Retail is undergoing a quiet revolution.

The challenges are stacking up: people are switching from spending on retail to spending on experiences; the weakened exchange rate has led to higher import costs; taxes are set to rise by £2.3 billion; the National Living Wage has increased; discounting is now the norm, and – of course – there’s uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Add to this, a busy consumer who expects more for less, and it’s clear to see why the sector has been described as facing a ‘perfect storm’.

 So retailers are changing the rules. Smart technology is transforming the sector. With drone delivery you can order and expect a parcel within two hours. With digital dressing rooms you can try on numerous outfits without having to actually get undressed. Technology is being heralded as the saviour of retail. There’s even a new word for it – “custainment” – the integration of convenience, consumption and entertainment.

That’s the loud revolution. But digital innovation alone is no guarantee. J. Reynolds from The Oxford Institute of Retail Management says it plainly:

“Many leaders who were successful in the past may not have the skillset to be successful in the future.” You need “a resilient approach to strategy. Thinking about alternative futures and not being wedded to a single possibility.”

There has been a shift in the expectations of retail leaders – businesses want “visionaries”, “creative solutions”, leaders “whose sense of customer experience is second to none”. And they’re going beyond the retail sector to find them.

House of Fraser’s new Chief Executive has never before worked in retail – neither has Marks and Spencer’s MD for clothing, home and beauty, Harvey Nichol’s Marketing Director or Shop Direct’s CEO. And to bolster this ‘fresh perspective’, retailers are creating new Strategy Director roles. Marks and Spencer appointed a strategy director in May to “develop future growth opportunities”, Farfetch created the new role at the end of last year, and Argos appointed a new Synergy and Transformation director in June. Retail leadership is moving on – and it’s doing it by thinking laterally.

Lateral thinking is a concept first devised by Edward de Bono in 1967. Thinking laterally means breaking established patterns to see things differently – and to see new possibilities.

This is the norm in product development. Hasbro uses crowdsourcing to find new board game ideas. Nike Shox trainers use Formula One shock absorber technology. Amazon looked at gigger-based logistics, used by the likes of Uber and Deliveroo when developing its new delivery service, Amazon Flex.

And now, lateral thinking is being prioritised in the recruitment and approach of retail’s executive leaders.

This quiet revolution is already bearing fruit. Farfetch is the UK’s fastest growing retailer, Shop Direct group sales increased by 5.6%, Harvey Nichols was ranked third for delivering the best retailer shopping experience.

And at Propaganda, lateral thinking is a secret weapon we use to drive strategic and creative work that delivers results for our clients.

Lateral thinking is an old idea. But in a sector where the only certainty “is uncertainty”, lateral thinking is fast becoming essential for new retail leaders.