Keep new close


By Morgan Holt

Technology disrupts. Obviously. It changes the internal tools and external ways that you deliver your business. But it also changes the way you organise the people who deliver it. Yesterday’s org structure probably won’t work when you deliver a different product to a different customer across a different bridge.

So when do you change your organisation? Not yet.

At some point you may to make a case for change. Maybe you need to release budget to build a new experience around a new brand, or gain permission to launch a disruptive new product, or make a shift from cost centre to profit centre, or convince an adjacent department to share the cost (and glory) of a new strategy.

But you have to prove the value of the market first. You can’t simply reshape everything based on a bet. A disruptive new player in your market might be chipping away at your business model, but your response to that - and you have to respond - will feel like a leap of faith at best, or playing with toys at worst.

A dramatic organisational redesign needs proof, and you don’t have it yet.

So you create virtual teams, small working groups of talented and enthusiastic individuals who balance their day job with the new task at hand.

Yet often the virtual team is delegated to a mid-level operational person, someone who ‘naturally’ seems like the best person to be held accountable. A fast-rising product lead, or an analytics expert, or a head of HR.

Here’s a reason an innovation team has to report into the COO.

A colleague recently pointed me towards some organisational thinking by Zofia Krokosz-Krynke, the director of the Polish-American MBA school.

Krokosz found that industries with large distance in power (from the CEO to the shelf-filler) were only successful when they had high levels of specialisation.

It makes sense. If you know what you’re doing, you can create rules and procedures for everyone to follow. Sure, it suppresses individualism but that’s okay because the customer understands what you sell and wants more of it.

So a ‘high power distance’ works well when you are a successful specialist in a well-understood market. It’s good for companies that know what they’re doing and are growing doing it.

But it’s not good for companies whose product is still in development.

Technology is disruptive. So businesses that want to use technology to spur growth are by definition moving away from their traditional specialisms.

Which means the old processes cannot be expected to work, the skills aren’t instinct yet, the partners aren’t there, the tension is too great between making new things and rewarding old things.

Innovation cannot be acted upon effectively when its centre of gravity lies deep within the business. So if you are going to innovate, you have to make the distance shallower.

Not by redesigning the organisation (not yet, anyway) but by creating a virtual team with accountability to the highest law in operations, the lieutenant who balances existing resources and new models - the COO in large organisations, the MD in smaller ones.

Keep innovation close. The future is too important to delegate.

Morgan Holt is a Principal and Senior Director at Wolff Olins London. 

Image via GigaOm 

Rethinking the digital experience in Education


By Melissa Andrada

Television. Music. Mobile. Education is the next frontier of technological disruption.

The need to evolve has led universities to use digital technology to re-think how education is delivered. We’re seeing a gold rush of universities racing to digitise their campuses to offer free online courses to the world.

However, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Few universities are making the most of this new medium. Most mass online open courses (MOOCs) consist of a ‘talking head’ in a front of white board. It’s no wonder completion rates are less than 10%.

Yet online education has the potential to be so much more. Technology enables us to create learning that encourages:

Active Participation

Learning shouldn’t just be about listening and watching, but also, doing and making. Education resources, like Codeacademy, start by throwing people into the content headfirst. With Codeacademy, you can begin coding right away without evening signing in or watching an instructional video.

Fun Adventure

Learning doesn’t have to be a dull chore. Organisations like TED set the bar high for video talks. Along with the RSA Animates, they’ve elevated the lecture to an art. They create highly curated visual stories that move both the mind and the heart. They inspire us to fall into a rabbit hole, going from video to video, hyperlink to hyperlink.

Lifelong Learning

Learning shouldn’t stop when you’re 18 or 22. Education startups, like FutureLearn, are re-inventing learning for life. They will offer free online courses from top universities whenever and wherever you like. For FutureLearn, the classroom can be a lecture hall, a mobile phone, a museum, an airport. They are building an experience that welcomes everyone to learn, regardless of age, location or background.

My ambition is to put these principles into practice – to use technology to make learning sing. This summer Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking and professor at the University of East Anglia, and I will be co-creating a course on branding for FutureLearn. Our challenge and opportunity will not just be using the medium, but making the most of it.


Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist passionate about the intersection between brand, technology and social impact. In her spare time, she teaches entrepreneurs and startups how to build better businesses at General Assembly. @themelissard

Image via Code Academy and the New York Times

A Work of Art That Works In Life

Here’s a film we just made about Little Sun - a work of art that works in life by bringing light to millions of people living without electricity.

Little Sun taps into the most abundant raw material in fast growth economies: the power of creative optimism. It is a raw material we think all brands need to learn to take advantage of.

We hope you can feel just a little of it in this clip. 

Little Sun Wolff Olins from Wolff Olins on Vimeo.

For more information please visit the Little Sun website.

Doing well

By Robert Jones

Turn on the radio in the morning, and one company or another is getting it in the neck. Amazon for allegedly not paying taxes. Barclays for bonuses. Last week, it was British Gas for pushing up prices.

If businesses increasingly need to create social value as well as commercial value (if only to keep Radio 4 off their back), what’s the role of brand in this?

We know brands in the short term can help generate sales revenue. Think about Coca-Cola. And that they can create the internal focus that increases efficiency and so cuts costs: GE might be a good example. Brands also have a longer-term commercial impact. They create permission in the marketplace for innovation and expansion - as with Google. And they protect companies against risk - millions still buy Toyota cars in spite of successive recalls.

Could all this work for social value too? A brand like Fairtrade encourages people to buy in a way that improves conditions for producers: it pushes up wellbeing. Brands can also help minimise the harm companies do, by holding them to account: Innocent famously chose its name so that consumers couldnt attack it if it ever did anything guilty.

And brands can work towards longer-term social value too. A brand like Wikipedia creates the commitment of thousands of contributors to build an unprecedented resource of knowledge for us all - on everything from LTE technology to Game of Thrones (my two most recent searches). And a brand like Zipcar motivates people to share rather than own a car. In these ways, brands drive behaviour that maximises the creation, and minimises the destruction, of resources, human and natural.

Two questions arise.

How many brands are great across the board? At driving revenue up, costs down, new opportunities up, risks down? And at increasing wellbeing, decreasing harm, maximising resource creation, minimising resource destruction? Can anyone really hit all eight of these? Google, maybe?

And how do the eight interact? Is innovation more effective if aimed at wellbeing? If you’re seen to be increasing human resources, will your revenues go up? Click on the image below to see my first pass at mapping this all out. More investigation needed.


Robert Jones is visiting professor at University of East Anglia and Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins.


I wish I did that…

By Mads Jakob Poulsen

As a creative, and a senior designer here at Wolff Olins, I am a big fan of ideas. Good ones, new ones, sweet and fun ones.

Here are six of the latest ideas that have struck me, visually, emotionally, or conceptually. 

1. The bicycle airbag 


We all know it, we should wear helmets when riding a bike.

I had one as a kid, I wore one when I worked as a bike messenger in Copenhagen, but it took 16 stitches in my forehead before I started wearing one as an adult biking to work. 

I first saw this project in the form of a student concept, and I was amazed when I saw it was finally out as an approved alternative to a bicycle helmet.

The Hovding is basically a glorified scarf, a bit bulgy yes, but won’t mess up your style or your hair. As a bonus it even looks amazing when activated in a crash.

Hovding, the Invisible Bicycle Helmet.

2. The new old school milk frother


Taiwanese born Po-Chih Lai has crafted a very nice add-on milk frother that fits with the original moka pot. The Milk Brother is a great example of how to innovate with respect for the original product, which still serves up great no fuss coffee. 

Also check out Po-Chih Lai’s other projects, I love his sensibility and thoughtfulness.

The Milk Brother

3. The 7-Eleven stripes


Beautifully crafted update of 7-Elevens in-store experience, by Swedish BVD. 

Unfortunately these lovely stripes will only be found in the Swedish market, so please steal me a napkin. 

7-Eleven by BVD

4. The nerdy glasses


This is an interesting one to watch. The concept has been out for a while but seems like it’s finally ready for market. I am not sure we need it, but who cares, let’s see what kind of impact this will have on the world.

Even though it still looks a bit Star Trek-y, wearing this device on your face, it’s great to see Google embracing design, in both graphic, online and product.

Google Glass

5. The colored walls of a favela



With the help of the local community’s kids, the street art collective Boamistura transformed dark narrow spaces in one of Sao Paolos favelas into colorfull little treasures. They used the always striking and popular perspective trick (anamorphosis) to write positive messages on the walls. Above, “doçura” means sweetness in Portuguese.

The Favela project

More from Boamistura

6. The invisible umbrella


We have all fought our way to work in a jungle of rain and umbrellas, trying not to poke an eye out on others, or our selves. This concept, an umbrella that could use air to protect users from the rain, is not available (yet) but would be very welcome in the world of “rain protection.” Maybe it could even be solar powered so the battery is charged before the rain comes.

Dyson - Airblow 2050

Mads Jakob Poulsen is a senior designer at Wolff Olins. 

Resting not dead

By Sairah Ashman

Is growth dead?  We’ll be hearing lots from the business community this week as the great and the good mingle at Davos.  The theme this year is ‘Resilient Dynamism’ (a Davosian phrase book might be rather handy if you’re attending).  There’ll be a lot on the economy – fiscal cliffs, triple dips, a return to the gold standard etc.  And a lot on innovation – antidote to our fiscal woes and all round growth tinkerbell. 

Technology (information mainly) is the platform from which most innovation is seen to spring these days and some believe it’s reached a plateau in terms of GDP (or productivity) growth around the world.  Why is growth slowing and have we really run out of gas?  According to The Economist, the argument runs along three lines. 

The first is that ‘extensive’ growth is delivered through volume – adding more or better labour, capital and resources.  Over time returns diminish as things begin to flatten out.  In simple terms, you can’t produce more workers or educate them more highly, not in a way that propels you forward in leaps rather than small steps compared to your neighbour.  We’re told this is where the developed world is, with the rest of the world not too far behind.  Even China is outsourcing these days. 

The second theme is around ‘intensive’ growth.  Where we find better ways to use labour and resources.  Powering along improvement in welfare and incomes, with the economy growing even when the population decreases.  This kind of growth is often credited to ‘technology’ and a rising middle class.  Although technology is a catch all title that includes things like laws and regulations.  Developing countries can still manage fast growth in this area, while richer nations struggle under the weight of ever increasing legislation and bureaucracy.  Making ideas like Kickstarter, operating outside of the usual restrictions, feel like a breath of fresh air.

The third theme is basically experiential, ie ‘progress’ appears to have slowed down and we can see it with our own eyes.  In the early to mid-20th century we went from riding horses to driving cars, lighting our houses with candles to nuking our food in microwaves.  If we’d carried on at the same rate of progress I’d be teleporting to New York while writing this rather than sitting on a 7-hour flight from London.  And the seat would be more comfortable.

Is progress and innovation simply a matter of taste?  Are we enjoying the application of ‘social’ technology more than broader (more productivity friendly) forms of technology advancement?  Would we be figuring out how to build teleporting infrastructure if time on Facebook wasn’t so much fun?  Would this type of technology innovation drive GDP growth statistics more clearly? 

The optimistic view is that we’re simply experiencing a time lag.  That big shifts take decades, even generations, to fully mature.  And that plenty of innovative bets are in play, many off the back of healthcare such as the ability to ‘print’ new organs.  A time lag is certainly what some research findings out of Boston College and the San Francisco Federal Reserve are suggesting.

At Wolff Olins we talk about optimism and ambition – a lot.  We focus on positive impact and changing the status quo – it’s our obsession and what makes us special.  And we work with businesses and people that feel the same way.  These same businesses and people are changing the world, how we think about it, how we interact with it and what we put in it - in small and big ways. 

The spirit of innovation is very much alive and well from what I can see.  The biggest handbrake looks to be our own ability to adapt speedily and the rigidity of some institutions standing in the way.  I see this frequently in both companies and government bodies failing to create the kind of cultures where innovation can thrive, and where bureaucracy often wins.

It’s such an extraordinary time of change and so much seems possible.

Wouldn’t it be great to hear those smart guys (there appear to be no female CEOs attending) at Davos talk creatively about how where we can take the world next?  

Sairah Ashman is COO of Wolff Olins.

Image of knitted caps on Davos smoothies via The New York Times

In Jeddah: Imagination and Ingenuity

A few of us are delighted to be in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia this weekend for the launch of Dr. Hayat Sindi’s i2 Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity

Hayat is well-known here as the first woman from the Gulf to earn a PhD in biotechnology. She left home, alone, and went the UK, got into Cambridge, then MIT and then Harvard to do her post-doc work. There, she co-founded Diagnostics For All, which offers ultra-low-cost point-of-care diagnostic tools for people living beyond the reach of medical infrastructures. 

Our work with Hayat began in 2011, when she came to us with the ambition to translate her passion for science and social innovation into a solution for unemployment in her home region, the Middle East. The ambition that eventually became i2. 

Despite substantial government investment in education and training, roughly half of 20–24 year olds in Saudi Arabia are still unemployed—the region needs a solution that’s both sustainable and scalable. Hayat’s dream is that beginning today, with the opening of applications to i2, stories like hers will become less exceptional and more possible for every young innovator. 

With years of hard work and a fierce determination to connect innovative practitioners, educators and creatives from around the world, Hayat will launch the Institute and its Fellowship Program tonight.

The Fellowship develops and supports young scientists/engineers/future entrepreneurs in the Middle East through a holistic ecosystem of resources, programming and mentorship. Selected fellows spend 8 months working as a group to develop their individual business ideas. Access to a well-connected ecosystem creates the conditions for innovation and economic and social change. Later in the process, a business venture conference is held to introduce those young innovators to investors. 

For us, it was never an option not to work with Hayat because of the consequences of not getting involved with such a great idea. It’s a critical moment for the Middle East and i2 will bring young people the chance to have the right platform, to know what to do and how to connect to the right people, in order to make their dreams reality. Good luck today, Hayat!

Applications are now up on the i2 website and we’ll be posting live updates throughout the weekend from the launch event

(Rachel Blatt)

Sharing the pie

By Rebecca Goodwin 

In our London office, one of the many ways we stay inspired is by finding learnings in the everyday. This week we held an ideas sharing session for the Pizza Pilgrims, a new Italian street food business. The founders, brothers Thom and James Elliot, sell pizzas from their van, which they brought back from the south of Italy.  For the time being, the van resides at Berwick Street Market, Soho. Before leaving Italy they spent six weeks driving across the country on a ‘pizza pilgrimage’ meeting with chefs, growers, and suppliers to learn the art of creating authentic pizzas.

Street food popularity has boomed in the past couple of years. Low overhead means food prices are comparatively low while the standard is high, appealing to those who want more than the average fast food meal. Customers are excited to frequent an alternative food locale that is not only tastier, but also personable, authentic, and tied to the local food culture. 


Taking it a step further, the Pizza Pilgrims have developed their venture by incorporating social media heavily into the mix. By publicizing their latest location, getting feedback on recipes and even crowdsourcing ingredients through Twitter, they have already amassed a dedicated following. Utilizing social media in this way enables street food vendors to market and promote their products by reaching their target audience without spending vast sums.

Pop up restaurants like 9@TheDispensary and BUKHARA Pop-up also effectively use and rely on this technique to manage and attract huge crowds at short notice.Thom and James talked about digital hype as a new way for food sellers to engage with the consumer, transforming their experiences into memorable, social ones that are more meaningful than an ad. Social media allows the consumer to discover and participate with these small brands, allowing them to feel part of something exclusive and novel.

As they’re growing, how can Pizza Pilgrims expand while staying true to their roots? What can the Pizza Pilgrims learn from the likes of Meat Wagon and Pitt Cue, who both have made the transition successfully from food truck to permanent premises? While each brand is unique, street food vendors who have grown successfully share certain characteristics - they have remained authentic and true to the spirit of their brand throughout. Staying social is another key: Hunting down the location of your favorite slice or the perfect burger is half of the fun and a major part in the customer’s experience of the brand.

After sharing ideas to help the Elliot brothers point in a clearer direction for their future, they then pitched up their van outside our London office and fired up the oven for us to enjoy their tasty pizzas.

Rebecca Goodwin is a creative specialist at Wolff Olins London.

Nike+ fat ankles

By Karl Sadler

Nike’s Fuelband can’t measure your fuel points racked up from cycling, simply because it’s worn on your wrist and your arms move very little when riding.

I heard that people have been tucking them in their socks to get more accurate measurements, but I wanted to give it a go and not worry about the gadget falling out.

Have you heard of Sugru? It’s a special silicon putty for mending and hacking products to make them better. Here’s a couple of photos of how I hacked a fuel band to measure cycling activity.

Surprise Me


By Melissa Andrada


In today’s, data-driven, anticipatory world, surprise is something I seldom experience. The world has been engineered to create planned serendipity based on our likes and behaviours online.

But since arriving in London a month and a half ago, I’ve stumbled upon three offline experiences that capture this desire for unexpected, sensory experiences:

Lost Lectures

Re-thinking the boring, traditional lecture model, Lost Lectures takes attendees into secret locations “designed to surprise, delight and bring the imagination to life.”  To give you a taste, this month’s theme is “Lost at Sea,” featuring a National Geographic adventurer, a time traveller and an improv comedy duo.

Punch Drunk Travel

Felix Barrett, Creative Director of Sleep No More, will be taking immersive theatre to the next level. He’s setting up a travel agency that takes a city as its backdrop so your life becomes a show. According to Barrett, “There’s nothing better than giving something to an audience that has no idea what they’re walking into.”

Dans Le Noir

Dans Le Noir is a chain of restaurants across scattered across Europe and NYC where customers eat and drink in complete darkness. Dans Le Noir has been around for several years, but continues to surprise and challenge guests’ sense of taste and smell. 

When was the last time you were surprised?


Melissa Andrada is a strategist at Wolff Olins London. She’s passionate about the intersection between technology, social good and brand. A recent London transplant, she spends her spare time exploring the city for fun, unexpected experiences.  @themelissard

Image via NY Post