London Tech Week outcomes

2 minute read

As part of Tech Week, we hosted a breakfast conversation about the role technology plays in our industry. Strategy Director Paddy has captured our key take-aways from the session.

With our brains full of pastry, sugar and caffeine, Emma Barratt, Creative Director and Head of Design at Wolff Olins, kicked us off with a quick, provocative intro. Emma asked us: “how, in a world where brands are becoming truly interactive through new technologies like MR and AI, can we still shape brands that are recognisable, relevant and – crucially – responsible? What happens when brands become invisible?” Four speakers then shared their thoughts, each from very different places, each spinning a different thread but ultimately weaving together in a similar direction…

First, Cedric Kiefer from Onformative suggested that the invisible is unknown, so can be scary. But he thinks we should embrace that, focusing on the how – on the journey, the A-to-B, rather than just the B. Which doesn’t mean thinking about the tech first. Instead, he suggested we use tech to help us avoid the direct route, because “the direct route is obvious.” Experimenting with new tech, we can do things differently – arriving at various different and perhaps surprising Bs.

Pip Jamieson from The Dots carried this thought on, passionately inspiring us all to think about how “it’s the differences that make us brilliant”. She made the point that tech and data can help people, but aren’t enough alone. Alone, “data can’t innovate” – certainly not in the long-term. So if we want long-term innovation and successful, sustainable organisations, we should look to people. We should design for and with communities, avoiding bias by building teams full of difference – recognising that “creativity is a team sport”.

Dan Hennessy from Uber then asked the question “how can you humanise this thing in your ear” – what does ‘brand personality’ mean in the world beyond screens? Do brands have actual personalities now, and if so how? Across which touchpoints? He wondered how we can use the technology available to us to “facilitate our journey” through this “expanding world” – to not just sell to people, but to help them, using the example of Uber commandeering ad spaces in airports to help customers find their rides.

Finally, Daniel Hirschmann from Tech Will Save Us and Hirsch & Mann spoke about working “design-first, then tech”. His point being that if we’re trying to keep up with and include all the new tech in the work we’re doing, we’re missing the point. We should see technologies like AI as “mediums for expression”, exploring what they are capable of – how they can help us design better experiences for people, wherever those experiences may happen.

So in summary, our speakers were all thinking similarly – about how we can harness the power of tech for people. This led us to pose three questions:

1. Can we stop worrying about tech doing different things to us, and instead wield tech to do things differently? And do better things – things that have longer-term impact, are unbiased, community-first and ultimately core to who we are. Rather than doing things led either by a fear of the latest tech, or a desire to use it just because it’s there.


2. How can we augment our reality, to better augment our customers’ reality? How can we work with and alongside technology, to shape better brands and a better world?

And then:

3. How will we continue to work with technologies as they evolve from being things we can use to express, to things that can express by themselves? As they start to behave in ways that we don’t expect, in black boxes, beyond our control. What will that mean for how we shape brands?

Ultimately, we wondered whether Tech Week needed a rebrand… Whether we needed to stop thinking of ‘tech’ as this ‘thing’, on a pedestal, separate from us, and instead recognise it as the latest powerful set of tools, or perhaps a new member of the team – helping us to think differently, work better together, and ultimately be better for people.

Chapter Zero launches

2 minute read

The climate crisis is real, fast, and already here. Can Chapter Zero, a new network of business leaders, help us transition out of it?

A new Chapter, targeting net-zero
The climate crisis is real, fast, and already here. Can Chapter Zero, a new network of business leaders, help us transition out of it?

Currently, 85% of the world’s leading businesses seem to think that business-as-usual will get them through the climate crisis. They need to wake up.

Our economy has been a threat to our climate for decades, but now our climate has become a very real and immediate threat to our economy – and to our existence as a species. It is vital that we transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 at the very latest.

We need to do this to keep global heating to 1.5º. If we don’t transition to net-zero carbon emissions we will likely reach 2º heating by 2050, meaning the death and displacement of hundreds of millions of people. Continuing with BAU beyond that will take us to 4º by 2100 and a hothouse earth – meaning total societal collapse.

This is not a good story. It is also not an exaggeration. We are all, very literally, on a burning platform.

Businesses who don’t play a part in this transition will suffer long in advance of us reaching 2º or 4º. They will risk major disruption to supply chains, punishing government policies, profoundly negative impact on stakeholder and customer sentiment, dramatic increase in resource costs and availability, and a crippling reduction in asset values.

But it doesn’t have to be like this…

Because for the businesses who lead the way in making the transition to net-zero, there will be significant opportunities for commercial and competitive advantage, via resource efficiencies and new energy sources, incentives, markets, products and services. Doing the right thing doesn’t have to mean sacrifice – it’s crucial that we grasp this.

Making the transition to net-zero is simply good business.

But how do we do it? Enter Chapter Zero, established as part of the World Economic Forum Climate Governance Initiative, to help Chairs and Non-Executive Directors of leading businesses understand how to protect their asset values, adapt to physical risks, reduce their emissions, and seize the opportunities that making this transition offers.

Formed in partnership with ICAEW, the CBI, the Royal Institution and Carbon Trust, and hosted by Hughes Hall Cambridge, Chapter Zero is already gathering serious support. Mark Tucker, Chair of HSBC; David Tyler, Chair of Hammerson; Sir John Kingman, Chair of L&G; and Sarah Bates, Chair of MerianGlobal Investors and Polar Capital Technology Trust are all onboard.

Wolff Olins have helped them define a stand-out brand name and identity (pro bono) to get the attention they deserve. ‘Chapter’ because they are a group of leaders who meet to share knowledge and spread new ideas, and ‘Zero’ for the transition, represented as a target symbol that can be drawn and understood by anyone, rendered in yellow, the colour of fresh hope and enthusiasm. A group committed to writing a better story.

Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown, a compendium of solutions to the climate crisis, encourages us to see the crisis as something that’s not happening “to us”, but rather happening “for us”. It is an opportunity for us to transition to a better world.

Business will do well to seize it.

To have access to Chapter Zero’s resources and events, enrol as a member by visiting

How learning crosses the creative shadow

3 minute read

Our Head of New Thinking, Robert Jones, on ‘How learning crosses the creative shadow’

Companies can’t change people. But we can help people learn how to change their companies.

What’s the greatest frustration in creative consulting work? For me, it’s when we make a clever strategy and a brilliant design, and yet the world never quite sees the results. Our work doesn’t get fully adopted. The spirit of it is lost. As Eliot wrote, ‘between the idea and the reality … falls the shadow’.

The truth is that strategy and design, on their own, aren’t enough. A clever strategy and a beautiful design don’t guarantee that anything will actually happen. We also need to help our clients change.

This is, of course, an age-old problem. And it’s a problem for a good reason: people don’t want to change. None of us wants change to be inflicted on us, or to be told how to behave. We feel change as a loss of the familiar things that we like, and the cognitive bias known as ‘risk aversion’ means that we reject change.

The stark truth is that companies can’t change people. Traditional, top-down ‘change management’ projects never had much impact. And in the age of independent-minded, non-deferential employees, this is more true than ever.

Learning is gaining
So at Wolff Olins, we’re working now with a different model. Alongside our strategy and design services, we have a comprehensive change service. And in that service, we don’t helping the company change the people: we help the people change the company.

This may sound trite, but it’s a fundamentally different way of coming at the problem. And the best way to do that is to give people ways to learn. If change feels like a loss, learning is a gain.

Like other agencies, we do a lot of work inside client organisations. We help define new cultures, rewrite values, create codes of conduct (currently a big thing), design employee experiences, define employee value propositions, make employee engagement programmes, and so on. We’ve recently done good work with the consulting engineers AECOM, the hotel chain Premier Inn, and the energy company Vattenfall.

But we do it all through the lens of learning. How can we best help our clients’ people learn? About what’s going on in their world, why they might we need to change, what their colleagues are up to, how they can work and lead better.

We often use online learning to achieve scale. Not traditional e-learning, which is a solitary duty designed to achieve compliance. But social learning, where thousands take part at the same time in a massive online conversation – where the people really do learn how to change the company. We’ve helped managers at Daimler adopt new, more agile leadership style. And the whole workforce at Allianz Global Investors has learned to apply its new brand proposition to their day-to-day work.

So we suggest, for any creative project, it’s worth thinking about four things.

1 To deliver the new strategy and design, how does the client need to change?
Which groups of people will need to change? In what ways? What does this mean for the company’s leadership?

2 To help the client’s employees make that change, what do they most need to learn?
What kinds of new perspective, new knowledge, new skills or new collaborations?

3 To make that learning happen, what would work best?
Smaller face-to-face events, which can be very effective, but mean huge investments in time and money? Or large-scale online social learning events, which can reach thousands in one go?

4 How could we all learn from the start?
How can we frame the whole project, from day one onwards, as a process of learning, for both the client and us in the agency? A process where everyone makes discoveries, tries new things, and then reflects on what works? And where this becomes a natural, daily habit?

Sairah Ashman on how businesses can engage and hire diverse teams

5 minute read

I run a global business entirely dependent on its talent, secure in the knowledge that without their intellectual horsepower and creative curiosity (and a little secret sauce) we don’t have a business. I mean this quite literally; it’s just IT, nice furnishings and a few exotic plants otherwise.

We’re a creative business that relies on diversity, and not just because it’s a nice box to tick. As Channel 4 has known and championed for many years through campaigns such as "We're the Superhumans," it’s a source of competitive advantage.

Creativity and diversity have long been a source of advantage for the UK more broadly in fostering innovation and experimentation and we must protect these assets as we continue to navigate the choppy waters of Brexit.

A disastrous outcome for the UK will be a narrowing of diversity in the talent pool we can access and a silent march towards homogeneity. Senior executives tell me that once they’ve overcome the challenges that initial Brexit reconfiguration will bring, it’s this narrowing they fear most.

PwC indicates that ‘diversity-leading’ organisations are more innovative; they’re rated by their leaders as more agile, and more likely to ‘experiment and embrace failure’. Similarly, the latest research from Boston Consulting Group says that diverse companies produce 19% more revenue.

Not many of us (even parliament it seems) can predict what’s next with Brexit. We don’t yet know what the impact will be on hiring beyond our own borders. However, there are a few simple steps we can pursue to ensure we celebrate, encourage and propagate diversity.

Recognise (and improve on) what you have

The old adage says what gets measured gets managed. It’s impossible to tell how diverse and innovation-ready you are without taking a stock check.

We recently undertook our own internal audit looking at a range of measures including gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical and mental health attributes. For many years we focused on cognitive and cultural diversity as a business — people who thought differently from different parts of the world — believing this was a good catch all. However, we found we gravitated towards a mean if we weren’t careful, finding it hard to separate what was a good cultural fit versus a more general hiring bias. We attracted wonderfully smart, engaging people, but it became obvious over time that they’d largely been educated in the same institutions.

Once you start digging, be prepared to be surprised by how diverse your people already are and curious as to why they can’t be more open if they’re managing something such as dyslexia, depression or epilepsy. Anyone with a ‘condition’, who comes from an ‘alternative’ background or doesn’t fit the ‘norm’ will most likely be highly resourceful and resilient – they’ve had no other option. It also means they probably have more potential than others might realise, with a lot of energy being spent maintaining what passes for ‘normal’ (a minority category if ever there was one) that could be more productively directed elsewhere.

With a benchmark identified, it’s easier to target improvements, as well as timescales for doing so. Focus on a couple of key initiatives and then review what works most effectively, rather than trying to do everything at once.

If you’re looking for motivation, one example of a company outperforming the competition on diversity is Slack. It’s excelled where other Silicon Valley types have fallen, with its statistics showing steady improvement. Employees say the company makes diversity everyone’s responsibility, rather than simply appointing a Head of Diversity and making it their remit (although you could do both).


Illustrations by Andrius Banelis

Be vocal about commitment from the very top

Like many aspects of organisational culture, most cues are taken from the top, so leadership behaviour and action really matter.

I remember as a junior many years ago when a new cohort of directors were appointed where I worked – they comprised 10% of the business and there was not a single woman among them, despite several obviously strong candidates. It spoke volumes, devaluing the promotions and reflecting poorly on leadership at the time. Lack of diversity breeds more of the same without active intervention and often happens unconsciously.

A good example of proactivity is how some businesses support campaigns that chime with its employees’ beliefs. Vodafone is a vocal champion of LGBT+ rights and overhauled HR processes to both attract and empower LGBT+ talent. The Vodafone LGBT + Friends Network was recognised by Stonewall as the best of its kind in the UK. And it’s not just about the internal landscape. Its products reflect its beliefs, with trans-inclusive policies for customers, and it hosts Pride parade floats. Crucially, none of this feels performative given that these values are baked in.

Taking this one step further, some CEOs demonstrate their personal convictions in a way that was unheard of a decade ago. Look at Quantas CEO, Alan Joyce, who topped a leaders' list for backing same-sex marriage in Australia. He took a very public stance in favour of LGBT+ marriage and was even attacked by a pie-wielding bystander for his views. Meanwhile, Edward Enninful, Vogue UK’s editor-in-chief, has put diversity at the heart of Vogue’s agenda, working to ‘normalise the marginalised’ for its readers, and sales are up.

If you want employees to value openness, empowerment and diversity, there’s no better way of promoting that than by leading from the top.

Put your money where your mouth is

Measurement and celebration are laudable but after that, action is needed.

Consider your hiring process, for a start. This takes time, significant investment, and some trial and error. Some processes intended to make recruitment fairer have backfired and accidentally propagated existing biases. (This is what happened at Amazon when it tried using AI for recruitment, and ended up favouring men.) Other techniques, like blind CVs, have had better results. Recruiters in Sweden have even been using a robot to interview candidates to help eliminate bias. This kind of thing isn’t available to all of us of course, but we each have a responsibility to think about what can be done and what will make a difference.

Next, consider the way you nurture dialogue and debate. Opposing views, delivered in the right way, are incredibly useful and ultimately positive, as they create depth and rigour. Do you proactively seek them? Do you invite, and listen to, opinions that aren’t the same as yours? How do you drive that at a company-wide level?

If businesses can recognise the diversity they have, be vocal about it, and pioneer an open-minded approach in their workplace culture, we can reduce the threat Brexit poses to our diversity - which we need to drive innovation and to thrive commercially, and economically. It’s on us to prove that, despite the political turmoil, we’re still open for business.

Stay tuned for Sairah’s next Forbes article.