When I founded Adaptive Lab in 2009 the idea was to bring the modern ways of working and bold thinking found in tech startups and design-led companies and offer it as a service. We’re still doing this but a lot has changed in the interim.

World

The world has continued to evolve at great pace

Computing power has continued to explode while cost has plummeted. Everyone has a supercomputer (or two) in their pockets. Both global distribution and hyper targeted advertising are available to anyone and everyone. Young, ambitious companies are reaching huge scale in breakneck speed.

Big companies

Big companies struggle to keep up

While companies are increasingly aware of what’s going on outside their business, responding is still really, really hard. We know CEOs are looking up and realising that the future of their business is going to be fundamentally different to how it has been for the past 5, 10, 50 years.

Many are building internal design and innovation teams and most are some way through a transformation but of course they still look for a mix of partners.

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Consulting companies are trying… but seem to be missing the mark

Big companies typically turn to a few types of partner when they set out to reinvent themselves. Their MBA mates and the folk who offshored their IT are just two examples.

Of course there are other design/innovation agencies, marketing agencies and the new crop of venture builders/partners but on the whole it’s the bigger consultancies we see being asked to guide companies through their new, digital landscape. And while they’re undoubtedly experienced and credible consultants, is their model, or indeed the one they’re trying to create through acquisition, fit for this new world?

We’re not so sure and think there’s space for another type of partner at this level that a leader can turn to. A company that delivers the same outcomes but does so differently — by thinking and acting more like one of the (best of the) new competitors any of our clients are facing.

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Why the current approach is broken

Having worked with or after a number of consulting companies, we can see that, despite best efforts, they struggle to make the impact that’s needed. Here are some of the reasons we think this is the case:

  • Digital shifts won’t be achieved by a new org chart with an extra box for digital, design or analytics

  • Strategies written by people who‘ve not created and run digital products and services struggle to survive contact with reality

  • Big bang, single bet delivery doesn’t work. We all know this but it’s still happening - a lot

  • Big teams with outdated roles move slow

  • Budgets get eaten up on the way to launch rather than post launch where it can be used to optimise, iterate and improve

  • Doing work to rather than with companies means the likelihood of any change beyond technology change being delivered is low.

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Why we can fix it

We believe we can be a credible alternative and here’s why:

We’re natives.

Our leadership and whole company is native to this new world. Not accounting, consulting or old style IT/change delivery. We’re not going through our own digital transformation.

We deliver.

We deliver prototypes instead of powerpoints. Behaviours rather than target operating models. Businesses not apps.

We sell outcomes.

Our business model isn’t based on selling large technology programs or kit. We field small teams rather than large, slow ones. We’re increasingly aligning our commercials to outcomes rather than just day rates.

We understand and are seasoned in running experiments.

Most of the fastest growth companies design themselves to be able to experiment at the large and small scale. We’re experienced in creating portfolios of opportunities, multiple product directions and multi-variant tests.

We’ve done it before.

We’ve delivered and scaled tech. Built and used design guides. Designed and used APIs. This means how we think and what we recommend is based on the realities of making… and making in the modern way.

We build muscles not dependency.

We’ll deliver new and improved products and services but will coach clients on the how at the same time. We don’t think we should be around in the long run — and don’t think our clients want us to be either.

Some of this may well sound familiar and we know we’re not the first to be talking about design. Or lean. Or agile. Or business/team design. But we do think we can be the one of first (alongside some friends and folk we admire) to bring it all together in the right way.

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How we’re doing this

We’re going about this in part by continuing to do what we’ve done since we first set up but also by adding new skills as well as thinking about how we need to evolve how we engage with our clients.

We’re bringing a bunch of powerful ways of working together. Design thinking. Service design. Lean startup. Agile product development. Modern software techniques. What we’ve always done.

We’re boosting our business thinking. If a client arrives with a plan to launch a product or service there will have been a strategy project leading to it. And a business case written. Potentially by a company that works and thinks in a more traditional way. By being involved earlier we can shape things differently.

We’re designing more than the product/service. It’s no good just creating an exciting new thing. That thing needs to live on, be grown, serviced and more. So we’re starting to help companies build their own muscles, evolve their culture and create high-performing teams through a mix of team design, learning and development, and coaching.

When you bring this all together you get the … native negroni… we didn’t want a venn, and we like negronis so… you know.

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And how are we applying this thinking?

To give you a flavour of what we’re up to here are some things we’ve been working on recently…

  • Creating and delivering on an innovation portfolio for a global brand

  • Designing, building and launching the first in a series of IoT products for another global brand

  • Redesigning the online bank for a challenger brand that will help them run more experiments and drive their innovation agenda

  • Designing and piloting new customer and colleague experiences (across online, telephony and retail) for a £10bn business

  • Cultural and organisational interventions at a challenger business that range from design training to team design

  • Designing and launching a new, standalone business for a well known brand

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Join us on the journey

Hopefully the ideas in this post resonated with you. If so, we’re looking for people to join us on our journey so drop me a line if you fit either of the following:

  • Ambitious clients who are a bit fed up with their current partners and their approach. Leaders who want to rethink how they’ve always done things. Who want to redefine their category.

  • Curious thinkers, makers and doers. People who want their work to have impact. Pi-shaped people who relish big problems and broad scope.