Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth

27th June 2016

Whichever way you voted last week one thing is for sure, a lot of uncertainty has been created due to the EU referendum. I am sure over the coming weeks and months things will settle but in the short term this was probably a result that no one really expected (least of all the UK bookmakers which are usually a useful bellwether) and it has led to much exchange of opinion of the future of the British economy and its place on the Global stage on social media and in the wider press.


Uncertainty is not traditionally a good port for business; larger companies’ baton down the hatches to ride out the storm and smaller companies move wildly around in the ebbs and flows of market. The net result is that everything slows down and usually the most conservative strategies bubble to the surface.


The perceived issue is that owners/directors/managers lose sight of the final destination and therefore everyone holds off making any kind of move until then ‘know’ which strategy will work. Strangely however this apathy leads to companies leaving their future in the hands of the wider throng and not firmly within their own control.


This is where Business Design comes into its own. The application of Design Thinking to solve corporate challenges is based around understanding your direction and creating achievable, human-centric goals to move the ball forwards (rather than inflexible concrete multi-year waterfall plans), it works on a framework of options and tools and is a wonderful instrument for navigating uncertainty.


In the 19th Century there was a German field Marshall called Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (also known as ‘Moltke the Elder’ as his nephew also commanded the German army at the outbreak of WW1).  Field Marshall von Moltke is credited with adapting Napoleon’s military theory to the modern era and creating a new approach to directing his armies in engagement. His theory was based around developing a series of options rather than simple a single plan and held the view that only the first engagement of a military operation was plannable. Molkte the Elder famously stated that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”, or if you are looking for something more contemporary you can quote our own great 21st Century combat philosopher Mike Tyson “everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth”, it’s broadly the same thing.


Whether on the Prussian front, in the boxing ring or in the boardroom Design Thinking gives you the advantage in dealing with uncertainty. Let’s break that down:


Design Thinking is goal orientated – that is not to say it is specifically prescriptive about the destination but understanding of the direction. We need to know where our businesses are headed, what success looks like along the way and what tools we have to make this a reality. I am sure Moltke the Elder would never have said we are going to win X battle on Y day with Z amount of ammunition but he would certainly have understood the trend and whether this was moving toward success in the field.


Design Thinking is human centric – very few companies are successful without a team. In times of uncertainty it is super important for the management to understand the direction and communicate this effectively to the team, providing each with their part of the process to tackle an issue or create an opportunity. It is also critical to understand the external human relationships to your business: customers, journalists, shareholders etc.. – do they understand where the business is, what frameworks it has in place to proactively create opportunity where others dither or default to apathy.


Design Thinking is agile – In order to thrive in uncertainty you need to be agile, think tangentially and not default to perceived wisdom (as the landscape moves too fast). Break programmes of work (to address wider strategic direction) down into smaller chunks and measure these for effectiveness. We believe here at Rokker that the fortune 500 companies of the next 10 years will be fundamentally different to those of the last 50 years and the primary component will be their ability to deal with agility at scale. This is a discipline and mind-set that crosses communications, processes, product, organisational roles, customers and financial components of the business but understanding that these are linked, creating a framework where initiatives can be trialled, measured and either double-down on or killed is critical.


Design Thinking is contextual – this is the final and possibly most important point. Due to the EU referendum our context has been changed and we are now presented with a new reality. Good design thinkers do not see this as a negative but a positive, we are now presented with a raft of challenges but also a potentially larger set of opportunities. Understand the context of your business, react to it and re-affirm the direction. There may be battles lost but the wider war is there to be won.


If you apply Design Thinking to your challenges, whatever they may be, you stand a great chance of coming out on top. Or in other words, when you are next metaphorically punched in the mouth you adapt, understand the context, use your team and asses the tools in your arsenal and go on to win the fight.


Andy Rogers

Founder & Managing Partner