Let’s enter the magical world of futuristic thinking! “So what is futuristic thinking?” I hear you ask.
It sounds exciting and often elicits thoughts of magical futures that include things like time travel and human exploration of universes beyond our own. However, before we talk about the benefits of thinking like a business futurist, it’s important to understand how it differs from the traditional business forecasting methodology.
Traditional thinking involves looking to the past and using both past experience and data to create a linear future world that will loosely mimic the trajectory set by the past. One of the flaws of traditional thinking and forecasting models is that they do not take into consideration new innovations released after the forecast is complete. This is illustrated quite well by the rise of social media, which did not feature in many business forecasts 10 years ago, and yet here we are.
Conversely, futuristic thinking involves taking an aspiration, using information from the past for what to avoid, and creating divergent narratives that will facilitate nimble and agile navigation toward future business success. A critical difference between traditional thinking and futuristic thinking is that futuristic thinking focuses on creating the future, rather than being a passive observer. This is truly exciting to introduce into businesses!
It may seem like a small distinction, however we believe it is the only way that businesses will survive. The future is becoming less and less a continuation of the past, and increasingly the formation of new and unrecognisable realities. For example, how many businesses do you know that had predicted the rise and role of social media in business 10-15 years ago? There was no data in the past that would point to this trajectory – it was completely new.
Futurist thinking is also very important for those of us who deal in risk management – even on the fringes. Why? Because traditional methods of categorising risk are becoming redundant. If you have failed to accurately predict the future, let alone play an active part in its creation, it is near impossible that your risk classifications still hold. And when your risk classifications are wrong – both your business and risk mitigation strategies are worthless.
So what can we do in this brave new world to ensure that our businesses survive, within the risk profiles the board sets? It’s simple (really):
We all make assumptions based on our experiences and the way we filter the information available to us. It’s more important than ever that we apply rigorous scrutiny to our assumptions and never take anything at face value. Challenge those key assumptions until you are absolutely certain they hold true for a variety of future based narratives. Be sure to consider all alternatives from a variety of diverse points of view. It’s more important than ever to ensure you have diverse contributors at your leadership table.
Forecast divergent paths
Don’t track one linear line, your past business experience is highly unlikely to be an accurate predictor of what your business will look like going forward. You need to formulate numerous possible pathways, this might include a more traditional linear forecast, along with worst and best case scenarios, all based on well researched information about current trends for your industry and the wider environment. Be sure to forecast multiple possible outcomes and branch the possibilities for each. You need to be prepared, and that requires considering many possible outcomes, not just one.
Constantly scan the environment
Knowledge is power. You need to constantly scan the broader environment to recognise emerging trends that will inform the future. This will include trends directly effecting your industry and more importantly the things that are happening outside of your direct business environment. Be sure to consider the social, economic, environmental, political and technological trends occurring, what might they tell you about the future threats and opportunities for your business?
Adopting a futurist thinking mindset will better place you to anticipate the changes ahead and first movers in this space. This approach will position you well to both protect and create meaningful competitive advantage for your business into the future.