Clear Thinking - The Business Experience



The Business Experience
Ideas Consultancy in Improving Organisation
and Team performance

   Case Studies

   See our regular Case Studies in Thinking Intelligence below

THINKING INTELLIGENCE® CASE STUDIES are expressions of honest opinion on the contents of articles in the media that we have analysed and believe demonstrate the huge impact on performance of clear - or unclear - thinking by management teams.

Our purpose is to help readers to:

- learn valuable lessons from the success, or failure, of their peers
- see the need to FLEX THEIR BRAINS across a wide rage of whole-brained Thinking Styles
- think in the right way at each stage of a Business Thinking Process 

In each Case Study we pinpoint the causes of success - or failure. We also explain the clear - or unclear - thinking by the planning teams and which of over 16 key Thinking Styles were used - or fudged - or missed - usually unwittingly.

Any statements made have been taken from these media articles or based on our own experience when observing, or working with/for, multi-national corporations.

Find out how our Thinking Intelligence® and Flexible, Agile, Controlled, Focussed, Clear Thinking models can impact your business success.
 See What is Thinking Intelligence® ... Clear Thinking is not as simple as you might think, as these Stories show.


"Customer Experience - the Online Challenges for Business" read more 

"Boldness - in Leadership, Work, and Life"  read more

" Creative Thinking - where ideas come from"   ... read more

"Radical Thinking leading to Transformational Improvement"    ... read more

"What the West can learn from China's success - different ways of Thinking"   ... read more

"Productivity - what affects a Team's Performance, its Productivity? Lessons for all Leaders"   ... read more

"Alps air crash - lessons in thinking about Risk"   ... read more

"Strategic Thinking on a grand scale - Saudi Arabia's oil price influencing - dumping Nimrod"   ... read more

"Customer Feedback systems compared, and how businesses miss opportunities"   ... read more

"Profitable Customer Focus - easyJet shows Ryanair how to do it"   ... read more

"Burberry, a whole-brained 600% success story - but can Ahrendts' successor be equally flexible?"   ... read more

"Are YOU a Clear Thinker - 98% of visitors to our exhibition stand failed our Clear Thinking Test" read more

"Ideas from visiting other countries - a trip to California"   ... read more

“What is Design? Who can explain this key, but vague, concept?”   ... read more

"Britain's schools get lessons in Concept Thinking from Singapore"   ... read more

"The Joy of Chess Problems - great for developing your Thinking Skills  ... read more

"Finding Improvements - Traffic Management Systems"   ... read more .



The challenge for all customer-facing organisations

"Customer Experience - the Online Challenges for Business" 

Online shopping and other digital ‘customer experiences’ have hit many bricks & mortar organisations. We examine how a wide variety of industries are coping – or not - with these challenges.

The retail high-street shopping experience, and city centres themselves, are the most obvious casualties. But many other consumer-facing industries are affected, from the giant NHS/healthcare industry to the car retail business.

Financial Services, Holiday Travel, Museums, Sports, TV, Restaurants, Entertainment Venues, Stately Homes. All the industries we looked at need to find ways to manage the fall-out from the disruption of the online challengers, and to find the right balance between attracting customers to their ‘bricks and mortar’ sites and their own online offerings and processes. This (below) is what we see happening so far.

Thinking Intelligence® Learning Points

Concept Thinking … Customer Focus … Customer Experience … Strategic Thinking … Creative Thinking … Cruising … High-Streets and City Centres … Beds … Sports Events … TV News … Car Industry/Showrooms … Electric cars … Self-driving cars … NHS/Healthcare … Museums and Art Galleries … Restaurants and Pubs

The concepts of Customer Focus and Customer Experience  

Put simply, Customer Focus benefits you (the business) and the customer. It is the mutually-profitable Strategic Thinking which, hopefully, results in your customers having a good experience of buying and using your products and services. Customers may moan, but if the price seems attractive (eg Ryanair), or it is seen as too laborious to switch (eg Banks), they may continue to buy. But the ideal is to have happy, profitable customers (eg Apple and Amazon).

First, the good news: Cruising, and Vitamin Pills.

Some industries have adapted and are thriving. One part of the holiday travel industry has really taken off: cruising. Cruise liners and travel operators are adapting their products and marketing to include younger generations. We have just received a brochure from a well-known travel company which is totally dedicated to holidays in which cruising is an integral part. 172 pages, along with about 10 loose sheets on conventional airline-plus-hotel based holidays. Cruise ships are now attractive destinations in themselves. An experience you can’t get online. Good Creative Thinking.

Other sectors where there is little or no physical contact with the product or service at the time of purchase (such as vitamin pills and health supplements) can easily develop or expand their online business (eg Holland & Barrett).

The strugglers: High-Street shops and city centres

Faced with the digital disruptor challenge, it has become clear that there are just too many physical shops. Some high streets have one in four vacancies. And governments are unlikely to tame these online disrupters any time soon.

So what steps are bricks and mortar shops taking to address this challenge?

The few businesses that are coping well (such as IKEA) have invested in appealing refurbishments of their stores and also revamped their online systems.

IKEA are also experimenting with smaller ‘showcase’ stores aimed at city-centre customers, to display their concepts. Some of London’s Oxford Street stores are considering turning their premises into combinations of retail and entertainment spaces.

City-centre developers are rethinking the use of their buildings/sites to reduce the retail shop percentage and expand their other commercial (eg offices and restaurants) or even residential uses. This is to improve the attractiveness of a whole area to a variety of types of ‘customer’.


You may think that beds are one product that definitely require physical trials to test their comfort etc. But, according to one report, over 50% of beds are now bought online in the UK. Amazing that consumer attitudes have changed so much, or is it simply a case of ‘try in stores but buy cheaper online’?

Sports events

The situation varies according to the sport, for example, tennis and football face different challenges:

The annual Wimbledon Tennis tournament will always be in demand because of its scarcity value, prestige, and great customer experience. Prices keep on rising and the club is planning massive expansion.

Conversely, Football has potential for problems with the increasing quantity of matches being televised. Attendances at matches is falling and we could easily reach a situation where the ground atmosphere, essential for broadcasters, shrinks to empty-terraced hollow yells.

TV News

TV viewing is rapidly declining in the face of digital online competition, even amongst older viewers, who make up the bulk of the television audience. We rarely watch tv News programmes these days, for two reasons. One is the lack of analysis: the chief reason is the rigidity of the experience in a selectable, on-demand world. But at least the BBC has a decent online version. Not the same experience, but the customer can be in control and get what they want (eg the weather forecast) at any time … not at the end of the evening news broadcast!

Car industry/showrooms

A business model with problems, due to the several ways online has changed the way people buy cars. Why visit a showroom to be sold-to when you can do all the research you need online, including pricing? For new cars, showrooms may be seen as somewhere to confirm your choice.

For example, customer service in car showrooms can leave a lot to be desired. When we were buying a car a little while ago, we saw a car which had an appealing design. But our online research revealed problems with the automatic gearbox. Most of the dealers we spoke to, but crucially not all, claimed no knowledge of these problems. The UK PR department of the car manufacturer also denied the existence of problems. Finally, we rang a gearbox repair company (found on the internet) who advised us to steer clear of those gearboxes. It is hardly surprising that the car manufacturer in question is making big losses.

The same information issues are affecting the adoption (and sales) of Electric cars and will certainly affect Self-driving cars (when available). We have already seen the effects on diesel-engine sales and of the emissions/fuel-economy ‘scandals’.

The NHS/healthcare industry

This industry is in a huge state of flux. People still need to visit GP’s and hospitals if necessary, but you may soon be able to see a doctor digitally, eg via Skype. There is a wealth of health information online, if you can sort the genuine info from the commercial puff. Prevention is the holy grail for the NHS, and this requires effective communications.

Museums and Art Galleries Many are now putting images of their collections online. Let us hope that they get the balance right of generating interest and attracting actual visitors. So-called ‘blockbuster’ shows appear popular but they must be expensive and challenging to organise. Telling a ‘story’ is key to art appreciation, especially for abstract modern art. Artists might claim that their art should not need ‘explanation’, but many visitors would disagree.
Restaurants and Pubs Both are in decline in Britain for various reasons, eg constantly changing consumer tastes, perceived high prices, increased costs, etc. Restaurants can offer home-deliveries (and many do) but they would still need to attract actual visitors to make use of their premises and staff. Some rural pubs are attracting visitors by providing areas devoted to digital services and courses. If you can’t beat them, join them.
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Donald Trump as a role model?

"Boldness – in leadership, Work, and Life" 

The jury is still out on the ‘new’ president. His boldness is without dispute. Results have yet to emerge. A few other political leaders also have it, especially Mr Macron of France in attempting to change work practices.

But, as with leadership (anyone can take the lead), everyone can exhibit boldness, as a consistent behaviour, if they think in particular ways. We examine what boldness means, at work and life, and how to think in the right ways (develop the right Thinking Styles) to achieve successful outcomes.

Thinking Intelligence® Learning Points

Concept Thinking … Process Thinking … Visionary Thinking … Imagination Thinking … Creative Thinking … Precision Thinking … Consequence Thinking … Risk Thinking … Evaluative Thinking … Facts Thinking … People Thinking … Assumptions Thinking Trap … Overview Thinking … Analytical Thinking

The concept of Boldness (Concept Thinking)

“In days of old, when knights were bold …“ The dictionary describes bold as ‘stout-hearted, daring, fearless, showing courage’. But, in practical terms, it means exhibiting behaviours such as:

  • rising to challenges
  • taking (measured) risks
  • trying something new and difficult, and
  • voicing concerns.

All these behaviours require careful thought to be successful. There is a fine line between being bold and being judged foolhardy. Being fearless can be dangerous: fear is a natural ‘warning’ emotion – you have it for very good biological reasons.

Examples of Boldness

There are plenty of examples of bold leaders. Presidents Putin and Trump got to the top because their countries’ electorate (mostly) value boldness in their leaders, no matter what they do. Margaret Thatcher gained huge respect (in the UK) over her bold decision to protect the Falklands.

But there are many other instances, in work and life, where boldness has been rewarded – or fought against. Equally, we can all recall situations where people have sat back and taken the easy way out.

And timing is crucial. John Browne, when CEO of BP, took the bold decision to introduce a strategy that included a partial move into Renewable Energy sourcing. Unfortunately, his $8bn move was too soon for shareholders etc to accept and the company’s Beyond Petroleum initiatives were shelved. Oil was king, then.

How do you identify it? What do bold people do?

You can be bold about lots of things. For example: making (or questioning) decisions, stating (or querying) opinions, setting difficult objectives, rising to challenges, taking the lead, or devising a plan.

As an engineer, I voiced my opinion on a critical safety issue at a meeting. I was working for a contractor on a design and construction project. Despite a director being present, I said that our company could not accept responsibility for what the client wanted to do, I felt it was too dangerous. Nobody at the meeting could argue against my analysis and logic so the client dropped their idea. Soon after, I received an unexpected promotion.

How do you develop boldness?

You begin by understanding what the concept means and what it entails (Concept Thinking). Observe it (or the lack of it) in others and in yourself. Then be aware of how you are thinking, and which Thinking Styles are needed for particular situations where boldness could be rewarded.
   Here are some examples

Rise to challenges

This is the core developmental tool. Chances are that you won’t do well the first time, but the process of trial & error learning can have fantastic career rewards (Process Thinking) – provided that you analyse what went wrong (Analytical Thinking) and can visualise solutions (Visionary Thinking, Imagination Thinking, Creative Thinking, and Planning Thinking).
Take risks

Risk is a constant part of living, even just crossing a road has risks. But, usually, the greater the risk the greater the rewards. The key is understanding what risk means and how to assess it, as well as being aware of its existence at any point (Concept Thinking, Precision Thinking, Imagination Thinking, Consequence Thinking, and Risk Thinking).

Propose a ‘wild’ idea

Brainstorm sessions can often generate what might seem at first to be a ‘crazy’ idea. But behind every ‘wild’ idea often lurks the seeds of a very good idea. It may just be a question of rephrasing, adapting, or building on that idea (all part of Creative Thinking).

Voice concerns

This is highly dependent on the importance of your subject of concerns, the potential consequences of airing your concerns, and the level of support you are likely to get from doing so. You will need to assess each of these criteria (Evaluative Thinking, Facts Thinking). Working out the likely effects of voicing concerns requires Consequence Thinking.

And whether you are rewarded or not is entirely dependent on your Management’s willingness to accept your concerns. People Thinking is essential here. Just make sure that you get the credit for pointing out the flaws in a plan that’s going wrong.

Ask a ‘stupid’ question 

At a meeting, a director with a Harvard MBA once told me “That’s a stupid question”. After 2 minutes silence, one of his managers said to him “Actually, that’s a very good point. We hadn’t thought of that”. You should never assume that so-called ‘experts’ are always right (the ‘Assumptions’ Thinking Trap) – ask them to prove it. Get the real facts and truth (Facts Thinking).

Asking ‘stupid’ questions revealed a whole can of privacy worms when Facebook’s boss was questioned recently about his business model.

Initiate an unpopular Change


Change requires a stage-wise Thinking Process, and each stage will need particular Thinking Styles. For example, the first stages involve clarifying the change required, which will need Overview Thinking, Precision Thinking, and Analytical Thinking. People Thinking is absolutely essential at an early stage to anticipate how people might respond to the change.

But the most critical stage – working out how people will accept the change – requires Creative Thinking in order to find ways to change the way people think and behave towards the required change.

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A fabulous idea, a brilliant customer experience – how did they think of it?

"Creative Thinking – where ideas come from" 

We took a trip to Provence in southern France to check out an extraordinary immersive combination of music and art in a man-made cave – the Carrieres de Lumieres. The customer experience was so impressive that it inspired us to do some reverse-engineering to work out how excellent ideas like these emerge from our brains.

Our analysis of the creative process identified one deceptively simple technique for stimulating good ideas – change your perspective on things. We explain below how to do this.

Thinking Intelligence® Learning Points

Reverse Engineering … Concept Thinking … Customer Thinking … Customer Experience … Creative Thinking … Immersion … Design Thinking … Collaboration … Teamwork … Thought Processes

The concept of Carrieres de Lumieres

Just outside Le Baux village, in Provence, is a large stone quarry which is virtually a man-made cave with near vertical high walls. An enterprising French company has turned this bleak environment into a unique, highly immersive customer experience of digitised art, music, and movement. An unforgettable, multiple-Wow experience with programme changes every few months.

The show we saw and heard showed projections of famous classic paintings from Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo (the fruit & veg-heads man). Sometimes there were digitised sections of the paintings. Also included were short sequences from the original ‘cinemagician’, Georges Melies, the ‘father of special effects’ (a shell fired at the moon).

Sequences of these artworks were shown on parts of the walls to soundtracks from classical and contemporary music. And movement was added to the show by having some of the artworks move but also by allowing the audience to move around the ‘cave’ at will. Altogether, an incredible sensory experience of blended sound, light, and movement.

The creative thinking process 

Creativity is the mental process of developing something novel, ie something not been done before. The essence of creative thinking therefore requires you to move out of your fixed way of thinking about something and to deliberately look at it, or sense it, in a different way, for example, by changing your perspective or viewpoint on that thing.

The originators of the Carrieres de Lumieres probably applied this process to art display by thinking of senses other than merely looking at pictures, ie applying the perspectives of hearing (music) and movement, to add to the experience of art. The customer became immersed in the whole concept surrounding those artworks.

 The Customers' Perspective 

Perspective is how the brain perceives something. But the brain is highly flexible. You can train your brain to think in any way you like, eg “What if I look at this in a different way, for example from the viewpoint of someone new to the situation. Someone who has no emotional attachment to it”.

One very effective way to develop good ideas is to look, and sense, your whole organisation and its products and communications from the customers’ perspective, not just from your own perspective. But, due to inherent subjectivity, changing the way you think is much harder than most people imagine.

 A simple, subjective-thinking example from Honda

Honda produced a fine car called the Civic, the looks of which they were sure would appeal to customers. But they focused mainly on the exterior design, a prime selling feature of any car.

However, according to one of their main dealers we spoke to, on showroom test-drives many potential customers complained that the driver’s rear view was partially blocked by the ‘in-built spoiler’ rear window design, as seen through the driver’s rear-view mirror. Honda eventually had to admit defeat and change the design of the car to make rear-viewing less obstructed.

Nobody seems to have picked up this simple but costly design error - either during the initial design stages or at their market research tests.

 Examples of sensory creative thinking

Tate Modern: You either ‘get’ modern art or you don’t ‘understand’ it. But at least the Tate Modern had an attempt at improving the customers’ experience of an idea by its three-seater swing exhibition. The idea was about collaboration – the swing experience required three visitors to work together as a ‘team’. Several senses and thought processes were involved here.

Singalong theatre: a musical show found huge success when it encouraged the audience to sing along with the musical performance. Again, another sensory experience (long-known at the last night of The Proms events).

Get creative. Change your perspective.

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Two recent examples and one due for a refresh

"Radical Thinking leading to Transformational Improvement" 

“Ryanair targets carry-on bags to stem delays” and “Google and Apple in line of fire as EU moves to tax US tech groups’ revenues”. These two recent Financial Times articles are prime examples of Radical Thinking in practice – major changes in the way you think about a subject which can have significant, perhaps transformational, impacts.

CRINE, standing for ‘Cost Reduction In the New Era’, was a collaborative radical thinking effort applied by the North Sea Oil & Gas industry to find ways to cut costs in offshore production. This resulted in a cost reduction of 40%.

We examine the thinking behind these three Radical Thinking plans/programmes to demonstrate this hugely valuable Creative Thinking process. Radical Thinking is the form of Creative Thinking which leads to major positive change.

Thinking Styles and Processes covered in this Case Story:

Radical Thinking … Creative Thinking … Design Thinking … “Why do it the way we’ve always done it?” … Business Thinking … Problem-Solving Process … Concept Thinking … Opportunity Thinking … Thinking Traps … Making Assumptions … Transformational Improvement

Ryanair’s ‘niceness’ campaign continues, at an extra cost

The popular budget airline has announced plans to encourage passengers to put their ‘too-large’ carry-on wheelie bags in the hold to cut the time taken to board and disembark from planes. Unless you pay extra you will only be allowed to take one handbag or laptop-sized bag into the cabin. You can, however, take 5kg more in your main luggage bag (up from 15kg) for £10 less than the normal extra charge.

This FT article didn’t actually refer to Radical Thinking but as soon as we read it we realised that Ryanair’s move could have a major impact in the whole airline industry. This is Radical Thinking about how planes are designed and how luggage is handled.

Why are planes designed with huge overhead luggage lockers?

This thought occurred to us as we read the article – Design Thinking. It is almost as if planes were designed to cause boarding delays and worries by passengers that they won’t find space in the overhead lockers. Why not design planes so that most luggage is stored in the hold?

Space in the plane cabin could be allocated for those passengers travelling light, eg business passengers, or for precious items. It would also be necessary to make airport baggage-handling more reliable to avoid bags going to the wrong destination, but this process is way overdue for improvement.

The simple Radical Thinking here is “Why do it the way we’ve always done it?”

 Brussels gets tough on tax avoidance – a radical idea worth £billions

The big US technology companies have been too ‘tax efficient’. Business Thinking means maximising profits, which also means minimising costs, including tax. Why pay more tax than you need to? The current tax system in the EU allows clever companies like Google to declare all their profits from EU business operations in low-tax countries such as Ireland and Luxemburg. All perfectly legal. According to the FT article, Airbnb paid tax of less than 100,000 euro in France last year.

But now, Brussels has applied Radical Thinking to their Problem-Solving processes. They plan to tax these wayward companies on their sales revenues in each country they sell in. Clever. Again, the basic technique is “Why do it the way we’ve always done it?” In this case it means asking “What should be taxed, and where, etc?” It means getting down to the basics of the concept of Tax – Concept Thinking.

 One tricky barrier to this Radical idea

The prime cause of the problem is the way the EU allowed its tax system to develop randomly. Some member countries have low-tax regimes which just beg to be taken advantage of. The barrier to the ‘Tax on sales’ idea is getting all EU members to agree to it. Best of luck … but it must be worth a try.

 CRINE Cost Reduction

In 1994 an industry-wide project got down to some Radical Thinking about how to reduce costs in North Sea oil and gas production. “Why do it the way we’ve always done it?” Results were transformational.

For example, it was always assumed (a common Thinking Trap) that each production platform had to be built to include spare equipment put in place in case a pump (for example) broke down. Similarly, a veritable hotel was required to house all the workers needed to operate the production processes. And massive control rooms and equipment were required to minimise process downtime.

“We don’t need it” The project teams realised that the cost of fabricating these huge platforms could be cut ‘radically’ if they excluded most of the duplicated equipment and moved control onshore. Similarly, they realised that they could allow production to shut down occasionally and ship the repair/maintenance teams out to the platform on an as-needed basis, cutting the requirement of the living quarters on the platform. This thinking dramatically reduced the weight of the ‘topside’ plant etc, which in turn significantly reduced the weight and cost of the whole platform.
Key Learnings

If you sense the opportunity exists for major change (Opportunity Thinking) then it is worth getting a team/group together to apply Radical Thinking to the subject. This means exploring and defining the core concept/s of the issue (Concept Thinking) then asking key questions such as “Why do it this way?”, “What other ways could it be done?”, etc. And constantly checking for subconscious Thinking Traps such as ‘Making Assumptions’.

This radical ‘way of thinking’ can stimulate creative ideas for Transformational Improvement in any organisation.

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Success comes from the mind, the way you THINK

"What the West can learn from China’s success - different ways of thinking" 

We spent 16 days travelling around the south of China to get an overview of the country and see how the West could learn from this dynamic economic success story. From big cities like Shanghai and Chengdu, to smaller cities and towns such as Huangshan (near the Mount Huangshan tourist area), beautiful Lijiang in Yunnan province, an unforgettable Li river cruise, and the highly creative Yangzhou sound & light show.

We looked for the drivers of this successful growth and realised that a major factor is the way the Chinese people think.


 Analysis and Lessons 

Strategic Thinking … Design Thinking … Risk Thinking … Planning Thinking … Visionary Thinking … Business Thinking … Work at Learning … Sharp, flexible minds … Customer Thinking … Creative Thinking … Opportunity Thinking


Ambition, Vision, and Planned Economic Growth


China’s growth may have slowed (from superlative) in recent years but it was obvious from our travels that the country has massive ambitions and is successfully executing a huge infrastructure plan involving new airports, high-speed-rail stations and motorways. Grand Strategic Thinking.

The airports and rail stations in particular are massive. Rail stations are more like airports with a gate system leading to platforms, some having over 20 platforms. And, like airports, passengers have to pass through security checks. Excellent Design Thinking and Risk Thinking.

The high-speed trains we traveled on were incredibly fast, smooth, and comfortable. And clean – each carriage seemed to have its own cleaner sweeping the floor and cleaning the toilet throughout our journey. And every train and internal plane journey we took was fully booked.

China’s strategic infrastructure vision


This trip made us realise how short-sighted the UK Governments have been regarding infrastructure. The UK’s airports, rail system, and roads seem years behind those of China. The political system in China obviously speeds up the planning process but their government deserves high praise for executing a grand vision.

Their new airports, rail stations, and motorways are spacious and underutilised at the moment but are clearly designed for the future. One new dual-carriageway we saw at the edge of a town had road-side trees planted well before the surrounding land was being developed. Impressive Planning Thinking.

Their strategic vision extends outwards to a ‘New Silk Road’ initiative to build 900 infrastructure projects costing $890bn across 64 countries linked by China’s ancient trade routes. The financing is designed to develop greater world use of the Chinese currency, the renminbi. Incredible Visionary Thinking.

Organisational Design and Efficiency


We booked our rail journeys from England via an agent in China and collected all the tickets when we went to our first rail station. Each ticket showed the precise journey, times, price, ‘boarding’ gate, carriage number, and seat number. For a particular journey, passengers could sit in a large waiting area (just as in airports) and then walk to the specified gate when the announcement board showed the time to ‘board’ the train.

The gate led to a platform where the location of our carriage stop point was clearly indicated on the platform floor. The train stopped at precisely the designated position for our access from the platform. No pushing, shoving, or jostling. A highly efficient system. Superb Design Thinking.

Productivity – the Chinese work ethic and business thinking

The Chinese are very hard workers. Many shops stay open until 11pm. We saw very few people idly standing around. Everybody seemed busy and purposeful, usually trying to sell their products. When we examined the excellent training facilities in one of our hotels we were surprised to find a group attending a management course on a Sunday morning. Everybody seemed to understand Business Thinking.


With this keen business sense and work ethic it was easy to see how China’s economy has grown so rapidly. But it also clear from the behaviour of Chinese children that work attitudes are embedded from an early age. A recent UK tv programme where English schoolchildren were taught by a group of Chinese teachers shockingly demonstrated an enormous gap in learning attitudes.

The English children were virtually unmanageable by Chinese teachers accustomed to respect and self-discipline from keen pupils in China. This should be of grave concern for our educators, and parents. Again, it is no surprise that UK school performance in difficult subjects such as maths is way behind that of China. Chinese children are prepared to work at learning, and have far longer attention spans than Western youth.

Skills and flexibility – and open space roads

One of the many things that impressed us about China was the skill and flexibility of road users, especially taxi drivers and scooter riders. Taxis weaved in and out of traffic queues with inches to spare, yet we never saw any accidents. Zebra crossings were treated more as a guidance for pedestrians rather than a designated safe-crossing path – drivers and riders just weaved their way around people.

This was the best demonstration we have ever seen of ‘open space’ road usage, where traffic and pedestrians ‘share’ the roads. The result seems to be a highly effective traffic management system for all stakeholders. Organised chaos from sharp, flexible minds.

Service ethic

Especially for the people who spoke English, we found that most Chinese people were always willing to help. The China agents who arranged our internal flights and train journeys seemed to work 24-hour days. One hotel concierge even called us after our journey to check that a taxi driver didn’t overcharge us. This service ethic is even more remarkable considering that tips are not expected. An eagerness to please which is rarely seen in Europe, especially in France and the UK. Good Customer Thinking.

Fanatical Cleanliness – except for the air

We mentioned above about constantly sweeping the train carriages. The Chinese even sweep their dual carriageways, manually, whilst traffic whizzes by.  This would be considered absurdly dangerous by western safety standards, but drivers are considerate and make allowances.

But one area of huge concern, to China and the rest of the world, is air quality. On many days, even in country areas, the smog blotted out the distant landscape. In Shanghai one afternoon, the daylight disappeared two hours early. The effects on people’s health must be horrendous. Thankfully, it now looks like China’s rulers have realised the dangers and are taking a more serious look at their pollution. However, whilst they continue to build highly polluting coal-powered energy stations, achieving targets will be very difficult.


The Chinese have a reputation as imitators of western innovations but they are actually highly creative people, despite living in a very structured, police-controlled environment. A few examples: many comestible consumer products may be laced with sugar but the packaging is incredibly attractive visually: a weir in a river has been constructed as a series of cascades via about 30 mini pools – a delightful, highly photogenic tourism feature; and a brilliant son e lumiere with a cast of hundreds set on the river Li with a backdrop of ‘karst’ limestone peaks. Jaw-dropingly beautiful. Fabulous Creative Thinking.

Whilst many Chinese cities may be blighted by monotonous blocks of flats, there are plenty of examples of interesting architecture. Shanghai’s towers make London’s few skyscrapers look fairly ordinary in comparison. And the planned 1 Undershaft, an incredibly boring square tower, is just a huge featureless pile of bricks and windows built far too close to others such as the impressive Gherkin.

Opportunities for western exporters


Five shortages stood out on this trip: people who understood English, and good biscuits, confectionary, chocolates, and beer.

We were surprised how few Chinese people spoke English. We asked a helpful person at an Enquiries desk in a huge department store in Shanghai where the Pizza Hut restaurant was located in the shop. He simply shook his head and clearly didn’t understand our request. We turned around the corner and the Pizza Hut was right in front of us.

And at an airport restaurant we asked for ‘the menu’. Again, total blank looks. The word for Menu must be one word front-line staff in restaurants should know in all the main languages. We suspect that one of the problems is simply down to the different way some words and letters are pronounced. For example, the Chinese would pronounce the written words Pizza Hut something like Pidsar Hoot (we subsequently realised).

Beer was recently in the news in the UK and China when the Chinese Premier visited England and sampled one of our fine real ales, Greene King IPA. This led to huge demand back in China for the brand apparently enjoyed by the great leader. Oddly, there is very little western beer sold in China, despite the local beers being mediocre. Massive opportunities here for UK beers. Opportunity Thinking required.

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The great Productivity Puzzle

"Productivity - what affects a Team's Performance, its Productivity?” 

This has been the title of numerous news articles recently in the UK. Despite the economy recovering since the financial crisis, Britain’s productivity (output per head per hour) has remained static. And as a result, so have wages and living standards.

Lack of investment and innovation are two of the obvious causes at macro-level. But, at team level, there are many generic factors that affect any team’s performance, and in turn, team productivity. This story examines some of the key performance factors affecting team productivity at any level from board down, any industry and size of organisation.

We examine the impacts of Team Leadership, Engagement, Trust, Team Balance (of Personality Types, Teamworking Styles, and Thinking Styles), Skills Development, Team Processes, Culture, and Working Environment. Lessons valuable to all organisations, all leaders. But we begin by explaining the concept of a Team.


 Analysis and Lessons 

Definition of a ‘Team’ … Synergy … Team Leadership … Shared Vision … Goals … Roles … People Thinking … Empathy Thinking … Customer Thinking … Thinking Styles … Engagement … Interest Thinking … Whole-Brain Thinking … Trust … Team Balance … Personality Types … Team-Role Styles … Natural Thinking Styles … Introverts … Extroverts … Ideas-People … Implementers … Analytical Thinkers … Skills Development … Concepts … Learning … Development … Concept Thinking … Evaluative Thinking … Design Thinking … Team Processes … Thinking Processes … Planning Thinking … Contingency Thinking … Overview Thinking … Descriptive Thinking … Improvement Culture … Creative Thinking … the Innovation Process

Understanding the key concept - What is a Team?


A Team is a group of people who are mutually dependent on one another to achieve a common goal. If your ‘team’ doesn’t feel that they share a common goal then they won’t function as a team. Productivity must suffer if all team members are not held mutually responsible for the team’s output. A Team should be more productive than the sum of its individual parts, due to the Synergy effect.

The poor performance of English Premiership football teams in the two European championships is an example. “All of the top teams are less than the sum of their very expensive parts. Manchester City epitomises the problem. Excellent individuals, but they are consistently outwitted by cleverer opponents in Europe” explains The Times. By ‘cleverer’ we can read ‘teamworking’.

Team Leadership – setting Goals, deciding Roles, …

Good team leadership is the top factor affecting the performance and productivity of any team. Good leaders inspire a shared vision; discuss, agree, and set stretching goals; and ensure that each member knows the clear roles of all team members (including that of the leader).

But a major reason why talented people underperform or quit their jobs is because of a poor relationship with their manager. Relationship-building is a key skill for any leader. And this requires good People Thinking skills, Empathy Thinking and Customer Thinking, not the natural Thinking Styles for many people, especially in technical or construction industries.

Engagement – generating and maintaining interest in the work


Which comes first – interest or involvement? This is a key question faced by all communicators (eg in advertising) but also in work setting and management. Team leaders need to ask themselves one vital question: Why should anyone be interested in doing that work that needs to be done? What’s interesting about it? If you can’t think of a good answer then you will struggle to get your team’s commitment.

This requires Interest Thinking, a specific Thinking Style within the People Thinking Quartile of Whole-Brain Thinking.

Trust – “How much do I trust my fellow team members or Leader?”

‘Healthy’ competition in a team is usually a good thing. It helps team spirit, engagement, and performance – as long as basic trust is maintained. You need to know that if you get into difficulties that your fellow team members will rally around, not stick the knife in to better themselves at your expense. If a team loses trust, productivity will suffer badly. They will stop functioning as a team.

Team Balance – the perfect team

Most leaders don’t have the luxury of selecting the perfect team based on their member’s respective Personality Types, Team-Role Styles, or their natural Thinking Styles. But it is crucial for leaders to make allowances for an imbalance in any of these performance factors.

A team can have too many Introverts or too many Extroverts. A team can suffer if overloaded with Ideas-People but are short of Implementers. And a team full of Analytical Thinkers can lack creativity or cause upsets (due to poor Empathy Thinking). Making allowances for the shortfalls is critical to productivity.

Understanding the concept of Skills Development – test your knowledge of Learning and Development

Most people have plenty of scope for improvement, even those ‘plateaued’ managers – if they get development opportunities and are encouraged to develop.

The problem is that many managers, even in HR departments, fail to really understand the twin concepts of Learning and Development. Try asking your colleagues this simple question: “What is Learning; what is Development: and what’s the difference between them?”

We guarantee that you will get a whole range of vague responses. The reason? Because everybody believes that they know what these terms mean. However, most people will have not given these deceptively-complex concepts sufficient thought to be able to fully understand them and articulate them. Most people do not focus their minds by deliberately engaging Concept Thinking. In fact, even many professionals struggle to explain the meaning of the word Concept.

The result is vague approaches to both Learning and Development in many organisations (due to blinkered, short-term thinking) which in turn limits productivity. All managers should be assessed for their performance in developing the skills of their staff.

NOTE: when learning and development initiatives fail or underperform the chief cause is poor or imprecise evaluation, caused in turn by poor Evaluative Thinking - which starts at the design stage (Design Thinking).


Team Processes – eg how teams make decisions, solve problems

Setting Goals, making decisions, resolving problems, etc are, or should be, stage-wise Thinking Processes that require team contribution. And each of these Thinking Processes will need different ways of thinking (Thinking Styles) at each stage. Productivity can suffer badly if the wrong goals are pursued, or prove difficult to achieve (eg poor Planning Thinking or Contingency Thinking), or if a problem is incorrectly diagnosed (poor Overview Thinking, Descriptive Thinking, or Analytical Thinking).

Improvement Culture

Productivity can improve dramatically if there is a strong culture of continuous improvement. Teams need to be encouraged to develop an innovation mindset (Creative Thinking, the Innovation Process) – always looking for a better way of doing something. After several years of stagnation, the once-mighty Sony Corporation has now re-established its improvement culture.

Working Environment

A whole raft of factors affect how people feel when they are at work, which in turn impact on productivity. Their immediate surroundings, the right temperature and fresh air, space to move, freedom of action, a work atmosphere that is positive, friendly, supportive, energising, creative, risk-tolerant, and occasionally challenging. A dull, never-changing, coercive work environment stultifies productivity. As a leader, the choice is yours. YOU can have a major impact on your team’s environment.

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Air travel safety: something else to worry about - suicidal pilots

"Alps air crash - lessons in thinking about Risk ” 

This is a story about Risk Thinking: thinking about, and designing for, the risks involved in doing something. In this case, it is the airline industry thinking about, and designing mitigations for, commercial airplane pilots who decide to crash your plane.

The apparently deliberate Lufthansa/Germanwings Airbus crash in the Alps has caused a rethink of the airline industry’s last safety rethinking after the 9-11 events. We examine the faults in that last rethink, and look at possible Thinking Intelligence solutions aimed at winning back passenger trust.


 Analysis and Lessons 

Risk Thinking … Thinking Intelligence … Imagination Thinking … Analytical Thinking … Design Thinking … Evaluative Thinking … Controls Thinking … Thought Processes … Thinking Actions … Thinking Processes … Irrational Thinking … Decision-Making Process … Thinking Styles … Emotions Thinking … Right Balance of Thinking Styles focus

What went wrong? Several things.

After 9-11 it was realised that the airline industry had failed to imagine (poor Imagination Thinking) that terrorists could (and would) learn how fly an airliner, then break into a cockpit, take over the flight, and accurately hit a skyscraper at the critical point to maximise damage – whilst committing suicide.

Imagination Thinking is a key element in Risk Thinking. So the safety experts decided to make it difficult for anybody unauthorised to get into the cockpit. One safety device allowed the pilots to lock the cockpit door from the inside. Unfortunately, they failed to imagine, or deal with, a pilot who has decided to kill himself and all other passengers by locking out the other pilot after he’d gone to the loo.

Only one pilot in the cockpit?

Strange how crazy this thinking is now, in hindsight. The Americans thought of this risk after 9-11 and ruled that two people (which could be one pilot and a cabin crew member) should always be in the cockpit during flight. Europe has only now, post Alps, thought this a good idea and will follow suit.

The writer has experience of designing safety systems, for oil & gas processing plant. We are astounded that it has taken so long for the airline industry – with its focus on safety – to wake up to the risks of having just one pilot in the cockpit during flight. Key safety devices should always have a back-up device in case something goes wrong with the first.

What else went wrong?


Commercial airplane travel is the safest method of transport, one death in 5million journeys. But when a pilot decides to commit suicide mid-flight the magnitude of the risk is enormous. It will cost Lufthansa about £300million just in compensation payments. But 150 lives were lost, and decreased passenger trust will affect all airline profits, especially Lufthansa’s.

The chances of a pilot deliberately crashing your plane are tiny. It has happened just 5 times in 40 years. But the risk exists, and needs to be mitigated against. Clearly something went wrong in assessing the sanity of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz. Poor Analytical Thinking, Design Thinking, and poor Evaluative Thinking. And poor Controls Thinking – Lufthansa apparently had been sent an email advising them that Lubitz had had mental problems during his training to be a pilot. A key element of performance controls, (presumably communications) broke down, undetected.

 Possible solutions?

Ready for Pilotless Planes?

Though most air crashes are due to pilot error these days it will take a lot of work to get people to accept pilotless planes, despite the technology being available. Let's look at pilot assessment first.

Patient confidentiality stopped Lubitz’s doctor informing Lufthansa of the sick note that should have stopped the pilot from flying. Doctors are held back from contacting employers by the threat of litigation for breaking patient confidentiality. If pilots had to consult only a doctor working for the employer it could affect pilot’s willingness to complain of any problems that could affect their career.

One solution could be to improve the effectiveness of the regular pilot-assessment process. Currently, the emphasis appears to be more on physical health rather than mental. One expert has indicated that checking of a pilot’s thought processes could indicate suicidal tendencies. But this, currently, has not been sufficiently worked out or standardised.

Checking Thought Processes

Wikipedia has a long list of Thought Processes. Unfortunately, this list mixes up individual thinking actions (such as Attitude, Concept, and Logic) with stage-wise Thinking Processes (such as Project Planning, Problem Solving, and Decision Making).

Firstly, psychiatrists would need to determine and agree which ‘thought processes’ equate to aggressive suicidal tendencies (harming others as well as themselves). Then psychometric assessors could design thought-process tests which would indicate those tendencies, as is commonly done in personality type profiling such as Myers-Briggs.

A highly relevant Thought Process example

Moral-dilemma tests (eg “Would you save person A or B in an emergency?”) could reveal irrational thinking that is not obvious from normal behaviour. The Thinking Process required here is the Decision-Making process, which needs a sequence of individual thinking actions. Each stage may require different ways of thinking (Thinking Styles). This particular application will demand switching between Analytical Thinking and Emotions Thinking to find the right balance of Thinking Styles focus – a key aspect of Thinking Intelligence.

Two people in the cockpit at all times


We consider this essential. It could even be argued that there should be three pilots. Two pilots on a recent Air India flight were discovered to have been fighting before take off. The pair have now been suspended, but that flight should never have been allowed to continue. And in 2012 Qantas Airways suffered a similar situation prior to their 747 taking off at a Dallas airport.

Other ideas include devising a door locking system that would allow authorised personnel access to the cockpit – allowing the pilot to lock the doors is clearly too risky. One other idea is to build cockpits with direct access to a toilet (en-suite) without leaving the cockpit – as long as the toilet door isn’t lockable from outside the loo! But all of these ideas will require significantly more Evaluative Thinking than the previous ‘rethink’.

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Two examples of Strategic Thinking with major consequences

"Strategic Thinking on a grand scale - Saudi Arabia's oil price influencing - dumping Nimrod” 

1. Saudi Arabia made the momentous strategic decision to stop its practice of being the world's oil price controller and let the market determine the price. The consequences are a 50% dive in the oil price and massive disruption to share prices, especially those of the oil companies and services contractors.

2. The frightening consequences of the strategic decision to scrap Britain’s fleet of maritime patrol aircraft, Nimrod, have suddenly risen to the surface. Now, we will have no way of knowing when enemy submarines are camped outside our UK base for Trident-carrying Vanguard subs.

Via a SWOT analysis, we explore the Strategic Thinking and Consequence Thinking behind each decision to see what lessons can be learnt for all leaders.


 Analysis and Lessons 

Strategic Thinking … Consequence Thinking … SWOT Analysis … Opportunity Thinking … Game Theory … Overview Thinking … Emotions Thinking … Risk Thinking … Evaluative Thinking

Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Thinking

The price of anything is strongly influenced by supply and demand. We can expect the price of chocolate to increase due to a world shortage of cocoa beans, primarily due to crop disease.

Up to now, the Opec cartel, and particularly Saudi Arabia, has tried to steady the world price of oil above $100 or so by increasing or cutting back on production to match demand. Everybody in the oil world was happy with this arrangement. It allowed a measure of assurance in planning capital expenditure on new production facilities.

SWOT analysis: emergence of a new Strategic Threat

America’s sudden good fortune in developing shale oil and gas has transformed the market. It has significantly upset the supply and demand balance. To Saudi Arabia, shale represents a major new Threat to its Strategic Thinking and market share. It felt action was required to deal with this threat.

Saudi’s Strategic Strengths

Cash. Lots of it. Over $350bn. And enormous oil reserves. And cheap production costs. And supply muscle, both within Opec and world-market share. Its close allies in Opec, the other Middle East states, also have relatively cheap production costs. Some other Opec members (such as Venezuela) are less fortunate. They have high production costs, are heavily dependent on their oil for export earnings, and have little influence.

Saudi’s strategic Opportunity Thinking

The other big oil supplier, Russia, is outside the Opec cartel but is under immense economic pressure due to the sanctions imposed on it, stemming from its Crimea and Ukraine incursions. Oil and gas are Russia’s main export earners. But because it needs cash Mr Putin’s Strategic Thinking is limited. This has provided the opportunity for Saudi Arabia to put pressure on its other major rival.

In fact Russia has a huge dilemma – does it produce all the oil it can despite the low price, or does it cut back production to bring the oil price back up? Does it take the role previously occupied by Saudi Arabia, as a price controller? The maths appears simple, but obviously other factors are at play. Game theory.

Consequence Thinking – what could happen next?

Shale production is relatively costly, and drilling activity has slowed in the US. However, ‘Fracking’ wells are short-lived and it is fairly easy to hold off capital expenditure until the oil price rises again. But many of the big cap-ex projects by the oil majors have been put on ice.

There is also the issue of storage. Producers can’t continue producing more oil than can be used or stored. At some point soon, the lack of buyers and storage facilities will force the weakest to cut back production.

Demand has already fallen due to cut-backs in the growth of China and emerging markets. There are no signs of market recovery at the moment.

Overview Thinking – let’s take a step back


Oil price hikes and slumps have happened before. In April 2009 one headline said “Time to bet on oil again”. Oil had fallen from about $150 to less than $50 a barrel. But following cut-backs in Opec production, postponement of projects, and increased demand from China, the oil price rose again.

The net effect this time will be similar, but less pronounced and will take longer. And the production cut-backs will be more wide-spread, not just by Saudi Arabia. But it really is a matter of who blinks first in this poker game. The Saudis are dictating events; that is the only certainty.

 Scrapping Nimrod – Consequence Thinking (lack of?)

In 2010 the UK government made the strategic decision to scrap the Nimrod MRA4 programme that had cost £4bn to develop to save £200m per year operating costs. The maritime patrol aircraft had been planned as a replacement for its aging predecessor, the MR2, which had been taken out of service.

The thinking at the time was that with the end of the Cold War there was no need for such kit. And budget cuts needed to be found from somewhere.

The realistic potential consequences

We now know that both Russia and China are building up their submarine capabilities and numbers. The UK is one of the few countries in the world with long coastlines that do not have coastal surveillance.

The result is that enemy submarines could hang out just outside the Faslane base for Britain’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, housed in Vanguard subs. This means that the UK’s main strategic military threat would be capable of being detected and tracked. Once detected, a submarine is relatively easy to follow.

What went wrong?

Consequence Thinking starts by asking the question: “What could possibly go wrong, and what could be the consequences if it did?” We can only assume that the teams that made this crucial decision back in 2010 had not given this question sufficient thought and were heavily pressured by politicians looking for cost savings.

Had the teams been more aware of this emotional pressure (by engaging Emotions Thinking) and switched into Risk Thinking and Evaluative Thinking, they would most probably have kept Nimrod in some form.

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Four Customer Feedback test results

… alarming disparities 

"Customer Feedback systems compared, and how businesses miss opportunities” 

As genuine customers we recently had the opportunity to test the effectiveness and Customer Focus of the customer feedback systems of four companies, two large, one mid-size, and one SME.

The results showed alarming variations and explain why some organisations struggle to keep up with shifting customer behaviours or have no idea why their sales are falling - poor Customer Thinking.

We examine what goes wrong with customer feedback systems - as seen from the customers' perspective - and how  organisations of all sizes seem totally unaware of the problems ... and the opportunities they are missing.


 Analysis and Lessons 

Customer Feedback Systems … Customer Thinking … Customer Focus … Contact Us … Customer Annoyance … No Pre-Tests of Website or Exhibition Showguide … Not interested in negative feedback … Automated, Mechanical responses … Brilliant Customer Focus

Testing four companies’ Customer Feedback systems

… a good measure of their Customer Thinking

Customer Thinking means thinking about customers, but also thinking like customers. It is the starting point for Customer Focus. This month, as customers, we had occasion to complain about four companies’ products or services. A top multinational car rental firm, a trade exhibition organiser, a major supermarket chain, and a cooked-chill food manufacturer.

Three of the four show significant scope for improvement, both in their attitudes and processes, whilst one was an exemplar for Customer Focus. On this evidence (and our customer experiences in general) it comes as no surprise to us that companies often have no idea why their sales fall, despite apparently conducting extensive market research.

The car rental company

We had complained to this company before about a few small dissatisfactions on a trip to California but had gotten a poor response. This time, after a trip to Corsica, we had a very bad experience with their Corsican branch and wrote a letter at the end of September to the UK General Manager to complain. The Corsican staff were very brusque and at one point drove off in our hired car with all our bags and valuables. We were forced to run after the car which went out of our sight. Appalling behaviour. In the letter, we also reiterated our complaints about our previous hire in California, made from the UK.

About a week later we received a reply from Customer Services which offered apologies but merely said that they would pass on our complaint to their operation in Corsica. No mention was made of our California complaint. We responded saying that we looked forward to hearing further about our Corsica complaint and reminding them about our California trip concerns.

At the same time we looked at their website and tried to find a feedback procedure and senior management contacts at their Headquarters. We posed questions via their sales-oriented Contact Us process, even asking how to locate their feedback system. We got an instant automated message saying that we would receive a reply within 10 working days! Three weeks later, we are still waiting for a response to our queries.

Action, at last

On the 24th of October we got a response from another Customer Services executive apologising for the delay and offering small reimbursements for our poor customer experiences in both Corsica and California, via credits to our credit cards. There was no mention of the subjects of our complaints except to state that it was not their policy to inform customers of internal communications.

Whilst appreciating the partial reimbursements, we were left feeling that our complaints had been buried. We have no idea that anything would change, so there is a strong feeling of annoyance and that we had wasted our time. In addition, at the time of writing, we are still waiting for the promised reimbursements and have had to send a reminder. All in all an extremely poor customer feedback system.

The trade exhibition organiser

This is a Business-to-Business technology show at London’s Olympia. As visitors, we had had a few problems with the show’s website and we decided to voice our concerns to the organisers when we visited the exhibition. The website did not have the usual list of exhibitors and we mentioned this fact. Unfortunately, the Marketing Manager in the organisers office took this feedback as ‘criticism’ and insisted that all exhibitors were listed (as small boxed entries) and “all” customers had to do was work through about 10 web pages to see them all.

We told him that most customers wouldn’t bother to do this, especially as the entries were not in alphabetical order. But our feedback fell on deaf ears. The Marketing Manager said he wasn’t interested in negative feedback.

With this attitude it is not surprising that the number of exhibitors and visitors at this exhibition has been falling steadily every year.

No pre-testing?

It would appear that the organisers are not pre-testing the effectiveness of their website or their showguide. After the show we looked at the catalogue and found that the telephone numbers were missing from the exhibitors’ entries. This places an unnecessary sales barrier in the way of potential customers contacting exhibitors.

The supermarket chain

We purchased an own-label cooked-chill fish meal for two and served it with potatoes and vegetables. Unfortunately we realised too late that the package already contained large quantities of potato and some veg. When we looked at the packaging we found that the portion of fish was actually less than that of potatoes and was about one third of what we normally buy per person.

The food packaging contained no information on a feedback system so we had to go to the company’s website and make our complaint via a complicated, sales-oriented Contact Us process.

Automated response system


The response email was clearly an automated system and ignored our actual complaint. It apologised for this ‘quality’ problem and promised to review their procedures. It also asked for information, much of which was already supplied in our original web message.

The next email promised an e-gift voucher which never arrived. We had to complain about this and they said they would send a voucher by post, ignoring our question about how they checked if e-gift vouchers were issued or not.

We are still waiting. In every communication we have had from this company we have felt that their system was ‘mechanical’ and failing to deal with the issue we originally complained about. Again, a very poor customer feedback system.

 The winner by far. Charlie Bigham’s

Waitrose, and probably some other supermarkets, sell a range of cooked chill meals made by the Charlie Bigham’s brand. We tried their “2 STEAK & ALE PIES”, which was thoroughly enjoyable apart from the small quantity of meat in the pies.

On looking at the smart packaging we discovered a telephone number for feedback. We called the number and spoke to an agent and explained our complaint. He was instantly apologetic, tried to explain that all their food was hand-made and mistakes occasionally occur. He promised to look into that batch preparation and we would receive a complete refund voucher.

First class Customer Thinking

The very next day we received a personalised letter, posted first class, again apologising for our inconvenience and dissatisfaction and enclosing a full-price voucher against another meal. The letter was signed by the agent, his job title as “Charlie’s Assistant”, and the concluding paragraph is a gem: “Thank you again for contacting us. Your feedback, positive or negative, is extremely important to us and it’s essential we know something has gone wrong as it was here.” Brilliant customer focus.

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 Different cultures, different leadership styles, their effects on performance

"Profitable Customer Focus - easyJet shows Ryanair how to do it 

Ryanair and rival easyJet have announced highly contrasting financial results recently, driven largely by two key performance factors – Leadership and Profitable Customer Focus. Ryanair has issued two profits warnings in two months whilst easyJet unveiled ‘sparkling’ results with profits up by 50%. Shares have followed suit, with easyJet shares up by a massive 240% over three years compared to just 75% for Ryanair.

We examine both of these performance factors (leadership and culture) and their huge impacts on business performance which all organisations can learn from. This story also shows that people who flex their ways of thinking are likely to be more successful.

Key points

Leadership Roles and Styles

Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary is very direct and combative. He is highly focused, driven, and very much in control. He is an entrepreneur-accountant and takes great pleasure in spotting opportunities to cut costs and grow profits. He cares little for his image and reputation for being customer-unfriendly. He is (or was until recently) convinced that customers will buy from you if you offer them what they perceive to be the cheapest price, regardless of how badly you treat them. 

Carolyn McCall, easyJet’s chief for the past three years, comes from a media background (having run Guardian Media Group). As such she is much more aware of image, of herself and her company. She is a communicator, especially to her employees. She is a change driver. We examine how these very different Leadership Roles and Styles can impact on business performance.

The impact of Culture, especially Customer Focus

Once a culture is embedded it is very hard to change it. Whilst Ryanair’s customer-unfriendly culture had little impact on growth for many years the business environment has shifted. EasyJet recognised this change and has been transforming itself, to have a profitable customer-focused culture, with tremendous business performance impact. We examine below how these two companies are changing – or in Ryanair’s case, perhaps not.


 Analysis and Lessons 

Leadership Roles and Styles … Culture Change … Profitable Customer Focus … Business Performance … Opportunity Thinking … Strategic Thinking … Concept Thinking … Creative Thinking … Business Thinking … Customer Thinking

Those Ryanair ‘horror stories’

One recent report of Ryanair’s attitudes to customers was about a customer complaining about been ripped off by being charged £4.20 for a cheese-and-cracker snack. The flight attendant retorted that these prices allowed passengers to get cheap flights, and then added a few swearwords such as “F*** you” at no extra charge. 

Other stories over the years included Ryanair staff making no effort to help an elderly lady in a wheelchair onto the plane. Her daughter and a fellow passenger had to carry her up the stairs onto the plane whilst staff ignored them.

Then there was the surgeon whose family had just died in a fire. Ryanair charged him 188 Euros to change his flight after the tragedy despite been informed of the distressing cause of the flight change.

EasyJet spots a Strategic Opportunity

The remarkable thing about Ryanair’s outstanding growth is that its scandalous reputation had very little impact on business performance – until Carolyn McCall took over at easyJet. Ms McCall spotted an opportunity (good Opportunity Thinking) to differentiate easyJet from its low-cost rivals such as Ryanair (good Strategic Thinking).

She saw that the time was ripe for taking advantage of consumers’ distrust of many big businesses, especially in the finance and energy industries. Ryanair provided that golden opportunity. Ms McCall reckoned that if she could change the culture at easyJet to be more customer-focused then customers would flock to their planes. And this is what happened. Even business customers have appreciated the change, which has also improved easyJet’s profitability.

 Changing Culture to be more customer-focused

An old Irish request-for-directions joke has the punch-line, “Oh, I wouldn’t start from here”. This is Ryanair’s biggest problem. It has an awfully long way to go to change its culture from being openly customer-hating to being customer-friendly in attitude and behaviour.

Mr O’Leary has stated that Ryanair will catch up in less than six months. But since their starting point is the delusional “We’ve always had good service on board”, it could take many years to effect and embed change. This is a view shared by many City analysts, hence the poor share performance. EasyJet began its transformation more than two years ago.

Ryanair has a long way to go

A strong indication of how long Ryanair’s journey will be to change its culture was provided by Mr O’Leary himself. His recent reported words: “We should try and eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off” can be interpreted as meaning “It’s fine if we make money by pissing people off, but if we don’t then try not to do it if you can”.

And a press advertisement saying “Thank you … from Ryanair”, which was intended to show the company’s new customer-loving nature, made no mention of a change in attitude. It even highlighted the problem by promising “quiet flights” in early morning and late evening, implying that customers on flights at other times would continue to suffer irritating announcements.

How easyJet jumped on the opportunity, Opportunity Thinking

The start point for seeing opportunities is getting into the right frame of mind, the right way of thinking, being ready to spot opportunities when they come along. Ms McCall was in that Thinking Style when she saw the opportunity to give passengers allocated seating, at a small charge. Customers lapped it up. This is a prime example of the Concept of Profitable Customer Focus – finding ways of improving customer satisfaction whilst also improving profitability. A way of thinking which requires Concept Thinking, Creative Thinking, Business Thinking, and Customer Thinking.

Leading by example


One of the seven key Roles of Leadership is to act as a role-model for staff attitudes and behaviours. Organisations usually reflect their leaders, so it is hardly surprising that Ryanair staff model the behaviour of their leader, Michael O’Leary.

Carolyn McCall is far more image-savvy. Media shots show her as a friendly person, agreeable, trustworthy. We can’t help feeling that it is proving much easier for her to get easyJet to change its culture to be more customer focused than it will be for Mr O’Leary. And no doubt this is one reason why Mr O’Leary is reported as planning to stop being the public face of the airline.

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Can Burberry’s new chief flex his thinking from
Design to CEO?

"Burberry, a whole-brained 600% success story - but can Ahrendts’ successor be equally flexible?” 

Angela Ahrendts developed a whole-brained culture at Burberry which, together with her leadership skills, contributed to the company’s outstanding business performance. Shares have risen an amazing 600% in the last five years.

In mid-October Ms Ahrendts announced that she was leaving to join Apple as their stores chief. Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer, Christopher Bailey, would take over the CEO role, in addition to his chief designer role, when Ms Ahrendts leaves. Burberry’s shares immediately plunged 8% on the news and have yet to recover so far (10% below FT-100 performance).

We examine the City’s concerns about Mr Bailey’s ability to flex his thinking skills to embrace the full range of whole-brained thinking required for the CEO role.

Key points

Can specialists make
good CEO’s?

It depends on their thinking range

Many City analysts see the succession as highly risky. CEOs don’t normally have split functions and Mr Bailey is seen as a design expert with little known strategic or business skills. This raises the very important question: do specialists make good CEOs? We discuss the pro’s and con’s of this unusual  succession plan which is actually based on a whole-brain thinking culture (again unusual).

Whole-brained Leadership and Culture

... right across the business, in every department

Under Ms Ahrendts leadership Burberry’s shares have increased 600% in five years, a fantastic performance compared to the FT-100’s 57%. This success is largely due to sound Strategic Thinking, Controls Thinking, and Design Thinking. Like Apple’s Steve Jobs and Sir Jonathan Ive (chief designer) Burberry’s Ahrendts and Bailey are both control freaks. They are also both strong People Thinkers.

But this super-performance is also due to Ms Ahrendts’ driving of a culture that promulgates whole-brained thinking right across the business, in every department.


 Analysis and Lessons 

Strategic Thinking … Customer Experience/Thinking … Controls Thinking … Design Thinking … Whole-brained Culture … Business Thinking … Leadership Thinking … Evaluative Thinking … Intuitive Thinking … People Thinking … Creative Thinking … Task Thinking … Organisational Design ... Organised Thinking … Visionary Thinking … Detail Thinking … Future Thinking … Consequence Thinking

Strategic Thinking and Customer Experience


Under Ms Ahrendts’ predecessor, Rose Marie Bravo, Burberry had expanded rapidly but had lost control of the brand, the classic check even being worn by football supporters. Ms Ahrendts switched Burberry’s strategy to be much more integrated, taking full control over design, manufacturing, retailing, and pricing. She invested many £millions buying back licenses and regaining brand authority. 

This revised business structure allows far greater control over the brand (Controls Thinking). 68% of Burberry’s sales are made in its own shops, specially designed to create an appealing customer experience. Store architecture is pleasing, staff are customer-friendly, and bands sometimes play to add to the ‘entertainment’ of trying on the products (Customer Thinking).

Whole-brained Ms Ahrendts


While Ms Ahrendts’ first passion is design (Design Thinking), she is not a design expert. But she is very strong in Business Thinking with a fine grasp of finance. She has been described as a ‘would-be designer turned businesswoman’. 

On only the second day in the job she ordered all divisions to cut the number of items they produced by 30%. She expanded the brand range into luxury handbags, shoes, sunglasses, and accessories whilst staying true to its iconic “Burberry classic check” pattern.

On People and Leadership Thinking, we quote her saying: “I realised how vital my energy was to connecting and uniting people, and how they fed off my energy, and Christopher’s energy. It’s a huge strategic asset.” “I don’t use a script, it has to come from the heart.”

 Burberry’s ‘balanced’ whole-brained culture

A key part of Burberry’s success is surely due to Ms Ahrendts driving a whole-brained culture. The company tries to achieve a good balance between right-brained creative and left-brained analytical executives, and encourages every manager to flex between these two polar-opposite thinking styles.

However, as a design and marketing-led retail organisation, the company is heavily reliant on Intuitive Thinking first, supported by big data (Evaluative Thinking). One article quotes Ms Ahrendts as saying “Data tells you what happened, it doesn’t give you the foresight of what’s coming”.

Can Mr Nice Guy flex his thinking to be a whole-brained Leader?

One report headlined Mr Bailey as Fashion’s Mr Nice Guy (People Thinking) and questioned his unproven Strategic Thinking skills. This, together with a reported lack of formal business education and his predominance in Creative/Design Thinking skills, are probably the main reasons for the share price collapse on news of the succession.

But other reports mention his ability to talk about units sold and his sound answers to questions on strategy and share price. He has also extended his Design Thinking skills to revamping the company’s structure (Organisational Design) which indicates good Task Thinking ability (Organised Thinking). He is also known as a Control freak, another thinking style within the Task Thinking quartile – the polar opposite quartile to Visionary Thinking.

A lesson from history?

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Brunel was another design specialist, a Design Engineer. But whilst most of his projects were highly successful designs, he came a proverbial cropper with his final grand design, the huge liner Great Eastern, capable of carrying 4000 passengers. This over-engineered ship, with its double-hull, almost bankrupted the master designer.

Great Visionaries also need Detail Thinking


Brunel envisioned the Great Eastern to take a large slice of business in trade with the far east, going non-stop around Cape Horn with the extra coal capacity needed. Unfortunately, he failed to take into account the effects of the soon-to-be-opened Suez Canal (Future Thinking, Consequence Thinking).

The Great Eastern was too big to go through the canal, which meant that its USP (unique selling proposition) was quickly redundant (Detail Thinking). The ship never made money throughout it life, even as a cable-layer. Business-wise, it was a financial disaster. Designers are not always equally skilled in Business Thinking.

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... and a trial jury fails at Concept Thinking

“Are YOU a Clear Thinker?  98% of visitors to our exhibition stand failed our Clear Thinking Test” 

We challenged visitors to take a one-minute test in Clear Thinking at a Learning Technologies exhibition at London. We took a stand at the show to promote our training courses in Flexible, Clear Thinking. To our surprise, only two out of more than 100 visitors provided clear answers within 60 seconds on a simple question to define commonly used words and phrases.

This test proved two important points. First: Clear Thinking is not as easy as most people believe. Second: Concept Thinking, ie thinking about and articulating a concept, is something many people find unfamiliar and difficult, despite this Thinking Style being fundamental to clear thinking and innovation.

These points were graphically illustrated in the famously collapsed Vicky Pryce (speeding points) court trial in London. The jury was dismissed because they were unable to understand key legal concepts such as ‘reasonable doubt’, ‘burden of proof’, ‘inference’, and ‘speculation’.              

Key points

“How do YOU Think?”

“Are you a Clear Thinker?”

These were some of the stand messages that attracted visitor’s attention and interest. We showed a large image of the brain divided into the four quartiles of whole-brain thinking: Visionary, Reasoning, Task, and People Thinking. The horizontal axis was labelled ‘Left’ and ‘Right’; the vertical axis ‘Thinker’ and ‘Doer’ - as shown in our website section on Clear Thinking.

Most people are interested in their own personal ‘Styles’, whether of Leadership, Personality, or of how they think. And when we asked visitors if they thought they were Clear Thinkers their typical response was “Yes, I like to think so”.

“Dare YOU take our one-minute Test in Clear Thinking?”



More than 100 visitors rose to our challenge to provide a clear answer to a simple ‘Can you define’ question on a word or phrase in common use. We asked each to define a common concept such as ‘Technology’, ‘Design’, ‘Time’, ‘a Concept’, or ‘Clear Thinking’. 

Much to their surprise, and to ours, only two people out of over 100 provided a clear definition, as might be seen in a dictionary, of these ‘simple’, well-known concepts. Nobody gave a clear explanation of Clear Thinking, despite most visitors claiming that they were clear thinkers!

 Even in court
Clear Thinking may not be much in evidence.

How a judge defined ‘Reasonable Doubt’

The first Vicky Pryce ‘speeding-points’ trial was abandoned because the judge felt that the jury had shown “fundamental deficits of understanding”. After some deliberation the jury had come back and asked the judge to define crucial legal concepts such as ‘reasonable doubt’, ‘burden of proof’, ‘inference’, and ‘speculation’. After further deliberation the jury admitted that they could not reach a decision and the trial was abandoned. 

The judge clearly did not help the jury as much as it needed. Apparently he was bound by law to define ‘reasonable doubt’ as “a doubt that is reasonable. These are ordinary English words.”


Analysis and Lessons

Concept Thinking … Concepts … Thinking Style … Visionary … Reasoning …  Task … People Thinking … Clear Thinkers … Metacognition … Flexible, Clear Thinking … Why Strategies, Plans, Projects, Innovations, and Communications GO WRONG … Balanced Teams/Juries … Analytical Thinking

Clear Thinking is not as easy as people think


This was the first conclusion of our Clear Thinking Test at the exhibition. Visitors were mainly involved in the field of Training and Development and working for organisations as large as FT-100 companies and the military. Most visitors were convinced that they were clear thinkers but were taken aback when we revealed what a clear answer should be. Nobody disputed the validity of our test and most completed the test within the time allowed.

Concept Thinking is tough for many people

.. but it is fundamental to Clear Thinking.

You need to understand concepts to be a Clear Thinker. 

The second purpose of our test was to check people’s understanding of, and skills in, Concept Thinking. This is one of the most important of all thinking skills (Thinking Styles) and is the very basis of Clear Thinking. Our premise is that if you struggle to explain something to others then you are not thinking clearly about it.

Most visitors struggled with these definitions because we asked them to define concepts. They even had difficulty defining what ‘a concept’ is. The reason is that people are not taught about concepts at school, and therefore most have never developed Concept Thinking abilities.

A prime example was one ‘answer’ defining the concept of ‘Time’. The visitor connected Time with human life, but of course time began well before humans occupied the world.

Metacognition. The key to successful Strategies and Plans … and Clear Thinking

It was also evident that few visitors had even heard of the concept of Metacognition: thinking about how you are thinking and how you should be thinking – the basic requirement for Flexible, Clear Thinking. Our research on Why Strategies, Plans, Projects, Innovations, and Communications GO WRONG found that the lack of Metacognition was one of the key causes of failure. Teams were not aware of how they were thinking (ie which Thinking Style they were engaging/stuck in) and blundered into making costly thinking errors without realising it – until it was too late.

A jury’s non-understanding of ‘simple’ concepts

The abandoned Pryce trial has raised the issue of ‘fitness for purpose’ of particular juries and even whether their (mental) capabilities should be assessed in advance. But we feel that there are at least two important issues at stake here. The need for explanation of legal concepts and procedures, and the need for a check on the ‘Balance’ of a jury in terms of their Thinking Style preferences.

There must be concern about people’s ability to understand not-so-simple legal concepts, such as ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ and the difference between ‘inference’ and ‘speculation’. A study in 2010 found that two thirds of jurors did not understand what judges told them about the law before they retired to consider their verdicts. Without adequate definitions of concepts it is hardly surprising that jurors can be confused and verdicts be incorrect.

A Balanced Jury?

All teams or groups need a good balance of preferred Thinking Styles.

As in any team or group decision-making situation, the ability to reach a correct decision will depend on having a good balance of the four quartiles of whole-brain thinking, ie Visionary, Reasoning, Task, and People Thinkers. It may well have been the case at the first Pryce trial that the jury lacked Reasoning Thinkers and Visionary Thinkers. This would seriously have affected the groups ability to understand legal concepts based on Reasoning.

For example, you need a degree of reasoning skills even to work out the difference between ‘inference’ and ‘speculation’. Indeed, ‘inference’ implies the use of reason (Analytical Thinking) to reach a conclusion. Jurors must analyse the data to seek a suitable explanation of events. ‘Speculation’ implies that insufficient data exists to provide the basis of a rational conclusion.

Some peoples’ strengths do not lie in such thinking – they are called Doers. To minimise the risk of costly thinking errors all teams or groups need a Balance of Thinkers and Doers, and of Left-Brains and Right-Brains.

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 A great source of Ideas and Innovations 

Ideas from visiting other countries – a trip to California 

Part holiday, partly a creative investigation, we took a two week trip to California and Las Vegas. Travel broadens the mind, and, if receptive, inspires creativity. We examined what ideas we could bring back to the UK. 

San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, Carmel, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Los Angeles, Death Valley, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon all provided food for the mind and a wide variety of experiences. And innovative Customer Experiences (Customer Thinking) feature largely in this report.

Key points

Creativity galore


California has inspired a great deal of creativity, from the 60’s music such as Hotel California by the Eagles to the present day entrepreneurial Silicon Valley. 

We found a few negative aspects, such as the hour-long queue at immigration controls at San Francisco airport – the US clearly places very high importance on Homeland security. But there were many interesting ‘ways of doing things’ that the UK and Europe could emulate, from superior service in restaurants, delightful shopping malls, 24 hour pharmacies, to highly effective traffic management systems.

The ultimate customer experience  

The Universal Studios Theme Park in Los Angeles – a brilliant idea our own Pinewood Studios should copy. Wow-factor Plus. Shaken, stirred, exhilarated – great fun. A great experience based on one simple idea.


Creative Examples we experienced en-route: Analysis and Lessons

Design Thinking … Customer Experience/Thinking … Business Thinking … Imagination Thinking … Controls Thinking … Creative Thinking … Planning Thinking … Visionary Thinking … Concept Thinking

San Francisco – a hilly city with no handbrake!  

You could have warned us, Hertz. 

Our hired car, a Chevrolet Malibu, was very easy to drive but had one odd quirk – the handbrake was actually a kick-footbrake, with just one control, off or on. Unfortunately, for automatic transmission drivers and police cars chasing criminals, San Francisco has a lot of hills. Hill starts can happen at every junction. The Malibu was clearly not designed for San Francisco (poor Design Thinking?).

After initially rolling backwards almost into the car behind, we improvised by learning how to control the brake with the left foot (very awkward) whilst using the right foot for the accelerator. If there is a better way, Hertz didn’t mention it to us.

Great dining experiences

Wurlitzer juke box - the iconic image of America

Within a short walk of our hotel near Union Square were three excellent restaurant experiences each serving meals from breakfast to dinner. Each had their own distinct character and interest. One was a near-replica of an Italian restaurant shown in The Godfather, one was a classic ‘American Diner’, and the last was a replica French Bistro. All had queues at the door. Excellent optimisation of Business Thinking and Customer Thinking.

The Diner was packed with things to look at, including a shiny old juke-box and a vintage car. We are pleased that a budding entrepreneur has decided to open a series of Diners in London – if they are anything like Lori’s Diner in San Francisco we are sure they will be successful.

And, like most restaurants in the USA, service is excellent because a large part of staff’s income derives from the customary 15-20% tips arrangement.

Great shopping experiences

The Farmer’s Market has an indoor and outdoor set of shops and stalls, all of which impressed with the quality of products. From fantastically tasting freshly-prepared fruit juices to freshly-made smoked salmon sandwiches. “Like to taste our cherries?” – they were so delicious it was impossible to resist buying them. And the musician playing a cello added to the many interesting customer experiences.

The Planetarium – really opened our eyes

... enormous potential

San Francisco has an excellent Science Park with a digital Planetarium. We instantly recognised that this system has huge creative potential. The massive screen and laid-back seating could literally blow your mind and make you feel that you are floating or flying around a huge scenic landscape, or space-scape. All that is needed is the imagination to create a story to match the screen’s vast potential. Imagination Thinking required.

Yosemite National Park 

When you first enter the main valley of this wonderful national park from the south-western entrance the only word you can say is “WOW!” Breathtaking scenery. A huge valley enclosed by steep mountains, one has a 3600 feet vertical face, El Capitan. The Park authorities are to be praised for maintaining the grandeur and wonderful ‘original’ customer experience. Most commercialisation is kept outside the park areas. The one large hotel inside the park, the Ahwahnee, is an absolute gem. Its rustic design is a perfect fit in a park of enormous sequoia trees and mountains. Good Controls Thinking.

Carmel, a toy-town


This was our first impression of the quaint small town on the west coast near Monterey. Most buildings are one or two storeys high, as they are in most of the towns we saw in California. But in Carmel, virtually every building in the main streets had its own unusual character – one had a thatched roof with intricate designs! Interesting Design Thinking by the town planners.

 Innovative road signs/directions


We first noticed the odd road/direction signs in California when driving to, and in, Carmel. On the main highways the exit direction signs are mainly the names of individual streets, rather than areas or even towns. This system is fine if you have detailed street maps of every town you want to visit.

But is highly confusing if you simply want to know which direction you are going in and which exit to get off the main road to go to, say, Carmel town. In one case we found we had been travelling in the wrong direction because there were no road signs showing the direction we were going in. Some large towns had over six ‘exit’ signs from the main highway. No Centre Ville signs here.

On the plus side, the system of clearly flagging up the name of every street at junctions is extremely useful for drivers. We often find in the UK and Europe that it is very difficult to see street names at junctions. Good Creative Thinking.

 Innovative traffic management


Like many American towns and cities, Carmel is designed as blocks of straight roads with junctions at every cross-connection. But instead of traffic lights which would slow up the traffic, the planners have placed ‘Stop’ signs at the entry points at most junctions. The effect of this is to cause every driver to stop, momentarily, whilst checking whether it is safe to cross the junction. The first driver seen to be ready to move forward took precedence over other drivers just arriving at the junction.

This system worked extremely well, with an almost “After you” driving culture clearly established, even in San Francisco. We were also amazed at the lack of vehicle horn noise. Compare that with many European cities, and especially cities and towns in India where horn-pressing seems obligatory. 

Big Sur – like 60 miles of Cornish coastline 

Called Big Sur, California’s Planners have created one of the world’s longest and most attractive and romantic roads. Skirting the Pacific coast for over 60 miles, drivers encounter a virtually continuous stream of picturesque rocky coast with high cliffs and sandy bays. However, one of the most noticeable features is the lack of commercialisation, and people, which of course adds to its romance and beauty. Brilliant Planning Thinking. Let’s hope nothing changes. 

Hearst Castle – surely every man’s dream! 

Immortalised in the epic movie Citizen Kane, the media tycoon William Randolph Hearst spent over 20 years building his dream home, a ‘castle’ on his ranch on the west coast near Cambria (good Visionary Thinking). His home has been kept as a shrine virtually as he left it, not quite finished, when he died. Again, this is a terrific customer experience, extremely well designed and controlled. It made us want to find out more about his life and how he developed that amazing entrepreneurial spirit and incredible vision for his dream home. He impressed many well-known people and film stars with his welcome, including Winston Churchill. 

Los Angeles – Beverly Hills, Hollywood 

Los Angeles is a huge sprawling conurbation with distinct areas with their own characters, such as two extremes, Beverly Hills and Hollywood (pronounced HOLLYwood, as if to emphasise its commercial roots as the capital of the cinema industry).

Beverley Hills has the largest area of fabulous real estate we have ever seen. If you’re interested in houses, you can spend hours just driving around the dozens of wide streets full of individually-designed small or medium-sized homes. Some avenues are lined with palm trees, some with gorgeous purple-flowering trees. Stupendous Planning and Design Thinking. It is easy to see why so many film stars took up residence here.

Hollywood, on the other hand, is now tacky and not a pleasant place to walk around for tourists. This is poor Planning Thinking by the authorities. It does, however, have one gem – a museum devoted to Hollywood film memorabilia, curiously not well attended. It includes items and the story of Max Factor, the inventor of make-up. Again, a terrific entrepreneurial life story, well told. 

The amazing Universal Studios experience 

We spent a full day visiting a range of experiences based on well-known Hollywood films. A tour of the studios was very popular but well worth the 45 minute queue to get in. This tour included a genuinely scary 3D ‘ride’ through a tunnel where our bus was ‘rocked’ by King Kong fighting dinosaurs; an earthquake in a subway; and a slightly tame-by-comparison encounter with a Jaws-like shark.

Other notable experiences were:

  • JurassicPark - which included a boat ride in a dark tunnel where the boat plummeted 45 feet down a steep slope to land in a pool of water. Great, scary fun.
  • Transformers – a white knuckle ride in a ‘car’ that zoomed forward at 45 mph then reversed at odd angles to avoid scary robotic things.
  • Water World – a brilliant replica of the fort in the sea in the Kevin Costner film, which included a dramatic entrance through flames of a small aeroplane that skimmed across the water and crashed just a few feet from the audience. Another terrific customer experience based on movies. We would love to see Pinewood Studios attempt this concept in the UK.

Death Valley – hottest place in America 

Well worth the trip, the complete opposite experience of ultra-busy LA and Las Vegas. It was about 95 degrees when we visited but, as it rains only 2” of water a year, this heat was strangely pleasurable, a warm caress in a very dry atmosphere. The emptiness and the magnificently-coloured rock landscapes are the prime draw – and the feeling of peace and quiet and open skies, especially on the usual starry nights. Another unforgettable experience. Our hotel had a lush green grass golf course - in the middle of a desert!

Las Vegas – handy for a plane/helicopter trip to the Grand Canyon 

Las Vegas is the conference centre of America – just as well considering the thousands of rooms in each of these enormous hotels. But the interesting thing about Las Vegas is how these hotels have been designed. Most of the big hotels are created around a theme. For example, the Venetian has gondolas being punted around a canal; Paris has an Eifel Tower; Luxor has a pyramid and Egyptian statues.

This concept has no limits. We were instantly tempted to start designing a new hotel or restaurant based on themes. A great idea with huge potential. Good Concept Thinking.

But of course Las Vegas is primarily a casino town and every big hotel is designed around its huge casino. A combination of Business and Design Thinking. An enormously popular concept, with certain people.

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“What is Design? Who can explain this key, but vague, concept?” 

Design is a word that everybody uses, yet few people – even the design ‘experts’ - can define it or explain what it means. We believe that this vagueness of thinking is one of the key reasons why so many projects, plans, products, and communications go wrong. How else do you account for Prisoner vans being built too large to get through the gates of UK courts (just one of many farcical design errors reported in the media)?

Apple Computers has become the world’s second biggest company by capitalisation and, apart from Steve Job’s leadership, their success has been due to one word – DESIGN. Apple understands what Design means. But this clear thinking, and skill, does not come easy to manyUKcompanies. 

This Unclear Thinking about Design occurs, we believe, mainly because there is no accepted definition of the word (and concept) of Design in the EU. If you can’t define something, how can you expect to think clearly about it? This Story examines what has caused this vagueness, the negative business results of this unclarity, and what can be done to resolve the problem.

Key points of the Story

We asked the 'experts' and they struggled to explain it

This Story began when we were analysing the range of specific Thinking Styles required in business, eg Strategic, Creative, Risk, Customer Thinking etc. We realised Design Thinking was one of the most important Thinking Styles (and skills). So when we saw a Design Council exhibition stand at a trade show we asked the people on the stand the ‘obvious’ question: “What is Design? Can you give me a definition please?” 

The response was an embarrassing silence, followed by flustered comments such as “Well it all depends … it is difficult to explain really … what application do you mean?” It seemed that they knew what Design could be applied to, but couldn’t explain what the word or concept meant.

Has Design been Defined?

That experience started our search for a definition of Design. We found that the official definition of Design given on the Design Council’s website was as follows: “Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.”  All clear?

We followed this by researching definitions of Design across Europe. An EU report on this subject stated “There is no universally accepted definition of Design”. Each country has produced its own version of vague explanations. The only exception is an agreed Intellectual Property system for protecting designs. It became clear to us that many projects, plans, products, and communications go wrong simply because they are badly designed. And this occurs because most people do not have a clear idea what Design actually means.


Analysis and Lessons

Design Thinking Errors … The Titanic … Millennium Dome and Bridge …
Concorde … Causes of Design Errors - even by experts …
A Solution - and request

Famous Design Errors

Our ‘library’ of Thinking Errors contains hundreds of examples of Design Thinking Errors. Here are just a few to illustrate what can go wrong if you don’t think clearly about Design, ie getting your brain to deliberately engage the Design Thinking Style when required.

The Titanic

There were quite a number of design errors that contributed to that terrible disaster, but one stands out. The world’s finest ship at that time was sunk primarily because she wasn’t designed to withstand a side-ways glancing collision by an iceberg. Had she hit the iceberg front-on she would probably have survived. The iceberg tore a long gash in the side of the ship from the bow that allowed seawater to bypass too many bulkheads (with sealable doors) and the ingress could not be stopped. The hapless captain would have done better by steering straight for the berg rather than steering away and causing a glancing blow. It was designed to cope with a head-on hit.

 Millennium Dome

The Dome’s planning was shown on TV. A TV programme actually showed the planning team discussing what things could be built inside the Dome. There were many wild ideas developed and discussed but we saw very little Design Thinking. As a result, the Dome internal ‘product’ was very badly designed. Examples included Zone doors that were smaller than exhibits, and big queues at zones near the entrance because that’s where they incorrectly positioned the most interesting items.

But perhaps the most crucial (and amazing) Design Error was having only one security checkpoint for the hundreds of VIP’s and media editors on the freezing cold opening night. This single Design Thinking Error caused the media and other important opinion-formers to be negative about the Dome right from day one. And that bad feeling continued throughout the (much extended) life of the project until its recent new managers found a commercial use for this ‘white elephant’.

"Wobbly" Millennium Bridge 

This bridge is beautiful to look at. Clearly a lot of thought went into designing its looks – the Form aspect of Design. But it will always be remembered for its sad beginning when it had to be closed because it vibrated when walked over. It is unclear exactly why this Design Error occurred but it appears that the designers didn’t think clearly enough about the well-known problem of soldiers needing to break step when marching over bridges – the Function aspect.


Another classic example of half-baked Design Thinking. The Form element (how it looks) was brilliantly conceived - people visited airports just to see the plane. Unfortunately the Function aspect contained major Thinking Errors that ultimately caused its downfall. Quite apart from the noise and cost per passenger which limited its airports served and passenger numbers, there was one Design Error that greatly affected its safety. The fuel tanks were placed too near the wheels and were unprotected against debris from wheel damage. That Design Thinking Error was only discovered after the fatal accident in Paris.

The causes of Design Errors

We strongly believe that these Design Errors, and those we see virtually every day even by design experts, are due to people’s lack of understanding of Design and/or a failure to deliberately engage their brains in a Design Thinking Style. And the root causes of these problems are the lack of a clear definition of the concept of Design. The definition given by theUK’s Design Council (quoted above) is totally inadequate. Even their Design Process (Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver) is not easy to understand.

 Even Experts have problems explaining it, and doing it


A major cause of the definition problem is common to many fields of expertise. The expert may not be the best person to explain his/her expertise to others. In design, we have seen a book about design published by two acknowledged experts in Design. Amazingly, it suffers two significant design errors that could affect its sales. Firstly, the Contents page is virtually meaningless (unless you’ve already read the book). But also, the size of the main text in the book is much smaller than normal and would be a strain to read for many people (a really basic Function error).

The same sort of Design Thinking Errors occur in another book on Design, written by ‘America’s Leading Design Firm’. Incredibly, the word Design is absent from the list of Contents (again meaningless) and even the Index!

A Solution to the Problem, and a Request

We have spent some time analysing the Design Thinking Style but it would take a little more work to put together a definition, explanation, and applications of Design. We are possibly one of the few organisations in Europe with the experience and expertise to do this. We have experience of a range of design applications, from designing offshore oil & gas platforms to leadership training courses, even domestic kitchens. But, crucially, we have the Concept Thinking skills to work out what Design is, the Process Thinking skills to identify all the steps in the Design Thinking Process, and also the communications skills and tools to articulate the concept, thinking, and process of Design (both as a noun and a verb).

All we need is a client who wants his/her workforce to understand Design and how to apply that thinking effectively right across the organisation. Any interest? Try explaining what Design is to your colleagues – you’ll soon see a ‘need’.

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