Embrace chaos in 2021

3rd February 21

The wonderful Ken Hughes – shopper and consumer behaviouralist – is encouraging business to embrace chaos and deal with the uncertainties of 2020 by fighting fire with fire.

2020 has brought disruption, chaos and uncertainty to the commercial world globally. Business has been a struggle for many non-essential retailers. Yet there have been changes in consumer behaviour, business successes and sparks of innovation that will shape our worlds as consumers for years to come.

Ken isn’t urging us to anarchy, rather to make sure our organisations have enough disruption to allow businesses to identify new opportunities and innovate to meet whatever circumstances 2021 throws at us. To see his short film, go to:

Go see his shirt, as well as hear his wise words.

Ken’s suggested approach chimes with a book published in 1996 by a group at the Ashridge Business School, including Philip Hodgson, who said back then that business leaders should head for the “white water” opportunities as rafters do. They suggested that the leader’s role was to identify productive areas of uncertainty and confusion and lead the organisation into those areas to gain competitive advantage. Big businesses like Netflix, Slack and Zoom have done just that and prospered. Many small businesses have innovated with new routes to their consumers and all have proved the Ashridge team to be right.

Where does all this talk of change and innovation leave our focus on productivity and efficiency? Efficiency still matters, perhaps even more so in a world where financial control is as important as ever and funds need to be made available to support innovation. Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey, puts it that pre-Covid, the drive for efficiency was about everything being “just in time” and now the focus has to shift slightly to a more resilient “just in case” approach.

The Economist has a more positive spin on things, suggesting that the pandemic could give way to an era of rapid productivity growth. They are seeing signs that the new processes and technologies that businesses have adopted could pay off and drive efficiency. This is despite the fact that World Bank analysis of economies of countries struck by non-Covid pandemics in the 21st century, typically suffer a 9% decline in productivity three years afterwards when compared to their unaffected neighbours. Anyone who has seen the revolution in shopping and payment in UK grocery this year would have to think that changes that were accelerated in 2020 have the potential to shake up how retail works. They also underpin the fact that understanding what matters to your customers is the secret of success.

When implementing change, it can be tricky to know what is really happening to your operation. Modern workstudy helps you get to the nitty gritty of how processes are changing and measures the change in labour investment required as a result. I’m always happy to talk about the impact of process change and how we can help. You can contact me via [email protected]

And if you’d like to hear more from Ken Hughes, you can see his work and sign up to his newsletter at