AGI Leadership Team: Vision Lab

April 14, 2022 at Al Ghurair Investments (Executive Team, 2 days)

Al Ghurair Group is a diversified family-owned conglomerate based in the UAE.

The group’s origins trace back to the 1930s when Ahmad Al Ghurair and his son Saif were pearl divers in Dubai, going on to create the UAE’s first cement factory, flour mill, and sugar refinery.

There are three main lines of business – manufacturing, including petrochemicals, aluminium steel and packaging; real estate including shopping malls; and financial investments including a major stake in Mashreq Bank. The business also has an expanding global presence.

Looking to the future, the group seeks new growth opportunities with a diversifying portfolio, while adhering to its values of excellence, innovation and integrity. The group’s ambition is to triple net profits over the next 5 years, with 25% of profits coming from new activities.

Foresight and innovation will be key to unlocking assets and capabilities in new ways, guided by a purpose to enhance life. This will require new mindsets and perspectives, to link strategic horizons with ideation, to think differently about how to drive long-term, innovative growth.

Finding Vision

Tesla’s purpose is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” while its vision is “to create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles. Battery technology and charging networks will be key to achieving this.”

Nike’s purpose is “to move the world forward through the power of sport” which has more creatively been articulated as “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” It’s vision is to be “a growth company. We create innovative, must-have products. We build deep, personal connections with consumers. And we deliver an integrated marketplace with compelling retail experiences.”

Unilever’s “compass” illustrates how its purpose “to make sustainable living commonplace” drives vision, which drives strategic choices, and growth fundamentals. It also adds to the vision with “to double the size of our business, whilst reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.

Best Buy is a good example of where it’s purpose “to enrich lives through technology” changed the direction and growth potential of the business. Developing a more meaningful vision challenged executives to think how they deliver this, beyond a big-box retail concept. The focus on new opportunity areas where their purpose mattered – choosing health and care as a major growth area. They then drove acquisitions, new business models, and service development in this space.

Creating a meaningful vision in a multi-business group is not easy. The challenge is to find language which is comprehensive yet meaningful and distinctive.

Berkshire Hathaway seeks to be “the provider of choice in our communities for comprehensive real estate and financial solutions”  by “utilizing our world-class team of professionals and systems to guide people in making great decisions”.

Amazon seeks “to continually raise the bar of the customer experience by using the internet and technology to help consumers” with a vision “to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

GE with a purpose saying “We rise to the challenge of building a world that works” and a vision “to become the world’s premier digital industrial company, transforming industry with software-defined machines and solutions that are connected, responsive and predictive.” GE has, of course, found it increasingly difficult to integrate a coherent group structure, resulting in the splitting up of its core businesses last year.


The executive team workshop is over two consecutive days. It will build on existing work, with stretch and challenge, but also focused and practical.

  • Day 1 is divergent … to explore what the agreed purpose means for the business, what we are and what we are not, how we work and don’t, developing a broad “vision map”
  • Day 2 is convergent … to agree a definitive vision for the group, which is meaningful to each business, clarity of choices and goals, and how it drives the strategy.

Equally important is to build collective understanding and engagement in the language and choices across the leadership community. The outcomes should be clear, concise and meaningful. It should show clear coherence across the strategic framework.

In advance of the workshop we should agree desired outcomes and areas for focus. These will then drive the specific activities, tools and templates, and agenda. As an initial outline agenda, which we can further shape together:

Day 1: Vision Building

0800 – 0930     Changing World

What’s the context for our future vision? What can we learn from the best companies around the world? What are the new agendas and priorities, structures and approaches?

1000 – 1130     Enhancing Life

What are the implications of our defined purpose? Why is the better off with our company? How do we see our personal and business achievements in 5 years?

1200 – 1330     Vision Drivers

What will be most important for us to do – “progressive, sustainable, people” – the ways in which we operate, access markets, build businesses, engage audiences, create value?

1430 – 1600     Vision Choices

What are the strategic uncertainties we have, and what will make us special as a group – what will we do, and not – how will we operate, and not?

Day 2: Vision Defining

0800 – 0930     Vision Core

What is at the heart of our vision, the most important components? What is different and distinctive? What are the implications?

1000 – 1130     Vision Explained

What do the words really mean, and not mean? Decoding the language into a meaningful narrative, from which strategy can follow?

1200 – 1330     Strategic Goals

What do our strategic goals – BHAGs – mean in more detail? How do they link to our strategic pillars, goals and transformation? What are the gaps? Where are the priorities?

1430 – 1600     Strategic Framework

How does this all come together as a future narrative for AGI? How purpose, vision, strategy and transformation flow? How do engage the next 1000 people in this too?

Here are some more Q&A with Peter Fisk from interviews in various publications:

How do you see the business world right now? What should business leaders be thinking and doing as the world starts to move beyond the pandemic?

Now is the time to dare. Now is the time for leaders to have courage to reimagine their businesses. Now is the time to create the future of retail. Which is not just about digital technologies. Or social media. Or super speedy delivery. But fundamentally harnessing the power of the present to create a better future.

18 months of global health crisis has created a huge opportunity. Every market is being shaken up. In financial services, Visa and Paypal are more valuable than any bank. In automotive, Tesla outperforms Toyota despite selling 10 times less cars. In energy, carbon giants are displaced by Orsted and Schneider. Even in food and drink, Kweichow Moutai is twice as valuable as Coca Cola, or Unilever, or Diageo.

Of course, the pandemic has also been a difficult time, but like “wei-je” (the Chinese word for crisis) when translated means both danger and opportunity. 57% of Fortune 500 companies were created in a downturn, 90% of patents are filed in or just after a downturn. And many retailers describe how 10 years of transformation happened, in just a few months of lockdown.

My new book “Business Recoded” argues that the old codes of business don’t work. The maelstrom of change, driven by disruptive technologies, by economic power shifts, by new agendas like sustainability, and by consumer attitude change, have all been accelerated by Covid-19. We now need to reimagine, reinvent, recode our businesses for a better future.

What does “a better future” mean in this context? How have markets changed over the last two years and where are we headed?

Firstly, we are at the point now where every company is a digital business.

Take retail, for example. What’s important is to stop thinking of it in a separate way from physical formats. By that I don’t just mean omnichannel, but moving to a point where we create a truly “liquid” experience for customers, which embraces the best of physical and digital opportunities.

My expectation today as a consumer is that every retailer, however small or niche, will have a website. And from that website I can engage, ideally transactionally. But it’s more than that How can my mobile phone help me navigate the physical store? How can it become more personal by individual offers and advice? How can I buy online and collect or take back to store? Or buy instore, and get delivered to my home? None of this is rocket science, but is harder if we think in silos.

Look at the way in which Nike has transformed its distribution model over the last 24 months. The sportswear company has massively invested in its mobile platform – not just for incredible efficient and simple purchasing, but with a wide range of content to enjoy sport and engage audiences. VIP clubs, limited editions, celebrity events, dynamic pricing and relevant offers. But also its physical branded stores, which is equally a digitally-enabled, immersive-brand experience. Nike really is a direct-to-consumer brand today, and a great example of liquid retail.

I’m a big fan of Tobi Lutke, the German entrepreneur who followed his love of skiing to Canada. There, he created his own online snowboarding shop, but focused on what his consumers loved – the stories of snowboarding, not simply the products. This richer content engaged people more deeply, his brand became a community, and his physical store, a cult hangout for snow lovers.

Other retailers loved his online store so much that they wanted to create a similar brand experience. And so Tobi create Shopify, which is a cloud-based, subscription-based “e-commerce in a box” which provides everything from inventory and distribution, to payments and promotional tools. The smallest store in Finland can become a global business.

How has the global pandemic and these exceptional times influenced your thinking regarding your main topics of interest?

The pandemic has massively accelerated the application of digital technologies, for online transactions, and much more broadly in terms of brand building, supply chains, product and sales personalisation, inventory management, channel partners, local relevance, pricing models, and customer experience.

It’s also changing customer attitudes and behaviours forever. Banking, communication, entertainment, healthcare have all become digital-centric experience. But so has retail, and particularly in areas such as transport, hospitality, music, books, fashion and groceries. That’s not news.

But what is interesting, are the consequences. Social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are now significant retailers – click on a photo shared by a friend, and you can buy the same item instantly. Gaming platforms, like Fortnite, have become the new spaces to engage young people in new ideas, product launches and brands – Travis Scott just launched his latest album, and “tour” on the gaming platform.

In Singapore, DBS, the leading bank pioneered a strategy to “make banking invisible” and to embed its financial services within every other industry that matters to customers – not just for payments, but to manage money better. At the same time, Grab, which is a taxi and grocery delivery business, introduced Grab Pay, which has become a leading financial business.

In India, Jio was a phone company launched by the country’s richest entrepreneur – Mukesh Ambani, whose main business was in petrochemicals. He launched the phone with free calls and text, and became market leader with 3 months. He also became the leading advertising platform, the ad revenues subsidising the free calls. He then started using the phone to build Jio apps for different services – food delivery, taxi hailing, entertainment, grocery retail, healthcare and financial services.

Jio, Grab – and similarly others around the world like Line, GoJek, Rappi and WeChat – are super apps, which ignore the old boundaries of business sectors. Instead they focus on the customer, and see the world through their eyes. Indeed, by extension, every type of business can be a retailer today – banks and phone companies, manufacturers and game companies.

You have a unique perspective on markets around the world – nobody knows them better. How else have markets changed? Both in terms of the use of technologies and in new markets around the world?

Covid-19 has had huge impact on markets. Most significantly is the shift to digital platforms in work and life, from working and learning, to shopping and entertaining. Many retailers say we have seen a decade of change in one year.

However this is not simply about developing an online platform, it is about fundamentally different business models, that embrace a wide range of technologies. Big data and AI enable consumer experiences to be more personal and predictive. Robotics and 3D printing are rapidly transforming supply chains and manufacturing. This transforms sectors like retail and finance, but also transport and mining.

A great example of this would be Rappi from Colombia – the accelerated growth of the online delivery service, which is rapidly becoming a source for everything – not just grocery or restaurant deliveries. Other “super-apps” across the world, like Grab or Jio, have shown that once they embrace a financial engine, they become essential for everything to everyone. Mercado Libre is now starting to follow this model too.

Other examples would include PingAn, China’s largest financial services company, which extended into healthcare. It’s Good Doctor business now has a billion subscribers, offering AI-based patient diagnostics, video-streamed consultations, automated prescriptions and services, linked to physical clinics and hospitals. It is now the world’s largest online healthcare platform.

Your early career was in marketing. How has marketing changed during your career, and what should marketing leaders be doing now?

Too many marketers are too obsessed about communications, and many are still stuck in the old world of advertising, being guided by their ad agencies to spend the majority of their budgets on old media.

The biggest disruption is in markets – (1) changing customers – new audiences, new priorities, new experiences – (2) changing sectors – blurred boundaries, new competitors, new business models – (3) changing geography – more pan-regional, reaching new geographies, new ecosystems.

The business, the CEO and executive team, need the CMO to be the pathfinder, to make sense of these fast-changing, uncertain and disrupted markets – to take the business in new directions, to drive innovation and growth.

CMO’s should most importantly champion the “growth plan” of the business, both short and longer-term. That doesn’t just mean how to engage existing customers in existing markets, but how to find new opportunities, to innovate in new ways.

The impact of a CMO being a “strategic growth leader” can change the market value of the company by 100% in a year (look at companies like NotCo in Chile, Nubank in Brazil, or more globally like Alibaba or Amazon, Tesla or Tencent).

The impact of a CMO being a “advertising guy” is probably 10% at most.

The CMO of Tesla doesn’t just focus on advertising cool cars, he is focused on how to develop the mobility network of the future – in a world where cars are autonomous, and nobody owns their own vehicle, people will subscribe to mobility operator networks. How is Tesla positioned to become the leader in this? In fact Tesla actually defines itself as an energy company, and is also focused on developing smart energy solutions for homes and cities. These are probably more valuable markets than cars!

What are the challenges of digital transformation, how are the most innovative companies tackling it, and how can it be done better?

The biggest challenge of “digital transformation” is the description – too many companies seek to digitalise their existing strategies and business models. They don’t reimagine why, where or how to do business, they just automate the old model.

The challenge if therefore “business transformation” and understanding how the new technologies can enable things which were not previously possible. For example, how a big data enables the largest companies to offer personalised products and services as efficiently as it is to create the same product for everyone. Or consider how brands can now sell direct to customers, no longer needing intermediaries, creating richer customer experiences. Or consider subscription models, or co-creation models, or licensing models.

Digital technologies gives us the opportunity to reimagine business in so many ways. Take the Canadian company Shopify, which creates complete “solutions” for the smallest local business to become a global player – to create their online store, but also to manage their global inventory and distribution, marketing and administration. More generally, how can you be the Adobe, the Glossier, the Netflix, the Paypal, the Stitchfix, the Stripe, the Zozo, of your industry?

This is a challenge of strategic imagination – the choices of what your business could do, are virtually unlimited today. We need the creative, market-driven mindset to explore and find the best opportunities, to make the case for change, and then engage and align the organisation in transformation towards a better future.

What are some of your favourite examples of companies that are seizing the opportunities of change, and disrupting markets around the world?

Now is the time for every business – and particularly every retailer – to reimagine their future. What matters, is to not be limited by where you come from – whether you are big or small, physical or digital – but by the vision which you have. And that vision should not just be to “sell lots of stuff”, but to make the world better in some way – to help people to do what they seek to do better, be that run faster or build a better home, care for the environment, and more equality in society.

Don’t be limited by technology thinking, don’t be intimidated by its language and complexity. Focus on the future, and how you can create a better future for customers. Start from the future back, and the outside in. Think in a liquid way, about the human experience you want to create and how that can be enhanced physically and digitally.

Who are my favourites? Around the world, I love the rise of these new generation businesses – like StockX where consumers bid for purchases in an auction, most often focused on limited edition sneakers. There are so many great examples, which I will talk about. Like Pinduoduo, one of the fastest growing retailers in the world right now, which transformed itself from an online retailer to be a social-gamified-shopping experience. Imagine walking along a mall with friends, sharing things which catch your eye, playing games to win discounts, live-streaming your experience to friends. Or Stitch Fix, developed by Katrina Lake, which sells fashion by monthly subscription, sending you a box of clothes each month, and using data analytics to rapidly learn which clothes you will like best.  Or Bookshop, developed by Andy Hunter from Canada, with a business model supporting small independent physical bookstores, providing an collaborative online local-to-global sales platform, and an antidote to the power of Amazon!

In Europe, I’m a big fan of Rapha, which started in the UK, as a brand of premium cycle wear, rapidly opening stores across the world called Cycle Clubs, with coffee shops, showers and bike stores. Or Germany’s Zalando which has gone beyond simple transactions to build better product brand experiences within its platform, and to engage with people on the big sustainability issues in areas such as fast fashion, packaging, and deliveries.

What should business leaders be focused on right now?

Markets are the major source of change – rapidly disrupted and transformed. Marketers understand markets best, and should therefore be the catalysts and drivers of business change. (In the past, when markets were stable, most change happened internally, more driven by operational or culture leaders).

Also, sustainability has become much more important to customers and society, generally. The old model of sustainability was about reducing impact, about compliance and efficiency, now it is about using business and brands to create products and services. It is about creating brands as platforms for good, to engage customers, in changing behaviours, and driving more positive impacts. How can you have your product or service, and make the world better at the same time. A bit like the Toms shoes model, but applied in a commercial way to every kind of business.

Business leaders are the drivers of growth and transformation, they are the executives who can make sense of the future, and find the path from today to tomorrow. Therefore their role is in

  • Inspiring leadership – sense making, vision shaping, growth finding, future defining, path finding, change driving, business connecting.
  • Strategic innovation – reimagining how markets work, new market models, new business models – as well as new experiences, products and services.
  • Positive impact – building brands as platforms for good, to enable customers to make a positive difference to their lives, their communities, and the world.

What is your big message, right now?

We live in an incredible time of opportunity – more change in the next 10 years than the last 250 years – harnessing the power of technology to transform markets and business models, embracing sustainability to innovate everything from logistics to packaging, using the power of data to personalise in mass markets, and much more.

Now is the time to dare, for business leaders to have the courage and creativity to reimagine the future of their retail businesses, and to use this moment – as we emerge from the pandemic – to accelerate a better business future.

Creating a better world

Here’s my TED Talk which links to my theme for this year’s European Business Forum:



Could you briefly tell us how the idea for your book ‘Business Recoded: Have the Courage to Create a Better Future for Yourself and Your Business’ originate? Was there a particular incident?

I started writing the book just as Covid-19 locked down the world. I was sitting at home, unable to travel, unable to work. Everyone was asking, what will happen next? For a long time we have talked about the ways in which business will change because of the rapid development of new technologies, the economic power shift west to east,  and the rise of social and environmental agendas. Now I could see they were happening faster than ever – accelerated by the pandemic. Business would not return as it used to be. There would be no going back to normal.

I started writing “There will be more change in the next 10 years, than the last 250 years”. That change has now been accelerated by Covid. Most businesses are not fit for the future. For too long business leaders have kept trying to extend the old models of success, with diminishing returns. We now need to think fundamentally differently. We need to think about new ways of working, new ways of competing, and new ways of measuring success. We need to “recode” business.

You illustrated seven shifts in the book. How did you come up with the seven shifts? Do business leaders need to go through all seven shifts to growing and creating better future for the companies?

I talked to 50 business leaders across the world. I particularly focused on those companies that are shaking up markets, exploring new possibilities, and creating the future. I wanted to understand what these companies were doing, how they were changing, and what they thought were the old codes – and new codes – of business success. Many of the companies are featured in the book.

The 7 shifts emerged out of categorizing the many different changes that are happening – and started with the highest level of “why” do companies exist. The shift was from the “old” mindset of achieving market share leadership and optimising profitability to shareholders, to a “new” mindset of achieving a higher purpose has positive impact for the world, and then understanding how all stakeholders can benefit. That doesn’t necessarily mean less profit, it could actually mean more. By doing more for society, by doing more for employees and customers, companies often find that they can be more profitable and valuable over the longer term.

The other shifts then followed, from old to new mindset:

  • Recode your future… from profit machine to enlightened progress
  • Recode your growth … from uncertain survival to futuristic growth
  • Recode your market … from marginal competition to market creating
  • Recode your innovation … From technology obsession to human ingenuity
  • Recode your organisation … From passive hierarchies to dynamic ecosystems
  • Recode your transformation … From incremental change to sustained transformation
  • Recode your leadership … From good managers to extraordinary leaders

Together these 7 shifts begin to shape a better future for your business, delivered through the 49 codes. The 49 codes make up the chapters of the book, each with specific examples, and practical tools and approaches for change.

The first shift is “recode your future.” What are the specific ways business leaders can realize what their companies’ future potential is?

 Most companies are limited in their future potential, because of the way in which they look ahead. They look through the narrow lens of their current business – their current sector, their current business models, their current audiences. Indeed most companies view their strategies for growth, by doing more of the same – faster, cheaper, better.

Look at a company like Hyundai. It largely sees the future through the lens of vehicle production. However it is slowly waking up to the reality of a future where cars will be electric and self-driven, where people will not own cars but rent them, where mobility solutions will converge, and we will see cars like local, personalised trains, available on demand. Who will succeed in this future? Probably the mobility network providers who we most trust to provide an efficient integrated service of travel.

Therefore companies can increase their “future potential” by changing their perspective. By jumping to the future, then working backwards. By seeing the world from a customer’s perspective, not dominated by existing products. By “reframing” their marketspace, in a new or bigger way. Hyundai are not a car company, but a mobility company. Samsung is not an electronics company, but an entertainment company. Now where are the best opportunities for the future?

Once leaders realize their company’s future potential, what are the practical steps they can take to achieving the potential and bringing out performance(positive financial results)? If there is an example of a business leader that took the steps, could you share the story?

Lei Jun is the founder of Chinese electronics company Xiaomi. He initially sought to be a business that competed with Apple and Samsung – making phones and tablets for the Chinese market. By changing his perspective he realised that content was far more important than hardware. He realised that people maybe buy one device every two years, but they buy and use content every day. Content in many forms – news, entertainment, gaming, social media, retail etc. Now Lei Jun is one of the largest investors in the movie industry, with a particular focus on creating Chinese entertainment for his local consumers.

The second shift is “recode your growth.” One of the ways to doing so is to ride with the megatrends. Of the five megatrends you pointed out in the book, which do you think business leaders should be the most alert of in the current crisis? Has the COVID-19 crisis brought out new megatrends as well?

 These 5 megatrends are still the most significant pathways to the future, and a useful checklist for any business leader exploring their future strategy.

All five megatrends have been accelerated by Covid-19. The shift from young to old, particularly in providing healthcare. The shift from west to east, particularly in the rise of Asian businesses like Alibaba and PingAn. The shift from towns to cities, particularly in emerging markets in search of jobs and support.

However most significant have been the huge acceleration in shift to technologies – the digitalization of our lives, from education to work, from retail to entertainment. Many online retailers say they saw 10 years of change in 3 months. However this has not just been in shopping online, but also the convergence of shopping and entertainment. Look at Sea in Singapore, or Pinduoduo in China, the gamification and socialization of retail.

The other shift, towards a huge awareness of the fragility of our planet and society, has also been hugely increased by Covid-19. We have seen the impacts of extreme weather on the environment, but we have also seen the impacts of pandemic on society. Inequality of wealth, inequality of access to services. This is why we have seen such as growth in interest in companies having a greater purpose, and stakeholder capitalism.

One of the megatrends is the fast growth of Asia. In the book you mentioned that “The E7 will be larger than the G7 by 2030 and double their size by 2050). For clarification, do you mean that the GDP of E7 countries in total will double the amount that of G7 by 2050? If yes, what will be the drivers of the growth? Also, could you share the source for this data?

This was initially discussed by the World Economic Forum back in 2010. And yes, we are rapidly seeing a new world order, with the E7 growing far faster than the old G7. The general principle still holds true, although the definition of E7 – or the top emerging nations – has changed a little, for example Brazil becoming less successful.

The drivers of this growth? Population is one – predominantly in emerging markets. And in broad terms, the rise in personal incomes and living standards. As education has improved, so has business success – better standards of production, innovation and growth. The best ideas in business now largely come from emerging markets, not the developed markets. The G7 is largely stagnant, fading giants, trying to work out what to do next. The E7 are ambitious and energized, the new giants, plating a new game.

Next comes ‘recode your market.’ As you mentioned in the book, the terms market and industry has been overlapped. How do you define ‘market’? When you say ‘recode your market,’ what do you exactly mean?

Markets are blurring incredibly rapidly – the old boundaries and definitions of sectors are increasingly redundant, and many – perhaps most – companies now work in multiple sectors, and their solutions are combinations of multiple products and services.

I love the story of PingAn, which is the world’s second largest insurance company. They have a huge technological platform, and customer base of billions of people in China. How could they grow? Well by thinking outside of their old “market” definition. Jessica Tan tells how as COO, she developed PingAn’s new healthcare business, and now Good Doctor is the world’s largest healthcare platform offering online and physical services to over one billion consumers.

The best examples are probably the “Super-apps” that have emerged across the world, as online single-point to reach many different services – companies like WeChat from China, Jio in India, Grab in Singapore, GoJek in Malaysia, Line in Japan, Rappi in Colombia. Most either started as messaging platforms, taxi services, or online retail delivery services. Now they are also platforms for gaming, movies, healthcare, and most significantly financial services. Once they have a payments engine, or bank, they can become the core of almost every type of transaction you make. What sector are they in? Everything!

One of the ways business leaders can recode the market is by setting the market space. You argue that ‘a customer-centric mindset is the best way to setting market space.’ Could you elaborate on this? Also, how can business leaders change their mindset to a customer-centric mindset?

You can define your market any way you want, there are no rules, or limits!

Both in terms of what type of business you are in – transport can easily become mobility – and equally geographically. Increasingly, there are more commonalities between consumers across nations, than within a nation. Young people have more similarities with other young people in other countries, than with old people in their same country. Therefore why think in treating each geographical country differently, when you could develop different propositions by multi-national segments.

Taking a customer-centric mindset to define your marketspace is one of the most useful ways to reframe your market.

Take a pharmaceutical company – you could equally call it a healthcare company, which would give you the additional space to offer non-drug type of products and services, or you could even call it a “wellbeing” company, which would give you even more space to innovate and serve customers in areas such as nutrition and fitness. A drug company could become a sports company!

Or think about insurance. Most people inside insurance companies are obsessed about financials, about risks. When I take out car insurance, I actually want peace of mind, to enjoy driving. Therefore insurance companies, like Sompo in Japan for example, are no focusing on developing car driving services that enhance the driving experience. If these can also reduce the risk – for example, by encouraging safer driving – then they can directly benefit the core business, while also adding new revenue streams.

The fourth shift is ‘recode your innovation.’ Innovation starts with questions. In the book you explained Professor Hal Gregersen’s ‘Question Burst.’ Do you know any company that has implemented the ‘Question Burst’ method in its quest to recoding innovation?

I have worked with Microsoft over the last few years, helping them to strategically and culturally change their approach to the market. In the most simple terms this has involved a shift from product-thinking to customer-thinking.  In the past they were an organisation of salespeople selling billions of software licenses – Windows 365 to individuals, cloud computing to corporations.

Now, to grow further, and to add more value to their customers, they are focusing on understanding and solving customers problems. How can the software help their customers to do more? How can the Windows user be more effective at what they do? How can a small company in a small town become a global player, with the help of a cloud-based digital platform? The focus on problems, and exploring what the real problem is, is key to this.

Perhaps the most common ways companies recode their innovation is by developing new business models. Is there any new business model that you have recently learned about that impressed you?

The super-apps!

Do you think remote work will continue to grow? If yes, how can business leaders recode their organization as remote work expands? How can teamwork be created in the remote work environment?

Yes. But not in isolation from the real world. We will see almost every company moving to some form of hybrid working model. I actually prefer to call this a liquid model, because people will learn to move more fluidly between physical and digital modes. The same in education, the same in retail, the same in healthcare, etc.

Many organisations across the world have already stated that for many employees, they will continue to work 2-3 days/week at home. But this is more than home/office thinking. It is also about a more flexible, personalised lifestyle – something which young people particularly want. It will also drive a change in work contracts – we will see more flexible contracts, less permanent employees, more part-time, or short contract workers, maybe working for many companies at the same time.

Similarly, teamwork is not simply about being in the same place, or managers have sight of their people. In many cases, during Covid-19, team effectiveness actually increased, by people in different places – functions, or countries, or even companies – being able to easily join online meetings or workshops, and be involved in projects quickly and easily. Once we get used to the technology, and the ways of staying in touch socially too, then remote working will be an extremely positive force. But we are still human, and there are also times when it is better – and good for us – to be together physically!

When of the big areas I explore in the book is the rise of “extreme teaming”. This is largely about building teams that are more diverse, and more self-managed. Bringing together different types of people – age, gender, experience, attitude – drives greater creativity in teams. But also letting those teams have the power to define their roles, to manage their own progress, gives ownership and improved performance. Google and Netflix are great examples of this, as is Haier with its “rendanheyi” organisation model.

For companies to recode their transformations, ‘pivoting’ is essential. How can business leaders know how to pivot the business and when is the right time to doing so?

Innovation is a constant in business today, and so is transformation. Companies are constantly evolving. They therefore need to become much more “ambidexterous” – the ability to deliver for today, and create tomorrow, at the same time. One practical strategic way to do this is to develop a dual portfolio approach – a portfolio of innovations and businesses which will succeed in today’s world (to meet the needs of current customers, outperform current competitors, and generate profitability over 1-3 years), and also a portfolio to succeed in tomorrow’s world (future customers, competitors).

By working with two portfolios, business leaders can increasingly shift from today to tomorrow’s world. The “pivot” if you like, is the moment when the core business shifts from the old to the new. Take the earlier example of Hyundai, the today portfolio is about manufacturing better cars, the tomorrow portfolio about future mobility networks. The pivot comes when the core of Hyundai is no longer a car maker, but a mobility operator. Leaders need to judge when is the right time to make that shift.

Lastly comes “recode your leadership.” One of the ways to recode one’s leadership is to developing one’s own leadership style. What are the basic steps leaders take to developing their own leadership style?

I did a huge research study with IE Business School in preparation for writing the book about what are the changing characteristics of the most effective business leaders. I call this the new leadership DNA – and in particular it defines the critical role of leaders in creating better futures, making change happen, and delivering positive impact.

However there are many ways to be a leader. It is certainly not about standing at the top of the building and shouting commands! When we look at many of the leaders in the book – Anne Wojcicji at 23andMe or Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Piyush Gupta at DBS or Zhang Ruimin at Haier – they are all different. Yes they have incredible vision, they bring together great teams, they are problem solvers, and they have enormous courage to step up and make the future happen – but they are all different.

The biggest challenge in developing yourself as a business leader is in being authentic. And finding ways in which you can make your personal strengths work for you, and for others. There is no simple or single leadership model to follow. And indeed, leaders will need to behave in different ways at different moments. This is a real skill. But the leaders who can do this in an authentic way, will be more trusted by others, and will be more effective in themselves.

The book was written before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Apart from the 7 shifts you illustrated in the book, are there any additional shift that should be included in order for business leaders to creating and delivering a better future amidst the current crisis?

The biggest shift now is to create a better future. As every company emerges from Covid-19, it is not about getting back to normal, but about imagining better. Now is the moment when business leaders need the imagination and courage to step up, to think different, and to accelerate the changes that are necessary and possible.

What is the most important insight you want readers to take away from ‘Business Recoded: Have the Courage to Create a Better Future for Yourself and Your Business’?

The pandemic has given us this unique opportunity to hit the “reset” button. It has given us a reason to let go of many of the old ways of doing business, and it has demonstrated why new ways are urgently needed. Now is the moment when investors, employees and customers, are seeking and supporting leaders who are brave and bold. Now is the time to have the courage to step up, to create a better future.

Inspired by Einstein and Picasso

Here is the interview with Maria Franzoni for The Speaker Show:

You have a very interesting professional background, with many different projects and experiences around the world. Can you tell us a bit about your journey and your professional experience?

My journey started in a physics lab under the Swiss mountains, pouring liquid nitrogen into a test tube of materials, and then watching what happens for a week. I was studying for a PhD in superconductivity. It was fascinating, intellectually, to understand how the natural world exists, but also boring.

I decided to work in business, with people, with brands, and within 5 years I was managing the Concorde brand for British Airways. In marketing, people always gave me the analysis to do, which was fine but I preferred the creative stuff. Years later I wrote a book called Marketing Genius, all about combining your left and right brain, analysis and creativity, or being the Einstein and Picasso of today’s business world.

After that I worked for 10 years in management consulting, which is a fantastic way to work with many different companies on their most important projects. I worked on every continent, and almost every sector. It’s also a great way to build your personal toolkit, far better than an MBA to be honest, and learning to connect all the business disciplines.

I then co-founder a digital start-up, which exploring the future of business education, which led to becoming the CEO of a 500 person company, which is actually the world’s largest network of marketers. This really allowed me to talk about business, about the future, to a much wider audience.

That’s when I started writing books – and have now written 9 titles – “Marketing Genius” was translated into 35 languages. My other books explore the renaissance creativity of Leonardo da Vinci, in “Creative Genius”, how to innovate with purpose for positive impact, in “People Planet Profit”, and learning from the world’s most innovative companies, in “Gamechangers”.

And most recently I wrote “Business Recoded” which is all about having the courage to create a better future – for yourself, and your business.

Today I lead my own business, GeniusWorks, an innovative business accelerator, based in London. We do lots of interesting consulting projects, mainly working with business leaders and their exec teams on developing more innovative strategies for the future. This is really exciting, and I get to work on some amazing projects.

I am also a Professor of leadership, strategy and innovation at IE Business School in Madrid, where I am the academic director responsible for executive programs. I’m also a visiting professor at business schools in Cambridge, Singapore and Zurich. Teaching the next generation of business leaders is particularly rewarding, and exciting, particularly in such a fast changing world.

You work with large companies, helping them grow and develop innovative strategies. What does this process consist of and with which brands have you been working?

 I’ve got over 30 years of practical business experience, working with over 300 companies and 55 countries … from Adidas’ growth into new markets to Asahi’s consumer-centric innovation, Cartier’s redefined luxury and Coca Cola’s growth strategy, McKinsey’s leadership development to Microsoft’s new approach to strategic innovation, P&G’s direct to consumer strategy and Pfizer’s future scanning, Santander’s future bank vision and Sompo’s digitally-minded leaders, Takeda’s patient-centric healthcare and Tata’s growth as a global business.

I use a proprietary methodology, Innolab.

InnoLab is an approach to accelerated innovation – bringing together insights and ideas, creativity and design, development and commercialisation.

The approach has three phases which bring together many established, and some new, processes and activities for accelerating your ideas into practical action. Much of it can be done in-house, bringing together the right teams and disciplines from across your business, but it works best with a little added structure, facilitation and stimulus.

The approach has been developed through 20 years of practical experience – managing and facilitating problem-solving and innovation – in every type of category, organisation and culture. The detail is described in my new book “Creative Genius: Innovation from the Future Back”. The process is customised to the particular challenge, but there are typically three phases

  • The Ideas Factory: Customer insights, future possibilities, and creative ideas
  • The Design Studio: Shaping and connecting ideas, hypothesise and concepts
  • The Impact Zone: Evaluating, developing and commercialising the best ideas

As an example, Philosophy is an inspiring cosmetics brand from Phoenix, Arizona, that has developed a cult following for its distinctive products such as “Hope in a Jar”. Recently acquired by Coty of France, the brand team wanted to rethink the brand for global growth. We developed a fast, high-energy series of workshops in New York brought the global team together to develop a new core proposition, growth platforms with focus on Asian markets. This included the development of a new brand strategy, core brand proposition, and how to combine the serious skincare products with fun bath range. It explored new opportunities such as how to leverage its deep community of users, for example through brand experiences and gifting, and prioritised horizons plan for extensions into new markets. It included a roll-out of new concept stores in Singapore and South Korea.

Another example is with Visa, which wanted to make more of its role as a global sponsor of the Olympic Games, to go beyond the conventional support of advertising and client hospitality. We explored the potential alignment with brand and business strategy, to understand how such a huge investment could be used more significantly. The team defined an ambition to make the Olympics a cashless games as a showcase of Visa’s new contactless and mobile payment technologies, bringing together its multiple new technologies to demonstrate how life really can flow faster, on and off the track.

How did you come up with the idea of founding GeniusWorks and what does the company consist of?

GeniusWorks is really built on my passion for strategic problem solving – to help business leaders to think differently, to have the courage to develop bolder and braver ideas, and to use their businesses as platforms to create a better world.

Sometimes, it is about strategic consulting. Sometimes it is an innovative project, like launching a new brand and developing a new product. Sometimes it is about creating inspiring events that engage people in new ways. Sometimes it is a keynote speech to contribute to highlight a conference, or to provoke and energise an internal team.

What I also think makes GeniusWorks special, is that we seek to curate ideas and insights from all around the world – in particular from emerging markets. In the west, we still underestimate how advanced the markets, and the companies, of Asia are today. We can learn so much from companies like Alibaba and Haier in China, DBS and Grab in Singapore, Jio and Narayana in India.

I also seek to be a curator of the best new concepts in business – every business school academic, every new business book, every interesting business report – I seek to bring them together, to highlight was is new and important, and to share them widely. Actually, a key thing is to connect them – so, for example, how do you connect Design Thinking with Blue Ocean Strategy with Business Model Innovation with Adaptive Leadership. And on.

What interests you outside your professional work and why?

My passion is running. I have run almost every day since I was 10 years old. I was inspired by the challenge of testing myself to run further and faster, but also by the love of feeling fit and healthy, and to run through the countryside or cities of the world and see everything at high speed.

I was inspired by the world’s great athletes, but also be legendary feats of endurance, like the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico who are able to run hundreds of miles everyday. Today I can’t run quite as fast for the mile or marathon as I could in my youth. But I still love the freedom, the friendships and the feeling of wellness and achievement by starting each day with a run.

You are a global business leader, best-selling author, professor and academic director. How do you manage all these roles? Is there any secret?

Passion. Curiosity. Relationships. Hard work. And trying to focus on where I can make the biggest difference. It’s a lot of fun too!

And what are your tips for anyone seeking to innovate and grow their business?

Go and spend time with your customers. Real people. Don’t ask them what they need or want. Ask them about their lives, how they work, what they are trying to do, how they want to be different, what stops them, and what they dream of. Then make it happen for them.

Most importantly, remember that we live in the most incredible time – more change in the next 10 years than the last 250 years. So how is your business changing? How are you?

Never stop reinventing … never stop thinking, never stop listening, never stop exploring, never stop changing, never stop innovating, never stop growing. Never stop believing in your own potential.