Archive for the ‘Disruption’ Category

Simplifying the alphabet soup of sustainability

Thursday, November 11th, 2021

How to add 4% to your profit

What is climate doing to you, and you to it? This is Sustainability Reporting.

This is Sustainability in the big picture of climate and humans on the planet.


Climate change raises a two-sided question. What impact does it have on the sustainability of your business (revenue, customers, supplies, risks)? And what impact does your business have on climate and thus the broader sustainability of our society and environment.


This distills down to one sustainability question.

Customers, regulators, and investors are asking, “What is your commitment?” They are referring to two major scenarios for the future.

To simplify them in business terms:

The Red Scenario. Are your business and your investment practices aligned to a future that will see global temperatures rise by 3˚C or more? This is the dire world of the planet burning and social collapse. Standard & Poor’s, a ratings agency, reports that 66% of companies are unknowingly operating this way, even those that have publicly committed to “going green.”

The Green Scenario. Are your business and your investment practices aligned to a future that is +1.5˚C or less? This is the desired world climate that has so far allowed human beings to flourish. This is the sustainable scenario that CEOs are increasingly being tasked to deliver.


Let’s drill into these two scenarios further.

The Red Scenario has two sub-types: Dire and Diabolical.


Dire is when our enterprise and business systems adjust to simply delivering a 3˚C+ world. This world has hundreds of millions displaced, stretched food systems and 100 year floods, fires and droughts happening every 20 years or so.


Dire is not good.


Diabolical is Dire on steroids. 100 year disasters-a-decade. This is the trajectory of current business practice which lead to a potential 5˚C+ world. Neither red sub-type is desirable.


Think about it like this. The lifestyle our businesses currently lead means we’ve got a bit (or more than a bit) overweight and out of shape. The doctors have pointed out that diabetes and cardiac arrest are imminent.


Step 1 is to stop adding the gunk into our system.

Step 2 is to clean up what we’ve already done to ourselves.

To achieve the Green Scenario, we must play a different game.

The clever thinkers

The green goal is to stop adding carbon to the atmosphere and then to remove it to promote a return to a climate that’s healthy for humans and other species—and, at the same time, to create highly valuable businesses and a thriving society. #Healthy&Wealthy


The Green Scenario for a business has three sub-types:

  1. Going net-zero: This is where a business adds carbon and offsets what they add. It’s the binge and exercise option.
  2. Going carbon-neutral: This is where a business shifts how it does business so that it’s using processes and products that do not create carbon. This is the option to maintain your weight and reduce health risks.
  3. Going regenerative: This is where a business decides to get healthier and fitter than ever before. It’s getting carbon-neutral and dropping those Kgs. It’s a distinct lifestyle change.


The clever thinkers are already looking at three additional elements.

  • Are your planning and processes creating a ‘just transition?’ This asks you to look at the social impact of your strategy and how you can make it socially fair on the poorer elements of society.
  • Are you aligned to ‘science-based targets’? Science-based targets look across the economic system that businesses align to so that we don’t inadvertently do damage somewhere else while we take action on any one dimension.
  • Are you simply addressing your own internal operations or are you looking at what it really takes to create value? This is referred to as ‘Scopes 1, 2, and 3’ – and are a subject for another primer.


Investors, regulators, and customers are asking for insight on sustainability and your climate risks. They look at how well you’ve refreshed your strategy to incorporate your climate goals. They’ll ask about your climate ambition—what scope you are committing to and what you are doing to achieve it.


It’s the business version of keeping up good relationships, not over-training and making sure your business ecology is sustainable.

For Businesses in Asia

Committing to the Green Scenario has direct economic value now. The EU is introducing a 4% levy on goods that are not produced in alignment with the EU taxonomy on Sustainability. They are doing this to create a level playing field so that imported goods pay an equivalent price to the cost of carbon in the EU. This carbon border levy is called the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM).


On the basis that what gets measured gets done, there are a variety of initiatives to assist you in adapting to the Green Scenario.


There are policy initiatives. The EU’s New Green Deal is the driver behind CBAM. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals with 156 sub-elements that, while primarily designed for countries, can also provide insights for companies assessing where they have positive or negative impact. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) helps you understand and report impact across a range of issues such as climate change, human rights, and corruption.


There are also Investor initiatives. The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) is the future facing version of investment where money is expected to do more than simply make money—it’s expected to create an impact too. Issue-focused initiatives are increasingly active; for example, Climate Action 100+ ensures that the world’s largest 100 corporate greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change.

Science says we have a decade to get green. And then another decade to get greener so that we have headed off the worst of the red scenario. This is where the ‘by 2030’, ‘by 2040’, and ‘by 2050’ markers come into the discussion.


In summary, your climate ambition is your commitment to:

(a) net-zero, carbon neutral or regenerative

(b) your scope of ambition 1, 2 or 3 and

(c) your timeline for each element e.g. 2025, 2030, 2040 etc.

Your climate strategy is your plan to respond to external changes while delivering on this commitment along with your financial and other commitments.

In the absence of a stated climate ambition or strategy, continuing ‘as is’ also known as ‘business as usual’ (BAU), implying an enterprise is defaulting to a red scenario pathway (S&P July 7 2021).

If your enterprise does not know it’s impact on sustainability, there may be unknown, unquantified liabilities in the not-too-distant future – rendering your business unsustainable to stakeholders and the planet.


In the next article in this series, we will focus on what [un]Sustainability does to create and erode enterprise value.


I’m Joanne Flinn. I help CXOs win deep leading  transitions for a 1.5 degree world. My next book, Greensight the New Liability for Directors and Named Individuals is coming out soon.

#Greensight #Sustainability #BoardDirector

First Things First in Turbulence and Crisis

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Here are three things you need to do when things shift again

as I was coaching a senior executive, we got into the business side of
the corona virus. She asked me what I’d learned running businesses
during a large-scale crisis like SARS.

It became a conversation to
answer this question: what can and must we do as leaders to keep our
businesses alive during such times? If you are an entrepreneur or an
executive responsible for P&L, read on. This is for you.

Image credit: Brian McGovan

Step 1: Refocus the Fear

on fear is not the answer. Yes, it must be acknowledged. Yes, respect
it. Yes, follow recommended medical-hygiene practices—but then focus on
the opportunities inevitably sparked by a crisis.

It’s an opportunity to strengthen
relationships by helping your customers or suppliers through a tough
moment. Cash flow is going to be an issue, with cancellations and
delays. Your leadership role is to promote patience and solidarity.
Immediate results include loyalty and reciprocal support.

It’s an opportunity to
reassure your people that their roles (and thus their income) are
stable. Help them stay calm about that, so they can be present and

It’s an opportunity to do those important
things that your business has been too busy to pay attention to. It’s
time to look at those transformation projects and, while ordinary
operations might be in a lull, put the energy, bandwidth, and capacity
that is now available to good use.

Step 2: Find the Silver Lining

the new version of the corona virus started to rise and the first signs
of it showed up in Singapore, the city where I live, I put into play
what I’d learned running a practice with PwC.

I looked at my lines of business and put them into two buckets.

Bucket 1: Services likely to be affected because they rely on face-to-face interaction. Into this bucket went our Unicorning Workshops and keynote speeches. In the last two weeks, I’ve had 20% of this year’s bookings delayed or cancelled.

Bucket 2: Things that, happily, happen in another plane, such as our scaling and toolkit services, coaching, and virtual workshops. I put my energy and action into those three opportunities.

The result: an agreement with one client to
accelerate the development of a set of products that will enable her
business to scale to $100 million. We’ve worked out a pace for product
development and licensing and for a payment plan that makes sense, given
the realities of her client’s corona-influenced cash flow and the value
that these products will bring to them.

What could have looked like collapse is actually a multi-million-dollar opportunity.

Which brings me to the third concept my senior executive and I focused on.

Step 3: Keep The Lights On

truth is, it’s likely to be financially tough for a while. Once peak
SARS was past and the re-infection rate had dropped, it took over six
months for the animal spirits of business to recover. The leadership
challenge today is to manage both mind and money.

Manage mind first.

our mind is present and free of fear, we can find opportunities. These
create new data and contexts for the very practical decisions you’ll
need to make to keep the lights on.

Keeping the lights on (KTLO)
is as much about making sure your business mission in the world is
preserved as it is about cash. Cutting corners or acting in ways that
undermine your values is costly in the long run. The price you’ll pay
for hasty, bad decisions that don’t reflect who you are could outlast
this year’s corona virus by a long time.

Work through your budget, the cash flow forecasts, and the new opportunities that can be created. Make the changes you need to.

will pass. And in the meantime, keep the good you’ve done in finding
silver linings and refocusing fear. They are the investments that will
enrich and grow your business, your team, and your mission.

Joanne Flinn ~ The Business Growth Lady

If you are a mission-driven entrepreneur or executive with P&L responsibility, let’s connect on LinkedIn.

What Can You Do For the Climate Crisis?

Monday, September 30th, 2019

It was 1976. I’m looking out of the cockpit window of a plane as we fly past Mount Kilimanjaro. The snow caps shine brightly. The pilot hands me a certificate, congratulating me for flying over the Equator for the first time.

Things have change since then.

Passengers are no longer allowed upfront into the plane cockpit. Kilimanjaro is no longer snow covered all year. I’m no longer a child. 

If you are reading this on the internet, you probably aren’t either.

The child that was on that flight would have been out of school on Fridays. She’d have marched for the climate and the planet. I’m applauding Greta Thunberg.

The adult in me has asked myself, what responsibility can I take? What can I influence? How can I help you and other to too?

I can write, I can speak, I can do what good business mentors do – ask the questions that’s help the tough answers be found.

I can do what good leaders do, create better futures. As a board member I can. As a human being I can too.

Business Leadership in the Climate Crisis

As a business leader, I can ask is my business CO2 neutral today? Congrats, Jeff Bezos for committing Amazon to this by 2030. Go further, commit to being climate positive across all the SDGs by 2030.

After all, CO2 is part of the climate equation. So is plastic, clean water and waste.

Big business is more than 60% of the global GDP. Leadership decisions here count. Kudos for GoldmanSach’s for their advocacy for proactive climate investments and BNPParibas for your action too.

As a CEO, I know that if we set KPIs and reward the behaviors, the business will find solutions. They’ll look for them. New services, products and solutions will be created. New businesses and economies will be created.

To be clear, I’m advocating designing the future not simply responding to it.

“Rather than being screwed, if we act quickly, a sustainable future could be cleaner, quieter, safer, more technologically advanced and more prosperous than the alternative”. Paul Romer, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in economics

Romer identifies the challenges to this are not primarily economic, nor are they primarily technological, they are institutional, cultural and organizational. This is the leadership space.

The challenges are leadership.

A climate positive business economic system even more prosperous than the current destructive system is possible. In the last GFC, four trillion dollars was pumped into the US economy, a few years later, it had resulted in a $34 trillion dollar expansion. Good ROI. #ClimateCrisis is as strong a reason for central bank action as the GFC.

As a stakeholder and shareholder and board member, vote and expect Boards to look at sustainability as more than business sustainability. Go for climate positive across the SDGs by 2030.

Some Boards are interpreting the Environmental, Societal and Governance (ESG) reporting requirements required of listed companies as business sustainability alone. I contributed expert input to Board Governance needs in Asia to the CPA Australia earlier this year. It’s clear that national legislations vary significantly.

Go further than the legislation. Ask yourself, do you plan on being alive in 10 years? Do you want to breathe? Do you want a business and a planet that’s dealing with the warfare that comes from a billion people being displaced from storm, floods and collapsed food systems?

As a human, it is frankly scary. I look back to that young girl in a plane looking out at the majesty of Mount Kilimanjaro and realize there is a lot I can do as a human.

Wisdom of the ages says we reap what we sow. I’d prefer to sow a prosperous human economic system with a sustainable green planet. 

I know it’s not over night.

Instead of saying it’s too hard or that it’s impossible. It’s about ‘do it’. The climate crisis is up there with nuclear war (negative) and man on the moon (positive). We avoid that bad. We got man there in under a decade. We gained that good.

Climate varies
Cold in some places

Getting Practical about Business Action for the Climate Crisis

As a business woman, I’m practical. I like visions and goals to have a road map and practical frameworks.

Here is a practical framework to measure progress to sustainability. It was developed for a client’s business and it’s shared with permission. May it spark your own business goals.

The columns represent goals, while the rows address key elements of their business success.

Business Goals for Climate Crisis

* SDG #5 highlights that economic equity between men and women is an accelerator of sustainability.

** Unicorns have a super agile adaptive mindset. Necessary for the pace of change that climate and IR4.0 have for business.

Do I know how their business will achieve this at this precise moment? No, but then no unicorn knows how it will achieve it’s goal when it starts.

Climate neutral is a good start. The foot needs to get off the polluting peddle. Kudos to L’Oreal for your work piloting this across your supply chain.

Climate positive is next. Stabilize what’s already out there currently creating damage. And then, to get to the deeper need to systematically operate our business and economic system on the basis of climate sustainability. 

It means clean up work.

Take Climate Action Personally

I’m looking at my life. I’ve a backlog of pollution, of CO2, of plastic and waste to consider.

I get how China can say to the West that you sunk masses of carbon into the system in the past. While much of the focus is about getting to climate neutral, it’s also about getting the past pollutants out of the system.

I was on that flight over Mount Kilimanjaro. Even though my parents were flying me back to see my grand parents, as an adult, I can say I was there. I can choose to offset and clean up on my past at the same time as I focus on my business being CO2 neutral now and being systemically climate positive by 2030.

On Sunday, in honor of that girl on the plane, in honor of the kids who march Fridays and in honor business leaders who are showing up, I did something practical. You can do this too.

I got out excel.

I worked out how many flights I’d taken in my life. I included the ones my parents had put me on when I went off to boarding school. I counted the ones I’ve taken for business.

Total so far: 980 flights.

This is 1960 takes offs and landings – where the most fuel is consumed.

I estimated the flying hours with short haul flights and long haul flights. It’s 7134 flying hours.

I’m committed to offsetting these and to do the same to new flights.

I put money where my mouth and words are and took action. To begin to offset this, I’ve invested in protecting fruit trees planted by a women’s society. 14974 days of protection. It’s a start. Thank you #B1G1 for making this possible. 

Unicorns begin small, and they work it out. 

I invite you to see your business as a climate unicorn. Imagine the change it can make, the billions that it can benefit, and yes, the value you will create in the process.

It includes prosperous people, successful business and a thriving planet. It’s possible.

Do you believe it’s possible? What’s your experience with going for the impossible and making it happen? Does your business get why it’s important to act today? What suggestions do you have for action in your business?



Where is 87% of your Capital Value?

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

There are three myths in the capital raising journey. The first is that it’s about “the capital”. The second is that it’s about “the deal”. And the third, is that it’s about “the one”.

In this article, I am going to re-frame how you look at the value of your company and capital raising.

This is from a keynote given to 300 CEOs, Founders and Executives from USA, Asia and Europe late 2018 at Anthony Robbin’s Wealth Mastery Program.


87% of your stock market value comes from 6 forms of value, yet traditional capital raising focuses on just 3 forms. These only make up 13% of stock market value*

Source: Unicorning™ Analytics, Standard & Poors, Additional Analytics

At Unicorning, when we analyzed at the stock market value of businesses that have been super successful over the last decade, we noticed that they have huge valuations in non-traditional forms of value. In fact, we found that non-traditional forms of capital make up 87% of the stock market value. This trend is only increasing.

We found the executives, founders and businesses that build great business are ones focusing on six non-traditional forms of value. They articulate, measure and grow each of these capitals.  

What does this mean for you?

The capital that is not on your balance sheet is your capital for success. This is true even if you are simply focusing on growing your business.

The capital that is not on your balance sheet is your capital for success

Joanne Flinn

Grow Your Business and Valuation With the Critical Six Capitals

Our analysis found that each of each of these capitals is an answer to an important business question. Here are the six non-traditional capitals to help you articulate, measure and grow your business.

They are framed as questions to spark your thinking.

1.    WHY Possibilities

What’s the greater value? What’s the greater vision? What are the possibilities for the world, if this actually can happen? What’s the change your business is making in the world? Example: Tesla sells the possibility of transportation (cars, rocket ships…) powered by renewable energy. People who buy Tesla cars are making a statement about the future of the planet as much as they are investing in bringing the vision to life. 

2.    WHEN Time

Are you making time an asset? Are you utilizing and managing it well? Getting services and products to market swifter has concrete value. Fast paced hyper growth businesses know this – a month of market is valued in the millions. This holds true for customers too in a super busy world. Example: Atlassian is a software company built around helping business teams use time super effectively so their clients get things done focused, faster and better.  

3.    WHAT Brand Promise

What will the business deliver? How will people see you? Example: BMW is a lifestyle car with superb engineering. The brand promises that you will be seen as part of the high-net worth elite. It works this promise through may levels of the car, the organization and your experience as a BMW owner.

4.    WHO Relationships and Networks

Are you who you know? Who do you know? Where is your influence? Example: Grab and Uber sell you access to a network of drivers while Oxford and Harvard give you access to an entirely different sort of network. In this increasingly social world, the networks are valued and valuable.

5.    HOW Technology and Processes

How are you creating opportunities to scale? Are you innovating how things are done? Is your technology helping customers lead better lives, have better experiences or take their business further. Are your processes smoother, more effective and secure? Example: R3, a blockchain company that works with banks, recently had one of the biggest series A funding rounds ever. 

6.    Intellectual Property

How do you scale your creativity? Which parts are so valuable people will pay for it? Example: LVMH owns many of the world’s luxury brands, its intellectual property is its key source of value, which we can tell by how diligently it tries to shut down fakes.

87% of the stock market value is above the line.

13% of the stock market value is below the line. This is the world of the traditional P&L and Balance Sheet.

7.    Contracts

Do you have a cashflow pipeline? Is there proof that people value what you are selling? Are the partners you depend on committed? Contracts have measurable value. 

8.    Cash

Do you have money in the bank? Do you have reserves to respond to emergencies? Do you have a means to invest forward? Can you manage your money? What’s in your P&L and Balance Sheet?

9.    Physical Property

Do you have assets that can be used to recoup losses? Have you made enough money to invest in physical assets? Do you have physical assets? In the tech start up world, physical capital is considered old fashioned and slow growth, yet, physical capital has value. Just ask WeWork’s CEO who has made millions leasing property to WeWork’s co-working business.

These three forms of capital are well measured, they’re in the P&L and the Balance Sheet – but if you are growing your business, looking for capital or wanting to increase the valuation of your business, pay attention to whats in that 87%.

Case Study: GRAB, the Unicorn

Have you ever taken an Uber or a Grab? What they did was they created a network where they were always available and relationships where we trust, now we get into a car with a complete stranger. And a complete stranger is happy to pick us up and take us somewhere. What they were able to do was create a who (4) and a how (5) combination that created value and service. Think about how much data they’ve got on us and where they can create new forms of value to us ‘the customer’ and thus to the investor. Grab, which is based out of Singapore, is worth a billion dollars. It’s a Unicorn. 

Reframing the capital-raising journey

This journey begins with you. As much as capital raising about the logic and the numbers, the truth is that you are absolutely critical to capital raising journey. You show up in two ways. Firstly, there is your heart, the passion for what you are creating and the belief that you and your team is able to do it. But there also a less talked about element of you: who do you want to be in the journey?

For example, let’s take a look at the mindset around capital raising. You’ve heard of the Dragons Den? It is a great image, it appeals to our inner knight-in-shining armor. Yet, when we see capital raising as going into the dragon’s den, what do we find? We find dragons and danger.

What happens if you shift this perspective? If we see capital raising as a journey into new territory with unknowns to discover and work out, what happens? You are now an explorer or adventurer.

One mindset is about defense while the other the explorer/adventurer keeps you in a growth mindset.

Reframing it this way, you will have a different relationship to the information that comes back to you when you put your proposition, pitch and product out there. You’ll see the information that comes back with a spirit of inquiry, with interest and you’ll have a greater capacity to respond. You will be able to adapt to what’s actually happening. Data from the markets, your customers, or your business partners becomes clues and sign post on your journey towards your business goals.

Unicorning this year

What are you doing to raise your value in 2019? Do you want to be a Unicorn? You and thse 9 forms of capital are behind every successful business.

Let’s converse about your capital raising priorities. 

To Unicorn

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Let’s debunk a modern myth: unicorns exist in the age of disruption.

To unicorn:

Def’n: To create the magnificent, the unusual, the never-done-before. To do what some people consider the impossible. To do something that is both meaningful and even a touch magical.

For example:

  • To do the ‘humanly impossible’: climbing Everest, running the 4 minute mile
  • To create art to inspire joy: the 5 story high flower covered puppy by Jeff Koons
  • To impact the lives of a million people from your home, practically impossible before the internet and mobiles
  • To build an organization worth a billion or who benefits a billion in years, not lifetimes:  Apple, Grab and TED

To unicorn is to think big and act transformative. It’s to change the direction of the world and history for the better.

If you were to unicorn, what would it be?

What is your unicorn?

PS I’m collecting unicorns… tell me of ones you see,

When to pay attention to the background?

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

With the volatility of presidential announcements and a strong feeling of ‘what is the new world order?’ it’s very easy to ignore things going on in the background.

Why do I look at the background?

The background influences everything  going on right now. To become future ready, organisations and leaders need awareness of this broader picture, else the future arrives, it’s a surprise.

After all, we humans seem to be hard wired to pay attention to the brightly colored, fast moving object. It’s either dangerous or interesting. But the very slowly moving, adding up bit by bit changes, these are easy to ignore.

It’s the difference between a heart attack calling urgent attention or slow incremental weight gain. The later is dangerous if you want a long and healthy life.

Last week, I had both to consider.

A family member in hospital for a heart attack, while I was thinking about my contributions to the Oxford Futures Forum at the University of Oxford on Scenarios, Climate Futures and the role of Arts and the Humanities.

Oxford Futures Forums look at integrating professions to deal with complex trends playing out over 30+ years. It pulls things that add up little by little in the background, into the foreground.

As an individual, I hanker to live a long and healthy life. I wish the world I eventually leave to be happier, kinder and fairer than the world I was born into. The vision of happy people, happy planet seems a good thing to aim towards. It beats the alternative.

Yet, the most likely climate trajectory (science) is that in 70 years, the Arctic will be habitable for alligators.

If you, like me are over 40, it’s not likely that we’ll be alive. But we may be alive for a good amount of the next 70.

What does this say for future societies, the world’s financial and industrial system and the lives of our children and grand children? This is when futures scenarios are incredibly powerful.

As leaders, it’s also a place for us to influence for the better.

For a happy planet, the science is clear. It’s now about values, decisions and action — and influencing them. Ethically.

It’s not simply about a happy planet. Will there be happy people in a world with alligators in the Arctic?

So back to the opening question, when is a good time to look at the background?

Now is good. The incremental pieces that create the background continue to add up, compounding each day.

7 things I learned about creativity, leadership and results as TEDxArtist-in-Residence

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

It began with a problem. Or as the Chinese would say, an opportunity.

Read on for the behind the scenes story, for the bullets, see the end.

Behind the scenes

It’s Thursday, 7:10pm and I receive an email. ‘We would like to invite you to be the TEDxAIR for TEDxPickering St at the Art Sciences Museum in Singapore.’

It’s in 8 weeks.

Side note: What’s a TEDxAIR? TED stands for Technology, Engineering and Design. The design side got a bit lost so 3 years ago the first Artist-in-Residence or AIR was created to link to the creative communities and to see how ideas are expressed in other mediums. Each TEDxAIR is unique. Todate there have been around 18 ranging from Mt Hood USA to the Courtauld Institute UK and now the PickeringSt at the Art Sciences Museum in Singapore.

In between saying ‘Oh, Yeh! Oh Fxxk! Oh, Yeh! Oh Fxxk!’ to myself, I read on. I am asked to create artwork and installations to inspire attendees at the TEDx event. The theme is ‘Quotients’ – as in intelligence quotient IQ or EQ the emotional intelligence quotient. They asked ‘What other important quotients are there?’

As an artist, I’m complimented. But 8 weeks is an extremely short time to do commissioned work. Understanding the essence of their need, developing the artistic concept, agreeing this, validating that it’s executable (do able), actually doing it and installing it is something that usually takes months even years.

And I’m due in Oxford the next week for a think tank. I don’t have 8 weeks!

We meet the next morning, the TEDx convener, Ri and I.

Our first conversation: We decide go for it. We know we have just met, we don’t know each other, we don’t know the budget. It turned out the previous artist who had to pull out had funding, but it attached to him.

In situations like this, it’s either step up for the ride and trust that we’ll do something amazing or run for the hills.

We decided we’d trust that we could work it out.

Delivering the promise

Over the next 8 weeks, we had to live this ‘trusting it will work out’.

Side notes: What does trusting it will work out actually look like? It’s not naivety. Lots went wrong if I used corporate standards of practice. Well, you could call it failures in that there were many hiccups. Or you could say ‘we failed forward’. Or you could see this as the real story of the creativity and innovation process. One that actually delivers.

The creative process used here is the same one I use with large companies doing white space transformation. There are more parallels between the creative process for art and for successfully executing on business transformation than is generally realized. Using an inappropriate program process is a significant contributor to the 93% failure rate seen in corporates.

 We do our first site visit. The space is huge and tiny. Both at the same time. The stage art installation is in a specific location, we’ve 4m by 2.4 m to work with. The foyer is 40 meters by 5 stories. It’s huge.

I put a concept forward, then I’m off to Oxford.

I get back and do another site visit to confirm sizes and spaces.

It’s 6 weeks out, a 3rd site visit. The head videographer (he who record the fabulous TED talks) doesn’t like the initial concept. Nor does he like its color.

Back to the drawing board.

At 3 am, I’m dealing with ‘what is the purpose of the artist?’ inner question and realize, ‘the concept, it’s the butterfly of Chaos Theory.’ You recall the one that flaps their wings over the Amazon and creates huge changes else where in the world?

TED is about ‘ideas worth sharing’. As the artist in residence, I wanted to express this in the art installation that acts as the stage backdrop.

Ideas worth sharing are butterflies that change the world

The concept is refined over caffeine the next day with Ri in our second critical conversation.

We’ll use parchment paper for the translucency. Ideas are intangible. Concept of wings flying to link to sharing. Later on we added a second layer, the gestation of ideas, like a caterpillar that eats, cocoons then morphs into the butterfly.

As this develops, one layer would be modern western pop art inspired by Roy Lichtenstein, the second, we’d use the Cutout and Shadow Technique inspired by traditional Asian paper cuts from China and the Indonesian paper shadow puppets. This is fitting for Pickering St. This TEDx is named after the first officer in the British Colonial Service who spoke both English and Chinese.

We’d laser cut the story of ideas to be modern. Given the scale which when we finally calculated what it would take 800 cm of paper, folded like a curtain, there was no way we could do it by hand. The laser cutting of the pattern would create the texture so the story would be visible. Backlight for depth.

The final concept: Ideas are Butterflies, it’s 4 meters x 2.35 meters, made from paper, space and light.

This is about as intangible and ephemeral as you could get.


The video guys oked the demo version.

Side Bar: In the creative white space of exploration and development, insights comes from unexpected quarters. Even feelings are all important elements that create a powerful concept that can be validated. Ideas develop into the vision, the thing that we say ‘this is the thing we are going for’. There is a distinct yet intangible sense ‘ah, this is it!’  

Moving into the next stage of creativity is the actual execution on the core elements of the vision. Note, in the first stage, ‘how’ is not a big element, it was simply a validation point thanks to the timeline. It was not a constraint.

Into the next hurdle

In parallel, I’m also creating a TED talk. Actually, it feels like the TED talk – they ask if you had one idea to share, the idea of a lifetime, what would it be? Which feels pretty high stakes for me. Then it is finding the courage to share what really feels important. In real life, there is always more than one thing going on.

Back to art in action. This is strategy in action. Art is a concept delivered. Art is strategy executed.

Sidebar: This is a big challenge that a lot of companies face. The great idea may exist but executing those ideas is a problem. That’s why so many million dollar ideas don’t see the light of day. Sound familiar? Underneath this, we used a structured process to hone the most appropriate idea for our goal, and then a second structured process that integrates artistic creativity with program management to deliver results.

How do we actually convert the concept into reality?

It is only impossible until you do it

We, by this stage, Ri is firmly part of the creative team, we put a call for help out as more detailed work on the concept continues. Art is a team process.

The concept is sketched and tested – about version 8 or was it 15? – it feels right.

I spend 12 hrs hand folding paper to experiment to see which technique works best.

Lasers, at the scale we need, are huge and expensive. It turns out the one that could have done it, has been decommissioned.

The guys at the Fab Café at the Art Sciences Museum test out part of the concept so we know how it will behave when we laser.

The files we need to instruct the laser are infinitely more complex than we’d thought. There is no spray can dot creating tool in AI. Every dot is by hand. On an 8 meter file.

One graphic designer collapses working till 3:20 am.

We are now 3 weeks out.

Ri is discovering skills she didn’t know she had. We break files limits, we work around things. We adjust files so that the layers cooperate together.

We are now 2 weeks out.

We find a laser. The guy is wonderful. ‘Come in with the file. I’ll cut. I need it in dmx format.’

What’s dmx? We discover. We also find out that converting our file to this does stuff. More fixing (failure = recover in action).

It’s a week out.

The laser dude, he’s never cut paper. He’s on the adventure too.

Lasers are hot. Paper burns. He’s doing it layer by layer.

We have 10 different panels to burn. We need a spare in case one tears. 20 panels. It is 3 days out.

I get the call saying ‘don’t worry, it will be fine’

It’s all be so crazy, I actually do. Not worry, this is.

Friday am it’s ready to be picked up. The event starts Saturday at 12 noon.

The sheets are 2.4 meters long and 80 cm wide. I’ve got to work out how to carry them.

It’s raining. Parchment and rain is not a good look.

We were meant to be doing set up Friday am. Someone else is using the space Friday. We can’t start till 7pm.

I get there with everything I’ll need – I’ve this artwork ‘Ideas are Butterflies’, plus ‘Gaia’s Wings’, an 8m by 4.5 m installation for the foyer and another 6 pieces for the installation at the entrance of the Art Sciences Museum. It’s 9 pm.

My security pass is only valid from midnight.

I get in, there are some amazing volunteers who help put together the parchment. We lay out the pieces – there are 10 sheets of parchment, 80 cm x 2.4 m each. We have to work out which fits with which. It’s an 8 meter across puzzle.

Carefully we connect the 10 panels. Thank God the room next to the stage is huge.

Even more carefully, we fold the huge fragile artwork so it’s like a curtain.

We create loops so it can hang.

We get it on the rod, and carefully, carefully carry it to the next room, to the stage to hang it. To tweak the folds so it really looks like a curtain. I finally leave at 4:30 am Saturday.

A few hours later, at 10:30 am in the morning when I get back in, the lights appear, thanks to the video guys… we light up… it’s a sunrising light with the caterpillar of an idea being born as a butterfly.

It’s noon. TEDx begins. Ideas worth sharing.

Take Aways from Doing the Impossible aka TEDxAIR in 8 weeks

  1. Create Magic. You can create magic and the insanely impossible if you believe you can.
  2. Trust in each other. This can exist even if you haven’t ever worked together before. We trusted that each of us were doing our best. We knew we were not perfect and that we were on new territory. Conversation was critical to our success.
  3. Disciplined Creativity for Delivery. Underneath this story is a structured creative process integrated with the discipline of adaptive project management.
  4. Continuous prototyping. We validated continuously. This took time and resources. There was wastage – which was required as we didn’t have time for ‘do agains’
  5. Future Focused. Things went ‘wrong’ all the time. The closer it got to the date, this moved from once a week, to every day. At times it felt on the hour. To succeed in this type of environment, we had to live from trust. Practically this meant that each time things went off, we’d both go ‘ok, back to the big picture, so how?’ We were solution finding, future focused. At no time were we blame or past focused.
  6. Collective leadership. I lead the creative vision, Ri was instrumental in the execution. It’s a team effort, we each added different parts. At least 13 people contributed to this. Some of whom I didn’t even see, but they are there and are appreciated.
  7. Challenge is Stretch. Creativity and innovation will get No’s. The video guys were still unsure of the final work when they started doing recording tests at 11:30am. They wanted to take it down. But they kept it up for my TED talk as the first speaker. Then they left it till the break, and finally the whole event. They’d found that the art did work for them.

If they hadn’t said no initially, I’d not have stretched the creativity. Ideas would not be butterflies that change the world. Their challenge added hugely. They stretched me as an artist. And yes, they got stretched too. We both expanded.

If you are having challenges with creativity, time frames or getting results, it is an issue with the creative process-in-action.

Scale it: do you need ideas to deliver? Is your time frame short? Establish what each week gained would mean to your clients, organization and staff.

For example: a concept that is potentially $2.5 million per year in 2 years is worth $48,000 a week. $25 million pa is $480,000/week. Your measurement may be people helped as an NGO. In both cases, the more swiftly and brilliantly the idea becomes come real, the more valuable it is.

Getting creativity right is more that reducing risk and preventing loss, it is about making the impact and getting the results you really want.

Put these 7 points into action. You will see creativity, innovation and leadership delivering at a higher level. You will see results.

If creativity, time frames, strategy or results are high on your list of priorities, connect with me for an exploratory conversation on the situation, to give you initial insights and see if we both are a fit for each other.

Project Wings Pte Ltd (c) 2017

7 Meta-Trends Defining Your Business in 2017

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

How many are you dealing with?

Death and taxes are highly certain. The meta-trends redefining our world are certain, the rest is uncertain. Can we drop the false certainty from data and work with what’s really around us?

Global statistics show only about 10 % of businesses will be. A microscopic number will be around in 30 years. Yet while our business might not be here, we individually probably will be. We might as well create the future we prefer.

It’s those with commitment who change the world. Gandhi and Mandala did. Obama, Winfrey Gates and Jobs have. A powerful vision can do much.

7 meta trends will influence our businesses and lives for the next 30 years whether we are Millennial, Gen XY or Baby Boomer.

These trends will impact how we live, work and play. The choices we consciously make today will define this world. But if we don’t admit that these meta trends are out there or if we only focus on a couple and ignore the rest, we will be blindsided.

The 7 Meta-Trends

Meta Trend 1. The New Age of Wealth and Life

Nutshell: More silver consumers, late wealth for Millennials, assets hollowed out, Gen XY are zombied.

Business opportunities will shift as more and more people enter the silver 70s. Gen XY are caught in the middle with post global financial crisis careers and finances while the millennial see life about life over wealth creation, thanks in part to seeing ‘zombied’ parents. While silver is the new gold, our joint future is post-millennial.

The basis for wealth creation, retirement and finances will re-define success for business and life.

Implication: What will wealth become? When will we really retire? What is ‘living well? For that matter, what is dying well? What is the well lived life?

Meta Trend 2. Supply Chains: Feeding & Watering the World

Nutshell: Stressed supply chains and more resources consumed with population growth and desired lifestyle

It’s simply food and water. The average human will die within 10 days without food or water.

Critical parts of the human lifeline (aka the global supply chain) are under increasing stress. Interconnected logistics that moves food, fashion and consumables swiftly around the world only needs minor knocks to break down. Supply chains have been deconstructed, distributed and dependent on multiple sub-contractors spread across the world shipping things globally.

With increasing populations globally, fresh water systems are under pressure from farming and urban demand for water. The FAO reports a third of the worlds food production goes to waste while people starve. At the other end of the supply chain, waste disposal is putting increasing pressure on other environmental systems.

People, companies, industries, economic systems, environmental systems and countries grow ever more entwined even as political debate may suggest other wise.

Implication: Can we be fully transparent about our supply chains and its fragility? Can we the hidden costs and impacts of our current practices? What could create trust and sustainability in this entwined world?

Meta Trend 3. The Human-Urban

Nutshell: It is no longer simply the human being

These days 80% of people live in cities. This density of living has it’s own economic and environmental consequences. Telecoms and technology are helping billions of people are coming online. Data is public. Privacy is a future luxury. If it can be automated, it will.

With robotics and artificial intelligence coming out of the background, what it means to be human, to work and to be valued will change. This may be our generations equivalent to Copernicus discovering the earth revolved around the sun combined with the printing press on steroids.

Implication: What is society, rights and values in this post urban world? What is it to be human when the best becomes an AI robot? More personally, who do you wish to be as the nature of work changes? How will we value humans?

Meta Trend 4. Tech – TechTech, FinTech and MedTech

Nutshell: Electrical self-driving cars, eMoney, re-grown organs are now

Tech in its multitude of forms will keep playing out. Forty years ago, no internet. Now it’s the internet of everything. Money is now electrons. Medicine keeps pushing forward. All making for a better life, each with dark un-discussed sides of pollution, cyber-fraud and medical ethics. Security was once about muscles, now it’s about who controls what electrons in the world of cyber security.

Implication: With the conveniences of tech, this is about having the courage to not simply take it on face value. What becomes valuable when we don’t need people to produce? What becomes important when electrons rule the world? What is ‘work’ when it’s ai?

Meta Trend 5. New Social Values + Social Dis-Connectivity

Nutshell: Human relationships – virtual or real?

In a world where money is electrons, and credit creation is the driver of GDP growth, wealth is something other than simply money and assets. Science tells us hugs are valuable, meditation is worth while.

Who we are with each other is changing. Time is the new luxury. Ownership is about sharing. Relationships are virtual and face time is now an app. Yet cafes and places to connect and be with others show that the need for real world connection is still here.

Implication: What will we value? What values are you using to prioritize your life, time and relationships to live authentically?

Meta Trend 6. Gaia and the Limited Unlimited

Nutshell: When the rising middle class wants a global lifestyle, can we continue to ignore the full cost of production with climate change?

With Chinese, Indian and Indonesian middle class wanting to live in western affluence and see the world, production impact of the world lifestyle will increase. 2 billion more people will enter the middle class in the next 20 years. Understandably, they’ll want the affluent lifestyle.

There are two ways to see nature and the planet – on TV or get out there into nature. Either way, the current global production practices say we’d need 4.1 planets if everyone lived the full Western lifestyle, suggesting plenty of opportunity for breakthroughs that use the unlimited resources (eg sun) versus limited resources. Clearly the extent to which real costs are factored into corporate cost structures will influence actions.

Look at this in context of climate change. It’s only a few more degrees for the world to have alligators in the Artic. The tropics would be more than hot. Letting climate wait and see is watching an egg dropping to the ground and saying it’s fine – simply as it has not hit the ground yet. 30 years is not long in climate terms.

Implication: How is the real cost of production recognized by accounts? Where will new industries be and which current ones will go the way of the dinosaur? What tech will help this? What’s the politics of wealth and power in this? 

Meta Trend 7. Capacity to impact, help and benefit

Nutshell: The post capitalist life – wealth in the new world order

In all this expanded capacity to see what is happening, to connect, to automate and use technology, and when money is electrons, who really knows what will be in 10, 20 or 30 years?

Trend 7 is about choice, this is neither positive or negative. It’s personal: it is possible to see the future as a time of turmoil, constraint and scarcity. It’s equally a time of opportunity, of connection and contribution.

This is also about courage. The courage to ask big questions and to do something.

Wealth and value is intangible. It’s about what we value. It’s our values in action. We’ve gone from a world where capital was land, to one where economic growth is about credit. The new capital is trust. Values are increasingly driving value.

To build trust, we actually need to be clear about what we value. With the transparency of Social Media, our truths show up swiftly and globally.

Implication: What economic and financial system will come out of these changes? What are the real values that we live by? What big questions are we willing to answer? Will our answers and actions be consistent with our value(s)?

What courage do you need for the choices you wish to lead?

So what’s possible?

With so much in flux, one choice is to simply say, “it’s all too much”, or to simply watch and continue ‘business as usual’. This, however, is a dangerous longer term option.

Another is to see a world of infinite possibilities, and that we can deliberately and consciously create a world that we prefer.

As a leader, consider these questions:

  • What world would you like to create?
  • Which of these trends do you want to influence for the better?
  • What would your business, organization, customers and employees need to believe about your vision for it to be real?

Overnight success really takes a decade. Big things can happen over 10 years.

I’m curious about what’s going on within these trends, so I will be interviewing other leaders in these areas. Who would you like me to interview? Drop me a note on LinkedIn message.

This is the introductory article to a 7 part series. It is a contribution to the 2017 Oxford Future Forum on Scenarios, Climate Change and the Arts.