About THE SPACE
We help people do the right thing.
THE SPACE are experts at enabling organisation and individuals to thrive in Volatile, Uncertain,Complex Ambiguous (VUCA) environments. We achieve this this through consultancy and project design and delivery. Our projects are based on MLxP. This process – we call it a management algorithm – has been developed and proven specifically to help clients operate better in VUCA environments. It does this by engaging their people in dialogue about data to unearth insight and unleash creative responses as a result. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of ideas about how to do the right thing.
Depending on the client’s specific needs MLxP might call on any number of skills and technology as part of its implementation: digital development, theatre production or Virtual Reality for example. To be flexible enough to do this and at the same time offer best in class practitioners, production and technology, THE SPACE operates as a collective of like-minded individuals and organisations. Each project team is different but there is one constant: Alastair Barber founded THE SPACE and is personally involved in every project, personally accountable to every client. As well as leading MLxP projects Alastair offers consultancy to business leaders and small leadership teams. You can read more about this and Alastair below.
Here are just some of the world class people and organisations that help deliver MLxP projects through THE SPACE.
Impact Factory offer the best soft skills training money can buy. They’ll be involved in your project if we need anything from specialist individual coaching to a full Forum Theatre experience for hundreds of delegates. Alastair has worked with Impact Factory for over 15 years.
Contented Brothers create high impact hard working AV content. They’ll be involved in your project if we decide to use Virtual Reality as a means to explore your organisations values or ethics. Alastair was delighted to find a kindred spirit in Tom at Contented Brothers only last year.
MMT Digital is a specialist design & build agency and rated the UK’s most recommended digital agency by clients (The Drum Recommends, 2018). Part of Be Heard, they will be involved in your project if you need mobile app development or an enterprise scale digital build. MMT were the first partner to work with Alastair through THE SPACE 15 years ago.
The Leith Agency are a fully integrated creative agency. They’ll be involved in your project if we need to attract and engage the attention of external audiences or if we need to develop truly exceptional creative content in any media. Alastair and Ed, head of Leith, have been mining creative nuggets together for over 5 years.
Hall and Partners are international market research agency. They will be involved in your project if we need to enhance the insight and data you have on external audiences, or test our creative or technological elements. Hall and Partners have been running focus groups, interviewing the public and researching UX with Alastair since 2014.
Kate is a project director. She’ll be involved in your project if we need to create a large scale live experience to knock the socks off people – and which runs like clockwork. Alastair first worked with Kate sometime in the noughties.
Mindapples help people take care of their minds. They’ll be involved in your project if we decide that healthy, less stressed people make better decisions (well, of course they do, but that’s not always in the remit of our projects). Alastair has known Mindapples founder, Andy, since before he planted the Mindapple tree.
I’m probably not for you.
The chances are I’m not the right person to work with your senior leadership team. I’ve never sat on the board of a large organisation or worked at a big name management consultancy. My approach is esoteric and works only with those organisations that really want to change and have the real power to do so.
Don’t like challenge? Don’t like having to think differently and deeply? Don’t like dwelling in uncertainty? Don’t like applying unfamiliar ideas and concepts from different worlds to your own?
You won’t like me.
For anyone still reading, then let me tell you about who I am and what I do.
I’ve been advising large organisations for 25 years. Almost without fail, once I get under the skin of a place, I’ve found it to mirror exactly the social structure and dynamic of a high school. I bloody hated the social structure and dynamic of high school. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked with some wonderful, hard working, humane, creative and inspirational clients. I’ve been awed by heroic nurses, humbled by the professional pride of CCTV operators, evangelical about the creativity of underwriters, stunned silent by the eloquence of rail timetable designers. But by and large these people succeed despite, not because of, the place they work.
I change that.
Over my career – mostly as some form of communications specialist management consultant – I’ve collected techniques and approaches, contacts and associates that subvert the habits of organisations: the quick, easy answers, the macho posturing, the power politics. What’s the nature of this subversion? Inclusion, meritocracy, clarity, trust and honesty
Above all, honesty.
This process demands the courage to look reality in the eye and deal with the consequences. This is the necessary first step to creating somewhere that’s better to work. A process that – with beautiful inevitability – leads to creating somewhere that’s more successful at achieving its goals too, whatever they may be: healthy patients; trains that run on time; selling software, insurance, art, cars, wealth management services, sustainable energy, a big new idea, you…whatever you’ve got.
How do I do that?
When I was about 12 I went on holiday to Ibiza. A family friend there knew Pepe who ran the local water-ski school and he gave me a lesson. No favours, standard deal from tough old Pepe: I was allowed three goes at standing up and, if I managed that, then once around the bay.
“Legs bent, arms straight,” was Pepe’s mantra.
Two face-plants, a sea-water enema and the walk of shame later I was sitting having a consolation Pepsi at the local beach bar. A revving outboard turned heads to clock a – totally cool – ski-bum as he took off on a mono – arms bent at about 90 degrees – and carved off around the bay
“Look at that!” I spluttered in almost-teenage indignation. “His arms were bent. Lucky!”
Pepe dropped his cigarette in the sand and ground it out…with his bare foot! Here came the real lesson: “When you’ve done it right a thousand times, then you can break the rules.”
I did a business degree with marketing specialism and four years of accountancy, economics, psychology and statistics. I’ve sold advertising space to car salesman. I’ve grown a leading PR business, specialising in hitting the numbers for aggressive US tech multinationals. I’ve raised funds from early stage investors and persuaded the finance directors of Banks, Insurance Companies, NHS Trusts and Energy Companies that spending cold hard cash on warm fluffy intangibles like brand, engagement and culture will improve the bottom line…and proved them right.
Over the years I’ve earned the right to bend my arms. Increasingly, the way I help organisations hit the numbers is to get them to accept that it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it that gets results. The process is about creating a space. A space amongst all the pressing, important, distracting, trivial, vital, noisy, scary, banal, urgent, workaday… stuff… in order that the right thing, the better way, might be allowed room to emerge. It’s not about ignoring the data. It’s the opposite. It’s respecting them. It’s imposing the discipline and rigour to face up to what they really mean rather than waterboarding them until they tell you what you want to hear.
I could be exactly right for you.
So what is it exactly that I do?
I’m an anti-consultant.
Anti-consultancy in action
My consultancy projects can be about anything, an opportunity, a threat, a recurring conundrum. The sorts of things leadership teams deal with all the time. Sometimes, though, a job is worth seeing through to the end. Rail505 was one such project. Not only was the issue something you just don’t turn your back on, the strategic analysis and recommendation was for something that didn’t exist! So I called on the full resources of THE SPACE…
…and we invented it.
Traditional consultants are fine. They are just what you need if you want to count beans or see humans as resources. Get those guys in and they’ll run you through their playbook and leave you with the same systems they sold to their last client; the same ones they’ll sell to the next one. You will conform to them and every other client they have.
And there’s comfort to be had in that.
But it’s not about you.
You might grow in their terms; ones that are easy to demonstrate to others and which – in many important ways – matter a lot.
But you won’t grow you, your company, your way.
You won’t grow up.
We’ve all experienced growing pains. Teenage dreams are hard to beat, but who would really want to go through all that again? We’ve seen the emergence of the quarter-life crisis as ‘a thing’. Life begins at 40 used to signify that your kids would have grown and flown. Now it’s closer to the age where people are nursing a first born who may fledge but will never fully leave the nest. Mid-life gap-year anyone?
Companies too experience growing pains. And these are changing as well. It’s no longer just about economies of scale: it’s about scale of purpose, scale of culture, scale of spirit. Like a 17 year old man-boy…or a 25 year old in search of themselves…or a new parent…a company’s physical, corporeal circumstances – its size, intellectual assets, strategic scope – tend to run ahead of its maturity.
Traditional consultants don’t help you with that.
That’s when you need an anti-consultant.
Because that’s when the character of the organisation is forged. The child is the father to the man, mother to the woman and where the maturity of a company is put under stress that’s when the habits of a lifetime are forged.
Good or bad.
Habits that will define. Habits that will limit the scope of what’s possible…or open up unimaginable vistas.
How do your organisational habits hold up when the heat is on?
Do people collaborate?
Are metrics used to?
A) fire innovation
B) pin-point blame
Do people become?
A) more open-minded
B) more closed-minded
Is the tendency to be?
B) risk averse
What carries most weight?
A) the quality of a person’s argument
B) the job title on their business card
If you answered mostly B) is that?
Fight-or-flight is an organisational state just as much as an individual physiological response. It’s healthy and helpful whether you are dealing with a downturn or closing a vital round of funding. But it’s damaging as a long-term way of being. The new-normal, this continual climate of uncertainty, acts like a constant stimulus for fight-or-flight meaning that many organisations and their people are always…looking for a fight. Or to run from the truth. In very real ways this retards the ability to learn. To grow. To grow up.
When you find yourself dealing with this state and its debilitating consequences it’s perfectly possible to bootstrap your way out of it. But the chances of you doing so successfully – with minimum pain and maximum gain – these are diminished significantly by going it alone. Just like an individual might benefit from a mentor at key points, so too do organisations.
If you have suddenly grown.
If you have restructured.
If you have won a game-changing contract or funding round.
If you have discovered something you don’t like about yourself.
If you have found the golden goose but lost your sense of purpose.
If you have massively changed.
If you haven’t changed at all.
You need an anti-consultant.
Not someone who is going to borrow your watch and tell you the time but someone who will help you draw a map and leave you with a compass.
Someone who can help you find your way.
Someone who can help you help yourself: face and name your monsters; find and flex your resolve.
Someone who will help you make the space for what is right.