have a fanatical following.

The reason is that people don’t just want experience, they profoundly need experience to be meaningful and to make life joyful.

My local butchers, who won ‘Butcher of the Year’ award, run ‘sell out’ butchery workshops. Whoever heard of butchery workshops? Do people go to learn how to cut meat?  Yes they do. They are not the only ones passing on experience to customers. From spoon carving in a forest to making gin in a London distillery. Workshops are a form of ‘getting closer’. It is becoming additive to the retail experience but it does so in a way that renews our capacity to enjoy life.

Other recent developments have also had a profound effect on the quest for a high quality experience. We use our smart phones at a minimum 150 to 200 times a day. Touch screen technology and intuitive and simple to use apps mean our expectations of experience have increased as our ability to access new information, relationships and interests increases. Designing meaningful customer experiences becomes a key business activity.

Design as ‘experience’, for example, understands that designing and creating for our tactile selves — things that are intuitive, easy and joyful to use — will sell more products and services at a higher value. In a Temkin survey 6x more people were likely to buy with a positive emotional experience, 12x more likely to recommend the company, and 5x more likely to forgive a mistake.

Software

Our world runs on software, programmed lines of human formed code. We design it. Increasingly the design of software is mirroring the need to redesign life more generally. That is why the Blockchain is a beautiful thing. The blockchain is a universal utility to facilitate low-cost, near immediate transfers of value anywhere in the world – digitally. It comes without the need of a third party, such as a bank with all its own selfish needs and flaws. Specifically the blockchain is beautiful because it is a trust-generating engine, which is highly scaleable.

The Blockchain is like DNA / the hidden infrastructure that is life giving. The blockchain is designed to be distributed over many networks, it has no central power and is therefore social in its design.

It has a universal ledger, a database that contains every transaction ever made and that can never be tampered with. An inviolable time stamped record of transaction. It is this transacting of value that is the forbearer of what happens next: money, land registry, cultural artefacts, etc., any situation in fact where there is a transfer of value and where deeds of ownership are vital to document and record, it is in these circumstances that  blockchain technology will play a defining role.

The growth will become exponential because its protocol is open, allowing others to build new commercial, financial and transactional products and services. For example, the Linux Foundation is running the Hyperledger project an open source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies. It is a global collaboration including leaders in finance, banking, IoT, supply chain, manufacturing and technology. Currently 95 organisations are involved including; Accenture, Deutsche Börse, IBM, and Fujitsu.

Importantly, Hyperledger is an open collaborative effort. Openness is the new global operating model especially in software where it now powers hundreds of thousands of projects and the most significant infrastructure.

Software is beautiful for several reasons that we can learn from. First, it is incredibly successful at changing the world. Second, it arises from open human interactions and collaboration where greed is suppressed for the greater good. Third, it has begun to simplify the commercial world and mediate trust in profound ways. It excludes wasteful third parties who role has been simply to create friction in order to make money. Increasingly software takes the friction out of life and helps us realise new experiences at lower cost.

Culture

The culture of the workplace is the humus for how an organisation works well. Happy staff, like rich soil, produce, yield and deliver better quality stuff.

The more a culture is focused on what it wants to do the more it can be restorative in helping its employees grow as people and as professionals.

If a business can find the point where its people are happy to produce, it will make more money. Its staff will be more productive, whilst saving the cost of sickness, stress related illnesses, and retaining talented staff.

Telus is a telecoms, TV and mobile company with a very rich workplace culture characterised by a generalised learning programme. They have a toastmasters’ chapter, a book club, guest lectures and so on. The idea is people need to approach work through the prism of learning. By encouraging learning in a broad cultural way, the company believes it is more adept at switching on specific learning needs when business changes. So they do more than most firms to bring that idea to life.

Gransfors Bruk make axes. They say they make the best axes in the world – their culture is one of craftsmanship. This is about how one have designed and built a successful company predicated on quality. A quality of product achieved through a holistic approach to design and manufacturing that incorporates a process to bring out of the workforce a commitment to craft and ethics.

The individual axe maker is given the time he or she needs to forge an axe head to the point where  they are satisfied this is their best work. Then, and only then, will they stamp the axe head with their monogram. The process means men and women are personally dedicated to give their creative best. An engaged craftsman is a committed craftsman, ergo an engaged workforce is a committed workforce. Meaning is created through a craft approach to life. You have to love the work you do. Both Telus and Gransfors Bruk are ‘crafting organisations’.

Businesses who make beautiful cultures become very attractive, because they are, ‘authentic’. People — employees or your customers— want to belong, to go the extra mile, enthuse, endure, support, and invest. No amount of incentives or motivational talks can match the power of people feeling they’re involved in something a little bit special. Indeed, that they actually have a part in making it happen. We embrace what we create.

Leadership

Pixar make much loved animated movies. Pixar are extremely successful at making great films, not only because what they create  are masterpieces of animation, but also because they tell compelling, universal stories that are often groundbreaking in the themes they explore: love, life, death, relationships as well as fantasy.

But this is not easy. After the phenomenal success of Toy Story, Ed Catmull and his team agreed there had to be a way of openly and tenderly holding a creative idea so that it could evolve to its true potential of excellence every time.

Achieving  this required the creative idea to be open to  scrutiny in every aspect of its script, design and production. So, Pixar created the Brainstrust,

This is how it works for every movie Pixar makes. Members of Pixar regularly come together to openly test the development of a film. The rules are: only constructive criticism, and to speak with candour. It requires great trust to do this, to speak plainly and honestly and for the director to listen to all feedback. Without trust there can be no creative collaboration.

The focus of Braintrust meetings is on solving a problem. Individual knowledge morphs into collective intelligence, highly valuable in examining how one gets from mediocre to world class.

Catmull believes every movie they start with sucks in the beginning. In his words, meetings are filled with ‘frank talk, spirited debate, laughter and love’; they are there to excavate the truth in a movie.

The other rule is that the director is never instructed to do something. The director listens and develops his or her own interpretation and understanding of feedback.

It is unusual for a creative company, or any company, to work so rigorously in an open, collaborative environment.

It takes patience and time – virtues that Pixar is willing to give. To create enduring beauty requires intense collaboration between people who share the purpose of creating  truly unique experiences.

What lies behind this concept of Braintrust is that, actually, leadership decisions, those that we might previously have left in the hands of the director or the CEO of a company, are better when they are informed by the group and are better again when that decision is left open to the last possible minute. A similar development can be seen in software  architectures where microservices allow CTOs to hold programming commitments to within minutes of a go-live, where previously they were committing months ahead of a release.

Anyone no matter in which industry they work, can create their own Braintrust. In fact you might need to. It might just get you from mediocre to beautiful.

Businesses practising beautiful leadership know how to bring great potency to their organisation by empowering their people. Equally leadership that engages people in thought and deed can energise all that are invested spiritually, emotionally and financially in that business. Muhammad Ali was once asked what his shortest poem was? His response, “Me, We”.

Utility

Multi story car parks are not the nicest places to be. They create their own unique social and economic problems; frustrating queues to get in and out, they are particularly unwelcoming to women, and an insurance nightmare. It is a design challenge.

How to design something more elegant, more beautiful? The city of Aarhus as the Europe’s largest AI multi-story car park. Drive your car into one of 20 booths. Step out. Shut and lock the door then press a button. The car is transported below ground. The automated, pallet-free system offers some 1,000 parking spaces spread across three floors. From the moment the driver presses the button everything is automated. Nothing is touched on the vehicle except the wheels, and the AI system calculates through the day the likelihood of your return and ensures a fast recovery of the vehicle when you want it back.

Recently, I watched people drive in, deposit their cars and then pick them up. Young and old alike were intrigued and delighted by this incredible piece of design and engineering. It is in itself a beautiful thing to see. The utility is beautiful having solved the problems of personal safety, time efficiency, insurance etc., in such an elegant manner.

Businesses that create beautiful utility will reap the rewards of that commitment to take a common object and turn it into a work of uncommon grace. It could be a car park, a spoon, a film or a phone. People that design for beautiful utility, create wonderful, optimistic life enhancing experiences in big and small ways, and always sell out.

Restorative manufacturing

Flute Office is a pioneering company that is producing an entire suite of workplace products along with a groundbreaking business model to change the way we think about what we sit on, and what we work on. The product is designed and engineered to high standards, from upcycled cellulose and is 100% recyclable. Rather than buying a desk, you buy a service, personal to each customer, with a no-quibble guarantee, rapid delivery, and end-of-use buy-back.

But it’s not just the design or manufacturing model that is of interest. It how this upcycling can displace cost inefficiency. Taking fixed costs that are redundant. allowing capital to be placed somewhere else to be more productive.

For example, it costs the NHS £84m to deal with waste. Upcycling just half of this material the NHS would save £135m per year. Moving from a capital purchase to a subscription model, a further £100m could be saved. That is almost half of the entire annual NHS budget for new equipment.

20% of all landfill comes from office furniture, it takes 540 kgs of raw material to make one desk, so why not make something that addresses those issues of waste head one? Large corporations have warehouses full of desks, it takes 20 minutes to fully install a desk, Flute office desks take 2 minutes.

Businesses that are beautifully restorative, always give back more than they take. They provide benefits, which are economic, environmental and social. Nature has been around for a long time, why not borrow from her playbook?

What makes a beautiful business?

So what makes a beautiful business? It’s purpose, it’s process, culture, utility,  leadership,  enterprise design,  manufacturing and system design. Is it possible have all in one company? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. Creating beautiful things is the hardest thing we will ever do. Ugly is easy. But there are clear benefits to creating beautiful businesses. Here are some key points that we can apply.

  • The joyful and meaningful experiences it creates for employees and customers.
  • Culturally attractive to its customers, employees and investors.
  • Optimistically works to a higher order purpose.
  • The transformational value it delivers as beautiful utility.
  • Engenders trust for all those who work for, or buy from, the business.
  • Is restorative. Giving back more than it takes. Restorative to employees, restorative to the world from which it takes, buys people’s time or harvests raw materials.
  • Understands its vision lives daily in everything it is and does.
  • Is a crafting organisation, always curious, always trying stuff out to make sure it stays relevant as the world evolves around it.
  • Is design led, constantly asking, ‘is it useful and is it beautiful?’
  • Values intuition. Hand, heart and mind.
  • Is lovingly disruptive.
  • Understands great work can take time – the time it takes to make it inevitable.

Everything we make in this world follows the same process. We must think it, imagine it, dream it, then we make it. Everything is designed. And if everything is designed then we have the opportunity to make it beautiful, restorative, engaging, valuable and meaningful. We all need something to believe in so why not make it with beauty and grace.

What would your business look like if it were more beautiful? You can find out more in my book Do Design!

A call for boldness

If Einstein is right and we can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them, then our tentative shuffle forward as a society to answer the clarion call of climate change will never provide us with the chasm leap required to address an overheating world.

We shouldn’tbold be surprised at the tentative shuffle – we have designed our social mechanisms to maintain the successful status quo.  Businesses and governments are set-up to create stability – not to provide the breakthrough thinking required to solve the biggest challenges of our time. But, we can’t wait around for the odd start-up or crazy pioneer to radically reinvent our systems. Technology and Elon Musk will not save us.

We need to break through institutionalised mind-sets and deliver change within the frameworks of our existing social mechanisms. We need to harness the power of the biggest social constructs we have – businesses – to be able to unleash resources, at scale against our societal challenges.

And of course it is in the interest of business. How can these large transactional mechanisms survive in a world of shrinking resource base, dying customers and migrating employees? Climate change is in the words of Stern “the world’s greatest market failure”.  Of course, there is also the other side – the carrot if you like – for those who act sooner to create the capabilities, source the technologies and thereby realise the opportunities inherent in the future we are moving towards.

Yet anyone that has ever been on a diet or started a new fitness programme knows that change is really, really hard. And even harder when it’s herding many organisations and individuals towards a new outcome. Here are some thoughts to support business boldness:

  1. Join forces: More and more coalitions and collaborations exist to support businesses and the systems they operate manage a transition to a low carbon world. Whether it is as specific as refrigerants or materials or generic as a Sustainable Cosmetics Forum, opportunities exist to operate beyond traditional organisational boundaries and work together to make far-reaching changes.
  1. Set external targets: Nestle (in a rare case of providing exemplary role modelling) links its corporate goals to the SDG’s. Other companies, including Natura and Unilever are looking at the BCorp structure to provide an external framework to guide their business actions. It is of little use to have internal targets in a connected world. The ability of business to thrive is dependent on the health of everything around it.
  1. Set 100% targets: Ikea shifted the target of 50% FSC certified wood to 100% across all products. This provided such clarity for suppliers that the original goal of 50% was met 2 years early. Each purchase decision made by a large business (or government) sends a long ripple of influence through the world. Use it.
  1. Leverage innovators within: Within every company there are people already with answers to tomorrow’s problems. These ‘intrapreneurs’ are motivated to align social purpose and organisational goals. By identifying, mobilising and connecting these individuals,  pockets of possibility are created that ultimately shift corporate culture towards the new.
  1. Change the game: In a world of boring, ‘me too’ %-based reduction targets, Interfaces resolution to ‘Reverse Climate Change’ is exactly the bold move required to reframe the game and demonstrate leadership. It ignites employees and customers and sets out new ways of innovating, competing and doing business.

If we started with Einstein – let’s end with Goethe… “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now”.


Nicola’s first role working against climate change required her to come up with ideas for new businesses across all sectors in the Uk that could demonstrate the commercial case for a shift to low-carbon. She is still using commercial innovation to  change the world.

Getting what you want: Pitching

Pitching – how you frame and communicate your need – is essential to getting what you want.  

I’ve been thinking about pitching for many years to support the entrepreneurs I work with win competitions, create partnerships and raise funding. Pitching skills help us get what we want beyond starting a new business or initiative. We pitch when we present ourselves for a job interview, market our product, tell our colleagues our new idea or try to get kids to clean their rooms!

There are many resources available that explain what to include for the content of the pitch. This may differ slightly depending on situation, but generally we need to be able to explain the value proposition, revenue model/incentive, team and relevant capabilities and high-level plan of action.

However, when listening to pitches, I’m often reminded of Maya Angelous’ quote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Below are some of the less tangible things I’ve learnt about successful pitching:

Pitching starts from first contact – any interaction you have whether on phone, email or written document should all be seen as part of your pitch and create a coherent and compelling narrative. Everything you do builds (or takes away from) credibility and connection. A rude or badly thought-through email before the pitch can create a poor impression. Ask yourself what story you are telling through each interaction and adjust if necessary.

Prepare for the moment you walk into the room – be sure to present your best self before you start. How are you holding yourself? What are you wearing?  What is your non-verbal communication? How are you standing? You can only create one first impression… someone who slopes into the room looking hung-over and wearing only one shoe, may not get the desired response! What first impression do you want to create?

Check in with yourself – know why you want this and be clear which part of your psyche is motivating you. Projects and ideas motivated by ego and anger may lose momentum. Those by a deep connection to the outcome or a curiosity about self are generally easier to sustain.  People support people and likeability is a huge, sometimes unconscious, part of any assessment. Be authentic. Why am I doing this and what do I need to do to bring my best self to it?

Be prepared – to explain your project or idea succinctly against any criteria set out. Make sure your ‘ask’ is clearly articulated. I find the business model canvas or other similar tools useful to ensure I have thought through all aspects of a proposition. Trying different pitch types e.g. pitching using the Pixar style or for a TED talk are useful preparation. Practice both words and gestures. Create a prototype to test/prove the concept. Am I ready for anything?

Know your protagonist – who is this idea benefitting? Do they care? What do they have to say about it? An idea needs to centre on an ‘end-user’, ‘beneficiary’ or ‘customer’. There are lots of great design thinking tools that allow you to think through any idea from the protagonists’ viewpoint. This is critical to the success of any idea. Who is this idea for and why do they care?

Check in with your audience – are they ‘getting it’? Should you pause to connect with them? Are you speaking ‘their language’ (this may be by competence e.g. finance or marketing, their orientation e.g. expressive, quiet or literally cockney, northern, etc.). Have you identified and clearly communicated what’s in it for them? Can you get them to interact with and thereby connect with the idea? A good way to do this is to ask a question e.g. “How many of you travelled here by bus this morning?” Am I connecting with my audience?

Be self-aware – check if you need to flex your style i.e. to minimise or maximise personal attributes e.g. hand gestures, enthusiasm, aggression, quiet confidence, etc. Check your confidence level – there is something different about saying ‘we are trying to’ vs ‘we will’. Are you over-using ‘filler’ words such as “some”, “like”?  These are indicators of a lack of confidence, conviction or preparation. How am I being in this moment?

Bring the idea to life – use graphs, stories, prototypes, story boards, lego and movies to help explain your idea. I’ve seen people bring cooking to a pitch for a new restaurant, create a future magazine cover for a social project and design a prototype of a new wind turbine with toilet rolls to explain their concepts.  Creating an experience is very powerful. Make sure it adds to your idea not distracts from the pitch. Can I explain my idea in a creative way?

Keep it simple – know what your ‘big idea’ is and be able to explain it in a single sentence. It might be helpful to list our context, complication, solution beforehand in order to be clear on the problem it solves and the value it adds. Don’t have more than 3 points in your pitch. Be clear on your 3-5 key messages and ensure these are communicated. Test your pitch on unusual suspects – your kids or the pizza delivery man. This will force you to simplify your message and check your language. What is the one key takeaway for my audience?

Don’t be afraid of questions – you ‘own’ the conversation. Any answer is a good one if delivered with authenticity, humility and openness. The delivery is often more important than the content. If you don’t know the answer – be honest – but come up with a plan to get the answer. Typical questions pick up on risks, stakeholders, customer needs, capabilities and funding. Can I stay calm and connected to my belief in this idea no matter what?

Creating a successful pitch is as much about your personal preparedness and mindset as it is about your revenue model (we rarely believe your ‘hockey stick revenue curve’, anyway!). Preparation is all about you – stay true to yourself and authentic in your communication.

And best of luck!

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If you have a world-changing idea that needs some help – please contact me on nicola.millson@6-heads.com. Through the Upstart programme and League of Intrapreneurs we work with intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs to shape and scale social innovation. More information about the kinds of businesses we work with and things we do can be found here: Scaling disruption

FOSTERING YOUR CAPACITY FOR SYSTEMS CHANGE & LEADERSHIP

If you are an innovator working to create positive social change from within your organisation – you may be an ‘intrapreneur’. We would like to invite you to join fellow Intrapreneurs from companies including: Barclays, Interface, M&S, BMW and Unilever to be inspired, build skills and meet exceptional people. On the 3 May, as part of a regular event series, the League of Intrapreneurs will be holding a session on Leadership for Systems Change. If you feel this might be a good event for you to attend, please see information below and apply for membership at hello@leagueofintrapreneurs.com or get in touch with me at nicola.millson@leagueofintrapreneurs.com. 

“Collaboration is the Human Face of Systems Thinking.” – Peter Senge

Companies today are facing complex, external challenges, many of which cannot effectively be tackled by one institution or even one sector in isolation. Issues such as climate change, water scarcity and youth unemployment, for example, are all systems-level challenges, which require radical collaboration across a host of likely and perhaps unlikely allies.

Consider Café Direct – The UK’s first and largest Fairtrade drinks brand – which was founded through a collaboration between Oxfam, Traidcraft, Equal Exchange Trading and Twin Trading as a response to the 1989 global collapse in coffee prices. Café Direct since revolutionized the Fairtrade market by launching the first mainstream coffee brand catalyzing a shift in the global system of coffee production and distribution.

Or take sustainable materials as another example. Though Nike is one of the most iconic brands on the planet, their ability to influence the footwear manufacturing supply chain to utilize more sustainable materials was limited. So, they teamed up with a diverse group of manufacturers and retailers to create the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Together – they have the ability to shift the system in a way that no single company could.

The ability to shift systems requires new ways of seeing the world as well as working with others – it requires systems leadership.

Join us for an inspiring evening with guest speakers:

Richard Evans, Chairman, Impact Hub Global 

Kresse Wesling, Elvis and Kresse 

Together, with fellow intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs and change agents, we’ll explore questions such as:

+ Systems feel so big and complex? How can I clarify my own understanding of systems change?

+ What role can I, my team and/or institution play in addressing systems change?

+ What are the capabilities required for effectively tackling systems change?

+ What tools and resources are available to help me deepen my capacity for systems change + leadership?

League of Intrapreneurs’ events are intimate, interactive and inspiring gatherings of seasoned and emerging intrapreneurs. We meet each month in different locations across London, hear from thought provoking speakers and have lively and enriching discussions in small groups. This is not a typical networking event. Expect to have your passions nurtured and your mind expanded, all whilst deepening friendships with other London-based impact intrapreneurs.

As a non-profit, we operate on a pay as you feel basis, with a recommended donation of £25.

To apply to join us or to learn more about membership, get in touch at hello@leagueofintrapreneurs.com.

With many thanks to our event sponsor, SABMiller.

WHEN: Tuesday, 3 May 2016 from 17:30 to 21:00