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Insights from Strat Fest 2018: Navigating Complexity

by Jon White October 22, 2018
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On Wednesday 17th October Freshminds hosted the 4th edition of our annual Strat Fest event, this year on the topic of ‘Navigating Complexity’. We were joined by an expert panel: Chris Smith, Leader of McKinsey Digital Labs; Carina Namih, Partner at Episode 1 Ventures; Tugce Bulut, Founder & CEO of Streetbees; John Peet, Political & Brexit Editor for The Economist.

The talks alongside the Q & A’s led to some thought-provoking discussions and our speakers each took us through different industry trends including consulting, technology, start-ups, early-stage investment and politics being the common subjects and comparisons between them were marked and fascinating.

In fact, one of the major takeaways was quite how intertwined these things are and it was fascinating to hear the different perspectives converging on the same subject matter. So, in brief, here is a run through of each speaker and how the talks unravelled. 

Chris Smith, Leader of McKinsey Digital Labs.

"If you’ve allowed your customers’ data to be used in a way that they haven’t consented to, you’re on shaky ground when it comes to keeping their trust.” 

The amount of data we have is unprecedented with connectedness exponentially increasing (23billion connected devices in 2018). There are very different types and ways of going about disrupting a market; larger players doing things by the book to smaller disruptors glueing different things together and failing fast.

Chris’s take on navigating complexity looked at how the balance of trust and scale in business is the key to success. His salient point was how this can hold a disruptor back; how big banks, airlines, hospitals etc. have huge amounts of trust from the consumer meaning things can be forgiven, whereas the disruptor in the market has to work very hard to get this same consumer trust.

He finished on a rather foreboding note about Amazon being the one obvious disruptor that has managed to acquire both trust and scale and is a disruptor that we need to watch out for.

Tugce Bulut, Founder & CEO of Streetbees

“Consumers are dynamic, changing quite fast. Big brands need to act like a local start-up and natural language processing means we don’t need to ask questions anymore.” 

As the founder of a disruptive start-up herself, Tugce moved naturally from Chris’ talk of disruption. She highlighted the fact that market leaders are failing to keep up with start-ups and missing the boat on new opportunities. The most striking example was the astronomic rise of fever tree in a big brand saturated market and its struggle to compete.

A lot of this inability to keep up with new players can be seen to be intrinsically tied to not being able to properly listen to the customer. In a world where we have so much data, we seem to know less and Tugce believes that we should throw away the traditional rule book when it comes to researching what customers want. Using unstructured data is far more effective to find true insight and not rely on prescriptive tick boxes as they will only ever tell us what we expect to hear! She believes this is a core reason behind the fact that 80% of growth in FMCG and Retail is happening outside of the 4 biggest players.

Carina Namih, Partner at Episode 1 Ventures.

“If you want to build value, you don’t want to build a niche internet business - you need to start climbing the hills, looking for green space, looking for places to build.”

Carina gave us a fascinating insight into the perspective of an early stage investor and brought some interesting comparisons between the UK/EU market and Silicon Valley where she worked for 5 years as a start-up founder. She explained why the market has moved away from consumer goods, apps, and other traditional start-up areas and are now focussed on AI, ML and deep tech.

She compared ‘early start-up land’ as one discovered unpopulated continent which quickly becomes colonised and filled up with massive walled cities in the form of Google, Facebook and the like. For an early investor, it’s very hard to get something off the ground if you are struggling about in the alleyways of these cities, trying to find something different enough to succeed. It’s more effective to head to the remaining green areas, i.e. a completely new space which isn’t just reimagining of the same innovations. She also talked about how Moore’s law of exponential speed in innovation/growth and how in fact it is no longer the case; things have slowed down – holding up the driverless cars as a poignant example of this.

John Peet, Political & Brexit Editor for The Economist.

“Regarding Brexit, leaving with no deal is not a plausible outcome, but I think it would be foolish not to have a contingency plan, just in case.” 

John gave us a whistle-stop tour of the Brexit situation and his personal thoughts on the situation. Linking from disruptors and innovation, he made the point that government perhaps above all other things could do with a healthy dose of disruption. Working from the central assumption that there will be a Brexit deal, he predicted that it would A) be done later than anyone expects and B) leaving without a deal is simply not plausible.

However, his key warning to the UK and business world at large was that it would be foolish not to have a contingency plan. This point carried a thread of continuity from Sir John Grant’s 2017 Strat Fest talk on the Brexit situation; namely that It will not be over in March 2019, rather just beginning as Brexit is a process and not an event. Crucially also, by far the worst feature of all the conversation around Brexit is that it diverts attention away from the real problems. 

We rounded off the talks with a live Q&A which further probed into these key topics in different ways. Overall, it’s safe to say that it was a fantastic evening of insight and we look forward to 2019 already!

Stay updated for further insight coverage into these subjects covered during the Q&A and get in touch if you would like to find out about any further strategy events.

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