The key to thriving in tomorrow’s business world is to know as much as you can about what’s going on in it today.
“Just because we can’t know precisely what the future holds doesn’t mean that we can’t better prepare for it,” writes consultant Peter Madden in a recent article for GreenBiz.com. “We can analyze trends, spot signals, develop scenarios and make plans.”
Madden is chief executive at Forum for the Future, a London, U.K.-based consultancy that has helped develop strategies for companies such as Levi’s, Pepsico, Sony and Unilever. He offers four approaches to consider if you want to future-proof your organization.
1. THE PRESENT
Start with those trends that appear most predictable. Many current trends have so much momentum they are all but certain to continue. “Consider the ones that will have greatest impact and prepare for them,” writes Madden. “Be ready, for example, to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”
Sounds obvious, right? But Madden believes one person’s “obvious” is another person’s blindspot. “It’s remarkable how many organizations ignore even the very clear trends,” he says.
With Amazon set to overtake Walmart as the world’s biggest retailer, Madden points to retailers who are still expanding with new brick-and-mortar stores. Why, when the most growth in retail is taking place online?
Scan the horizon for emerging technologies, organizations and patterns that seem most likely to take root. “By my reckoning, anything of world-changing importance that will occur over the next 15 to 20 years is already happening somewhere in the world,” writes Madden.
Companies that use such “horizon-scanning” as part of their competitive analysis avoid being blindsided by new developments. Your findings will also be useful in helping convince doubters and skeptics in your organization of the urgency of change.
3. THE RANGE OF POSSIBLE FUTURES
Assess the uncertainties. Madden suggests that forward-thinking companies develop several separate scenarios, or visions of the future. Each will contain some truth about what the future is going to look like, although none is likely to be “right.” Such scenarios can help you test today’s strategy and assumptions, and help you make them more resilient. Madden quotes futurist Peter Schwartz: “Think of the best strategy today likely to succeed in all those possible futures.”
Ask yourself, How will those mega-trends interact? Are some trends incompatible in the longer term? What will be the political, social and psychological responses?
4. CREATE YOUR OWN FUTURE
The best way to know what future holds is to create it yourself. Many companies can use their market leadership—either by themselves or with others—to shape what happens next.
“Once you have thought about the future in a structured way, don’t be passive in the face of what’s to come,” writes Madden. “Think of ways to make your own luck and create your own future.”
One more tactic I would add: take advantage of every chance you get to travel to other countries. Keep a notebook and write down the advances you see in technology, design, transportation, retail, customer service, restaurants and advertising and marketing. The innovations that blow your socks off today may be transforming your industry (or your customers) tomorrow.
More columns by Rick Spence