Why you need to think years in advance

Tuesday 5 June 2018
Nils Vesk's picture

Which would you prefer? Playing catch up to a competitor who’s capitalised on new insights and converted that to a new game changing product, or, being the company that’s seen a new opportunity a year or two before the competition, securing market share, reputation, distribution and profits?

This is the advantage of future thinking.

When we have a clear view of the future, it is much easier to make decisions, to anticipate market changes and, most of all, to respond, so that we can best capitalise on the situation.

One of the challenges that many of us have is the reluctance to embrace change. When we know change is coming however, it’s much easier to get on board.

Option one is to wait until the inevitable changes are happening and tell the organisation that we must change immediately as new competitors have entered the market. This is likely to result in fear and resistance. Option two is to think like a futurist and anticipate changes beforehand and brief the organisation well ahead of time so they can begin preparations.

Futurists do not predict the future; instead, they anticipate possible future scenarios. Futurists scan many environments for information to sense existing or developing trends that may affect the future. They do this by scanning through media, industry, government reporting and the social sphere.

If you want to capture that future customer with that future product before the competition then you need to think like a futurist.

Here are some principles they use to create that commercial advantage:

The four key innovation principles a futurist uses are:

1. Scan – scanning for emerging trends

2. Plot – determining and plotting future key drivers and uncertainties

3. Imagine – imagining what future worlds will look like

4. Design – designing strategies and contingencies for future scenarios

Smart businesses cast their net much further afield than the specific industry in which an organisation is working. What’s more important is considering the context of the information for which they are scanning. The context includes the specific services or products the organisation provides, their customers, consumers and users, and other elements that can affect them.

Understanding this context allows organisations to scan a wide range of materials and to discover emerging trends, long before the competition is aware of them.

Media that organisations scan may include newspapers and magazines (including social, lifestyle, hobby, business and industry publications). This can be done in a cost-effective manner by applying for a digital trial subscription to a syndicated magazine publishing company, which allows the perusal of multiple magazines or newspapers, without having to pay for them. Let’s not forget white papers, green papers, reports and other serious papers.

As futurists scan through their collected materials, they are asking themselves ‘Is there a relationship between this trend and what our organisation does?’ and ‘Could this trend affect us or the people who use our service or product?’ The futurist isn’t hell-bent on trying to answer this question as they scan; instead, they keep it in mind as a loose contextual filter to what they are scanning.

Once futurists have completed their scanning, they proceed to sort through the results and they create posters for each trend area, by noting the relevant trends, labelling them and recording any insights they may have gained. They then proceed to share their learning and insights with their clients and to start a discussion about the emerging trends they have discovered.

This key futurist principle that you now have in your possession is a great tool to create commercial insights.

Nils Vesk is an innovation architect who has delivered programs for some of the most prestigious organisations in the world, including Microsoft, IBM, Commonwealth Bank and Nestle. Nils will be hosting ‘The Next Big Thing’ Masterclasses throughout May and June where business leaders will discover the trends that will impact their industry, their team and their customers, and how they can capitalise on them, ticket info here.