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Oliver Sparrow

Oliver Sparrow

...is the Director of the Challenge Network. He is the author of many publications, including seven books. He has written or edited much of this Forum. He is known for his ground breaking presentations, which are given to audiences totaling well over ten thousand people in the course of a year. He has substantial broadcast experience.

Oliver is a director, board advisor or non-executive director of a number of companies. He is also director of a charity called the Leadership Capacity Trust. He has been elected an Honorary Fellow of the Strategic Planning Society. He is a fellow of the Peter Drucker foundation. He has served as a member of number of UK government projects. He was a commissioner on the World Commission on Globalization.

Oliver spent the bulk of his career in Shell, chiefly in strategic planning, corporate renewal, public affairs and venture capital. After Shell, he spent five years as a Director at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, also known as Chatham House. Country assessments - their stability, their weaknesses and potential, negotiation around conflict - were and remain a central skill.

Oliver Sparrow

Many of the Shell projects projects had a technical focus: for example, nation-scale energy management, power generation based on novel technologies, such as biomass energy, ocean thermal power, 'hot wet rock' geothermal and the like. Others were unconventional for an oil company, such as exploring electronic home shopping in 1983 (which involved the team inventing something close to today's Internet.) That said, both at Shell and in subsequent career moves, the focus on strategic planning, often using scenario planning as one of many tools, has been a constant theme.

Current assignments have begun to involve service to organisations which became overly-streamlined during the downsizing wave. Many now find that they have lost the capacity to deliver oversight and innovation. Their focus narrows to endless and often negligible improvements in current activities, losing sight of how their operating environment is changing and, most of all, how it may change discontinuously as a result of technical, regulatory or organisational innovation. Resources are directed almost entirely towards established activities, and returns to these reflect the commoditisation of these.

One unexpected application of the skills which are needed to re-install these capabilities has been conflict resolution, notably where the parties have lost sight of what they are fighting to achieve. A number of projects have, therefore, focused on finding a common set of values and aspirations around which negotiations can proceed.

Oliver has lived and worked in a considerable number of countries, predominantly in the Pacific, Asia and Latin America. He speaks good Spanish. One of his companies is developing both gold mines and urban waste disposal projects in Latin America. He was born in the Bahamas and brought up in Africa. He was educated at Oxford, with a science and economics background which has since expanded into many fields. He enjoys exploring wild parts of the world for orchids, particularly the Himalayas.

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