Chris Chambers attended the Next Plays Workshop on the 6th of October. Here is his report from the event. There is no pitch for sustainability from Peter Salmon or any of his team when you attend a Next Plays session. If you are uncertain that being more sustainable is beneficial then you need to do your homework before you arrive because Next Plays is based on the premise that sustainability is the only future worth pursuing.
There is no pitch for sustainability from Peter Salmon or any of his team when you attend a Next Plays session.
If you are uncertain that being more sustainable is beneficial then you need to do your homework before you arrive because Next Plays is based on the premise that sustainability is the only future worth pursuing.
That doesn't mean you have to be committed to making your business fully sustainable you can use the Next Plays as it suits your organisation but it makes more sense the more holistic and committed your approach is.
Nor does Next Plays give you a check list for becoming sustainable. It was surprising to find that local councils and mining companies had sent people. I think I was the only one from the manufacturing sector. Yet Next Plays was applicable to us all because it is a strategy for strategy.
The analogy is that a play, like a sporting play, is an initiative or innovation that moves you closer to your goal (or your opponents goal if you see what I mean). The goal being sustainability, which in turn delivers profit and security for the organisation.
Now if you were to take the CEO of an organisation committed to becoming sustainable and you asked them how good they wanted to be you would be unlikely to get a clear explanation. So likewise you I wasn't expecting anything as eloquent as the Playing Field Rubic from the Next Plays approach.
The rubic is a three by three matrix with an origin bottom left and a horizontal scale of 'environment wins' combined with a vertical scale 'society wins'. From their research Moxie have validated this as a good metric for rating sustainability. The position of each square in the matrix reflects the ambition of a play. I jump to this end point because for me it describes the best output from Next Plays. There is great value in the systems that produce this depiction of your plays but by plotting your plays in a nine squares matrix you can explain in a glance the aspirations of your organisation. Drill into a play and you can learn much more but the summary is engaging.
This is a valuable tool not just for communication to the non-playmakers but also more importantly for the playmakers themselves. I call the pattern of plays on the Playing Field Rubic the Ambition. The organisation's ambition is the sum of its plans [plays].
To strategise on how to position your business the process does need to be underpinned by some basic principles of what will be preferred in the future. Or in other words the process gives you free reign to strategise on what would be a good thing to do for your business then rates this strategy against two scales:
Through extensive research into hundreds of successful companies building sustainable futures Moxie have derived these measures and I like them. They are simple and they are plotted on a 3 by 3 grid called the NextPlays Playing Field.
When I said you are given free reign to strategise that is partly true, as the Plays have been categorised into seven types with material provided to help you think along those types of plays. I'll come back to those shortly but first let me explain some of the outcomes you could arrive at with plotting your NextPlays Playing Field.
I really like this because with a play or not in each of the nine positions you get 29 possible permeations. As it is unlikely you will plan to make nine plays that leaves 511 other patterns that may be plotted on the Playing Field. Moxie have taken eight of these possible patterns and titled them:
So you see there is no line above which you should feel you must step, although 'Great' is an obvious goal. Instead there is a means of measuring your ambition in terms of plays and the plays in term of type all of which are underpinned by two measures of society and environmental benefit.
To see the benefit of NextPlays you need to do the following:
Let's move through this suggested check list of mine and you can see what you think.
This is not something NextPlays is going to resolve for you. Being in a room with people that see it as the only future is something that is likely to influence your thinking.
The simple argument that your business activity should have a net benefit on global resources can seam hard to reconcile when competitors appear unconcerned and customers appear undeterred to buy their products. How long this will remain the case with many consumers worldwide strongly influenced by such issues is for you to decide.
I believe that at some point there will be a tipping point and when that happens those without strong sustainable credentials will be too far behind to survive. Even if you cannot see a route to true sustainability right now being less bad moves your organisation in the right direction.
Here the 'plays' analogy applies, you need to be down the other end of the Playing Field to have a chance of scoring and at this time you don't know which play will get the goal but you're more likely to succeed if you are closer to the goal.
In short this approach is for those who have made that decision and are seeking advice on how to be more sustainable.
In an academic sense I'm unqualified to answer this question but from a practical point of view my response would be a resounding "yes". This is because the NextPlays is a strategy for strategy. NextPlays does not provide a laundry list of good ideas or checklist of must-dos.
The challenge of what you do is for you to decide. Is it too vague then? No it is not and this is where it's strength lies. It provides a tight and well-explained picture of what type of strategies you could have and an evaluation of your group of strategies in a way you can understand. I term the group of strategies the ambition.
It is a good system by which to focus your effort of putting a strategic plan together and knowing what level of ambition that that plan has.
Now we get to the crux of the matter – developing your Plays. In doing this there are two aspects of a Play that NextPlays forces you to consider. One is the style of the play for example one style is titled 'Go Long' and the other aspect is the nature of the activity. Is this Play a new business model? Is it new or improved process? Is it the offering/product? Or is it the delivery? The common mindset is to focus on the product and so research has shown.
The vast majority of innovation investment is on product where in reality the bigger opportunities lie in how a company can do business or conducts its processes. By considering these types of plays you open up avenues for improvement that can be much greater than a new or modified product. With such a broad approach it can be difficult identifying what you could do.
This is where the NextPlays cards come in. These cards present case histories from successful companies, which provide insight and inspiration for you to develop your own or simply take them straight off the card. The cards have the full breakdown of the case history across the NextPlays parameters.
You see not just the type of Play but also the nature of the Play; Business, Process, Offering or Delivery. NextPlays refers to these as the type of innovation and in fact breaks these headings down further to ten types of innovation.
Finally you can see the impact strength from the three level rating of Refined, New or Shifted which are also illuminated by the respective colours red, orange and green when plotted on the Playing Field matrix.
The most radical innovations are a paradigm shift and the highest win possible for either or both environment and society. These make up the top right three boxes in the Playing Field. The bottom row runs along the environmental axis and these three boxes are simply refinements leaving the other three boxes as the new Plays.
And so quite easily you can see the pattern that your Plays form giving you a visual report on your ambitions.
This is really powerful because I'm sure that no one would be able to articulate their ambitions for sustainability without such a method. It is a way of summarising complex Plays in a way that everyone can understand. Is that Play really a Shift? Is that refinement really an environmental win? All this can be told at a glance from the Plays matrix. Something for the CEO to reconcile with what they think the organisations plays should be.
NextPlays provides a framework to guide your strategic efforts, resources to stimulate them and a measure by which to evaluate them. All in all pretty good and something I will use. However it wasn't long before I came across some things that appeared to me didn't fit into the NextPlays process.
One obvious thing that someone raised on the course was the analysis of current activities. To do this it is likely that the two axes of the Playing Field that only have positive values for society and environmental wins will have to be extended into the negative. But without an assessment of existing activities that can range into a negative scale it is hard to see how fundamentally bad businesses would actually address the problems.
This reinforces my view that NextPlays is a honing tool for a business that has made an independent decision that sustainability under their chosen parameters is what they want.
My final dilemma is how to incorporate an existing project portfolio into NextPlays. That doesn't seem to be to hard until you try to do it. Every company will have cost reduction or design variant type projects. Without a negative scale these might not find a place on the Playing Field. But here there is a dilemma of rigor and detail. If a product or process was changing for reasons of saving cost that is a clear win to the bottom line the society and environmental wins may be far more challenging to quantify. I can see that faced with clear bottom line wins projects with apparently benign impact on the sustainability ratings will be prioritised ahead of or instead of projects with higher Playing Field value. A new skill set needed that can efficiently cost these things in an efficient way.
The only way to find out is to work through some real examples and this is exactly what I intend to do with my current manufacturing projects. When I've done that I'll be able to report back on how Next Plays can manage these more traditionally driven initiatives.
A special thanks to Moxie and Peter Salmon for inviting Locus to attend.
Chris Chambers attended the Next Plays Workshop on the 6th of October.