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Episode 7: Turning Insights into Foresight

In this episode, host Chris Thornton, interviews Futures Director at Omnicom Media Group, Phil Rowley, and Daggerwing Group Principal, Kieran Colville. They turn insights into foresight while discussing the impact that COVID has had on organizations, employees, and consumers. They discuss the trends that are shaping the world right now, and how organizations must build a culture of innovation to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving future. To read Phil’s thought leadership article, New Horizons: Media and Communications in a Post-COVID World, click here.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;26;02

Welcome to Change@Work, A podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thorton, principal at Tiger Woods Group. And today, we’ve got two guests joining us from Omnicom Media Group. We have the futures director, Phil Rowley. I fell.

00;00;26;06 – 00;00;45;18

Hi. How are you? I’m doing great. Thanks for making time for this. And also joining me is Kieran ColvilleColville, principal at Daggerwing Group, based out of London. How are you, Karen? I’m doing well, thanks, Chris. So you all are about, what, five, 6 hours ahead of me and producer Lauren Sutherland. What’s it like in the future Today?

00;00;45;21 – 00;01;07;02

Overcast. Very good. Okay, so. So, Sam, it’s been for the last five or six months. That’s it. There you go. All right. All right. Well, Kieran, I’m so glad for you for you to join me in this discussion with Phil. Phil, if you would, just tell us a little bit about your area of expertise. And Kieran, I’ll ask the same of you in just a second.

00;01;07;02 – 00;01;27;23

But but Kieran, I know what you do. Phil, tell us about you. Yeah, so I’m Phil role. I am the futures director Omnicom and my job effectively is to really turn insight into foresight and work out what’s coming down the line in the next 5 to 10 years. Specifically for media and marketing, but also it sort of opens out into broader territory as well.

00;01;27;26 – 00;01;45;28

And the aim of it really is not just to sort of prognosticate on a future that seems intangible or distant or something which clients can just easily ignore. It’s to bring all of that sort of prediction and make it much more tangible in the real term in and what we usually say is after a while there must come the how.

00;01;46;01 – 00;02;11;23

And we very much concentrate on making sure that everything that we talk about doesn’t intimidate. And it has an entry point that a client can access on from from their desk on a monday morning. So after a while, there has to be a how is that how you say, yeah, you know, and when you think about that. Well, when I think about that, what that says to me, at least from an internal perspective, is, is it’s all well and fine to have an exciting future.

00;02;11;23 – 00;02;31;00

But how are you actually going to get there and what’s our plan for getting there? Is that also part of what you’re thinking about? Absolutely. I think there’s two pitfalls that most of our clients can fall into, and it’s not a specific to Omnicom group. It’s all clients. In fact, it’s all businesses in general. Is that when they hear something that is futuristic, they can have two possible reactions.

00;02;31;05 – 00;02;46;15

They can overreact and say, my God, this is incredible. We should be doing this right now. And nothing ever comes of that because it’s just too much to move a mountain so quickly. Or they can most likely under react and say, you know what? That’s five years in the future. I wouldn’t even be in my role in five years.

00;02;46;19 – 00;03;07;10

As long as I’ve kept my sales this high, I’ll be gone. I don’t need to worry about any long term planning. And so nothing happens either. And so we have come on to talk about this. Perhaps we have a sort of a scheme or system or a process which treads the middle ground between that sort of undue reaction and overreaction so that we can steer a client to to future that they can actually realize.

00;03;07;12 – 00;03;31;06

I can. Tell us a little bit about you. Well, as much as I would like to think I could, I cover the wow, I’m probably more the how. I think that’s probably a fair point about me. So, yeah, as you know, Chris, you know, I focus in on the internal world helping organizations through change. I have a particular penchant for data and insights and research that’s a bit about my background, which is a it’s another story for another day.

00;03;31;06 – 00;03;48;22

But yeah, I mean, that’s really my my role is to help organizations navigate those big change moments. If you think about what sales are talking about there with the sort of undo reaction versus the overreaction, if we can find that that balance that that sort of middle ground where people do take action, it’s helping to then translate that into a plan and execute that.

00;03;48;22 – 00;04;07;07

In terms of getting the organization behind it. And that’s really what I do. So one of the things we do on every episode of Change@Work is we ask you to prove that you’re human. I think both of you have done a great job. But let me ask you a couple of quick questions. Phil, what is your biggest irrational fear?

00;04;07;10 – 00;04;32;25

I do have an I don’t know how irrationally is and I don’t get deep and existentialism nihilistic for a second, but I wonder what happens when technology gives us everything we want if we will still be on the happy deep down inside in the kind of brave new updates. Any of you’ve read Brave New World where the planets have everything that one and fortunately have to be drugged up because it still doesn’t make them happy in any way.

00;04;32;29 – 00;04;55;07

And I have an impossibly not massively irrational fear that we will get everything we need and still not be satisfied. Well, I look forward to that day and I absolutely look forward to that day. Karen, biggest irrational fear. I will I can’t I can’t beat that in terms of philosophic philosophical gravitas, but I don’t know whether this is irrational.

00;04;55;07 – 00;05;22;00

I have to go for shocks. Right. So I think what happened was I saw Jaws probably a little bit too young, which meant I went through a period of my life of not wanting to go in the deep end of a swimming pool, so worried there might be a shot down there. But yeah, I think I think it’s I mean, overcome that every time I go swimming in the sea and I’ve done some thought of diving off boats into like murky water and I sort of have to like steel myself because the probability of getting bitten by a shark is probably 0.0001% or something.

00;05;22;00 – 00;05;42;18

So I have to sort of rationalize that before I make the plunge. But it’s got to be that. All right. Our favorite age growing up, Phil, I’d have to say somewhere between six and seven. And just because I might show my age here is that that is the perfect confluence where Star Wars was still in the air, but Transformers and Ghostbusters were also in existence at the same time.

00;05;42;18 – 00;06;05;02

So if you can imagine someone having access to Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Transformers growing up, that was the perfect age for me. Yeah, I think we’re similar ages, so I understand completely. Tyrion Favorite age. I’d go for 16 because I think I wanted to grow up and 16 was the age when my father let me sort of take over his pub and let end for a bit and run it while he went.

00;06;05;02 – 00;06;23;28

Also way on a, on a on a trip. So I sort of got that level of sort of adult responsibility at 16. I think it went downhill after that, but it was see, that was probably the apex. Karen I feel like this is a whole podcast that we can get into of, of growing up and having a father who ran a pub.

00;06;23;28 – 00;06;41;01

So what was, what was your favorite part of running the pub? wow. Well, it certainly interestingly, it wasn’t dealing with, with the customers because they used to give me awful amounts of grief for being the landlord son. So I used to have to sort of take that on the chin a bit. It was probably the actual business side of it.

00;06;41;01 – 00;06;59;04

I enjoyed the the almost the accounting and the sort of running of the business, the operations of the business actually, I sort of I thrived on having that responsibility. But yeah, I used to take an awful lot of grief and it was just dished out regularly. So yeah, that seems only fair, of course. Exactly. Yeah. Thank you both.

00;06;59;10 – 00;07;24;03

You proved that you’re human. So let’s carry on with our discussion. Let’s get into the human side of change. And Phil wanted to talk with you. You put out a thought piece recently about New Horizons and. And what a post-COVID world could look like and what its implications are for for comms. Can you tell us a little bit about how the thinking for that thought piece started?

00;07;24;06 – 00;07;48;01

Yes. So and we realized that our clients were asking a lot about what the implications of COVID were. And a lot of the detail that was out there was very much concentrating on the short term. People were talking about, you know, what’s what’s happening right now. You know, the fact that supermarkets are sales are through the roof right now or there’s a shortage of PPE right now, but nobody was really talking about the long term effects.

00;07;48;01 – 00;08;09;02

And what I mean by that is that the the analogy that I use is a bit like back to the future, to where Dr. Brown says to Martin, we’ve ended up on an alternate. MARTIN We’ve ended up on an alternative in 1985. And I felt that we were an alternative 2025, that the five years or the next half decade, the next five years and by the time we reached that point in 2025, would be a very, very different future had COVID not happened.

00;08;09;02 – 00;08;28;02

And so we wanted to write a report about the change that would stick, that would have a long lasting change, and maybe also slightly nudge the Titanic one side of the iceberg so that, you know, in a few months time it would have been, well, clear. And that’s the genesis of the report. Long term change that we think will stick after COVID hopefully has long gone.

00;08;28;04 – 00;08;55;19

Listeners, if you’re looking for that report, strongly encourage you to read it. If you just look down in the show notes, you’ll see a link, right, Right to the report so you can read along as we discuss it. It’s a very detailed report, Phil, and with a lot of great thinking and implications, when you think about one or two trends that have some pretty serious implications, what are what are some of the things that stand out for you?

00;08;55;19 – 00;09;22;15

And it’s a detailed report goes into a lot of ideas. What are what are one or two things that stand out? Well, I’ll give you the sort of the express story. I think there’s two big megatrends that we would we would focus in on. The first one is external control. So that’s effectively forces which are beyond the control of the everyday citizen or consumer being exerted upon them, things like the growth of big government and their use of big data and also their desire to connect people with 5G.

00;09;22;17 – 00;09;42;28

Also, the second megatrend is taking control. And what I mean by that is citizens and consumers in that on their sofas and in their front rooms actually exerting a force on the market itself. And I mean, things like changing the way that we retail works, developing skills for living a remote life and also being much more interested in their own digital health.

00;09;43;00 – 00;10;05;00

And those two trends are very much odds with one of the what one’s a big macro trend pushing down upon people. But that second one is really grassroots trend with people taking control from their own front rooms. Absolutely. We’ve been doing a series about rethinking the future of work and we saw some direct connections between that external viewpoint that you shared and what the internal implications are.

00;10;05;00 – 00;10;34;14

Karen, as you think about those two megatrends that Phil talked about and some of the implications, what do you think are some of those things that we should be thinking about internally within organizations, which is where Daggerwing is going too? Yeah, that’s energy. Yeah. So that’s a great, great question. Chris. I think, you know, the two angles that that Phil talked about, you know, the external forces from from big government or the sort of changes from a consumer expectations and experience standpoint are going to put pressure on organizations in terms of growth.

00;10;34;16 – 00;10;50;11

You know, one side of things, you increased regulation, increased government sort of control is going to is going to mean that the areas of growth that your organization has or possibly had in the past might not be there in the future. And then obviously, the changing customer experience is going to put pressure on what customers want and where the businesses are relevant to them.

00;10;50;14 – 00;11;15;05

So either of those two are going to force organizations to have to be highly adaptable. And this is the research that we’ve been doing into liquid change, which was to be published recent articles on, you know, there were four capabilities that help organizations to be more adaptable. One of those, which I think is worth talking about, relates to the question you’ve asked, is around being more pioneering and what organizations need to do is have a systematized approach to innovating.

00;11;15;09 – 00;11;44;06

Ultimately, whether that’s innovating at a macro level about, you know, looking at their whole business model and diversifying their business or driving innovation at the product service level, because whichever, you know, whether it’s big government or whether it’s changing consumer expectations, they’re going to have to find new ways to grow their business and pivot to obviously be relevant to their customer and and not all get to all the organizations that they are in terms of being able to have that type of innovation process or procedure or protocol embedded in their organization.

00;11;44;06 – 00;12;05;26

And sometimes it’s quite difficult if organizations, especially those larger ones that have operated sort of in a particular way, you know, maybe they are quite siloed, bureaucratic, hierarchical, you know, it’s going to be hard for them to sort of entrench that in a way that drives outcomes quickly. So one way organizations can do that is to think more in the in the idea of like an incubator type approach.

00;12;05;28 – 00;12;35;13

How can they rather than try and shift the oil tanker of their organization around in one go to be more innovative and pioneering, right. And try and sort of feed this to the whole business? How can they sort of set up the parts of the organization and like an incubator environment’s almost like separate, you know, contained within the organization that can be more innovative, operate more freely, still, apply a process to innovate, but ultimately can do that without being bound by, you know, the sort of the book of the of the overall organization.

00;12;35;15 – 00;12;55;13

And yeah, the great story over maybe the last ten years will probably be IBM and Watson. You know, it’s only been 450,000 people, you know, huge history. But, you know, I came from IBM, you know, it’s Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was going to say you’re familiar with that story. I’ve seen the inside of it and, you know, and, you know, great organization, but it comes with a lot of, you know, a lot of structure, right.

00;12;55;15 – 00;13;14;19

And process and procedure. Right. And that’s how it’s sort of done. Very well. But in order for it to develop and you innovations and really push the boundaries, it essentially develops a company within the company. Right. It essentially created Watson and carved it out almost as its own entity away from IBM in terms of culturally, in terms of organizationally, to allow it to flourish.

00;13;14;19 – 00;13;31;22

Right. And drive innovation and drive a new growth area. And I think those types of incubation methodologies could be very powerful for organizations that are worried about the speed at which they need to innovate and whether they’re able to do that. So two things that I’m hearing. One goes back to where we started the conversation with Phil, which is you’ve you can’t just paint a picture of the future.

00;13;31;22 – 00;13;58;12

You actually have to have a process to get there and making sure that it’s embedded in the way the organization actually works. A second part of it is how do you create space for people to be innovative once you’ve got it built into the process? And how do you create this incubator where people have freedom, perhaps away from the day to day expectations of the organization, where they can try new things, test them out before they they go wide?

00;13;58;15 – 00;14;23;00

That, to me sounds like a challenging question for you. We’ve got organizations right now that are just struggling to get things on shelves, toilet paper on shelves. Right. I think is something that’s been mostly universal during during COVID. And you’ve got organizations that are challenged with supply chain. Their challenge with the day to day of of getting employees to work, making sure that everyone is safe.

00;14;23;00 – 00;31;15;17

One of the things that we’ve shared is the present is a trap, meaning if you just focus in on today, it is so overwhelming. In fact, it needs your attention. That’s a non-negotiable, especially when it comes to the safety and welfare of your people. Making sure that your business is a going concern.

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.