If you are old enough to remember the excellent BBC show "Challenge Anneka" you'll recall the format where Anneka Rice is given some seemingly impossible task to deliver on a specific date. For (contrived!) example, she reads out a card which says: "On May 1st the Mayor of AcmeTown will be opening the new pedestrian bridge across the river which will join the two halves of the town together and your task is to make that day a total success." to which Anneka says to the camera that doesn't sound much of a challenge. "Except," continues the card, "the bridge doesn't exist yet - oh and no mayor has been elected yet". After which Anneka does everything in her powers of persuasion to make this all happen, which she does of course.
I am one of those people who are, to quote a businesse cliché and to very much follow the Challenge Anneka format - "delivery focussed". Indeed I choose end dates where I will show-and-tell something or other, and plan backwards in minus weeks. I have a big project going to show-and-tell at the end of the March, and currently we are at week -5.
A twist on this message is that I can't see the point of doing something for its own sake. I often prefer to self-teach than to go to a class and do some work that will just get thrown away at the end of the course. I'd rather grab a good reference book, follow the examples, and get stuck into what it is I'm actually trying to achieve that made me want to learn whatever-it-was in the first place!
With all this in mind, I have to tell you that sometimes people ask me what life will be like in 10 years time. They want me to, no doubt, espouse some delicious dream of a future digital loveliness of some kind.
The trouble is I often suspect that 10 years in the future will be much the same as it is today, only with a little more social networking and a lot more expensive.
It's fortunate that, at Tesco.com, 10 years is such a long way away - and with so much to do in between - that I rarely get asked to think that far ahead. 5 years is quite enough to be getting on with.
However, out at the 10 year point on my timeline I do have a project called 'Robot'. It's been put there there quite deliberately by me and I have no idea what it looks like. Perhaps its a robot Tesco.com delivery driver, or a robotic product picking warehouse. Or it could be that R&D replaces the entire Tesco.com leadership team with a set of robots that say, "Yes Nick" to my every request and whim!
The point of 'robot' is to try and reach the unreachable - a device that makes me glance out far into the future to understand what shape and form the world - and our market - will be in that far ahead.
But my "robot" project is a 10-years-away idea. It has no evidence to support what it might be or what it might do. It's not really an idea, it's a dream. Ideas without evidence are dreams. It's my job to try and gather evidence to support and/or weaken the project.
"Ideas without evidence are dreams". Hey what a great phrase! I just thought that up! Just checked on Google and nobody else has said it. So unless someone challenges me with non-internet evidence, I'm laying claim to it!
When I look through the rest of our list of R&D projects in our backlog, I see that they are not dreams but ideas with evidence to support them and delivery objectives to accomplish.
That's just the way I like it. And you can quote me on it!
"Ideas without evidence are dreams"