Evolving to Avoid Extinction

Uploaded by in Our Insight on August 19, 2015

While not comparable in size to Durham Cathedral, The Sage or the Tees Transporter Bridge, the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle is a regional icon that’s just as worthy of celebration.

Founded in 1825 and tucked away near the eastern end of Westgate Road, the Lit & Phil is both the largest independent library outside London, holding in excess of 160,000 books, and possesses one of the most architecturally impressive interiors of any North East building.

Funding is, of course, a constant pressure for this sort of institution, and over the last four years, a great deal of work has gone into ensuring the Lit & Phil’s survival through a Development Appeal led by high-profile patron Alexander Armstrong.

I recently enjoyed a tour around the Lit and Phil, and would be highly recommending for anyone to do the same if this column were appearing on TripAdvisor rather than in The Journal, but what really got me thinking was how this once cutting-edge idea from the time when the North East was first beginning to flex its fast-growing industrial muscle needs, almost two centuries later, to continually fight to avoid becoming tomorrow’s dinosaur.

Evolution has been a key theme of the North East over the last 200 years, with change occurring quite regularly and radically.

After the drastic economic changes in 2007/8, we were all radical in our thinking – indeed, we had to be.  The next phase wasn’t pretty for many, but it was stable and incremental best practice that was needed, and the focus was on keeping steady into the teeth of the recessionary winds.

Thinking big was out, and thinking carefully was in, but while this was unavoidable, the problem with applying best practice today is that it puts tomorrow’s ‘next practice’ at risk, and the next big idea or disruptive plan could easily and radically change how your market behaves.

The concept of ‘Pitch to Rich,’ which asks people to bring disruptive business ideas to Richard Branson, has been all over social media recently, and I think it’s a sign that as the economy changes again, it’s time for us all to reintroduce thinking in a disruptive, transformative way.

Investing in businesses that have plans to take big, evolutionary steps has been our stock-in-trade for the last 25 years, and experience tells that such big changes are not always easily funded using traditional means of accessing finance.

You could ask the bank or a peer-to-peer lender what they will lend you based on your asset base and credit score, then squeeze your plan into their number but it will probably feel all wrong.

The alternative is the less traditional lenders who understand the type of change you want to achieve and have already designed finance specifically for funding ambitious business plans.

In an age where failing to evolve isn’t an option if you want continuing commercial success, ambitious businesses should be looking at all the options they have for avoiding the fate of the dinosaurs.

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