First Chapters

Gamechangers book cover

Chapter 1. Are you ready?

“Moonshots” are the incredible, seemingly impossible, ideas that can change our world.

Google X is a moonshot factory. Full of creative thinkers, optimists, seeking out the big opportunities and most challenging problems, that with a little imagination and a lot of innovation might just make our world a better place. From intelligent cars to augmented vision, the [X] team fuses tech possibility with human need, to create more audacious, inspiring futures.

This is how we move forwards.

From Galileo’s vision to Da Vinci’s mechanics, Ford’s cars to Bell’s phones, Apple’s devices to Dyson’s cleaners. They enrich society, and make life better. Markets emerge out of new possibilities, seeing things differently, thinking different things. Brands capture big ideas, innovation turns them into businesses, and future growth.

We live in the most incredible time.

Days of exponential change and opportunities limited only by our imagination. A world where impossible dreams can now come true. A period of awesomeness. From Alibaba to Zespri, Ashmei to Zidisha, Azuri and Zipars, a new generation of businesses are rising out of the maelstrom of economic and technological change across our world.

“Gamechangers” are more ambitious, with stretching vision and enlightened purpose. They see markets as kaleidoscopes of infinite possibilities, assembling and defining them to their advantage. Most of all they have great ideas, capturing by brands that resonate with their target audiences at the right time and place, enabled by data and technology, but most of all by rich human experiences. Social networks drive reach and richness, whilst new business models make the possible profitable.

Our challenge is to make sense of this new world, to embrace the new opportunities in innovative ways, and to be a winner.

What’s your game?

Branson flashed his trademark grin, flicked his shaggy maverick hair.

“Business is like the best game you could ever imagine”

We talked about his multi-billion dollar investments in financial services, media and telecoms, airlines and space travel. He described his responsibility to hundreds of thousands of staff, and millions of customers.

And he was calling it a game.

He was having fun now, challenging the notions of conventional strategies and structures, especially in the biggest companies. The essence of Virgin, he said, is to do things significantly different and better.

He talked about his admiration for kids, and for the next generation of entrepreneurs, especially those in fast-growing markets who have hunger and passion, and was inspired by iconic revolutionaries, Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs.

“You’ve got to think different, uninhibited like a child, never give up, have an ambition that you really care about, take more risks, be ingenious, make a bigger difference to people’s lives, have incredible fun, but also play to win.”

I asked him what keeps him going. “Doing things different, unexpected and a bit crazy” he said. “It’s about playing the game. But the best way to win is to change the game”.

Whilst he says he’s not too old for an all-night party, Branson loves a game of tennis, and that’s after he’s swum for an hour each morning along the coast of his own Neckar Island.

From his earliest venture, launching a student magazine, he would always do things differently. He launched his first airline with no knowledge of the travel industry, but he had a big idea, to provide low-cost travel that was modern and fun. And he had a brand that at least some people loved. He could see an opportunity to disrupt the market, to be on the customer’s side. When he launched mobile phones, he piggy backed on somebody else’s network, to grow further and faster, and targeted a new generation of consumers.

Even Virgin Galactic, his latest and craziest business, is not all it might seem. He had no experience of space travel. But he got together with glider designer Burt Rutan to do things differently, launching his spacecraft from the back of a mother ship, eventually to be fuelled by his algae farms of the Carribean, hugely reducing costs and carbon emissions, and enabling daily departures and landings.

Perhaps the most surprising revelation is that space is not really the frontier. Branson’s real ambition for Virgin Galactic is inter-continental travel. Imagine a one-hour flight from Rio to Jakarta, or Cape Town to Beijing. It could get a little weightless on the way, but could transform the way we think about the world.

Whilst Branson was still playing, it was already evening in Beijing.

Li Ka-Shing was sitting down to a dinner of his favourite snake soup. The Chaozhou-born, Hong Kong-based chairman of Hutchison Whampoa is the richest man in Asia, worth around $30 billion according to Bloomberg.

Yet he lives a relatively frugal existence, wearing simple clothes and a $50 Seiko watch on his wrist, and has donated much of his fortune to education and medical research.

This is a man who sees business as an ancient game, rooted in Chinese culture’s “Wi Xing” where the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water – come together in a mutually generative sequence.

You can see these phases in Li’s business investments which include construction and energy, mining and technology, shipping and banking. Together they account for over 15% of the market cap of Hong Kong’s Stock Exchange.

Li loves a game before work too. In fact you’ll find him at 6 every morning teeing off at the Hong Kong Golf Club with his playing partner, movie mogul Raymond Chow.

Whilst Asia rises, the old is still important. And that great old “Sage of Omaha”, investor Warren Buffett, still knows how to play too.

Twice as wealthy as his Asian peer, Buffett loves to surprise his shareholders when they gather at “the Woodstock of business”, Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting. Forget slick graphics explaining the complexities of financial markets, this is different.

As the lights dim, there’s a roar off stage, and 80 year old Buffett rides on dressed in a leather jacket, on the back of a shining Harley Davidson. He grabs a guitar and starts playing a song. His review of the year. His shareholders love it.

In fact it’s interesting how playful the world’s most famous entrepreneurs are.

Mark Zuckerburg began writing software at the age of about 10. As his father once said “Other kids played computer games, Mark created them”. Whenever he came across somebody else’s game, he would hack into the code, change it, to make it better.

Facebook itself started out as a game. Enrolled at Harvard to study psychology and computer science he was quickly distracted, famously creating a game called FaceMash which invited fellow students to vote for the hottest girls (and guys) on campus.

Soon he changed the game, under pressure from some of his peers and University administrators. Facebook was born. And a billion people followed.

Living in the zigzag zeitgeist

More than half the world live inside a circle based 106.6° E, 26.6° N, and within 4100km of Guiyang, Guizhou Province, in southwest China. A quick snapshot of our changing world demonstrates the dramatic change which surrounds us, and is or will disrupt every business:

  • Middle world … Global population has doubled in the past 50 years, with a shift from low to middle income groups, a new consumer generation (OECD)
  • Young and old … As life expectancy has boomed, now over 70, and births have declined, from 5 to 2.5, we live longer, with different priorities (UN).
  • Mega cities … Urban populations will grow from 3.6bn in 2010 to 6.3bn by 20, representing 96% of the global population growth (World Bank)
  • Flood warning … By 2050 at least 20% of us could be exposed to floods, including many cities, an economic risk to assets of $45 trillion (World Bank).

Brands come and go with much more regularity, products are built across the world, small business working together in networks:

  • Business life … Over 40% of companies in the Fortune 500 in 2000 were not there in 2010. 50% will be from emerging markets by 2020. (Fortune)
  • Made in the world … 55% of all products are now made in more than one country, and around 20% of services too (WTO)
  • Small is better … 70% of people think small companies understand them better than large. The majority of the world’s business value is now in privately owned.
  • Corporate trust … While 55% of adults trust businesses to do what is right, only 15% trust business leaders to tell the truth (Edelman).

Technological innovation is relentless, currently digital and mobile, but rapidly becoming more about clean energy and biotech:

  • Always on … 24% of world population has a smartphone, typically checking it 150 times per day, spending 141 minutes on it (Meeker)
  • Digital markets … 80% of websites are US-based, 81% of web users are non-US based, 70% of the value of all e-commerce transactions are B2B (IAB)
  • Instant content … Content on the internet tripled between 2010 and 2013. 70% is now video. The half-life of social content is 3 hours (
  • Future energy … By 2017, there will be close to $11 Billion in revenue from 35-million homes generating their own solar or wind power (GIGAom)

Customers feel increasingly ambivalent to brands and companies. In a world of infinite choice, their priorities and preferences have changed:

  • Bland brands … 73% of people say they wouldn’t care if the brands they used disappeared. 62% say they are not loyal to any brands (Ad Age)
  • Customer emotions … 70% of buying experiences are based on how people feel, loyal customers are typically worth 10 times their first purchase (McKinsey).
  • Service costs … 7 times more to acquire customers than keep them, 12 positive experiences to make up for one unsolved negative experience (IBM)
  • Family life … The amount of time parents spend with their children continues to go up, fathers spend three times more than 40 years ago (Meeker)

The end of the world as we know it

When Henry Ford launched his Model T in 1908 his Detroit assembly line, his innovative product, and his pioneering marketing machine, transformed an industry. His efficient mass-production methods reduced prices, improved quality, and created vast wealth. He dominated the market, and by 1918 half the cars in America were Fords.

It was the third wave of the industrial revolution.

The first wave of the industrial revolution had been about invention – from the forging of iron in the Shropshire valleys, the spinning jenny for making textiles, and James Watt’s steam engine. The second wave was about application – Robert Fulton’s steamboat on the Hudson River, Alexander Bell’s telephone, and Thomas Edison’s light bulb.

The third wave was about transformation, when the innovations take on a scale, and can change the world – from the mass production of cars, railways and airplanes, huge factories and modern medicines. This transformed people’s lives, improving health and education, the growth of cities and international trade.

Whilst the industrial revolution had begun in the north of England, making Britain powerful and wealthy, it soon spread across Europe and to America, and in later years beyond, particularly to Japan. It was 250 years of disruption, after 7000 years of a society based around agriculture.

Now, as that age closes, we are in the midst of the digital revolution – embarking on the third wave of a new age that will change the world again, even faster.

The first wave, about invention, started with transistors that led to integrated circuits, rise of computers and the miniaturisation of machines … from video games and mobile phones through to 1990 when Tim Berners Lee introduced the World Wide Web.

The second wave, about application, is well known to us today. Internet and mobile communications pervade our lives, shopping on Amazon with our Apple iPads, a world of knowledge through Google and Wikipedia, a world without borders by Facebook and Skype. First distracting us, now embraced as the way we live.

The third wave of the digital revolution is when everything changes, when digital is transformational, when power really shifts.

Whilst the last 20 years of technology has inspired us, it is only now that the game really changes – when the “gamechangers” shape the future. Mass production is rapidly becoming obsolete, 3D printers are already replacing factories, companies work in virtual networks, products bought on demand and customised by default, whilst personal channels are replacing stores which used to second guess what people wanted.

In the past we created average products for average people. We made the products ourselves in big factories that absorbed significant capital investment. We needed to sell huge scale to secure a return on investments. Markets were largely homogeneous because every competitor was close to average, therefore we could measure results by market share. We used mass-market, broadcast advertising with average messages, at times to suit us, pushing people to buy more of what we wanted.

This game doesn’t work anymore. That was the industrial age. Soon we will see the end factories, shops and advertising.

Digital is by its nature, not about size or geography, capability or experience. It is borderless and democratised, enabling anyone to have an impact. Mikael Hed sits in Espoo creating games like Angry Birds that entertain the world, Eric Magicovsky could be anywhere raising $10 million from 69000 people on Kickstarter to launch his Pebble smartwatch. Vicky Wu flies between LA and HK building “prosumer” demand for her latent fashions with ZaoZao.

This is the third wave of the digital revolution, where ideas can change people’s lives, where anybody can change the game.

Where the future begins

The value of business lies not in what is does today, but in what it seeks to achieve tomorrow. That might seem a little idealistic, given the short-term obsession of many organisations with operational performance, yet it is the future that most interests investors and private owners who now dominate the business world, hoping to see their investments grow through future profits.

Most business leaders are “heads down” in a relentless battle to survive, to hang onto the status quo. But that can only lead to diminishing returns. The more enlightened leaders are “heads up” looking at where they are going, making sense of how the outside world is changing with every day, identifying the new needs and expectations, the new competitors and challenges, opportunities and possibilities.

The best businesses go to where the future is.

They disrupt before they are disrupted. They sell before they are worthless. They recognise that existing success is increasingly driven by out-dated beliefs and , a once-profitable niche that has now become the mainstream, a previous innovation that has been widely imitated, an economy of scale that has become irrelevant, a temporary monopoly that is no more.

As we explore the shifts and trends, the white spaces and technological breakthroughs, the new attitudes and behaviours, we need to learn to think in a different way.

The change is exponential. So we need to jump on whilst we can. Catch the new wave, or better still, learn to ride with the successive, and ever more frequent waves of change.

When we look around us at the companies who are challenging established positions, shaking up conventions and waking up tired consumers, they are not the big companies but the small ones. They are the speed boats, fast and flexible, rather than super-tankers, steady and stable,

The challenge is extreme. It demands that we rethink where we’re going, and how to get there, rather than handing on to what made us great before.

In a fast and connected world, complex and uncertain, a winning business cannot hope to keep doing what it does, and do better. It has to do more, or different.

We are all in the ideas business

In Hong Kong there is a great 100 year old business that explains our future potential. For much of the last century Li and Fung was focused on low-cost manufacturing of textiles. That was until salary levels grew, and places like Indonesia were able to achieve much lower cost bases. The business reinvented itself as a virtual resource network, helping brands to find the right partners for the business, in terms of expertise, quality, and price.

Walk into a Li and Fung office in Sao Paulo or Istanbul, Barcelona or Toronto – or any one of their 300 offices in over 50 countries – and the small team of sourcing experts will help you find the best designers, manufacturers and distributors for your brand. Every pair of Levi jeans you buy are made with the help of Li and Fung, and around 40% of the world’s textiles. If you need finance, they’ll find you an investor, and if you need merchandising, processing or customer service, they can find the right partner for that too. Their business model can be based on fees, on commissions, or an agreed mix.

Actually, all you need is a good idea. Take it to Li and Fung and they can make it happen with you.

Those ideas are not the product of years of experience, of big organisations with thousands of employees, of rigorous “big data” analysis, and scientific labs. Those things can help, but they can also hinder. Fresh perspectives beat conventional wisdom, youthful insights connect with millennial markets, right brain intuition is an equal to left brain intelligence, and collaboration can achieve this even better.

And we haven’t even started on Steve Jobs. From the revolutionary Apple Mac that transformed computing. The iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. Not just incredible products with beautiful designs, but new business models creating entirely new markets, changing the world.

Or James Dyson, with his bagless vacuum cleaner. Ratan Tata, with his dramatically affordable Nano car. Amancio Ortega with his ready baked Zara clothes. Or further back in time … Henry Ford, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, The Beatles, Nicolas Hayek, Ted Turner and many more.

Great ideas are the result of better thinking.

We need to think – to see things differently, and do different things – to open our minds to new possibilities, to outthink the new competition.

  • Think bigger … redefine the markets we are in, reframe our brands in more useful contexts, recreate the strategies for success
  • Think smarter … refocus on the best customers and categories, reinvent every aspect of our business, realigning with new partners.
  • Think faster … reenergise people with new ideas, resonate with customers new priorities and aspirations, and achive more together.

Beyond the connectivity and applications, the social networks and artificial intelligence, we now live in a world that is more equal and accessible, where people are more knowledgeable and capable, than ever before.

It really is a world limited only by our imaginations.

Back at the moonshot factory of Google X, they have a mantra which says “Why try to be only 10% better, when you could be 10 times better?”

10 times better provides much more than a temporary competitive advantage, it has sufficient capacity to change the game. The effort required to think in a bigger frame, to innovate things more radically, to deliver them faster, is relatively small compared to the benefits.

But that requires one more thing. To think different.

Apple, or rather its ad agency Chiat Day, conjured up that phrase, but it matters more than ever. The best companies today don’t just play the game, they think bigger and better, smarter and faster, in order to change the game.



Chapter 2. Change the Game

World changing

The future is not an extension of today, it is wild and unpredictable, diverse and discontinuous. Business cannot extrapolate the success of today, and hope to win tomorrow. Even if you did, you would be swamped by a world of imitating competition all seeking to play the same game.

Just like the world changes at incredible pace, in fantastic and unexpected ways, so too must business learn to change – to play the new game, or better still to play their own game. To shape markets in their own vision, to create business models that suit them, to engage and enable customers to achieve more. This is what we mean by changing the game.

The turmoil of financial markets, collapsing banks and defaulting nations, are the dying cries of a changing world; a reordering of markets and power that we are slowly recognising. Amidst the shake-up there are new winners and losers. In 2014 China’s real GDP growth will be 7.1% compared to 0.9% in Europe. Markets from Colombia to Indonesia are thriving.

As Samsung launches its smart watch, Beijing is recognised as the world’s leading city for renewable energies, Schenzen becomes the new Wall Street, the best web designers are in Hyderabad, and fashion designers in Beunos Aires, we realise that the best ideas in business are shifting rapidly too. No longer are these fast growth markets the source of low-cost supplies, and low-budget consumers. They have youth and education, investment and disposable income, and most of all ambition, on their side too.

Every market is driven by change, fundamental power shifts and global trends, heightened expectations of customers, and new sources of competition. The shifts in power are economic and political, but also demographic and cultural. In a connected world, trends and expectations cross boundaries instantly. Even the most local or traditional markets are not immune. African children want the latest computer game just as much as those in California, Arabic consumers want global fashions and ready meals, whilst local market stalls in Europe focus on fresh, organic and exotic produce.

Technologies fuel and embrace this change. Computing power continues to grow exponentially, an iPhone smarter than a Space Shuttle, mobile devices supported by Cloud storage transform where and how we do business, whilst the most significant technical breakthroughs are in genetics, robotics and nanotech.

Kaleidoscope markets

The current decade will be unique in its tectonic shifts. As the global population accelerates to 7.7 billion before slowing, global wealth will almost double, and the G7 will be replaced by the E7 (that’s the BRIC nations, plus Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey). Even more dramatic is the growth in global wealth, a combined GDP almost doubling from $53 to to $90 trillion. But the shift is not linear, not an extension of today, but a dramatic reordering – think of it like a kaleidoscope. Making sense of this global maelstrom, and seizing the opportunities within it, will separate winners from losers.

  • West to East … the shift is intellectual and cultural, as well as economic. It will also be North to South (the rise of Africa), local to global (no borders), and global to local (staying real). Compare the fortunes of Air Asia with American Airlines, the growth of Tata with the stagnation of GE.
  • Big to Small … the shift favours the fast and agile, not the slow and stable. Small businesses beat large ones. And people trust small businesses more too. Just look at the changing formats of hotels, from Sheraton and Hilton to Aloft and Airbnb. When Facebook acquired Instagram for $1bn in 2012, it only had 13 employees.
  • Scale to Focus … the shift from success through volume and market share, to being able to target the profitable niches, treating customers as different and special, not a mass of averages. Consider the fragmentation of media, into specialisms and multiple platforms, more relevant and profitable.
  • Skills to Ideas … the shift from industrial to digital age means that capabilities can always be found, it is ideas that make you different. As a result we a more human in a tech world. Think about the most admired leaders, like Branson and Buffett, smart but staying real.
  • Me to We … the shift from individual to collaborative, embracing the value of diversity and engagement, connecting and collaborating to think smarter and act faster. Time to get connected to the platforms like Alibaba, networks like Linked-In, crowd-funders like Kickstarter.
  • Push to Pull … the shift from surplus demand to surplus supply, the power to customers, and empowerment of consumers. Different is not enough, we need to be intimately relevant, in context and on demand. Think about Amazon, Google, or even pizza delivery.

Accelerating exponentially

The speed and impact of change is not only fast and relentless, but also exponential. It keeps multiplying. Familiar with the continual doubling of computing power, the never ending search for better and faster, and the ongoing obselence of devices, innovations keep building on each other, each growing exponentially, each magnifying the next.

Networks have the most exponential impact of all, profilferating ideas and capabilities, power and potential.

Whilst the future will be more volatile and uncertain it will also be more vibrant and unreal. The impact of change in a connected world is fast and far-reaching, as the advance of technology opens up new opportunities hard to imagine. Complexity is the norm as we learn to make sense of limitless information, discontinuities will be frequent, frictions will displaced, and change will be exponential. Whilst ambiguity might seem disconcerting, paradox is the source of amazing possibility.

When astronauts return from space, they marvel at the new perspective they gain of our planet – how small it seems in the expanse of space, and how unique and fragile its life-enabling ecosystems really are. It can transform attitudes about what matters, how to solve problems, about the scale of our ambitions and potential impacts.

We need to learn to think bigger, to reframe our sightlines, to think in a connected way, to understand the cause and effects of systems.

Global GDP is estimated to grow from $63 trillion back in 2010 to over $90 trillion by 2020 according to the World Bank. The economies of China and India will triple in that period, with the Chinese replacing America as the world’s largest economy. Looking further ahead, by 2050, the old G7 of advanced nations will be collectively half the value of the E7 nations (also including Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Turkey).

As economic power shifts east, political influence and military capability will follow. As global citizenship mushrooms to 7.5 billion, it is the new lower to middle-income consumers that will have most impact on markets. Accelerating demand for oil and gas, food and fresh water, metals and land, will create price volatility and political tensions. Peak oil in 2021, after which it is expected to dwindle in supply, will exasperate the problem, whilst carbon emissions and sea levels continue to rise.

Huge population shifts from countryside to cities, farms to factories, transform landscapes and demographics, putting enormous strain on infrastructure. Baby boomers live on, as the aging population of advanced nations need more healthcare, whilst youthful populations of growing economies will demand better education. They will also embrace technology faster, hungry for innovations and entrepreneurial wealth.

Of these forces, GRIN (genetic, robotic, intelligent and nano) technologies will be most disruptive. However perhaps an even a bigger driver of markets and brands will be the dreams and expectations of consumers, alongside the imagination of the next generation entrepreneurs to fulfil them in novel and profitable ways.

Making sense of the future requires a leap of imagination. In the past we drew trend lines to understand smooth evolutions into the future. We cannot predict the future of smartphones as an incremental journey from today’s models, as the devices jumps to our wrists and clothing, to become embedded in our vision or minds. Nokia have learnt that a dominant market position can lead to irrelevance within five years.

Exploring new possibilities

The speed and impact of change is not only fast and relentless, but also exponential. It keeps multiplying. Familiar with the continual doubling of computing power, the never ending search for better and faster, and the ongoing obselence of devices, innovations keep building on each other, each growing exponentially, each magnifying the next.

Networks have the most exponential impact of all, profilferating ideas and capabilities, power and potential.

The idea of extrapolating the past to understand the future, even in a non-linear way, no longer works. The speed of change, the step change of capabilities, creates a future that is seismically different, and better, than our past.

Innovations emerge at incredible pace. I still struggle to remember life just 10 years ago when I couldn’t order my shopping online, read the newspaper on my tablet, hire a funky car for the day, or listen to limitless free music. The emergence of new materials like graphene, the upgrading of networks to superfast bandwidth, the miniaturisation of semiconductors are all quietly converging to create amazing futures, fast.

The “internet of things”, where physical objects from beer bottles to street lights are digitally connected, will make our environment more intelligent, personal and convenient. Already smart thermostats control the temperature of our homes without a thought, cars can alert each other of traffic jams ahead, drone aircraft are deployed in warfare, and plants can text or tweet that they needed watering.

By 2020, research firm Gartner believe there will be more than 30 billion “things” online, a $15 trillion market. Darpa, the defence innovator have developed AlphaDog that can walk for 20 miles without resting, Google’s glasses will drive actions based on eye movements, Samsung are developing phones that have a sense of touch and computers that can smell.The stories of new possibilities are endless, “gamechanging” is about making them real.

Mobile solutions – whether it’s banking, shopping or healthcare – will be worth $4.5 trillion by 2020, according to Bain. However this will demand better and faster network coverage. Rethinking Wi-Fi based on much smaller and frequent transmitters in urban areas, is one option, popular in dense cities like Seoul and Tokyo. Meanwhile Chamtech have developed a more radical solution – spray-on wifi – a liquid containing millions of nano-capacitors, that can be sprayed onto any surface, like clothes and cars, creating local, satellite-enabled, hotspots wherever people are.

Air travel is expected to double in the next decade, according to IATA, driven by the demand of emerging middle classes. Significantly more efficient planes will be needed, to reduce time, costs and emissions. Slovenian aircraft maker Pipistrel has developed a electric aircraft that also benefits from smarter navigation systems that allow it to find shorter routes, sensing thermal flows and negotiating complex paths. Meanwhile NASA has developed a twin-cylinder engine that can be mounted at the back of the plane, thereby requiring 50% less fuel, and significantly reducing noise too.

Gadget-mad people are always looking for power sockets. And the biggest component in the devices is usually the battery. Miniaturised capture of solar power will transform gadgets. They will use micro-batteries mimicking photosynthesis, using metal oxides heated by the sun, to split sea water into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen, clean and abundant, could then power a whole array of micro-machines, from the next generation phones to nano-tech medical implants.

The sun really is our best source of energy. It’s obvious really, but we haven’t yet been able to harness the obvious. Desert wastelands soak up more energy in six hours than the world uses in a year. Desertec seeks to harness that potential with hundreds of square miles of wind and solar plants feeding the world’s electric grids with clean cheap and reliable solar power provided it can get nations working together. 90% of the world lives within 1800 miles of a desert, and 1300 square miles of Saharan desert, for example, could power 20% of Europe. It could transform the fortunes of Africa, as well as solve the world’s fossil fuel crisis.

Playing a different game

In the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Dick Fosbury stood alongside his competitors, no taller or fitter than all the other fine athletes. But he had a significant advantage. He thought differently. Whilst every other competitor followed the conventions established over the years, that a high jump involved straddling the bar feet first, Fosbury tried a different approach, leaping backwards over the bar. The biomechanical explanations would come later, all that Fosbury knew or cared about was that he had out-thought his competitors, and won gold.

20 years later, Nicolas Hayek, a Lebanese-born Swiss actuary was asked by a group of bankers to oversee the liquidation of two traditional watch-making firms, who were in turmoil due to competition from Japanese manufacturers like Seiko. Instead he reorganised the the business and acquired a young start-up brand called Swatch who made cheap, plastic watches from minimal parts. He rapidly scaled the business, focusing on the potential of plastic for colour and design. The Swatch brand did not seek to emulate other watch-makers, but instead to be in the fashion business. “Why buy one watch, when you can have three or four, a different colour for each outfit?”

10 years later, Jeff Bezos, a Cuban American left behind his job as vice president of a Wall Street investment bank headed for the West Coast, with little more than his car he drove, and wife alongside him. He could see how the internet was starting to change industries and consumers lives. A year later he launched Amazon from a garage in Bellevue, just outside Seattle. Within two months he was selling $20,000 of books a week. He dubbed it the world’s first online bookstore, choosing the name Amazon because it started with an A and sounded a little exotic and different. Innovation for Bezos is about “1000 small ideas coming together to change the world”. Over the last two decades he has achieved that, building the world’s largest retailer.

The opportunities for change are all around us, what it takes is people. People who are prepared to do things differently, to put their hands up and say they believe there is a better way, and to start making it happen.

How will you change the game?

Entrepreneurs are natural gamechangers. They have chosen to play their own game, driven by ambition and uninhibited by function or hierarchy. Large businesses have advantages too, assets which to apply in new ways, existing brands and customer bases on which to build. Gamechangers can be anyone, business leaders or strategists, innovators and marketers, somebody on a shop floor, or in a call centre. They can change the game because they think differently.

4 ways to “change the game”

Gamechangers typically innovate in one or more of the following dimensions – the why, who, what and how – of the whole business, or any part of it. They might apply this thinking to the business strategy, but it could also apply to a brand or service experience, leadership style or organisation processes.

  • Change the “why” (the purpose, application or benefit) – for example, from maximising profits to enhancing people’s lives, from being the biggest to being the best, from enabling communication to providing entertainment. When Coca Cola changed its purpose from the more functional “refreshment” to more emotional “happiness” it was able to engage people much more deeply.
  • Change the “who” (the geography, customer or context) – for example, from home markets to selected markets first, targeting older people rather than everyone, or women, or a different decision maker in a company. When Fiat 500 changed its target audience from low-cost owners, to funky young things, it stepped out of its old peer group, and became affordable, urban fashion.
  • Change the “what” (the category, product or experience) – for example, combining products to solve problems, personalising products on demand, offering 24/7 service, making the experience fun, or extending to support people in their application. When Rapha realised it was not its clothing, but togetherness that mattered to cyclists, it opened cafes and became the cult place to hang out.
  • Change the “how” (the business model, service style or participation) – for example, from transactional pricing to membership fees, prices that change by time of day, reduced price in return for new ideas, or sold through new types of partners. When Zipcars wanted to be different, it didn’t charge per week like other car rental companies, but created a membership club and then charged a much smaller fee per minute and mile.

The four dimensions are a simple compass by which to stretch your thinking. Some of the best innovations change in more than one dimension, or even all of them. Gamechangers then need to think about how they turn their disruptive ideas into a practical strategy for business success – what it means in terms of market and brand, innovation and marketing, business model and customer experience, resources and metrics. But all of this comes later, and often flows easier, once you have found a big, inspiring idea.

Be a reality distortion field

Steve Jobs provokes and inspires in equal measure. From his early days as a “silicon kid”, the geek in the garage that loved Bob Dylan, making games for Atari and a gadget to make illegal phone calls, to a visit to Xerox PARC where he was inspired by their graphical interface, set up his Mac team of pirates and soon got fired.

But entrepreneurs don’t give up. From the super computers of NeXT, he was soon in dreamland at Pixar and $1 billion richer. From Toy Story emerged his jelly bean iMacs, iPods and iPhones followed with the help of iTunes and AppStore that made them great, Leerjets and Coldplay, lickable iPads and $400 billion.

Love him, or hate him, he changed the world … visionary and obsessive, pedantic and and dismissive, inspiring and impossible …distorting reality, disrupting possibility.

Most strategies in business search for absolutes – the perfect vision, defining priorities, setting limits. But markets are dynamic, volatile and unpredictable, and plans are never perfect. Businesses rarely implement the strategy they agonised over. But for Jobs, there are no straight lines, passion and intuition were better guides, making sense of complexity. Keep looking left-field, embracing every experience, and seeing the bigger picture.

Innovation processes seek to codify a human, creative experience. Processes improve efficiency, maybe even speed, but they rarely deliver the right answer. Market research delivers average insights. Apple believed different. Customers don’t know what they want, so innovation is a human, intuitive discipline, nurturing creativity and bringing ideas together in new ways. Design is much more than look and feel, it is about how things work – better, cooler, magical.

Brands are the identity systems that make you stand out from the crowd, articulate your difference and superiority. From ads to adwords, social media and relationship marketing, brands seek to build awareness, interest and demand. Steve demanded that Apple’s brands should do more. Brands enchant people – aesthetically, emotionally, and inspirationally. They sell dreams not products, create unconditional desire, enable people to achieve more, and reflect who you want to be.

Leadership is typically about inspiration, but in a positive way – bringing people together, respecting and encouraging, supporting and developing the – building teams that are stronger than their parts, empowering them, and sharing rewards. There is no space for compromise in business – for less than the best people and performance below greatness. Social niceties, and compromise, do not change the world. With really great teams, you can be direct, difficult and brilliant.

Steve Jobs was at his most inspiring on 12 June 2005, in a rare public address to graduates at Stanford University, and at a time when unknown to others he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. “Stop spending your time living someone else’s life, and live your own. Decide how good you really want to be, and commit yourself to absolute excellence. Spend each day, as if it were your last.”

Make the change, but also, be the change.



Chapter 3. Be the Gamechanger

“Gamechangers” are the next generation of brands and businesses who are seizing the opportunities of change, not to do things a little better, or a little different, but to change the game. The game of how the market works, who the customer is, what they really want to achieve and why, how to make money, and create a lasting positive impact.

What makes gamechangers more significant, numerous and influential, today is the breadth and diversity of change in our world. The ride with the shifting power and new technologies. They reach across a flatter world, but selectively focus on the fragmenting niches that emerge. Whilst many of the products and services we buy have become more similar, because of the ubiquitious supply of components and speed of imitation, they know they have to work much harder to stand out, to engage the best customers.

This is why gamechangers win.

From Alibaba in China to Al Jazeera in Qatar, Air Asia in Malaysia to Ashmei in England, Ashoka in Canada to Azuri in Kenya we searched for the busineses who were shaking up their markets. We asked peers to nominate others in their sectors, we stretched out across the world, to ensure we covered every region of the world.

What emerged were 120 fabulous stories. New start-ups, small businesses, local incumbents, global corporations are all learning to change the game and play a new one, to adapt and respond, anticipate and innovate.

Let’s meet some of them … famous people, and others just like you … who are making and shaping markets in their own vision. At a time of relentless change, the winners know that every day counts. Here are just a few, at one moment in time:

06:00 Los Altos, California, USA

Anne Wojcicki is up early in Los Altos, the scientist-entrepreneur to see how many 23andMe “spit tests” have arrived in the morning post. With that DNA sample and $99 she can tell you all about your ethnic heritage, and future health.

08:00   Bogata, Colombia

Luis Genaro Muñoz sips his first Juan Valdez coffee of the day whilst meeting with leading Colombian coffee growers to explore the international expansion of the brand which they together created, including their quirky, distinctive coffee shops.

08:00   McGregor, Texas, USA

Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, champion of Tesla electric cars, and dreamer of the Hyperloop between LA and San Francisco, is out early. He’s preparing for the next launch of his SpaceX spacecraft destined for the International Space Station, making space travel work in a way which NASA never succeeded.

09:00   Buenos Aires, Argentina

In 2006 Brett Mycoskie wanted to help the thousands of street kids he saw running barefoot around the city. He got the local factory to make simple alpargata which he branded Toms’ and shipped to the USA. For every pair he sold, he gave a pair to the local kids. He has now given over a million pairs to kids in 40 countries

10:00   New York, USA

In his Upper East Side apartment, Australia’s Bank 3.0 author and entrepreneur Brett King is pacing the floor, working on the next phase of launching his innovative online banking concept, Moven, innovating at break-neck speed to make his ideas happen in reality.

10:00   Sao Paulo, Brazil

Cristiana Arcangeli sips from her Beauty’in lychee and white tea whilst enjoying the morning sunshine in Ibiraouera Park. Having trained as a dentist, she is an entrepreneur and TV presenter. Her range of alimetic drinks and candy bars, tea and chocolate promise to make you more beautiful and feel better from the inside out.

10:00   Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Brazil’s GraalBio is busy converting the mountains of waste built up outside the nation’s sprawling megacities into new sources of energy. Bernardo Gradin, CEO, is talking with investors, describing his vision of a circular economy for South America.

13:00 Aylesbury, England

Stuart Brooke is just heading off for a lunchtime run, in his own super premium Ashmei brand running gear, developed out of his frustration with the likes of Adidas and Nike who he feels compromise quality in pursuit of mass market price points.

13:00   Cambridge, England

Up the road, Eden Upton is in his engineering lab at Cambridge, working on the Raspberry Pi circuit boards which sell for £20 and enable kids to program, and entrepreneurs to tinker without risk, empowering the next generation Apples and Googles.

14:00   Torres Novas, Portugal

Paulo Miguel Pereira da Silva, CEO of Renova has a passion for toilet paper. Maybe not the most conventional of executive pursuits, he is seeking to bring creativity and colour to a neglected aspect of everyday life.

16:00   Nairobi, Kenya

Julia Kurnia is working on Zidisha, her online peer to peer financial service, helping Kenya’s small but ambitious farmers and industrialists to find loans for their new business ventures, in a market where there is little support, but growth is rapid.

16:00   Beirut, Lebanon

Aline Kamakian is busy cooking in the kitchen of her award-winning Mayrig restaurant in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Her passion is to preserve and promote Armenian culture, and thinking bigger, she’s just launched new restaurants in Dubai and New York. 

18:00   Mumbai, India

Buses are chaotic and popular across India, but Phanindra Sama is making sense of the 10,000 routes with Redbus, the nation’s first computerised booking systems, with integrated timetables, and customer rating system driving up service standards.

21:00 Beijing, China

Lei Jun is still at work, finding it hard to keep pace with the huge demand from young Chinese for his MiPhone. He’s particularly focused on content, which is where his low-cost smartphones will deliver most returns. Just don’t mention Apple.

02:00 Mount Maunganui, New Zealand

Up on northern peninsula, Zespri’s CEO Lain Jager is checking the latest orders from around the world for his kiwi fruits. In a world of wellness, his superfood anti-oxidant specialities are in high demand, as is speed and quality.

A snapshot of some of the world’s vibrant marketplaces … with ordinary people like you, doing quite extraordinary things.

Aline and Anne, Eden and Elon … just a few of the “gamechangers, the next generation of innovators and leaders who are shaking everything up. They have their heads up seeing the opportunities of incredible change, heads down changing our world.

How do they win?

As you explore the 100 “gamechangers” across geographies and categories, you will notice how different – and innovative – their approaches are. Some win through deeper customer insights, others by building more engaging brand platforms, typically embracing social networks, but to create more personal and human experiences. Some underpin this with collaborative innovation and others with new business models, and to make this happen requires new structures and leadership styles.

What is interesting is how they connect these ideas together – how social networks can turn brands into movements with shared passions, or sustainability can spark new ideas for innovation, leading to new growth opportunities, whilst also doing good.

Together key words emerge, to describe what gamechangers do, for example:

  • Fuse –connecting unconnected ideas generates more creative solutions, connecting people with people, customers and business, customers and customers, to innovate together.
  • Amplify – brands amplify the perceptions of products and prices, networks amplify the reach and richness of brands, advocates amplify the reputation of business, and leaders amplify the potential of everyone.
  • Enable – brands enable people to achieve more, business models enable new sources of revenue, and partners business to seize opportunities far beyond existing capabilities, to enable agility and faster growth.
  • Mobilise – giving people a stage to do more together, to collaborate and create, propelled by a common purpose or passion, more powerful and confidence, a stronger voice together and more impact than a brand on its own.
  • Enrich – bigger ideas are more fulfilling, to employees and partners, customers and investors, who profit collectively and individually by achieving more, making a difference locally, and the world becomes a better place.

If we then apply these principles to each of the typical activities of a business, strategic and operational, then we get a big picture as to how they think and act differently. By breaking this into 10 sections, we then get more specific detail on what changes, or where the opportunities are for you to change and win.

We explore each of these shifts in detail, with specific examples of disruptive innovators around the world who are using them right now to shake up markets, to shake up the expectations of customers in every sector, and to inspire your own thinking.

Are you ready to change the world?

“Changing the world” can mean lots of different things – for 23andMe it’s about recoding life, with Zipcars it’s about finding a new business model, for Ashmei it’s about creating a technically better product, at Renova it’s about creating the world’s most colourful toilet paper. They are all shaking up their markets in different ways.

“Gamechangers” therefore can have different levels of focus. From strategic through to operational, holistic to functional. If you like, there are three types of gamechangers:

  • Market Makers – They explore the future world, global markets and emerging categories. They look through their kaleidoscope to make sense of ambiguity, connecting emerging trends and dispersed ideas, to create their own space, to seize and shape markets in their own vision, and to change the world.
  • Business Innovators – They explore the business potential, creating better ways to succeed in the new markets, guided by stretching and inspiring purpose. They think creatively in systems, how to design new business models, applying creativity and innovation to every aspect of the business.
  • Brand Builders – They explore the customer world, diving deep into chosen markets to understand what really matters to existing and future customers. They seek emotional resonance, sharing ambition, engaging and enabling people to achieve more, collaborating and connecting them to make life better.

Whatever your focus, gamechangers are bold and brave, with the ambition and audacity to believe that they can make a fundamental difference. Whether they are start-up entrepreneurs or part of large organisations, in Abu Dhabi or Vietnam, seeking to maximise profits or to enhance the common good, they share a number of characteristics.

Not every gamechanger will become as famous as Mark Zuckerberg or Li Ka-Shing, create the billions of Jeff Bezos or save lives like Dr Shetty, but in their own ways, in their own worlds, everyone – every one of us – can change the game, to achieve more, more than we ever thought possible.

Gamechangers think bigger. Like Cristiana Arcangeli, they reframe their markets with more opportunities for growth and innovation, and they compete by out-thinking their competition with better insights and ideas.

Like Eden Upton, they learn faster and act different. They embrace the best new business ideas and ways of working. They harness every aspect of their business model as opportunities to innovate and stand out.

Most of all, just like Elon Musk, they change the game. They shape existing and future markets in their own vision. And because they see further, they win better. They find their own space to grow, to realise their personal and business potential.



“I am a Gamechanger”

I believe in the future

A world of infinite possibilities

I see opportunity when others see impossibility

Thinking bigger, reframing my perspective.

Seeing things differently, thinking different things.

I explore. I challenge. I risk. I venture.

Rethinking. Imagining. Reinventing. Igniting.

We are all in the ideas business.

Creating, designing, innovating, together.

I embrace my childlike wonder and curiosity

I take flying leaps into the known.

Playing the game. Changing the game. Playing to win.

I want to contribute to something bigger than myself.

I want to make life better, the world a better place.

Change is my opportunity, to seize and shape.

Aiming higher, with a purpose beyond profit.

Harnessing the power of brands, the potential of people.

Digital networks, technologies and business models.

Fusing the best ideas. amplifying the potential of others.

Mobilising people with a cause, enabling them to achieve more.

I don’t want to live somebody else’s life.

To live in the shadow of somebody else’s vision.

Imagination is my pathway to a better future.

Ideas and brands are my guides.

Partners make them real.

Most of all, I believe in me, and in being more.

To achieve what I never thought possible.

To put a ding in my universe.

I am bold, brave and brilliant.

I am a gamechanger.